Jorge Luis Borges

Jorge Luis Borges at M.I.T.

April 13, 1980

Sex Crimes in Cambridge!
Leading Academics Commit Cunnilingus on Great Writer!

One will search in vain for objectivity in this report. The author admits that he has an ax to grind. He will therefore grind it , and wield it also. He is well aware of the reception that awaits authors at the hands of the local intelligentsia. Perhaps it is all one ought to expect from a company town dedicated to the production of learned humbug.

If you are a writer whose name is not, or has not yet become, a household word, you can inundate its academies with ideas, witty chatter, helpful advice and volumes of reprints. You can offer free seminars, or unpaid guest appearances in English classes, where you are likely to be exhibited as an exotic specimen from the rain forest . You can rack up in hours of volunteer work, offer your services as an errand boy, panhandle at their porticos or contribute to the alumni funds . No matter what you do, you will never receive anything but disdain; more , in fact, than that which they bestow even on common laborers.

But if you happen to be Jorge Luis Borges, or Alexandre Solzhenitsyn, or Jean-Paul Sartre, or even , ( God forbid! ) Norman Mailer, they will proffer you their mouths, their genitals, and every other orifice. After the which they will nail you to an auditorium stage, yank off your trousers, and gang-bang you before hundreds of students, faculty, administrators, and an avid public endlessly athirst at the founts of knowledge!!

On the night of April 8th, 1980 , in MIT's auditorium 26-100 , Jorge Luis Borges and Roy Lisker shared all the humiliations of just such a spectacle. Auditorium 26-100 is spacious. Imagine a modernized version of those enormous science auditoriums depicted in the movies, the kind of place where some brash young genius in the back rows stands up to challenge the pet theory of the 'professor' down at the blackboard.

An hour before the scheduled appearance of Mr. Borges the badly designed narrow corridor outside its doors was packed solid with enthusiasm . By 7:45 PM a linear shape had roughed itself out. It was at that point that the organizers, acting in concert with MIT security, instigated panic and confusion by announcing that persons with MIT ID-cards had to stand by the rightmost door. The remaining riff-raff were ordered to go to the left. It is most fortunate that these instructions were ignored. They were also superfluous: when the doors were finally opened and we went inside, we discovered that MIT had already created a labyrinth of internal pecking orders. Areas demarcated by signs and string had been set aside for :

  1. Students from Harvard and MIT.
  2. MIT Faculty.
  3. Press.

The rest of the auditorium was left to us sudras. These barriers were in their turn ignored. People just sat anywhere they liked.

Half an hour later Jorge Luis Borges was let in through a door at the top of the auditorium. Old and blind, he had to be guided through the crowd. Sitting on the stage, behind a several tables set horizontal in a row, a panel of four awaited him, poised to plunder his soul with Deep Questions.

The applause was threatening . It only came to a halt when he'd been seated in the midst of his inquisitors.

I easily concede that Jorge Luis Borges is one of the greatest writers of our times , (among those who happen to have been picked up by the mainstream publishers) . Yet it looked as if MIT's Praetorian Guard was not prepared to permit him much leeway for the exhibiton of his greatness. At the far right of the panel sat Chief Vulturess Margery Resnick , Chairperson of MIT' s department of Foreign Languages and Literature. Beside her right hand sat Jaime Alazraki, professor of Spanish studies at Harvard. To his right , blind, affable and not easily fooled, sat Borges himself. After him came William Barnstone, another lit professor just in from Indiana. Rounding off the symposium was Robert Becher, a Boston University astrophysicist.

Borges is a past master as such things. Not a crease on his faded grey suit rippled as Margery Resnick immersed him in a bubble-bath of silly flattery, oozing with naked hero worship, from which, inevitably, the phrase, " world's greatest writer" , rolled out over her tongue like a helpless prey . "It is difficult to know how to introduce a writer whose works deny the reality of our own existence", she commented somewhere along the way. This hardly served her as a deterent. If Borges did not exist as a person, he certainly existed as a fetish object.

Quoting from the Spanish she enunciated her words with the overconfident accents of someone who had taken an advanced degree in Spanish at Harvard - and learned to speak it very well! The microphone passed to the punctilious Jaime Alazraki: he asked Borges to tell us something about the contribution English literature had made on his work as a writer. Borges told us that not only English literature, but the English language itself, has exerted a fundamental influence on his artistic development. His father had exposed him to English poetry even before he could read. He read the Bible first in the King James Version, and the Arabian Nights in the Burton translation. He warmed up as he spoke to us about Stevenson, Poe, Kipling, Hawthorne, all the great story-tellers. His knowledge of the poetry of Swinburne, Emerson, Frost and others was first hand and intimate. He could, and did, quote them from memory.

The Arabian Nights, the Jungle Book, Treasure Island, Twice-Told Tales ........ this was hardly the level of discourse to which his interlocutors were accustomed : Did Mr. Borges know , Kenneth Becher inquired, that his stories anticipated the findings of modern physics, that his cosmology was in advance of the theory of the expanding universe?

J.L. Borges : The world is a riddle, and the only beautiful thing about it is that it can't be solved.

This inspired Margery Resnick's next question. After informing him that Michel Foucault mentions him near the beginning of his turgid "The Order of Things" , she wanted to know what he thought of some theory of Foucault's buried near the back of this tome. We are to understand that Borges finds the time to devour all the abstruse writings of Michel Foucault as they emerge in 500-page bricks.

J.L. Borges : A grunt into the microphone.

Jaime Alazraki then implored him for guidance on a fine point in Jewish Cabbala which he'd found mentioned in one of his early novels : The Size Of My Hope .

J.L. Borges : I'm more ashamed of that book than of anything else I've ever written. After its publication I went around Buenos Aires collecting copies and having them burned.

Despite this warning Alazraki obstinately continued to question him on this fine point. Borges then explained that the Cabbala appeals to him because it is a cosmology through which everything in the universe becomes a symbol.

Will Barnstone's face lit up at the prospect of entering still further into the arcane. Can you explain Gnostic teaching to us? What is the P leroma ? Who is "The Other , the Unknown God, the Aimless?"

J.L. Borges :Another grunt in the microphone.

Then he commented : The world is a nightmare from which we are all trying to escape. I myself find personal salvation through writing.

In the course of the evening, Borges interjected several gentle digs about "The Other".

Becher thought it important for Borges to know that he'd anticipated Feynman's Quantum Electrodynamics in his story, The Garden of Forking Paths . Borges confessed that the theory of time presented in the story had been cribbed verbatim from Francis Herbert Bradley's "Appearance and Reality".

Mr. Borges, do you experience fear or anger before the prospect of death?, wailed God-seeker Barnstone:

J.L. Borges : Neither young man - neither! Hope! All I feel is hope , knowing the certainty of escape from this miserable existence!

Margery Resnick: What do you think of Diderot's theory of fate?

J.L. Borges : Free will is an illusion, but a necessary illusion. To quote Spinoza, we are like an apple that falls, but feels that it wants to fall.

The official part of the interrogation was over. Questions from the audience were submitted in writing, filtered through the hands of the panelists, then read aloud by Resnick. I know that she did some editing on them because she butchered the question I sent along.

- There are scientists who say we can become immortal in another two years. What's your opinion ? -

- Do you believe that computers are able to write poetry? -

- Do you like William Butler Yeats?-

- Does the spoken word have a place in modern art? -

- Another obscure point of Cabbala.

The Jorge Borges orgy was over. The audience broke up, the Defenders of the Word formed a human shield around him as persons with copies of Labyrinths and other works of his lined up for his signature. Jorge Luis Borges is totally blind: someone could just as easily have passed him a contract signing away his royalties for the next twenty years. He wouldn't have known the difference. This is not disturbing. The disturbing question is: would the panelists have known the difference?

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