In reading the essays contained in this book, it is not difficult to see what Borges meant in his final paragraph about the three "cardinal directions." In the opening essay, "Indagación de la palabra" ("Investigation of the Word"), Borges breaks down the semantic meanings behind the famous opening to Don Quixote. It truly is a wonderful philological essay to read and while doubtless some would jump all over this pages-long exposition on a phrase from a book that was later referenced in his story "Pierre Menard," I would caution against making that causal claim; Borges does, after all, reference Cervantes' masterpiece in a great many essays. But this essay is worth reading, along with the eponymous "El idioma de los argentinos" ("The Idiom of the Argentines"), for Borges' deft exploration of the connections between Language and Art. Borges certainly was not approaching this from a semiotic point of view (considering that this school of interpretation was founded after 1928), but there are certainly some parallels between Borges' approach to the Word and that which latter grammarians and philologists took.
Ningún libro menos necesitado de prólogo que este de formación haragana, hecho sedimentariamente de prólogs, vale decir, de inauguraciones y principios....El prólogo quiere ser el tránsito de silencio a voz, su intermediación, su crepúsculo; pero es tan verbal, y tan entregado a las deficiencias de lo verbal, como lo precedido por él.
Esta vocación de vivir que nos impone las eleciones ominosas de la pasión, de la amistad, de la enemistad, nos impone otra de menos responsable importancia: la de resolver este mundo. Nadie puede carecer de esa inclinación, expláyela o no en libro. Este que prologo es la relación de mis atenciones de ese orden, durante el veintisiete. Su aire enciclopédico y montonero - esperanza argentina, borradores de afición filológica, historia literaria, alucinaciones o lucideces finales de la metafísica, agrados del recuerdo, retórica - es más aparente que real. Tres direcciones cardinales lo rigen. La primera es un recelo, el lenguaje; la segunda es un misterio y una esperanza, la eternidad; la tercera es esta gustación, Buenos Aires. Las dos últimas confluyen en la declaración intitulada Sentirse en muerte. La primera quiere vigilar en todo decir. (pp. 9-10)
No book less needs a prologue that this one of lazy formation, done in sediments of prologues, well to say, of inaugurations and beginnings...The prologue wants to be the transit of silence to voice, its mediator, its twilight; but it is so verbal, and so embedded in the deficiencies of the verbal, like that preceded by it.
This vocation of living that imposes on us the ominous choices of passion, friendship, and enmity, imposes another of less responsible importance: that of resolving this world. No one can lack that inclination, displayed or not in a book. This which extends is the relation of my attention of that order, during 1927. Its encyclopedic and monotonous air - Argentine hope, rough drafts of philological inclination, literary history, hallucinations or lucid metaphysical finales, pleasing of memory, rhetoric - it is more apparent than real. Three cardinal directions govern it. The first is a suspicion, language; the second is a mystery and a hope, eternity; the third is this gustation, Buenos Aires. The last two conjoin in the declaration entitled "To Feel [Oneself] in Death." The first wants to watch over in all that is said.
Borges also covers metaphysical issues at length. Besides the above-mentioned "Sentirse en muerte," which is in the beginning a recounting of a feeling that he had just prior to composing the essay, Borges touches upon issues of death and after-death (if one does not prefer "afterlife" to describe these sensations) in passing in several other essays in this collection. But it is the third "cardinal direction," that of his native Buenos Aires, that receives the most love here. Borges waxes eloquent on the scandalous tango in "Ascendencias del tango," as well discussing milongas in "Apunte férvido sobre las tres vidas de la milonga." Although there were a few occasions where Borges' love for his city seemed to be too much for a foreigner such as myself to grasp, it does merit attention, considering how much Argentina, and especially Buenos Aires, factors into several of Borges' first fictions, which were beginning to be composed around this time.
El idioma de los argentinos continues the developments seen in Borges' first two essay collections. Here, the fervent, passionate declarations are fewer, as a more sober viewpoint has begun to manifest itself in these essays. There is more of a discussion of metaphysics here, along with issues regarding the manipulation of language. Although I cautioned readers in my previous review not to read too much into the topics here, it might be worth considering his latter fictions in light of these essays, rather than considering these earlier essays in light of the latter fictions. This collection was easy to read, despite the weighty materials discussed and for those who are curious to learn more about Borges as a critic and thinker, El idioma de los argentinos is an important period in Borges' development as an essayist.