Jorge Luis Borges presents a lecture called “Dreams and English Literature”. He also reads the poem “Spinoza” in Spanish at 01:10:16.

Introducer

00:00:00.00

Ladies and gentlemen, "Time is the substance I am made of, Time is the river that sweeps me along, but I am the river. It is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger. It is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire. The world unfortunately is real, I unfortunately, am Borges." I hope the author of these lines will bear with us if we dissent, and say he fortunately is Borges. Because we are fortunate tonight, and indeed honoured, to have in our midst, Señor Professor Borges, Professor of English at Buenos Aires University, and director of the Biblioteca Nacional in Buenos Aires, the city in which he was born in 1899. Presently, he is visiting professor at Harvard University. But we dissent not merely because Señor Borges is with us here this evening, but also because of the way in which he was with us before he came, and will be with us after he is gone. Because Señor Borges, fortunately, is Jorge Luis Borges, one of the great writers of our time. He began publishing his poems and essays in the 1920s and has now published a total of six volumes of poetry. The first, El Fervor de Buenos Aires, in 1923, the last, Hoy Más, 1923-1958. He has also published eleven essays, beginning with Inquisiciones in 1925, including the important Historia de la Eternidad, in 1936, and, to my knowledge, the last one, Leopoldo Lugones, in 1955. His fame came to him through his short stories, which he began to publish in the 1930s, and of which, the three important volumes are Historia universal de la infamia of 1935, Ficciones of 1945, and El Aleph in 1949. Two anthologies of his work, El Hacedor, and the Anthología Personal, appeared in 1960 and 1961, and include poetry, prose, and essays. Borges' work has been translated into many languages and established him internationally as the most important, Spanish, modern Spanish writer. In 1961, he shared the international publisher's prize Prix Formentor with Samuel Beckett. Señor Borges is also the joint author of numerous detective stories and film scripts. He is the editor of several anthologies, annotator of classical texts, and the translator of a number of writers including Faulkner, Kafka, and Gide. Borges' versatility reflects one of the essential features of both the man and the artist--namely, the range and breadth of his mind. He speaks several languages: English with a fluency and ease that is almost native, he knows Latin, Greek, Old English, and Old Norse. His interests include etymology, chess, occultism, algebra, history, eighteenth century type, and the philosophers. His works abound with references from the familiar to the esoteric. You will as soon come upon Goethe's Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre as Lucretius' De rerum natura, George Bernard Shaw's Guide to Socialism, as a fifth-century Buddhist treatise, Visuddhimagga, Beowulf, the Koran, Hermes Trismegistus, Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, the Kabbalah, the Roman de la Rose...

 

Annotation

00:04:27.92

[Laughter from audience]

 

Introducer

00:04:30.09

I think I should...[inaudible] [Laughter.] ...Dante, Homer, Marcus Aurelius, and the Tahafut al-Tahafut, by Abu Al-Walid Muhammad Ibn Ahmad Ibn Muhammad Ibn Rushd, who luckily for us, became Averroes. This is only a glimpse of the encyclopedic world of Borges, who was influenced by Mark Twain, Valery, De Quincy, and most deeply, by Schopenhauer, who, according to Borges, in Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung "deciphered the universe." He has written essays on Joyce's Ulysses, on Unamuno and Omar Khayyam, on Milton, Quevedo, Walt Whitman, Flaubert, also on Coleridge, Pascal, and Oscar Wilde, to name but a few.

 

Introducer

00:05:30.80

Laughter.

 

Introducer

00:05:32.57

It is precisely the tremendous encyclopedic nature of his work that makes it modern, because it seems to me that it is at this particular instant in the history of European culture, and perhaps in the history of the world, that the past has become present in a way in which it has never been before, and this timelessness, in the coexistence of all time, is a feature increasingly common in twentieth century literature, and it is of the very essence of the work of Jorge Luis Borges. This is perhaps what he had in mind when he said in the passage from "New Refutation to Time" which I quoted at the beginning, "Time is a substance I am made of. Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river." And so, in yet another sense, we are fortunate that Jorge Luis Borges is Jorge Luis Borges. Every writer is unique; every man is unique. But Borges is unique in a very special way. While others have their uniqueness by their identity, Borges has his by a kind of non-identity. His mind is like a many-sided, irregular-shaped prism, from which the whole spectre of what has been thought and said in the past and present, is reflected and bundled in that highly-concentrated manner so peculiar of him, to become essay, story, or poem. Unlike the professor in Wolfgang Hildesheimer's play Die Verspatung, who, when he discovers that he has come into the world at a time when everything has already been said and done, embarks desperately upon an absurdity, namely the demonstration that the human species has descended from some kind of crow, Borges makes literature precisely out of the fact that everything has already been said and done. What matters is not originality but illumination. If I now go on to say that it is through this non-identity and lack of originality that Borges has his identity and is original, we arrive at one of those paradoxes that delight him, and that are the characteristic feature of his work that makes him modern. For him, human existence is a labyrinth, a maze, in which different and mutually contradictory ladders of reality operate on a single plane. In this Kafkaesque world, man is in search of something, he does not know exactly what. That this should lead to irresolvable absurdities and paradoxes does not persuade Borges, as perhaps it does Beckett, to retire to a garbage can, but on the contrary, to exult in the mystery of all things. His art is a product of a felicitous wedding of the cerebral and the imaginative, and is the refutation of those poets, writers, and critics who rationalize their own lesser endowments by postulating some irrevocable contradiction between the erudite and the creative. Like Sir Thomas Browne, Borges loves to lose himself in an haut altitudo. It is in this confrontation with un-reason that Borges is a writer of our time, and it is in this aliveness to the mystery of existence that Borges is a poet. "To see in death a dream, in the sunset a golden sadness, such is poetry, humble and immortal, poetry returning, like dawn and sunset." The author of these lines will now speak to you about the beginnings of English poetry. Ladies and gentlemen, Borges. Thank you.

 

Annotation

00:09:26.36

[Applause.]

 

Jorge Luis Borges

00:10:13.15

Ladies and gentlemen. The name of my lecture, "Dreams and English Literature," bears a two-fold meaning. We may think of dreams as being the subject, the subject-matter of literature. But we may also think of dreams as being the creators of literature. We may also think of the dream as a maker, of the dream as a poet. Now, in the course of this lecture, I intend to shift from one meaning to another. But I will begin by a very curious example of the dream as a poet. And this example comes to us from the Latin pages of the Venerable Bede's Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, the Ecclesiastical History of the English People, or as a new translator has it, History of the People and of the Church of England. Now, Bede wrote in the 8th century. He was more or less a contemporary of the man who wrote, composed the Beowulf. And in his history, he tells of the first English poet. Not of course, the first Englishman, or Saxon, who attempted poetry, but the first poet whose name has come down to us. And the name of that poet is Caedmon. Hardly a Saxon name, I should say. Now Bede tells the very strange history of Caedmon, and there is no doubt, I mean, and I think, that we may accept it as being a true one. I do not think Bede would have cared to invent it. In any case, Bede believed it. He believed in it, and we may accept it as true, since later on, we are come to a far more extraordinary case of the dream as a poet. Bede speaks of Caedmon. He tells us that Caedmon was poor, herdsman, he was illiterate, he was already an elderly man, he had lived in his native village, and until the end of his life, he did not know that he was a poet. This happened sometime in the 7th century. Bede tells us that Caedmon was a very shy man, that he had no ear for music, no craft for singing, and it was the custom in those days for the harp to go around the table after supper. But then came a wintry night, and in that wintry night, Caedmon saw that the harp was coming his way, and then in order not to have to explain what he's explained so many times over, that he was unable to play the harp or to sing, he slunk away from the feasting hall and he went to sleep amongst the cattle. And there, he lay down on the floor, he fell asleep, and then, to use a word, to use a sentence that Wordsworth used, that we shall come to later on, he passed into a dream. And in that dream, a certain person came to him; a shining person, whom we may think of an angel, and this angel carried, ominously enough, a harp with him, and he gave it to Caedmon, and he said, "Sing." And then Caedmon in the dream, as so many times over in his visions, said, "I cannot sing." But the angel took no notice of what he had said, and said to him again, "Sing." And then poor Caedmon, very bewildered, asked, "What shall I sing about?" And the angel said, "Sing to us, sing to me, about the creation of the world." And then Caedmon heard in the dream his own voice speaking out and saying a poem. And then when he reached some ten lines, he awoke, he remembered his dream, he went to the monastery, and he told his story and the people of the monastery, the monks, told him to recite the poem that had been given to him by the dream. And Caedmon recorded, he recited it, and then the monks said that it was good enough as poetry, but they wanted to test him. And so somebody read a few verses from the Bible and told him to bring them back versified. Next morning, Caedmon came back with a poem. He needed no angel, he needed no dream, and then he went on versifying until the day of his death. And he felt so sure of what his ultimate haven would be, that he prophesied the hour of his death, and instead of awaiting that hour, praying, groaning, or repenting, he went to sleep, and he passed from sleep to that other sleep of death, and, we may hope, he met his angel in the afterlife. And Bede tells us that of all men who ever attempted poetry in England, none could sing as sweetly as he could, since others had learned their craft from men, and he had learned his craft from an angel, from God. And then, we have to go on. Many centuries pass by, and we come to an extraordinary dream. We come to Piers Plowman.

 

Jorge Luis Borges

00:16:59.23

Now, it is not known, though a French critic, Monsieur Ruisselin, has it so, that the poem refers to an actual experience, to an actual mystical experience. It is, in fact, a kind of haphazard set of dreams, and critics have been warring over the fact that no sequence can be divulged. But the story changes as a kaleidoscope does, the reverse from one dream to the other. And a critic has stated his theory that in the Middle Ages, people, first people were not novel-readers like they are today, people, would read a book without caring too much for the time-sequence, that they could be made to think of the many chapters as of different ways of different symbols for stating, for understanding a certain truth. And so, there is no need, whatever, why there should be a regular time sequence in the book I'm speaking about. So when we think of a book as having been written not in time, or rather not for time, but rather for eternity, as being a kind, as being a series of symbols, made to stand for one fact. And there is, there are many curious things in this book, in Piers Plowman. But there is one that strikes me as the most curious, and I wonder whether it was given in a dream to the author or whether the author wove it into a dream. It is an explanation of God the Father becoming God the Son. The explanation is that God knew all about everything, but he knew it in a reasoning way, he knew it for logic. But he also wanted to know things, so that in order to enrich his divine all-knowledge, he became a man, and so he added the sadness, and the richness of human experience to his own abstract knowledge of the whole past, the whole present, and the whole future.

 

Jorge Luis Borges

00:19:30.60

Now we may take what we want of this, and we may go on, and we come to the end of the eighteenth century. And therein we shall find, perhaps, the most curious experience of all, a very curious psychological fact, and I think that it can be taken as true. A far stranger experience than the one undergone by the poor Saxon shepherd, Caedmon, who wrote the first, and not too good, verses written in English. The hero of this story, Samuel Taylor Coleridge. We know that he was an opium-eater, and the miracle, the quite major miracle, happened, if I recall the date rightly, happened around 1796 or 97. Coleridge was living in a farm in Westmoreland and he had been eating the opium, and in the afternoon he sat in his farm, and he was reading a book, a book called Purchas his Pilgrimage, a book of geography and myth and travelling and history. And he read it, but he read for Chinese Emperor, Kubla Khan, the man who entertained Marco Polo as his guest--Marco Polo, of course, made him famous, all over Europe. Marco Polo wrote that book of travels which is one of the many periodic revelations of the East given to the West. And in Purchas' Pilgrimage, Coleridge read that this Chinese Tartar Emperor, Kubla Khan, built a stately palace, and he had the ground cleared, he had the trees felled down, he had the fields enclosed, and there was a wide space and a river ran through it. And then the king had a pleasure-dome palace built for his pleasure there. And this is as far as Coleridge read, because after that, he fell asleep, and he passed into a dream, and the dream was of a three-fold character. Firstly, the dream was visual. He had a dream of a palace being erected, or rather of a Chinese palace growing up, growing, even as a tree might grow, and then he also heard the music, an unearthly music, it was not given to Coleridge to re-hear it. And at the same time he heard a voice, the voice was speaking in English words. And Coleridge understood and remembered those words, and Coleridge knew, even as he knew such things in a dream, that the palace was being built by the music and by the voice. And this idea of a building being made by music, being erected by music, came from some Greek legend, and Coleridge had read about a river, and he thought of a sacred river in Antiquity called the Alphaeus, and therein he got the name, Alph, and he heard for the first time that wonderful fragment that has been ringing in the ears of mankind ever since, that it went of the happiness of literature. And talking of Kubla Khan, a fragment in a dream, and the first stanza, you may remember it, grabs us. "In Xanadu, did Kubla Khan/ A stately pleasure-dome decree/ Where Alph, the sacred river, ran/ Through caverns measureless to man/ Down to a sunless sea." And that perfect stanza was given to Coleridge by the dream, by the dream as poetry. And then he goes on to speak of the slow river, of the river flowing down many steps and finding its way into a cavern, and we are made to feel of the cavern as awful. And then Coleridge speaks of the black crags, he speaks of the icy water, deep down beside the cavern, and then he says, it is a strange idea to have a pleasure-dome, a palace, built on the very brink of an icy hell. It has been suggested that Coleridge, when he spoke of his cave and the palace, was thinking of God and paradise, and of God building the world upon chaos, having chaos as a foundation. And then, the Chinese emperor looks down to that brink of black and icy water, and there are huge crags tumbling inside the water, and then he hears, from the very depth of the pit, from the very depth of the world, he hears ancestral voices, prophesy world. And then the dream changes. Then Coleridge looks back from his dream to another dream, a dream of an Abyssinian maiden singing on the top of a mountain, and from the sound of a harp, and he says if he could recapture the music of the harp of the Abyssinian maid, then he could rebuild the palace. And then men would look at him for they would feel that he as bewitched, and then they would say, "Weave a circle round him thrice,/ And close your eyes with holy dread,/ For he on honey-dew hath fed,/ And drunk the milk of Paradise." Had Coleridge spoke of the wine of paradise, we would have had nothing, but we are made to feel that there is something awful about the milk of paradise. We are made to think there is something awful in the deceptive whiteness of that milk. And the poem breaks off. Now, when Coleridge awoke, he remembered his dream. He sat down to write it. And when he had written the sixty-odd lines I have been trying to recall, a person, a person damned by all historians of literature, came to see him, a gentleman from a neighbouring farm of Porlock, and Coleridge had to speak to him about some trifling matters or others, and when he came back, he had lost the rest of the poem. And so the poem stops in the moment when we hear those words, "For he on honey-dew hath fed/ And drunk the milk of paradise." Coleridge could not recall the rest of the poem, and so he published it as a fragment in a dream. Now, the friends of Coleridge thought that Coleridge had begun to write the poem, but he could make no headway, and that he invented the whole absurd story of the triple dream in order to justify the fact that the poem was left unfinished, even as "Christabel" was left unfinished, by the poet. And the poem, of course, is one of the finest in the English language, many people know it by heart, and his friends thought that poor Coleridge had been unable to finish it, that he had begun a magnificent poem without knowing what he would do with it, and that he'd invented that rigmarole about the dream and the gentleman from Porlock who came to see him. But after Coleridge's death, a very strange thing happened. It happened that in Germany, there came out a translation of a book published in Russian, and htis book was a translation from the Persian, or the Arab, and it was a history of the world written by a Persian historian, and in that history, this book came out in German after Coleridge's death, and in that history, we read that the emperor, Kubla Khan, built a stately palace, the pleasure-dome of Coleridge's poem, and that he built it after a sight that had been given to him in a dream.

 

Jorge Luis Borges

00:28:51.73

And we have now this event, perhaps the strangest event in our history, if we look at it. Because we have firstly, a Chinese Emperor, and this Chinese Emperor dreams of a palace, and he builds the palace, and the palace, as happens to most palaces, gets itself destroyed, it is burnt out, and then we find an English poet at the end of the eighteenth century, dreaming, dreaming of the bilding of the palace, and of the emperor, and then working the scheme of the palace, not into a building, not into a three-dimensional building, but to something that can be more lasting than mere buildings, building it into a wonderful poem. Then, when I read that, I thought of Whitehead's philosophy. And, if I have understood it--I am not too sure of understanding Whitehead, or any other philosopher, for that matter--then Whitehead states that there are certain eternal images, Platonic archetypes, one might say, and that those eternal images are somehow finding their way in time, or somehow, somehow getting into time, then we may think, of course, of something that wanted to exist, and then this something, this timeless archetype found its way into time and became the palace of Kubla Khan. And when the palace was destroyed, it became Coleridge's poem. And when the English language, [inaudible] and Coleridge's poem are forgotten, then the image of the palace may come back in another shape. We do not know what it will come back, sculpture, or as music, and we will have a third image of the palace and this may go on to eternity, and it may have been going on since the beginning of time, for all we know.

 

Jorge Luis Borges

00:31:17.21

Now, I have spoken of Coleridge, and I would like to say a few words about a great disciple of Coleridge, Thomas De Quincey. De Quincey is famous by the one book, but several books make very fine reading also, The Confessions of an English Opium-Eater. Now De Quincey had already written his autobiography when he wrote The Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, though, the first half of the volume is made of autobiography. But, De Quincey states that in the first half, he has only told of his life what became the stuff of his dreams, the stuff of his nightmares. And so, we are told about the lifetime of Coleridge, we are told about how he was in love with a woman of the street, and of Oxford Street, and how she was lost, how he sought for her, how he saw multitudes of faces, how, looking for her, he looked at the multitudes of London, and then, years afterwards, the dreams came to him, and in those dreams were to be found many things that he had alreadhy told us before, among them, the faces of the London multitudes. And he says that in the beginning, his opium dreams were not nightmares, but they were large and quiet dreams, that he began dreaming of silver expanses of sea, and those did not trouble him, except the dreams were of too large a scape. They were larger than what the human eye might scan. This troubled him, but not too much, and then when he looked at those silver expanses of sea, he saw that the sea was paved with faces, and that the faces surged by multitudes, by generations, by aeons, and then he felt horror. And then afterwards, then his dreams were not only very vast, not only were they beyond what the human eye can compass, but there was a similar omnification of time, and so in a single night, he had to live many centuries, and he awoke in the morning a sad and distressed and despairing old man, because in one night, he had lived through many centuries, he had lived, indeed, ages beyond the experience of man or the experience of generations.

 

Jorge Luis Borges

00:34:01.42

Now we come to a friend of Coleridge, we come to Wordsworth. It has been observed that Wordsworth's dreams were singularly vivid. Remember that in one of his best-known poems, he writes about the glory and the freshness of a dream. To most of us, dreams are dim, but when Wordsworth had to speak something as being very vivid, then he falls back on his memory, on the memories of his dreams. And in the Prelude, there is one of the finest dreams in literature. This was praised by De Quincey in his essay on the Lake Poets, and it runs somehow thus. But before telling the dream, I should say that Wordsworth was very much perplexed, very much worried, by the danger run by mankind, because he said mankind throughout the centuries has evolved music, has evolved the arts and the sciences, and these may be destroyed at any moment by a cosmic catastrophe. Nowadays, of course, we think also of human menaces to what mankind has done, but in those days, more than a century ago, Wordsworth felt, he felt worried about the fact that the great achievement of mankind could be destroyed. And he says that he spoke to this to a friend, and a friend told him a dream he had had. But, in the earliest draft of the Prelude, the dream is Wordsworth's, and for all we know, an afternoon can very easily unmake the past or modify it, Wordsworth may have been the dreamer himself, and this gives us an immediacy. Now, Wordsworth says that he went to the seashore, that he sat in a grotto overlooking the sea, and that he was readng a book, and that the book was The Adventures of Don Quixote. And he sat there reading the adventures of that night, night [inaudible] whose friend, mankind, and then he was overpowered by the noontide sun, by the loneliness, perhaps lulled also, by the waves, he was looking at the waves, at the waves of the golden seashore, and then he fell asleep, he passed into a dream, and then he found himself surrounded by sand, not by the yellow sand of the seashore, but by the black sand of some vast desert. He felt himself--he felt he was alone, and he was bewildered and frightened, and then he saw, on the brink of the horizon, he saw a figure, that came towards him, and that figure was the figure of an Arab. And the Arab held, was rided on a camel, and he held a spear in his hand. This reminds of us of Don Quixote. And he also had a seashell in the other hand, and a stone beneath his arm. And then the Arab, an Arab of the Bedouin tribes, rides up to the dreamer, and he holds the seashell to his ear, and then the dreamer, in a strange tongue, which yet I understood, hears a prophecy: that the world is about to be destroyed by a second flood. And the Arab, with a grave face, tells him that it is even so, and that it is duty to save the arts and the sciences from the water, ruin. And then he says that the seashell is poetry, that in the seashell are to be found all poems, perhaps the Prelude also, why not, and that is to the stone, the stone is of a twofold character. The stone is two things, even if things aren't two things or many things in a dream. So the stone is a grey stone, and it is also Euclid's geometry. And then the Arab says, you have to save the sciences and the arts from the watery ruin, and Euclid's geometry signifies the sciences, signifies, he says, something that held a pointer to the stars, untouched by space and time and poetry. Then the dreamer tells him to save him, but the Arab tells him to save him. But the Arab rides on. And then the Arab turns back his face, and the dreamer sees the anguish in the face of the Arab, and he too looks back, and he sees a wide light, a wide light overflowing the horizon, and he knows that that light is the light of the waters of the flood who are going to destroy the world. And then he runs after the Arab, crying to him to save him, but the Arab heeds not, the Arab rides on, and the Arab is sometimes the Arab and sometimes Don Quixote, and the camel is sometimes the camel and sometimes Rocinante CHECK. So you have this game of things being two, all through the dream, and then he cries out in terror, and he wakes up and there is the quiet seashore, there are the golden sand that gave the hint for the black sand of the desert, and there is Don Quixote, that gave the hint for the Arab of the dream, and the dream is over, and Wordsworth simply says that he sometimes thought that the Arab was not wholly a dream, that for all he knew, at that moment, there might be an Arab thinking that he could save the sciences and the arts from a second flood. Now, there are people that think that Wordsworth actually dreamt this dream. We do not know, though the dream is wonderful enough, we do not care who it was about, by the waking, or by the dreaming fantasy.

 

Jorge Luis Borges

00:40:29.73

And then, we go on to another dreamer, to Lewis Carroll. Lewis Carroll wrote that Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass, and Sylvia and Bruno were given to him by dreams. Of course, I think that we must take this statement with a grain of salt, with many grains of salt, since it is hardly probable that the dream would have written such deft verse, of course, they had written Kubla Khan before Lewis Carroll, as for example, "He thought he saw an argument/ That proved he was the Pope/ He looked again, and found it was/ A Bar of Mottled Soap./This kind of thing, he sadly said,/ Extinguishes all hope." Now, for dream, a writer's good [inaudible] said, "I think that all waking poets should abandon their task, and should fall back on their dreams. But after all, I do not think we have many dreams quite as good as those. Of course, the books of Alice are really very strange books, and I have always wondered, reading and rereading them, since reading and re-reading those books have been one of the chief amusements of my life, I've only thought, if Lewis Carroll felt there was a touch of nightmare in the dream of Alice. Of course he must have felt it. Or perhaps, had he felt it, the books wouldn't be as good as they are.

 

Jorge Luis Borges

00:41:57.91

And now we come to another dream, and this one was dreamt by Robert Louis Stevenson. Stevenson was very interested in dreams. He wrote a chapter of dreams within the actual title of his paper, and he called the dreams "Brownies." Brownies means small, Scottish elves, one of the many imagination, one of the many fancied figures brought out by the imagination, by the Scottish imagination. And he says that he had trained those brownies to work for him. And he tells us of two examples. The first is an incident of a man biting the hand of a woman. He says that this image was given to him by a dream, and then that he wove the whole story of Elijah around this dream. That it was, what in German might be called a Numdichtung, a poem written around something. But the story is not a very good one, because the one good thing in it was the gift the dream gave him, and he had to work out the rest on his own, low, human level. But he also had a different, another dream, and this dream is known to all of you. He was suffering with a fever. He had delirium. And he cried out in his sleep, and his wife, who was lying by his side, awoke him, and then he said, What a pity that you woke me up, I was having a fine bogey dream. And the dream was a dream of a man drinking something and being transformed into another. That of course is the central fact in The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, so that Stevenson wrote the rest of the story around the transformations that he and Jekyll had had. As he's now speaking of Jekyll and Hyde, I may remind you that when the book came out in eighteen hundred and eighty, I think, people read it as they might have read a detective story, or a police story, as it was called. I mean, they never thought that they were reading a story of fantasy, or what might be called science fiction today. The world could not exist in those days with hardly a fact. And they thought of Jekyll and Hyde as being two different men. In fact, the duality is given to us in the very title, The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And also, we are told that Jekyll was tall, and fair, stout, and that Hyde was smaller and darker, and slimmer. So that in the end, when we are told, or when the readers of the book were told, that Jekyll and Hyde were the first man, it came to them in a thunderclap, you'd never have guessed at it. It is a pity that when this story has been taken to the screen, the original title has been retained, and one actor has been made to play the two parts. I think, if I had a chance, in a third or fourth version of the film, I would change the nature of the characters--they are too well known. And then I would have two actors playing the part. Then nobody would think those two very different actors were really the same, and then I would have a revelation in the last part.

 

Jorge Luis Borges

00:45:37.82

And now we come, not to the end of my subject, but rather to the end of my memory concerning tales about dreams. Unhappily, perhaps happily for you, my eyesight is very dim, I cannot fall back on notes, and so we make take these few haphazard examples of the dream as a subject of literature and of course, I had not been speaking of English literature, I would speak of the finest example of dreams written--I would have spoken of Dante's Divine Comedy. But now I think I can only add a few words, a kind of post script. And if you care, we may discuss them, or we make go on to any other discussion you like. I have spoken of dreams and literature. And I think, of course, that there is a kinship between dreams and literature. Of course there is a kinship between living and dreaming. Will Shakespeare knew all about it when he wrote, "We are such stuff as dreams are made on/ and our little life is rounded with a sleep." I suppose that Cummings felt much the same thing when he wrote, "God's terrible face, brighter than a spoon, collects the image of one fatal word, until my life that liked the sun and moon resembles something that has not occurred." Let him say, "that resembles a dream." And we may also think of Walther von der Vogelweide, who, [inaudible] perhaps finer than any other example, asked himself, "Ist mein Leben getraumt oder ist es wahr"--have I dreamed my life, or was it, is it a true one? And I think this strikes us as being happy because the poet is in a doubtful mood, and of course doubt and dreams go together. And if life be akin to dream, then this of course is the meaning of dream idealism, of Novalis' dream idealism, of solipsism, of Platonic idealism and so on, there should be a still greater kinship between dreaming and versifying, or rather, between dreaming in our sleep and dreaming a poem. For, if I am not wholly mistaken, there is a kinship between them. When we dream, we are led by a dream, but when we are evolving a tale or a poem, we are, and I can only follow my own dim light, we are also dreaming, but the dream of literature is a lucid dream. I do not think we can add much to it. I think the only thing we can do is to be still and listen, or rather to be still and follow our dream. We should not try to tamper with the dream. I do not think it is allowed to us, to [inaudible] dreams is a parable or a fable. A writer may write a fable, as Kipling wrote, but it is not given to him to know the morality of the fable. I think that there is one way of sincerity for an author. I think an author should humbly follow his dream. I think a writer should not tamper with the dream. I think a writer should be content to dream alone, and then to try to convey his dream in as plain words as he can. But of course he must be aware of the music in the words, and this, I think, may be a whole stock and trade, a whole explanation of what a writer's being, of what a writer's mission is. He must be a sincere and a humble dreamer.

 

Jorge Luis Borges

00:49:38.65

I have spoken about dreams, about the dreams and the English literature. if you care, you may go up to discuss this subject, or, for that matter, any other subject you fancy, because I want to hear you speak--I am sure you are tired of my own voice, at any rate I am tired of my own voice, and would much prefer to hear yours now. And that is all, I think, ladies and gentlemen.

 

Annotation

00:50:01.58

Audience applause.

 

Introducer

00:50:33.73

Borges has consented to answer questions or enter into a discussion on this particular topic or any topic that you care to discuss.

 

Jorge Luis Borges

00:50:43.03

Any subject....thank you.

 

Audience Member 1

00:50:57.83

I'd like to know about dreams and inspirations, and whether both are the same or not.

 

Unknown - translator?

00:51:05.63

Do you understand?

 

Jorge Luis Borges

00:51:06.84

No.

 

Introducer

00:51:06.88

The lady would like to know the difference between a writer's dream and inspiration, whether or not they are the same.

 

Jorge Luis Borges

00:51:17.22

Well, I should say very tentatively, the difference is merely verbal. Of course, the word "inspiration" strikes me as the word that smacks of vanity. For example, I can talk safely enough, humbly enough, about following the dream. But if I talk of inspiration then people will think of me as they might have thought of Coleridge, no? "Weave a circle round him thrice,/ And close your eyes with holy dread." So I think that dreams require a safer word, and as words they both stand for the same thing.

 

Introducer

00:51:55.39

Do you want to enter into a discussion or another question?

 

Jorge Luis Borges

00:51:58.65

Yes.

 

Audience Member 2

00:52:01.55

I was going to ask, what your thoughts would be on Finnegans Wake as a dream?

 

Introducer

00:52:06.36

Your comments on Finnegans Wake as a dream.

 

Jorge Luis Borges

00:52:11.45

Well, I can only say something very obvious. I can only say that Finnegan's Wake is quite like a dream, since in dreams, I do not think words are as important as they are in the book. I think of dreams as being rather or as being experiences, while in Finnegans Wake, you feel, at least, I felt, I felt in the two or three pages I sampled, no?

 

Annotation

00:52:35.23

[Audience laughter]

 

Jorge Luis Borges

00:52:40.05

Well, I felt that the whole thing was verbal, was a kind of verbal joke, or a kind of verbal game, if that word be more special than the other. I do not think a dream, at least none of my dreams, have anything to do with Finnegan's Wake [laughter]--well of course, means that I am not worthy of dreaming Finnegan's Wake.

 

Introducer

00:53:04.97

Of course according to Joyce, it isn't your dream that Finnegan's Wake is, but Finnegan's Wake is dreaming you.

 

Jorge Luis Borges

00:53:11.12

Yes, of course! Well...I suppose Joyce is right [laughter.]..and at this moment he is giving me a very pleasant dream. I'm very happy to be dreaming about Canada, and about this conversation with you, so I must say, thank you Finnegan, no?

 

Annotation

00:53:29.36

Audience laughter.

 

Audience Member 3

00:53:32.01

Can you talk [inaudible.]..how do you feel about [inaudible]

 

Jorge Luis Borges

00:53:41.12

How do I think...?

 

Introducer

00:53:41.95

How do you feel about drugs, the use of drugs as producers of dreams?

 

Introducer

00:53:47.29

Well, I think it depends on the dreamer, rather than the drugs.

 

Annotation

00:53:51.17

Laughter and applause.

 

Jorge Luis Borges

00:54:01.18

For example, for example De Quincey dreamed, but explained the dreams, but perhaps he might have done without the opium, no? It's like I've known many people who have tried all sorts of drugs, and they have hardly become De Quincey, no? [laughter]

 

Introducer

00:54:22.06

Yes.

 

Audience Member 4

00:54:23.39

[Inaudible]

 

Introducer

00:54:31.20

Do you have any stories of South American dreams?

 

Jorge Luis Borges

00:54:36.16

I only have my own South American dreams, no? But I'm afraid I know very little about all literature written in South America. The west coast of it, maybe, there are quite good dreams and I have dreamt there.

 

Introducer

00:54:51.62

Are there any dreams in your own literature?

 

Jorge Luis Borges

00:54:54.51

The only thing that can be found in my own literature are dreams. At least, people tell me they are sadly lacking in reality. [Laughter] There are people....and then of course, you have to fall back on the stock answer that reality, that dreams are as much a part of reality as, well, stockbrokers or telephones or supermarkets or gadgets, or whatever.

 

Audience Member 5

00:55:22.45

Can one have a dream that is not visual, and yet not entirely of words or feelings?

 

Jorge Luis Borges

00:55:29.00

Yes, because I was talking to a blind gentleman in London, three years ago, and then he had been very troubled, a lot of problems. The problem where the blind live in darkness, and they were thinking of a verse of Shakespeare, where it says, "looking on darkness, which the blind do see." And then I thought that Shakespeare might have been mistaken, so I asked this blind gentleman in London. He told me that he had been born blind. And then I asked him, so you're in darkness, and he said, well, I know what people mean by darkness, and I'm happy to say I'm not. I know, for example, that snow is white, that grass is green, that the moon is white, and so on, but really I know that those are epithets to be applied to things, but I have no idea what they stand for. And I asked him, darkness, I see nothing at all. I mean, if I could see darkness, I suppose you would be able to see something. Because after all, darkness is a visual experience. And he said, no, I see nothing at all, even the same way that you see nothing at all with your forehead, with your nose, or with the back of your head. So that he did not feel unhappy, because he was not living in darkness. He was living in a non-visual world, had he knew that we had been granted a strange sense that made them feel things that were a long way off, that had not been granted to him, but he could not feel sorry for that, because he knew nothing, because, I mean, if you feel sorry for something, certainly you can imagine it. And then I asked him, whether he had dreams, and he told me yes, that he had dreams, and that those dreams, of course, would not be of a visual nature since he was quite incapable of any visual experience. So I suppose that his dreams must have been about the different, well, the different way you feel things. I suppose he thought, for example, of roughness, of hardness, of a glassy surface, of the touch of wood, or of metal, and those must have made his whole world. So I know that this was a case of a man dreaming and having no visual dreams. But of course, generally speaking I think dreams are visual. And I think dreams are visual and their auditive because we can, because we can remember things, and because it-- well, you know, because we remember things seen and things heard. But I do not think we have dreams about, for example, smells or tastes of things, because those things cannot be recorded, at least my memory is merely visual, and merely what I meant, the auditive. I have no memory for smells, or for the taste of things.

 

Introducer

00:58:36.75

I am sorry, someone is speaking who I don't see, Mr. Nemerov first. ...An allusion or an illusion? Mr. Nemerov would like to know what you would call an illusion.

 

Jorge Luis Borges

00:58:55.91

Well, to answer that, I would have to know many things that perhaps nobody knows, since of course the difference between an illusion and reality can hardly be reasoned. I mean to say, if I speak of an illusion, it means of an experience not shared by other men. But if we think of solipsism and idealism, then the other men may be part of my illusion, well, I don't see how, I don't see how a line can, I cannot see how one [inaudible] line can be traced between the illusion and reality. Of course this comes back to what we were speaking of a moment ago, the idea of whether reality is not an illusion, but the whole of reality is not an illusion, where I am not a figment in your illusory world, or you a figment in my illusory world.

 

Introducer

01:00:05.60

Has that answerd the question, or do you want to dialogue on it?

 

Annotation

01:00:11.77

First CD of digitally transcribed recording ends.

 

Introducer

01:00:11.77

There was someone else who spoke up, and....yeah?

 

Audience Member 6

01:00:17.33

In the King James version of the Bible...[inaudible] but sometimes it seems to us [inaudible]

 

Introducer

01:00:43.08

Did you understand that?

 

Jorge Luis Borges

01:00:45.33

Well, not...

 

Introducer

01:00:46.07

The reference to the book of Job, um...

 

Jorge Luis Borges

01:00:48.78

When God spoke of a whirlwind, no?

 

Introducer

01:00:52.08

Yes. "We do not..." What was the quotation, can you repeat that?

 

Audience Member 6

01:00:56.3

"We do not see God, but sometimes he speaks to us in a dream."

 

Introducer

01:01:00.15

"We do not see God, but sometimes he speaks to us in a dream."

 

Jorge Luis Borges

01:01:04.62

Yes but, I think there's a certain difference between feeling that God is speaking to us in a dream, and, let us say, the inspiration, or the first inkling of a tale or a poem. Because, in the first case, you think of yourself and of God. I mean, you have what must be [inaudible] level, no? Dialogue between God and man. But in the other case, if I am thinking out let's say, stuff for a story or for a poem, then I feel to be doing all this for myself. Though, perhaps this may be given to me by somebody else. But perhaps by my innermost self, but I think that the difference may be, that in the case of Job, Job did not think that he was imagining God. He knew that God was, that God was outside of, well, outside him and beyond him, and that God was speaking to him, and that he was far lesser than God. But in the case of inspiration, in the case of getting an idea for purposes of writing, then one feels like one is by oneself, one feels that one is one, only after. Of course I may be mistaken.

 

Introducer

01:02:29.16

Yes.

 

Audience Member 7

01:02:31.71

[inaudible]

 

Introducer

01:02:50.87

One of the themes in the dreams of the men that you spoke of was the fear of the destruction of the cosmos. Do you consider this innate to human dreams? [To questioner] Is that correct? That was the question?

 

Audience Member 7

01:03:03.31

Right.

 

Jorge Luis Borges

01:03:05.25

Well, if I understand your question, when we are dreaming, we are aware of the dream being a dream, so we think that it might be shattered at any moment. Or did you say that we are all [inaudible] shattered. Because in that case, I think that I wouldn't mind the cosmos being shattered, as long as I were shattered along with it. [laughter] In fact, I think that I can think of the destruction of the world without caring too much about it, since if the whole world were destroyed, then the causing of the destruction would also, would hardly exist. So after all, if you think of the cosmos being destroyed, that's much the same thing as thinking that you are about to die, a reflection on mortality. It comes, it boils down to the same thing. If you think that there is no afterlife, if you think that you are not immortal, then you die, and with you, the cosmos dissolves. That comes to much the same thing. There may be a kind of abstract hope in the idea, I've also thought of that, that if the cosmos moves on, then my own fate is of no importance whatever. I do not think that I would like to be mortal. I think that I could endure another life if I knew that in that other life I would forget all about myself. Of course then, we come to the problem of personal identity. Of course, if I am destroyed, and if after my destruction I go on dreaming about the new world, about another life, then I wonder what the word "I" means, since "I" seems to mean personal identity, and personal identity can hardly be imagined without a personal memory.

 

Audience Member 8

01:04:56.08

[Inaudible]

 

Jorge Luis Borges

01:05:06.68

Well...I don't think it would do him any good. [laughter] Of course all this depends what you mean by psychoanalysis. Because I did my best to like and to enjoy through Freud and I was defeated by him. But I have read or reread you many times over, I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Of course, the extent of the different kinds of psychoanalysis...

 

Jorge Luis Borges

01:05:38.61

Have you had enough [inaudible], should we wrap it up, or...[inaudible.]..okay...Two more questions.

 

Audience Member 9

01:05:51.48

[Inaudible]

 

Jorge Luis Borges

01:06:07.02

Yes...If there is a [inaudible] for human experiences are essentially poetic. I think that if a man were a great poet, he'd be able to write on any subject. Or rather, not on any subject, but on any moment of his life. Because sometimes I have written about moments of my life, those moments will be quite commonplace to somebody else, [inaudible] felt them to be poetic. And perhaps, if I were a great poet, or merely if I were a poet, then everything will be seen by me as poetry. I will feel that every moment of my life is somehow poetic. And as for dreams, I suppose they would still be more poetic, but real life seems to have a shifty quality, since there is something strange about them, since the cause [inaudible] works in a strange way. And I suppose it may safely be said that all dreams may be poetic, and we may see, with less assurance, of course, that all experience is poetic.

 

Audience Member 10

01:07:14.42

[Inaudible]

 

Introducer

01:07:31.67

To do which? ...Oh I see. Well we'll ask him after he has answered the last question. We will have one more question, the gentleman in yellow, there.

 

Audience Member 11

01:07:45.19

[Inaudible]

 

Unknown

01:08:27.21

The other one just took the question.

 

Introducer

01:08:29.18

Eh? What happened, just took a question?

 

Jorge Luis Borges

01:08:31.08

Well, not quite, not quite.

 

Introducer

01:08:32.47

Well, the question is into the nature of...

 

Jorge Luis Borges

01:08:35.01

You understood the words [inaudible] of a gentleman, I know it... [Laughter] You are very thankful, no? If there always was a [inaudible] and I am a gentleman...

 

Introducer

01:08:44.33

I'm not sure that I understood my form. [To questioner] Can you formulate the question briefly again?

 

Audience Member 11

01:08:51.18

[Inaudible]

 

Introducer

01:09:02.41

Oh, I see. [To Borges] Yes, asking for a definition of your term "dream," the question is, are you using the word "dream" in the sense of an ideal towards which one man's dream of something he might wish to achieve, or the kind of dream that you have when you go to sleep?

 

Jorge Luis Borges

01:09:17.88

No...[inaudible.]..no no, I am rather thinking of the, of the sleeping dream, than of the dream as an ideal, no? In fact, I never thought of the dream in that second light, no?

 

Introducer

01:09:34.29

Well that is the last question. This gentleman has made a request that, I don't know whether you are wishing to grant, willing to grant it, I think we would all appreciate that.

 

Jorge Luis Borges

01:09:43.23

Yes...[inaudible] I shall be very merciful, I shall confine myself to a sonnet. [Laughter] And the sonnet needs fourteen lines, fourteen lines meaning [inaudible.] And when, [inaudible] is translated...[inaudible] what is important, is the word "music." I think I can recall songs of mine for Spinoza. And I think, that since we are speaking of dreams, and of eternity, and so on, I think Spinoza should fit in. I think the sonnet grants us. "Spinoza."

 

Jorge Luis Borges

01:10:17.53

Reads "Spinoza" -- in Spanish.

 

Annotation

01:11:00.03

Audience applause.

 

Introducer

01:11:36.69

The...the applause has, I believe, expressed what I have to do more formally, more informally, and more eloquently, than I could ever hope to do, our gratitude. This is the twenty-ninth of February, the day recurs according to the calendar every four years. I have a feeling that this day is never going to recur, for us. Thank you.

 

Jorge Luis Borges

01:12:01.74

Thank you.

 

Annotation

01:12:02.30

Audience applause.

 

Annotation

01:12:22.10

Recording ends.

Jorge Luis Borges at SGWU, 1968

Tape
Catalog numberI006-11-040
Duration01:12:22.10
Sound qualityGenerally good, some audience questions are inaudible.
Reading
SpeakersIntroducer: unknown male, Jorge Luis Borges, unknown audience members (11)
Venue
DateFeb. 29, 1968

Supplemental Material

At end of Part 2 of Borges recording, the introducer remarks: this is the twenty-ninth of February. 1968 was indeed a leap year.

Borges may not have been part of the Poetry Series." In the Georgian, Feb. 20, 1968 it is advertised simply as an “English Department” presentation.

Timestamps

00:00- Unknown Introducer introduces Jorge Luis Borges

10:13- Jorge Luis Borges begins his lecture

50:01- End of lecture

50:33- Introducer opens the floor to questions (and participates in discussion periodically)

50:57- Audience member #1 asks question

51:17- Borges answers.

52:01- Inaudible question from audience member #2

52:11- Borges answers

53:32- Audience member #3 asks question

53:41- Borges answers

54:23- Audience member #4 asks question

54:36- Borges answers

54:22- Audience member #5

55:29- Borges answers

58:36- Introducer relays question from audience

58:55- Borges answers.

01:00:16- Audience member #6 asks question

01:00:44- Borges answers

01:02:30- Audience member #7 asks question

01:03:04- Borges answers

01:04:55- Audience member #8 asks question

01:05:05- Borges answers

01:05:50- Audience member #9 asks question

01:06:06- Borges answers

01:07:13- Audience member #10 asks question

01:07:44- Audience member #11 asks question

01:08:34- Borges responds (some confusion about questions)

01:10:16- Borges reads "Spinoza"

01:11:35- Introducer wraps up the reading

01:12:21- Recording ends.

References

Works Cited

Bell, Don. “A Master in Montreal: A 1968 Interview with Jorge Jorge Luis Borges”. AGNI Magazine online. Boston University, 2008. February 2, 2010. <http://www.bu.edu/agni/interviews/print/2000/52-borges-bell.html>.

(OR)

Bell, Don. “A Master in Montreal: On the centenary of Jorge Jorge Luis Borges’ death, Avenue prints a rare English-language interview with the writer of short fictions, an artist clever and profound even in a language not his own”. National Post. Don Mills, Ont.: August 24, 1999. pg. B.10. February 2, 2010. <http://0-proquest.umi.com.mercury.concordia.ca/pqdweb?index=7&did=250873621&SrchMode=3&sid=1&Fmt=3&VInst=PROD&VType=PQD&RQT=309&VName=PQD&TS= 1265218430&clientId=10306&aid=3>.

Bell-Villada, Gene H. “Borges, Jorge Luis”. The Oxford Companion to English Literature. Dinnah Birch (ed). Oxford University Press Inc. Oxford Reference Online. Concordia University Library, Montreal. November 11, 2009.  <http:// 0-www.oxfordreference.com.mercury.concordia.ca/views/ENTRY.html?subview=Main&entry=t113.e938>.

Johnson, Sarah. “Borges, Jorge Luis, 1899-1986”. Literature Online Biography. Cambridge: Chadwyck-Healy (Proquest), 2005. Concordia University Library, Montreal. November 11, 2009. < http://0-gateway.proquest.com.mercury. concordia.ca/openurl?ctx_ver=Z39.88-2003&xri:pqil:res_ver=0.2&res_id=xri:lion-us&rft_id=xri:lion:ft:ref:BIO008949:0>.

 

Transcription and part of Print Catalogue by Rachel Kyne
Print Catalogue, Research, Introduction and Edits by Celyn Harding-Jones


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