The OF Blog: Borges Month, Evaristo Carriego (1930)

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Borges Month, Evaristo Carriego (1930)

Evaristo Carriego is in many respects the oddest of Borges' many books of non-fiction.  It is, to all practical extent, a biography (with several extras) of the short life of an Argentine poet, Evaristo Carriego, who lived only 29 years (1883-1912).  If it weren't for Borges' book and, much later, a tango by Eduardo Rovira, Carriego's name would have been relegated to the dusty, forgotten corners of an Argentine library or two, with hardly any recognition internationally.

But Carriego, by pure chance, happened to live near the Borges family in the years just prior to his untimely death and despite the difference of 17 years in age, he befriended the precocious pre-teen Borges and discussed his views on art and poetry, views that obviously made a great impression on Borges, who would later champion Carriego as being, along with Macedonio Fernández and José Hernández, among Argentina's greatest writers/poets.

This short biography/cultural history covers the life of Carriego, his writings, and the Buenos Aires, with its tangos, milongas, brothels, knife fights, and other sordid underground life of the first decades of the 20th century.  For those, such as myself, who are fascinated with cultural history, this short book is perfect.  But for those who want to know more about Borges' development as an essayist and as a writer, Evaristo Carriego is more of a side-step than anything else.  Yes, he does recapitulate some of the ideas on literature that he explored in his first three essay collections, but there is little new here, outside of learning to what extent Carriego may have influenced the pre-teen Borges to strive and become a poet.  I am not providing any translated passages here in part because the subject matter would require me explaining more who Carriego was, both as a person and as a poet, and outside of what Borges provides, I know nothing (I, however, am somewhat familiar with Hernández's Martín Fierro and in a couple of weeks, I will be discussing both that poem and the book Borges wrote on it).  In addition, as I noted above, Borges barely elaborates further in this book on certain literary ideas that he had discussed earlier (there are some interesting developments in his fifth prose essay collection, Discusión, that I will discuss tomorrow).

So how do I view Evaristo Carriego?  It is a well-written biography with some added chapters on porteño life in the early 20th century that intrigued me for those elements alone.  But it is also a work that, outside of noting how Borges discusses directly one of his prime mentors, ultimately is a very minor work, even less so than the previous essays and poems that have been discussed so far in this series.  While certainly far from a bad book, I can only recommend it to die-hard fans of Borges and to those who want a glimpse into the cultural life of Argentina in the first decades of the 20th century.

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