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Mazes and Amazements

Borges and Western Philosophy


Shlomy Mualem

Borges gained his first lessons in philosophy from his father while still a young boy – an intimate home schooling that grew into a long-term obsession. Its ubiquitous presence in his thought and writing has made him one of the most distinctive literary philosophers in the West, expressing itself in a wide-ranging array of fictional essays, metaphysical parables, philosophical poetry, and multifaceted literary artifacts. In contrast to the prevailing perception of Borges as a «dogmatic sceptic» for whom philosophy serves solely aesthetic or rhetorical purposes, this volume proposes a novel approach for understanding Borges as an intellectual, together with an interpretive structure for comprehending his work, based on a systematic examination of the complex relations between literary writing and Western philosophy in his œuvre. Offering a reading of selected Borgesian texts in the light of the Western philosophers of whom he is most enamoured, and analyzing the way in which philosophical theories underpin his texts, it illustrates the fundamental tension of Borges’ writing as a manifestation of what he calls the «intellectual instinct.»


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Part II: Comparative Perspectives


Part II Comparative Perspectives Chapter 4 Borges and Schopenhauer: Microcosms and Aesthetic Observation “At some point while in Switzerland, I began reading Schopenhauer. Today, were I to choose a single philosopher, I would choose him” (Borges 1987, 216).1 This statement explains why Schopenhauer is one of the most quoted philosophers in Borges’ work. Despite his notoriously skeptical attitude towards philosophical “systems” (which in one of his Norton lectures at Harvard he calls “human perplexities” [2002, 2], Borges pays tribute to the German master on numerous occasions. Thus, for example, in the epilogue to the English edition of Dreamtigers, he states that few things have happened to him “more worthy of remembrance than Schopenhauer’s thought and the music of England’s words” (1964b, 93). Similarly, in his essay “On the Classics,” published in Other Inquisitions (1952), he declares that, while suspicious of Shakespeare’s and Voltaire’s eternity, he has no doubt about Schopenhauer’s and Berkeley’s infinity (OC, 2:151). A study of Schopenhauer’s “lucid and passionate” philosophy in Borges’ writings can thus only be instructive and fruitful.2 1 An earlier version of this chapter was first published in Mualem 2006. Reprinted by kind permission of Iberoamericana-Vervuert. 2 For Borges and Schopenhauer, see inter alia Wheelock 1969; Christ 1969; Paoli 1986; Alazraki 1988; Jaén 1992; and Almeida 2004 – all of whom have addressed Schopenhauer’s metaphysics, focusing either on the theme of the cosmic Will that entails the microcosmic-macrocosmic reflection or the idealistic theme of the world as mental representation. Rather than analyzing...

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