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August 24: Borges’ Jewish Longings

August 24, 2014

Jorge Luis BorgesArgentine literary giant Jorge Luis Borges was born in Buenos Aires on this date in 1899. A gifted storyteller and poet, his works revolve around the infinite, reality, time, and other questions both philosophical and psychological in tales that were often fantastical. In his essay, “I, Jew,” Borges mourned the fact that although his family was considered to be of distant Jewish extraction, he was unable to prove anti-Semites’ accusations of his Jewish ancestry. He made up for his questionable genetic Jewish heritage with a rich cultural one, and a familiarity with everything Jewish, from Talmud to Spinoza to golems, pervades his works. Borges opposed fascism relentlessly, at the cost of his job and social standing. He translated Kafka and he studied kabbalah. His works are varied in everything except their focus: they include reviews of fictitious books, a rabbinical murder mystery, and self-consciously erudite treatises that alternately prove and deny the existence of God and time. Harold Bloom considered him central to the Western canon and believed that the modern short story must either be Chekhovian or else Borgesian.

“Dictatorships foster oppression, dictatorships foster servitude, dictatorships foster cruelty, and the most abominable fact is that they foster idiocy.” —Jorge Luis Borges

Our thanks to Zev Brook for contributing this Jewdayo entry.