University of Pittsburgh

Beatriz Sarlo
Borges: tradition and the avant-garde

I. The problem

In 1924, the avant-gardist literary journal Martín Fierro appeared in Buenos Aires. Its name was a very obvious tribute to the gauchesque poem wrote by Jos é Hernández in 1872, one of the key texts, together with Facundo by Sarmiento, to which Argentine writers could turn if the question of literary tradition was raised. But why literary tradition would absorb the young writers that launched the journal to proclaim their battle-cry against modernist poets(1) as Leopoldo Lugones, nationalist intellectuals as Ricardo Rojas, the market-oriented realists novels by Manuel Gálvez, and the so-called socialist writers that aimed to a new public produced by the process of urbanization, immigration and growing literacy?

This question puts forward the terms of an ideological and cultural debate that could be traced back to the first two decades of the twentieth century, when a group of intellectuals made public their anxiety in front of the cultural consequences of the massive demographic and social changes that had taken place in Buenos Aires. Ricardo Rojas, in La restauración nacionalista, had critically described a city where signs in Italian or Idisch were displayed in the shop-windows of many traditional and up to then criollo neighborhoods, where children of immigrant origin mixed with the old hispanic population endangering linguistic purity and corrupting what more reactionary writers as Lugones named "the race". Immigrants, "the overseas mob" as Lugones insultingly named them, were becoming the new barbarians,(2) the unwanted result of the policies that the elite in the last third of the XIX century had executed following the enlightened program of Sarmiento and Alberdi, in order to build through state action a modern capitalist society. In fact, the outcome of the modernist project was considered its distortion, the not foreseen consequence that transformed Buenos Aires not only in a cosmopolitan city but also in a dangerously mixed space haunted by the ghosts of cultural loss, 'bad' mixtures, and political turmoil led by anarchists and socialist of foreign origin.

Thus, it is not surprising to find that the journal Martín Fierro reiterates an obsessive topic: the leftist writers and their public show in their language (their "deformed pronunciation") the scars left by their origin. The immigrant can be traced back in this 'deformity', and his language (which is foreign but not prestigious, as English or French is for the cultivated elite) endangers literary language and offers the adequate vehicle for the promotion of 'low' literature. A "shallow jargon infested by italianisms"(3) is used by writers that revel in "anecdotes originated in the conventillo", manufactured by people that betray their Italian ancestors in their "exotic accent". The writers in Martín Fierro are acutely conscious of every minor phonetic deviation because in the accent they find the proof of proximity and propriety over language.

On top of this, the 'socialist' writers of foreign origin had organized quite successful publishing houses that issued, by the thousands, translations of Russian literature and progressive books on politics, economy, history and psychiatry. It is well-known that the writers that edit Martín Fierro were also skillful translators and, in many cases, perfectly bilingual. But their translations were judged by them as a 'natural' extension of their bilinguism: legitimate renderings of a foreign text supported on the solid basis of a Spanish language learnt without effort, in the heart of traditional families that endorsed the function and set the limits of contacts with the alien world. When Martín Fierro greets the other cultural magazine of the new aesthetic formation, Proa, the journal proclaims that the writers that publish it are "embedded in [Argentine] tradition, as their names show their roots in families that are deeply Argentine".(4) Every time Martín Fierro charges against the 'socialist' writers, the topic of language is brought to the discussion because 'social-realist literature' is produced by those that cannot claim an inner and longstanding relation with the Spanish of the Río de la Plata, and are therefore constrained to conceal their foreign origin and accent. A linguistic relation that has undergone a process of mediation through a foreign and not prestigious language should produce texts crippled by their spurious origin. The proximity to oral language, certified by a process of 'natural' acquisition, is thought as the condition of a legitimate Argentine literature.

The links with European literature were defined according to this system of oppositions and prejudice. Writers whose origins can be traced back to the Argentine tradition (no matter how vaguely) are entitled to promote a legitimate assimilation of foreign influences (and this is most spectacularly Borges's case), because their family ties with Argentine past bestows on them a national quality that cannot be acquired through learning. Thus the Martín Fierro group is in the best capacity to choose in every European literature and to translate: its cosmopolitism is backed by national tradition. As a matter of fact, cultural nationalism and cosmopolitism are not defined by the texts promoted but by the positions in the social and cultural field of the promoters. Criollismo and cosmopolitism do not oppose but collude if a writer is endowed with the proper qualities and stems from the adequate origins.

The malaise that pervades the structure of feeling(5) of the Martín Fierro group vis à vis the newcomers to the Argentine intellectual field and their public met its aesthetic strategy in this new and pervading cultural criollismo that attained its creative heights with Borges, especially in his first three books of poetry and the essays he wrote for Martín Fierro and Proa, in the twenties, and for Sur, the journal edited by Victoria Ocampo, in the thirties. The debate reached in fact, not only the language of literature but also topics and forms: A truly Argentine literature should stress localism and pay tribute to a narrow definition of couleur locale? Or, rather, is couleur locale something that elite writers should take for granted and therefore be confident in their Argentinism without stressing it? Is it possible to discern a legitimate use of the conventillo, the gaucho and the compadrito not based on typical descriptions and vocabulary? Is it possible to write about the rural world without the folkloric exuberance of G üiraldes's Don Segundo Sombra? A friend of Borges, Sergio Piñero, in his critical review of Inquisiciones, wrote: "I think that it is unnecessary to mention the lasso, the rodeo or the untamed horses to have and reveal a gaucho soul". Borges, years later, makes the same point in his famous essay on "Argentine writer and tradition".

II. The construction of an ideologeme

"I will now consider a different aspect of Borges, that could be the most interesting and promising: I mean a type of 'criollismo', more personal and more innovative, a way of feeling that we all had experienced but that nobody had dealt with in our literature".(6)

In, Cuaderno San Martín, Luna de enfrente and Fervor de Buenos Aires, the books of poetry Borges published in the nineteen twenties, he constructed an ideologeme, the orillas: an indeterminate territory between the plains and the first houses of the city, an urban-criollo frontier dividing and at the same time merging city and countryside. The landscape of the orillas, that widens to become a literary space, is punctuated by vacant stretches of wasteland and mud walls with niches, by the iron lacework of grilles and the hedges of cina-cina and honeysuckle, by patios and pale pink, sky-blue or white-washed-walls. In the orillas, imperceptibly, the pulpería (a primitive drugstore and saloon) becomes an almac én (a grocery store), and the intersection of two rural roads generates a streetcorner. Borges redeems the poor suburb from its picturesque and sentimental fate and establishes it in a new aesthetic dimension. Performing this strategy he transforms the suburb into a legitimate topic for Argentine literature, a topic that can be written according to the poetics of the avant-garde.

The hazy and ambiguous line of the orillas grows into a new literary material, not through the good-willed apology of marginal values that are more imaginary than real, but through the acquisition of the aura that Borges bestows on the topic. As it happens with inventions, ideology plays its role, because in the discovery of an urban scenery, a judgement on the present state of the city is passed together with a sentiment of nostalgia for its past. Buenos Aires in the twenties (the city to which Borges arrives after years spent in Europe and his encounter with the Spanish version of the avant-garde, i.e. Ultraism) is no longer the place he had known in his childhood: modern transportation had transformed not only the rich neighborhoods but also (and very dramatically) the poor; electricity, state security, parks and other facilities had extended the limits of the city attaining what Borges recreates, in las orillas, that ambiguous space between the last houses and the plains. If Roberto Arlt celebrates the urban changes (namely the iron and concrete sky-scrapers) and looks for the future in the new profile of Buenos Aires, Borges, his contemporary, insists in an image of the city that is rapidly disappearing for ever. Not without anguish, Borges evokes:

"[...] the dismembered body of the quintas, brutally divided to be sold and then tread by grocery-stores, charcoal shops, tenant-houses, barber-shops and barracks. There are drowned neighborhood gardens with palm trees driven mad among iron rails and concrete."(7)

Considering the relation between literary topics and the modern city, Benjamin has written:

"What is typical in Baudelaire's poetry lays in the fact that the images of woman and death are impregnated with a third, the image of Paris...But it should be said that the reference to modernity is a way of mentioning pre-history".

In las orillas that form part of the past of the city, in the temporal and spatial edge of Buenos Aires, Borges establishes a present and active center: the reference to the suburb and to the past designates, paradoxically and silently, the modern city and the avant-garde. Borges moves from the outside (the plains) and from the past, in the direction of the center. This displacement is in the basis not only of a new perception and sensibility in front of language, but also of a new foundation in cultural and aesthetic terms.

From a memory of Buenos Aires which is almost not his own, Borges sets against the modern city his imaginary city without a center, built totally on the matrix of a margin. He reconstructs something which probably had not quite existed and which, for that very reason, could be transformed into the substance of nostalgia. The threatened orillas of literature can be found in any part of the city, precisely because they are margins with no center. They can be grasped in the movement of the flâneur who wanders with no fixed aim through the far-flung suburbs and the more familiar petty-bourgeois neighborhoods, absorbed in the past that unfolds before his eyes in the buildings and the landscape that still resist the impetus of modernity. This "illusory yesterday" is also, or perhaps fundamentally, a place which Borges claims from the countryside, because he prefers "those long streets which overflow the horizon and through which the suburb becomes steadily poorer and tears itself apart outside in the afternoon."(8)

The literary construction of the suburb comes along with the adoption of metaphor as the semantic and formal nucleus of poetry. Borges accomplishes the strategy of combining an ideologeme of his own invention with some of the textual procedures of Spanish Ultraism, found in the writings of that cultural hero of the Argentine avant-garde, Ramón Gómez de la Serna. The confluence of these two lines (the formal construction of metaphor and the urban-criollo topics) are the core of Borges's originality in the twenties and early thirties. "Leyenda policial", a very short story he published in Martín Fierro,(9) is the narrative beginning of this same program.

His book on Evaristo Carriego, published in 1931, forms part of the same textual and ideological strategy.(10) As I have tried to show, Borges imagined, in the practice of his own writing and, to some extent, in theory, a aesthetical criollo space, whose poetics and mythology can be found in Evaristo Carriego: a symbolic construction of the orillas that is, at the same time, literary and ideological.

Carriego was a minor poet that belonged precisely on the margin. Borges recognized in him a pre-text, in the most literal sense: the discovery of "our suburb defines the essential merit of Carriego", he wrote.(11) Carriego is the text prior to his own texts; he wrote what Borges was never to write but which he needed as a position from which to elaborate a theory of Argentine literature. La canción del barrio by Carriego is a secret Ur-Text, a necessary hypothesis for Borges's early poetry.

The biography of Carriego written by Borges is, of course, also a pre-text in other ways.(12) In a prologue added some twenty five years later, Borges reveals one of the motives underlying this book. He wanted to know, in a biographical and literary sense, what stood outside the family house of his childhood in the neighborhood of Palermo:

"What lay, meanwhile, on the other side of the iron railings? What vernacular and violent fates were being acted out a few paces from me, in the smoky bar or in the dangerous wasteland? What was that Palermo like or how it would have been beautiful it would be?"(13)


Borges narrates an already mythic story of Palermo, the suburb where Carriego lived and Borges was born and raised. This makes up the first chapter of the book, as a pretext for history, where some of the images of the orillas and the compadritos, which Borges had already worked on, are interwoven with details whose only function is poetic. The second chapter, 'Una vida de Evaristo Carriego', begins by offering the paradox, "that an individual wishes to awake in another individual memories which had only ever belonged to a third":(14) that is, it begins by critically questioning the very idea of biography. Thus, an exclusively subjective logic binds together the 'facts' of Carriego's life with those which Borges attributed to him and which turn into Borges's own memories. The following chapters (supposedly on Misas herejes and La canción del barrio, two sets of poems by Carriego) abound in open and hidden references to the cultural myths of the suburbs and give weight to Borges's assertion that Carriego should be read as a poet of the orillas, because he had discovered that:

"The irreality of the orillas is more subtle: it comes from its transient character, from the double gravitation of the farming and equestrian plains and the high street, from the propensity of its men to consider themselves either from the country or from the city, never orilleros. From this uncertain matter Carriego worked out his poetry".(15)


Evaristo Carriego, therefore, mimics a biography when in fact it was constructed as a chapter of a mythical history of Buenos Aires and, at the same time, as a literary manifesto, albeit ironic and understated. Rather than a biography, which clearly it is not, Evaristo Carriego is a pre-text and a treatise: the first volume of an encyclopedia of las orillas, the spatial, semantic and formal ideologeme Borges worked out as the emblem of Argentine literature that could combine avant-garde aesthetics and national tradition.

Borges also discusses many times the Martín Fierro by Jos é Hernández, a poem that Ricardo Rojas and Leopoldo Lugones, in the previous decade, had interpreted as the epitome of Argentine tradition and a symbol of nationality. In fact, at the turn of the century, Hernández's poem had been incorporated into the canon in a central position which obliterated the subversive power of a text that along with the censure of the elite's social policies towards the gaucho had portrayed a hero that did not accept the disciplinary values of the modernizing administrations. Fierro was an out-law victimized by the authorities, sent to the Indian frontier where he lived in hardship, abused by the military officials, and denied the right to dignity and property. To these conditions he replied with violence and became a killer out of despair and arrogance. This aspect of the poem was carefully neglected in the moralizing interpretations of Rojas and Lugones. On the contrary, Borges, underscored Fierro's deeds, especially his untamed relation to physical violence and death:

"The genuine criollo ethic is present in [Martín Fierro's] narrative: an ethic that presumes that the spilled blood is not worthy of memory and that it befalls men to kill... Who did not owe a violent death in my times?, I heard from an old man that pronounced these words gently".(16)

Borges breaks with Lugones's and Rojas's reading of Martín Fierro, declines to follow a moralistic interpretation of its character, discusses the genre of the text denying it an epic inscription in favor of its 'novelistic' qualities. So doing he renders a new reading of the canon, recuperating in it what had offended the sensibility of Hernández's contemporaries and was expunged by Lugones and Rojas: the amorality of crime. The deeds of Fierro belonged to an archaic world that could not be judged according to modern values. Borges read them as episodes of a myth he was going to re-write.(17)

Doing so, he also reorders the texts of Argentine literature implicitly indicating its future possibilities. He institutes a new line of interpretation and productive aesthetic use of Martín Fierro, based on displacements in the literary tradition, discussion with modernist writers as Lugones or nationalist intellectuals as Rojas(18), but also with the 'left' side of the ideological field that, as the anarchist at the beginning of the century, had found in Martín Fierro the (avant la lettre) epitome of the insubordinate proletarian of modern times. Borges's strategy consists in a very subtle transgression of Fierro's rural character; in fact, he moves the gaucho from the open plains to a semi-rural setting, precisely las orillas. He tacitly shifts between the archetypal gaucho and the future guapo. Displacing Martín Fierro in the Argentine literary system, Borges sets the conditions of his own literature, that will consider the text in its margins, in the topics of bravery, courage and violence that were obliterated by the previous moralistic readings. To state it briefly: Borges's works on the character to find in him the past and archaic image of a guapo the dweller of that new literary scene he is creating: las orillas.


III. Formalism

In the first five years of Sur, from 1931 to 1935, Borges publishes there a set of essays where he intersects different lines to produce a new program for Argentine literature. As we have seen, Borges's invention is based on a close re-reading of the literary tradition, and the production of the ideologeme that generates his own urban criollismo. To these strategies, must be added a keen eye for texts that should be considered totally marginal.

"The horse-wagon persists and, on its side, an inscription... I hunt these scriptures since long ago: epigraphs of the barracks, to collect them one is required to stroll through the suburbs, walking without aim or other occupation in a state more poetic than the real collected pieces that, in these italianized times, are rare".(19)

The inscriptions belong to a Buenos Aires that is disappearing and Borges contends that it is a rather hard task to find them; but in these traces from the past new literary materials can be acquired if the avant-gardiste eye is keen enough to discover in them a base for irony and displacement. Borges does not look for 'popular lore' in the inscriptions, refrains or couplets elaborately painted on the horse-wagons. He is not interested in what a volkisch entity, the People, might have thought or done, but in the traces that the avant-gardiste regard may read as literature or according to literary protocols. Nothing impels him to value these inscriptions in the awe of the intellectual that finds some hidden truth in the People. On the contrary, he takes them as the avant-garde takes the objet trouv é, created by the artistic eye that can turn productive what seems trivial. Thus he provokingly compares the "epigraphs" with "the delicate mysteries of Robert Browning, the futile mysteries of Mallarm é, and Gongora's burdensome mysteries".(20)

What do these inscriptions offer? In the first place, the reflection of Borges's own gaze. To find them (and to write about them) it is needed a poetic activity that through irony and displacement turns the inscriptions into engaging and legitimate objects at least from the perspective of the avant-garde.

The fascination awakened by the inscriptions collected and presented by Borges in his essay "S éneca en las orillas", also lays in the evasiveness of meaning. Borges loves to play with these elliptic refrains that "revel in discontinuities, generalities and feints".(21) These traits form part of an ars poetica for las orillas, as long as the avant-gardiste regard tears off the inscriptions from their realistic setting (which only shows their picturesque side) and makes them produce something new, under the conditions of a mixture with the formalist perspective that Borges advances in his essays of the early thirties published in Sur.

"Elementos de preceptiva" and "Noticia de los Kenningar"(22) announce an aesthetic program based on procedure. Ten or fifteen years before, Sklovski, unknown to Borges according to every evidence, wrote his remarks on 'art as procedure':

"An object can be: 1. created as prosaic and perceived as poetic; 2. created as poetic and perceived as prosaic. This illustrates that artisticity, the poetic value of an object results from the manner according to which we perceive it [...] When we consider the general laws of perception, we discover that actions become mechanic when they turn into a habit".(23)


On this conceptual basis, Sklovski erects his theory: the truly aesthetic trait of a text (that distinguishes it from the flux of discourses and bestows on it the 'literary quality') lays in its power of innovation vis à vis known and recognizable forms. A new perception means to grasp something that has not been previously perceived or that has been perceived according to worn-out regulations. A new perception depends on the invention of new textual mechanisms that promote distance, the classic avant-gardiste Verfremdung. Borges perceives old, archaic, exhausted inscriptions, used by everyday proximity, in a new way: he has achieved, through irony and displacement, an aesthetical distance.

In the core of his theory, Sklovski places a question that can also be found in Borges: how to corrode the resistance that linguistic clis és and old tropes exert on literature? The interest Borges fosters for the kenningar discloses to which extent the question about the formal practice of literature is a core issue in his ars poetica. He writes: "The dead ultraist whose ghost is still alive in ourselves finds pleasure in these games". From where does this pleasure spring? Kenningar are a system of equivalences that Borges defines as "pitiful syntactic equations". Still, this procedure of Islandic medieval poetry fascinates him to the point that he discovers in those reiterative metaphors (whose main trait is namely repetition, the canonic transference of images from one poem to other, the predictable recognition) an essential but bare poetic procedure, that designs itself as artifice conserving, through hundred of years, its power to attract:

"Only a few words are left to us. It is impossible to know which was the tone of the voice that pronounced them, from which mouths, as personal as music, with what admirable decision or what modesty. But they exerted, some day in the past, their office of amazement, and their vast ineptitude marvelled the red barons of the volcanic deserts and the fjords, as also did deep beer and singular combats on furious horses".(24)

Formal procedure and barbarian world: this junction, again, is a key of the intertwined lines of Borges's ars poetica. These lines also intersect in the essay "Elementos de preceptiva" where the issue is clearly stated:

"That delicate interplay of changes, of good frustrations, of balance, represents for me the aesthetic act. Those that overlook it or ignore it, ignore and overlook the specificity of literature".(25)

The issue is placed in the key that Russians formalist had called Literaturnost.(26) To present it Borges chooses as textual corpus a "vulgar milonga", the tango "Villa Crespo", a line from Paradise Lost and a some verses by Cummings. What does this heterogenous set mean?

It means that Borges has already achieved the completion of his literary system. In 1933 he constructed the complex artifact that includes Milton, Cummings and popular poetry from the orillas to which his writing has granted a consistence that before him would have seemed improbable. The key is how to read and, consequently, how to write a reading: to consider all texts from the point of view of form. "Literature, writes Borges, is basically a syntactic fact". Therefore it is possible to consider eroded, degraded or undignified texts, those marginal objets trouv és that the avant-gardiste perception has grasped in a process of de-automatization.

It is not strange therefore that Borges's ironic and provoking analysis of the "vulgar milonga" presents us with an inventory of "surprising findings" that are syntactic and semantic. Borges follows the displacements to show "the activities that any verbal form can induce in us".(27) But there is more to it: Borges contradicts the pretention of totality of an aesthetics that conceives literary value to stem from the hypothetical global unity of a homogenous text. On the contrary, he vindicates the frayed formal and semantic surface of the fragment, because it conveys what literature is: the condensations where procedure decides the fortune of an invention.

Thus Borges closes the first chapter of the problem that he faced in the twenties and early thirties: How to write literature that can be considered Argentine, from the formal perspective of an ars poetica that has assimilated textual strategies of the avant-garde? In producing the ideologeme of las orillas, he attempted a new answer for the question about the semantic dimension of Argentine literature and, in order to achieve this, he reordered the literary system. What is distinctive of his writing is, precisely, the original blend of criollismo and formalism that enabled him to produce an invention that was, at the same time, ideological and poetical.



Modernismo should be distinguished, in Latin American literature, from the avant-garde. Although at the turn of the century modernismo and its major poet Rub én Darío had proven to be highly original in their capacity to combine different aesthetic influences and blend them into a distinctive new tone and cultural landscape, by the nineteen twenties it had exhausted its potential, and its novelty had become part of what could be considered the literary establishment. For the avant-garde writers modernismo was the principal literary enemy and had to be overthrown.


The 'barbarians' were, in the nineteenth century, the gauchos, that had disappeared as a social group and had been assimilated to the rural workers of the modernized estancias, since the eighteen nineties. The immigrants, whose cultural and racial profile did no respond to the high expectations of the elites, began to be considered the Dangerous Other stigmatized by a displacement of the ideological system of values.


"Jerga ramplona plagada de italinismos"; "an écdota de conventillo"; "pronunzia exótica". This and the following quotations: Martín Fierro, 8, 1925. All translations by B.S.


[...]Adentramiento en la tradición, ya que sus nombres los enraízan con familias netamente argentinas", in Martín Fierro, 5-6.


I use this concept according to Raymond Williams's definition in Marxism and Literature.


"Ahora considerar é el otro aspecto de Borges, quizás el más interesante y promisor; es un criollismo nuevo y personal, un modo de sentir que ya estaba en nosotros y que nadie había tratado". Leopoldo Marechal on Luna de enfrente, book of poems by Jorge Luis Borges, in Martín Fierro, 26.


"[...] El despedazado cuerpo de quintas, loteadas brutalmente para ser luego pisoteadas por almacenes, carbonerías, traspatios, conventillos, barberías y corralones. Hay jardín ahogado de barrio, de esos con palmeras enloquecidas entre material y entre fierros". Evaristo Carriego, Buenos Aires, Emec é, 1965 [1931], p. 20.


Inquisiciones, Buenos Aires, 1925, p.58.


Martín Fierro, 38. Republished in Punto de Vista (Buenos Aires), 11, March-June 1981.


I synthesize here some of the remarks made in: B.S., Borges, A Writer at the Edge, London, Verso, 1993.


As late as 1963, Borges insists: "En Carriego se ha cumplido el destino de todo precursor. La obra que para los contemporáneos fue anómala corre ahora el albur de parecer trivial. A medio siglo de su muerte, Carriego pertenece menos a la poesía que a la historia de la poesía". Prologue to Versos de Carriego, Buenos Aires, EUDEBA, 1963.


"The innocent biography proves to be a turbulent, insidious text", writes Sylvia Molloy, Las letras de Borges, Buenos Aires 1979, p.27.


" ¿Qu é había, mientras tanto, del otro lado de la verja con lanzas? ¿Qu é destinos vernáculos y violentos fueron cumpli éndose a unos pasos de mí, en el turbio almac én o en el azaroso baldío? ¿Cómo fue aquel Palermo o cómo hubiera sido hermoso que fuera?". Evaristo Carriego, Buenos Aires, Emec é, 1965 [1931], p.9-10.


"Que un individuo quiera despertar en otro individuo recuerdos que no pertenecieron más que a un tercero". Evaristo Carriego, cit., p.33.


Evaristo Carriego, cit., p. 94-5.


"La verdadera ética del criollo está en el relato: la que presume que la sangre vertida no es demasiado memorable, y a que a los hombres les ocurre matar... Qui én no debía una muerte en mi tiempo, le oí quejarse con dulzura una tarde a un señor de edad". "El Martín Fierro", in Sur, 2:140.


Short stories as "El Sur", "El fin", "Biografía de Tadeo Isidoro Cruz" form part of this re-writing.


Rojas was important because, during those same years he was writing and publishing in several volumes a History of Argentine Literature that place Martín Fierro as the foundation of national culture, rendering the poem as an epic and discharging its central character of the violence and amorality that Borges recognized and stressed.


"Persiste el carro, y una inscripción está en su costado...Hace tiempo que soy cazador de esas escrituras: epigrafía de corralón que supone caminatas y desocupaciones más po éticas que las efectivas piezas coleccionadas, que en estos italianados tiempos ralean". "S éneca en las orillas", in Sur, 1:175.


"Los misterios delicados de Robert Browning, los baladíes de Mallarm é y los meramente cargosos de Góngora". Ibid., 179.


"Se complacen en discontinuidades, en generalidades, en fintas". "S éneca en las orillas", cit., p.176.


Sur, 7 and 6 respectively. In the remarks that follow on Borges's essays in Sur, I am developing conclusions that were anticipated in my previous essay: "Borges en Sur: un episodio del formalismo criollo", Punto de Vista, 16, November 1982.


Viktor Sklovskij, Teoria della prosa, "L'arte come procedimento", pp.7 and 10.


"Apenas si unas palabras nos quedan. Imposible saber con qu é inflexión de voz eran dichas, desde qu é caras, individuales como una m úsica, con qu é admirable decisión o modestia. Lo cierto es que ejercieron alg ún día su profesión de asombro y que su gigantesca ineptitud maravilló a los rojos varones de los desiertos volcánicos y los fjords, igual que la profunda cerveza y que los combates de caballos encabritados". "Noticia de los kenningar", Sur, 6:208 and 207.


"Este delicado juego de cambios, de buenas frustraciones, de apoyos, agota para mí el hecho est ético. Quienes lo descuidan o ignoran, ignoran lo particular literario". "Elementos de preceptiva", Sur, 7.


Remote from all expressivist aesthetics, Borges can be considered a formalist, in the non restrictive sense this adjective as applied to the avant-gardes. As Sklovski, his contemporary, Borges trusts the formal accuracy of the so called minor genres, that avoid the formlessness of the psychological and realistic novel constrained to totality by their pledge to representation. See: "Los laberintos policiales y Chesterton", Sur, 10, and Sklovski, cit., "La novella dei misteri", p.143. As Sklovski, Borges thinks that the literary definition of a genre is based on procedures.


"Las actividades que puede promover en nosotros cualquier forma verbal". "Elementos de preceptiva", Sur, 7:159.


© Borges Studies Online 14/04/01
© Beatriz Sarlo

How to cite this article:

Beatriz Sarlo. "Borges: tradition and the avant-garde"  Borges Studies Online. On line. J. L. Borges Center for Studies & Documentation. Internet: 14/04/01 (