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Old 08-24-2009   #1
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Macedonio Fernandez

The man who invented Borges?

Until I read this, I had never heard of Macedonio Fernandez, who was apparently a major influence on Borges.
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Old 08-24-2009   #2
Russell Nash
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Re: Macedonio Fernandez

Borges himself wrote that one of the writers he copied (consciuosly or unconsciously) was Giovanni Papini. There is also a study that shows that by the time Borges wrote his "A Universal History of Infamy", he already knew and read Marcel Schwob's stories, by and large, there is a certain resemblance between Schowb's and Borges' stories. If you want to know Borges' influences, he himself can tell you in "Other Inquisitions", just to name a few: Chesterton, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Kafka, Ambrose Bierce, among many others. Among his best friends were Adolfo Bioy Casares and Silvina Ocampo, who are well known for being good writers as well. Bioy Casares and Borges wrote in collaboration a few times (Bustos Domecq's stories). Leon Bloy's life inspired his famous "Three Versions of Judas". According to what I saw, with my own eyes, when part of his library was in display at the "Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes", Borges also read American sci-fi stories from the 40's and '50s. I remember having seen an old book by Donald Wollheim.

Borges is the least Argentine of all the Argentine writers, have you heard this expression before? His writings, with the exception of the "literatura gauchesca" (for example, Man from the Pink Corner), are European in style. If you compare other writers from his time, like Roberto Arlt, you'll see a huge difference in style. Today, even though Borges is a national symbol, very few people read him. Of those who read Borges, very few understand what he says, sometimes I found myself reading the same paragraph twice (and Spanish is my first language!), and he is generally considered to be a very difficult to understand writer. Nowadays, most of the Argentine writers don't use his refined and poetic style, and needless to say that certain genres, like horror, are nonexistent. But, probably, the same happens to American and English writers, who do you think reads, today, Nathaniel Hawthorne's novels?

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Old 08-25-2009   #3
Russell Nash
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Re: Macedonio Fernandez


Macedonio Fernández, 1874-1952

(Borges' words at the tomb of Macedonio Fernández)

A philosopher, a poet and a novelist died with Macedonio Fernández, and those terms, applied to him, recover a sense that they usually don’t have in this republic.

A philosopher is, among us, a man versed in the history of philosophy, in the chronology of the debates and in the bifurcations of schools; a poet is he who has learned the rules of the metric (or that he infringes them, ostentatiously) and knows, too, that can versify his melancholy, but not his envy or gluttony, although such passions are fundamental in him; a novelist is the artisan that offers four or five people to us (four or five names), and that makes them live together, sleep, wake up, have lunch and tea to fill the required number of pages. For Macedonio, on the contrary, as for the Hindus, the circumstances and dates of philosophy: they didn’t concern him, but philosophy did. He was a philosopher, because he longed to know who we are (if we are somebody) and what or who is the universe. He was a poet, because he felt that poetry is the most faithful procedure to transcribe reality. Macedonio, I think, could have written a Quixote whose hero had real adventures more portentous than those promised by his books. He was a novelist, because he felt that each one of us is unique, as every face is, although metaphysical reasons led him to deny the self. For metaphysical or emotional reasons, because I suspected that he denied the self to hide it from death, so that, not existing, he would have been inaccessible to death.

All his life, Macedonio, for love of life, was fearful of death, with the exception (I say) of the last hours, when he found his courage and waited for it with quiet curiosity.

Macedonio’s intimate friends were Jose Ingenieros, Ignacio del Mazo, Mendiondo Carlos Julio Molina Vedia, Arturo Múscari and my father, around 1921, back from Switzerland and Spain, I inherited that friendship. The Argentine Republic seemed to me a tasteless territory, which was not, at that time, the picturesque barbarism and that was not the culture yet, but I talked with Macedonio a couple of times and realized that the gray man, renting a poor room in the neighborhood of Tribunales, revealed the eternal problems like Thales of Miletus and Parmenides did, he could replace infinitely the centuries and the kingdoms of Europe. I spent my time reading Mauthner or writing arid and avaricious poems of the sect, of the error, ultraist; the certainty that on Saturday, in a tearoom in Once, we would listen to Macedonio explaining what absence or illusion the self is, was enough, I remember very well, to justify the weeks. In the course of a long life and there was no other conversation that impressed me as much as Macedonio Fernandez’s, and I met Alberto Gerchunoff and Rafael Cansinos Assens. It is spoken of Macedonio’s irreverence. He thought that the fullness of being is here, now, in each individual, to worship the far-away seemed to him to disdain or ignore the immediate divinity; from this suspicion his mockery against illustrious old things proceeded.

The historians of Jewish mysticism talk about a kind of master, the Zaddik, whose doctrine of the Law is less important than the fact that he himself is the Law. Some of the Zaddik was in Macedonio. I imitated him in those years, up to the passionate and devoted plagiarism. I felt: Macedonio is metaphysics, he is literature. His predecessors can shine in history, but they were drafts of Macedonio, imperfect and previous versions. Not to imitate that canon would have been an incredible negligence.

The best chances of what is to be Argentine -lucidity, modesty, courtesy, the intimate passion, the great friendship- came true in Macedonio Fernández, perhaps more fully than in other contemporary celebrities. Macedonio was a Creole, naturally, and even with innocence, and precisely because he was able to joke about the gaucho (as Estanislao del Campo did, whom he loved) and to say that this was an entertainment for the horses of the estancias.

Before being written, Macedonio’s jokes and speculations were oral. I have known the joy of seeing them emerge, by chance from dialogues, with a spontaneity that might not be displayed on the written page.

To define Macedonio Fernández seems an impossible task; it is like to define red in terms of another color; I understand that the brilliant epithet, for what it asserts and what it excludes, is perhaps the most accurate that can be found. Macedonio will live through his work and as a center of a loving mythology. One of the joys of my life is to have been one of Macedonio’s friends, have seen him alive.

March-April, 1952

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fernandez, macedonio

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