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News Release — April 7, 1999

Ransom Center Acquires Rare Archive of Jorge Luis Borges

The Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin has acquired a major collection of papers by renowned Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986). Borges's influence on modern literature has been incalculable. He is arguably the most important Latin American writer of the twentieth century and opened the way to a remarkable generation of Spanish-American novelists. Gabriel García Márquez, Carlos Fuentes, and Mario Vargas Llosa have all acknowledged major debts to Borges.

Even prior to his death thirteen years ago, materials by Borges became notorious for their scarcity and elusiveness. The Ransom Center's acquisition,containing over 400 rare items including several unpublished manuscripts and personal notebooks, presents a remarkable opportunity for scholars to study Borges's creative process and ensures the preservation of a significant share of the author's few surviving papers.

Made possible by close collaboration between the Ransom Center, the University, the General Libraries, and the Benson Latin American Collection, the Borges acquisition affirms the Ransom Center's position as one of the leading archives for Modernist literature while strengthening the University of Texas's reputation as the world's premier institution for the study of Latin America.

Commenting on the acquisition, Ransom Center director Thomas F. Staley, noted that Borges's papers "found an appropriate home at the Center among collections of so many of the 20th century's great Modernist writers—James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, D.H. Lawrence, Ezra Pound—and surely Borges belongs with them." Staley expresssed his "deepest gratitude" to the University of Texas System Academic Library Collection Enhancement Program for providing major funding for the acquisition, observing that Borges's papers will be a resource for scholars throughout the University of Texas System and the broader research community.

In addition to bolstering the Center's collections of preeminent 20th century authors, the Borges archive greatly enhances the University's already sterling reputation for Latin American Studies. According to Harold Billings, director of General Libraries at the University, "A librarian of magical infinities himself, Borges would be pleased to find the development of an archive of his works growing among the greatest collections and sets of programs for Latin American research in the world—the libraries of the University of Texas at Austin."

Significantly, the archive represents a major contribution to the University's Latin American Initiative, an important component of its current "We're Texas" capital campaign. Through this initiative, the University plans to improve its capacity to serve as a prime conduit of communication between the United States and Latin America. Facilitating scholarship on Latin America is vital to the initiative's success, and the Borges archive offers an outstanding opportunity for such study.

According to University of Texas President Larry R. Faulkner, "With its proximity to Latin America and its strong presence in emerging knowledge-based technologies, the State of Texas is poised to become a major center of Pan-American economic and cultural interchange. Our outstanding resources—faculty, students, academic programs, and collections—have made UT one of our nation's preeminent sources for expertise and research on Latin America. The papers of Jorge Luis Borges are an important addition to these endeavors."

Borges Papers at the Ransom Center

The Borges papers acquired by the Ransom Center include over 400 items. The collection is remarkable for its manuscript material, much of which has never before been published. For though first editions by Borges are themselves quite difficult to attain, the rarity of his manuscripts has been particularly conspicuous. Highlights of the collection include:

  • Four personal notebooks written in Borges's own distinctive hand. Of particular significance are working drafts of a number of published works providing fascinating insight into Borges's experimentation with language and form.
  • A personal notebook written in the hand of Borges's mother between 1955-1960. Material in this notebook were dictated by Borges to his mother as his advancing blindness prevented him from writing. The notebook contains six working drafts and is particularly poignant in containing several leaves on which Borges himself has attempted to write, his typical tiny neat words replaced by an all but illegible hand.
  • An autographed unpublished four-page short story manuscript about the descendants of an old family living in the southside quarter of Buenos Aires, an old-fashioned slightly seedy district loved by Borges for its historic appeal and authenticity.
  • The first draft (in typescript) of Emma Zunz, perhaps Borges's best known short story. The draft contains a number of autograph corrections in Borges's hand, including several character name changes.
  • Two autograph presentation copies of the only issues of Prisma, the Ultraist "mural magazine" or poetry posters published by Borges in 1921 and 1922. These two fragile posters are probably the rarest of all Borges's publications. Both are signed and dated by Borges.
  • Unpublished letters to the poets Ricardo Molinari and Ulyses Petit de Murat dating from 1922 to 1929.
  • A complete run of the second series of Proa, a literary journal co-founded by Borges and first appearing in August 1924. Borges contributed to all issues except one and his sister Norah provided some of the artwork.
  • Numerous first and deluxe editions of his poetry, essays, and short stories.
  • An unpublished autograph manuscript draft for a film script.
  • Long playing phonograph recordings of Borges both reading his works and lecturing.

Jorge Luis Borges

Born in Buenos Aires in 1899, Borges grew up in a cultivated upper middle-class family. Borges's grandmother was from Britain, and through her tutoring he learned to read English before Spanish. He was chiefly educated in Geneva and Spain.

While studying in Spain, Borges became familiar with a then vogue literary vanguard known as Ultraism, a sort of quasi-expressionism. Upon his return to Argentina in 1921, he banded together with a group of poets and began composing the "mural magazine" or poetry poster Prisma. Prisma, posted on kiosks and walls around Buenos Aires, advanced the tenets of Ultraism, a major influence on Borges's early writings.

In 1923, Borges published his first book of verse, Fervor de Buenos Aires. Following this, he began to write prolifically, branching from poetry into an eclectic assortment of essays and masterful short stories. The latter would make his reputation.

Borges's surreal and fantastic short stories are elaborate intellectual puzzles. In them, he artfully uses paradox and ambiguity to create cryptic, playful, and vertiginously imagined stories that reveal insights of universal proportion. His best known collected stories are Historia Universal de la Infamía (1935), Tiön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius (1938), El Jardín de Senderos que se bifurcan (1941), Ficciones (1955, English translation 1962), and El Aleph (1949).

Borges first became known in Europe through French translations in the mid-1940s. He achieved international fame in 1961 when he shared the Formentor Prize with Samuel Beckett for Ficciones. The English speaking world discovered Borges in 1962 with the translated publication of Labyrinths, a collection of short stories and essays. In 1965, John Updike wrote in a New Yorker essay of "the belated North American acknowledgment of the genius of Jorge Luis Borges."

Though unsuccessfully battling blindness, Borges was by then lecturing as a guest professor at North American universities, including the University of Texas at Austin of which he was particularly fond. He returned to Geneva shortly prior to his death in 1986.

 

 

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