Campus & Community

Houghton Library explores life and literature of Jorge Luis Borges:

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Exhibition explores writer’s influences and influence

Jorge Luis
Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986), Argentine author and icon. (Photo by Annemarie Heinrich)

The late Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) was, in the opinion of admirers and detractors alike, the recluse/bookworm nonpareil. At the same time, he was (and is) regarded as a pop culture icon – one of Mick Jagger’s heroes. Borges was an author, translator, avant-gardist, and expert in Medieval Anglo-Saxon literature. He was a man who hid in the solitude of libraries and a man who was considered a political threat in 1970s Argentina. The traveling exhibition “Borges/The Time Machine,” now on display in the Edison and Newman Room of Houghton Library, attempts to bring together the diverse roles played by Borges during his life and reveals a man who left traces across continents, across literary genres, across centuries.

The exhibition, drawn from the holdings of the San Telmo Foundation, Buenos Aires, includes manuscripts, letters, family photographs, books written and owned by Borges, newspapers, and periodicals. It is divided into five sections that represent different aspects of Borges’ life and work. The first section, “Books and Weapons,” addresses Borges’ childhood in Argentina where he learned English in his father’s library and contains Borges’ first manuscript, an essay, written in English, on Greek mythology. The next, “The Avant Garde,” explores Borges as a young man in Spain. “Borges and Others” illuminates his literary and political relationships, while “Borges and the Media” concentrates on Borges’ relationship with the media, including articles about him and by him printed in pop culture newspapers and magazines. Finally, “The World as a Library” includes copies of Borges’ own contributions to the literary world that surrounded his life. The exhibition runs until March 15.

In addition, Houghton Library is staging a complementary exhibition in the Amy Lowell Room titled “Jorge Luis Borges at Houghton Library,” which features items from Houghton’s own Borges collection. Borges was a Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard in the late ’60s. Afterward, his relationship with the University continued, and both Harvard and Cambridge appear in several of his poems and stories. Included in the exhibition is a copy of “El otro,” a story in which Borges meets his 18-year-old self on a bench along the Charles River. The exhibition also includes first editions, letters, and manuscripts. Also notable is his correspondence with Victoria Ocampo, a close friend of Borges and editor of the influential literary magazine Sur, which debuted many of Borges’ writings. ‘Borges/The Time Machine,’ an exhibition of works by Jorge Luis Borges, is on display until March 15 in the Edison and Newman Room of Houghton Library.