A very bad “poem” has apparently been making the rounds for decades now, attributed to Jorge Luis Borges. I learn this via Anatoly, who discovered an article (in Spanish, which Anatoly is studying) by Ivan Almeida, laying out the entire ridiculous story. It starts with a guy named Don Herold, who in 1953 published a short piece in Reader’s Digest called “If I Had My Life to Live Over”—typical Reader’s Digest material, mildly quirky and touching (“I’d dare to make more mistakes next time. I’d relax, I would limber up. I would be sillier than I have been this trip…”). At some point, inevitably, somebody decided it would be even more effective chopped up into lines of varying length and presented as a “poem,” and it was occasionally attributed to an octogenarian woman from Kentucky called Nadine Stair. Then it got attributed to Borges and translated into Spanish as “Instantes,” which became the presumptive original; the English version was sometimes called by the Spanish name, for extra exoticism points.
Almeida does excellent work with the tangled tale, and I like his conclusion, which I’ll translate (original below):
In the same way that in “El Aleph” the divine Beatrice appears revealing pornografic secrets, just as in “The End” [Martín] Fierro is the opposite of Hernández‘s character, so the Borges of “Instantes” is a Borges brought to be his own adversary.
The Borges of “Instantes” is a Borges whom we would like to see repentant. Repentant for being the most quoted of authors without being understood by the poor people who enjoy television series or teach Cultural Studies. We want him to continue being Borges but to renounce his options and who, in place of his cryptic poems, would come to tell us what would like to hear and what we are told only by those associative (?) magazines we despise. The perfect world would be a book by Rigoberta Menchú signed by Wittgenstein, the Imitation of Christ signed by Joyce, the song “We are the world” signed by Mallarmé. We want to be able to say that the poem we love most is by that Borges whom the intellectuals wanted to appropriate. So says that collective actor we cannot even call “readers.”
Should we get angry? I don’t believe there’s any reason to. We mustn’t forget that, despite everything, as shown by an example cited above, there are people who have been brought by the reading of “Instantes” to discover Ficciones. Perhaps the history of literature is the history of various great mistakes in reading.
Luckily, Borges wrote a famous text called “Borges and I.” We will never know to which of the two this story is happening. But we can be sure that the other would be enjoying himself tremendously.
Here’s the original:
De la misma manera que en “El Aleph” la divina Beatriz aparece revelando pornográficos secretos, al igual que, en “El fin”, Fierro es el opuesto al personaje de Hernández, el Borges de “Instantes” es un Borges conducido a ser su propio contrario.
El Borges de “Instantes” es un Borges que quisiéramos ver arrepentido. Arrepentido de ser el más citado de los autores sin ser comprendido por los pobres que gozan de las series televisivas o profesan los Cultural Studies. Queremos que siga siendo Borges, pero que reniegue sus opciones y que, en vez de sus crípticos poemas, venga a decirnos lo que nosotros desearíamos oír y que sólo osan decirnos las revistas asociativas, que despreciamos. El mundo perfecto sería un libro de Rigoberta Menchú firmado por Wittgenstein, la Imitación de Cristo firmada por Joyce, la canción “We are the world” firmada por Mallarmé. Queremos poder decir que el poema que más amamos es de aquel Borges del que quisieron apropiarse los intelectuales. Eso dice ese actor colectivo que ni siquiera podemos calificar de “lector”.
¿Indignarse? No creo que haya motivos. No hay que olvidar que, a pesar de todo, como lo muestra un ejemplo citado más arriba, hay personas a quienes la lectura de “Instantes” ha llevado a descubrir Ficciones. Quizá la historia de la literatura sea la historia de algunos grandes errores de lectura.
Por suerte, Borges escribió un texto célebre, llamado “Borges y yo”. Nunca sabremos a cuál de los dos le está sucediendo esta historia. Pero podemos estar seguros de que el otro se divierte jubilosamente.