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Image for Libraries and Labyrinths: Borges and Me

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Last on

Mon 31 May 2010 23:30 BBC Radio 4

30 minutes
First broadcast:
Tuesday 19 May 2009

Peter White gets to grips with Jorge Luis Borges, the much-loved Argentinian poet, essayist, and short-story writer, whose tales of fantasy and dreamworlds are classics of 20th-century world literature.

As he did to great effect with our Milton documentary, 'Visions of Paradise', Peter uses his own blindness as a way of probing a great writer's experience of his loss of sight. It's a novel and compelling way of opening up Borges' work.

Labyrinths, intricate puzzles and game-playing characterise Borges' short stories such as 'Fictions', 'The Aleph', and indeed 'Labyrinths'. We'll relate this to his years of close reading of world literature, his playfulness, and the fact that through his long years of myopia, he stocked his mind with books, preparing for the blindness that he knew would come.

Borges detested the regime of the dictator General Peron. So it wasn't until the end of Peronism in 1955 that the author was appointed Director of the National Library in Buenos Aires. By then he was almost completely blind: "I speak of God's splendid irony in granting me at once 800,000 books and darkness," he noted. We visit the National Library and find out how Borges' work is currently being converted into Braille for the country's blind readers.

To compensate for his loss of vision, Borges turned again to poetry, a form of writing that he could more easily revise in his head than on paper. He also continued his pursuit of knowledge, acquiring a taste for the old Anglo Saxon language and Old Norse.

Producer: Mark Smalley.


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