The OF Blog: Borges Month: El Hacedor (1960)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Borges Month: El Hacedor (1960)

For me, Jorge Luis Borges' El Hacedor (available in English as Dreamtigers) has always been a co-favorite of mine.  There is an ethereal quality to the writing that goes beyond the often-amazing content.  It differs from Ficciones or El Aleph in that it is as much a series of poems as prose fragments.  There is a richer use of metaphor here and some of the tales feel more "personal," as if the author were offering up some sort of insight.

It is worth noting that El Hacedor came out around the same time that Borges became almost totally blind.  Perhaps due to his need to rely upon personal assistants (including at first his mother and then later his future wife, María Kodama) to transcribe his thoughts, Borges began to write in shorter, more poetic styles.  It is here for the first time since 1929 that Borges published a full set of new poems; from then until his last work in 1985, Borges would publish more poetry collections than prose fictions.

There are several favorites of mine.  First is a rough translation I did a few years ago of "Dreamtigers":

En la infancia yo ejercí con fervor la adoración del tigre:  no el tigre overo de los camalotes del Paraná y de la confusión amazónica, sino el tigre rayado, asiático, real, que sólo pueden afrontar los hombres de guerra, sobre un castillo encima de un elefante.  Yo solía demorarme sin fin ante una de las jaulas en el Zoológico; yo apreciaba las vastas enciclopedias y los libros de historia natural, por el esplendor de sus tigres. (Todavía me acuerdo de esas figureas:  yo que no puedo recordar sin error la frente o la sonrisa de una mujer.)  Pasó la infancia, caducaron los tigres y su pasión, pero todavía están en mis sueños.  En esa napa sumergida o caótica siguen prevaleciendo y así:  Dormido, me distrae un sueño cualquiera y de pronto sé que es un sueño.  Suelo pensar entonces:  Éste es un sueño, una pura diversión de mi voluntad, y ya que tengo un ilimitado poder, voy a causar un tigre.

¡Oh, incompetencia!  Nunca mis sueños saben engendrar la apetecida fiera.  Aparece el tigre, eso sí, pero disecado o endeble, o con impuras variaciones de forma, o de un tamaño inadmisible, o harto fugaz, o tirando a perro o a pájaro. (pp. 13-14)

In infancy I exercised with fervor the adoration of the tiger: not the spotted tiger [jaguar] of the camalotes of the Paraná and the Amazon wilderness, but instead the striped tiger, Asiatic, real, which only could be confronted by men of war, from a castle on top of an elephant. I would remain, stopping for ages, before one of the cages in the zoo; I ranked the vast encyclopedias and books of natural history by the splendor of their tigers. (I always remember these figures: I who cannot recall without error the face or smile of a woman.) Infancy passed, the tigers and my passion for them faded, but always they are in my dreams. In that underground or chaotic pool, they continue to prevail and thusly: Sleeping, I am drawn into some sort of dream and suddenly I know that it is a dream. Then I stop to think: This is a dream, a pure diversion of my will, and since I have limitless power, I'm going to bring into being a tiger.

Oh, incompetence! My dreams never know how to generate the savage beast I so desire. Yes, the tiger appears, but it is shriveled or weakly, or with impure variations of form or an unacceptable size or is fleeting in appearance or takes the form of a dog or parrot.
There is a yearning quality to this prose poem, one that feels as though all of the mirror Borges, wandering in their labyrinthine passages, glancing through mirrors, that all of these are laid bare for just a fleeting moment.  It is perhaps, along with "El Sur," my favorite Borges composition.  There are several others, such as "Argumentum Ornithologicum" or "A Luis de Camoens" (Camões being, of course, Portugal's most famous poet of the 16th century), that I could praise almost as much as "Dreamtigers," but my time is limited, as these commentaries are meant to highlight aspects of individual Borges works that I enjoyed (or in rare cases, did not).  But I will note that El Hacedor marks an important stage in Borges' writing career, a change that I personally enjoyed, but which I fear is relatively obscure those readers, especially those reading him in translation, who rarely read past the Borges of the 1940s.

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