The writer’s lifelong dialogue with violence
January 4, 2014 11:22 AM   Subscribe

The Battle at Finnesburh
posted by homunculus at 11:28 AM on January 4, 2014

Really interesting post. I'm wondering if I've read the lectures, because I have this idea I first heard of the 47 Ronin through Borges, which seems really unlikely unless some of his teaching work was in print.
posted by glasseyes at 11:54 AM on January 4, 2014

glasseyes, Borges did a 47 Ronin story titled "The Uncivil Teacher of Court Etiquette Kôtsuké no Suké" in A Universal History of Infamy.
posted by gone2croatan at 12:29 PM on January 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

According to his biographer, Edwin Williamson, Borges’s father handed him a dagger when he was a boy, with instructions to overcome his poor eyesight and “generally defeated” demeanor and let the boys who were bullying him know that he was a man.

Interesting, I didn't know that was a true event. This passage comes from "The Maker" ("El Hacedor"), in Dreamtigers:
Gradually now the beautiful universe was slipping away from him. A stubborn mist erased the outline of his hand, the night was no longer peopled by stars, the earth beneath his feet was unsure. Everything was growing distant and blurred. When he knew he was going blind he cried out; stoic modesty had not yet been invented and Hector could flee with impunity. I will not see again, he felt, either the sky filled with mythical dread, or this face that the years will transform. Over this desperation of his flesh passed days and nights. But one morning he awoke; he looked, no longer alarmed, at the dim things that surrounded him; and inexplicably he sensed, as one recognizes a tune or a voice, that now it was over and he had faced it, with fear but also with joy, hope, and curiosity. Then he descended into his memory, which seemed to him endless, and up from that vertigo he succeeded in bringing forth a forgotten recollection that shone like a coin under the rain, perhaps because he had never looked at it, unless in a dream.

The recollection was like this. Another boy had insulted him and he had run to his father and told him about it. His father let him talk as if he were not listening or did not understand; and he took down from the wall a bronze dagger, beautiful and charged with power, which the boy had secretly coveted. Now he had it in his hands and the surprise of possession obliterated the affront he had suffered. But his father’s voice was saying, “Let someone know you are a man,” and there was a command in his voice. The night blotted out the paths; clutching the dagger, in which he felt the foreboding of a magic power, he descended the rough hillside that surrounded the house and ran to the seashore, dreaming he was Ajax and Perseus and peopling the salty darkness with battles and wounds. The exact taste of that moment was what he was seeking now; the rest did not matter: the insults of the duel, the rude combat, the return home with the bloody blade.
posted by ludwig_van at 1:30 PM on January 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

...unless some of his teaching work was in print.

Years ago Borges produced two short volumes (translated into English in the early 1970s) titled An Introduction to American Literature and An Introduction to English Literature. Presumably material from A Course on English Literature ended up being published in the latter.

* * *
In a 1966 Paris Review interview, Borges said that knives involve “a more personal idea of courage. Because you can be a good marksman and not especially brave. But if you’re going to fight your man at close quarters, and you have knives . . . I remember I once saw a man challenging another to fight, and the other caved in. But he caved in, I think, because of a trick. One was an old hand, he was seventy, and the other was a young and vigorous man, he must have been between twenty-five and thirty. Then the old man, he begged your pardon, he came back with two daggers, and one was a span longer than the other. He said, ‘Here, choose your weapon.’ So he gave the other the chance of choosing the longer weapon, and having an advantage over him; but that also meant that he felt so sure of himself that he could afford that handicap. The other apologized and caved in, of course. I remember that a brave man, when I was a young man in the slums, he was always supposed to carry a short dagger, and it was worn here. Like this (pointing to his armpit), so it could be taken out at moment's notice, and the slum word for the knife... was el vaivén, the ‘come and go.’ In the word come-and-go you see the flash of the knife, the sudden flash.”
posted by LeLiLo at 1:46 PM on January 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Interesting essay. Borges' focus on the different "feel" of romance and saxon languages was interesting. Anyone know where that theme shows up explicitly in his stories?
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 2:33 PM on January 4, 2014

From the short story "Undr" in The Book of Sand:

A Greek soldier challenged me and gave me the choice between two swords. One was a hand's breadth longer than the other. Knowing he was out to intimidate me, I chose the shorter. He asked me why. I replied that with either the distance from my hand to his heart was the same.

So You're Saying These Are Pants?: "Undr" would also stand as an excellent example of Borges attempting to explicitly capture the feel you mention. I was expecting to see it mentioned, given the themes the article was discussing.
posted by zueod at 2:15 PM on January 6, 2014

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