Borges and I | Study Guide

Jorge Luis Borges

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Borges and I | Themes


Creativity's Effect on Identity

The title "Borges and I" introduces the concept of dual identity that is core to Borges's essay. Borges contemplates the nature of identity as twofold. The "I" represents the inner identity, and the name "Borges" indicates the external identity. Creativity, for Borges, begins in the complex inner identity. It is influenced by personality and experience, such as the experience of reading literature. Borges points out that he finds himself more in the books that he has experienced than in those he has written. Thus, his inner identity is shaped by the things he reads, while his outer identity is represented by the things he writes. According to Borges, as soon as he takes an idea and makes it into a story or a book, it no longer belongs to his inner self but becomes part of his public "persona."

The dual nature of personality presented by Borges is problematic to the author. He expresses a feeling of loss when parts of him become falsified and magnified as they transfer to his public persona. Yet, Borges also recognizes the necessity of both parts of his identity. The literature that belongs to the Borges persona is also integral to the inner identity. Borges writes that "this literature justifies" his interior identity. It is the external expression of Borges's internal creative force. Though he struggles with that exterior persona, it is also essential to manifest his creativity.

Identity and Time

The duality of identity is intertwined with time in "Borges and I." Borges states, "all things long to persist in their being." The persona of "Borges" is how his identity lives beyond his death, even if it is only a fragment of the author's whole identity. This quote alludes to the desire of all beings for survival and—ultimately—for immortality. Through his work, part of Borges becomes immortal, yet most of his identity is lost with his death. He writes that he is "destined to perish, definitively, and only some instant of [himself] can survive in [Borges]." Thus, the bulk of identity is fleeting, and only a small fragment remains in the works a person leaves behind. The immortality of that public persona is what makes it both problematic and essential. It does not portray an accurate or entire sense of a person's inner self. Yet, through channeling the self into art or works, the artist can immortalize a part of themselves no matter how "magnified" or "falsified" that self may be.

Nature of Audience and Celebrity

The nature of celebrity and its relationship with identity is an underlying theme in Borges's story. The public "Borges" persona can be interpreted to be the version of the author that his audience knows. The problem with having an audience and achieving celebrity with them is that the audience often gathers a warped version of a writer. The piece of a writer's identity that the public experiences does not necessarily correlate to the way that person views themselves; once celebrity has been achieved, the author has great difficulty composing without the audience and considerations of perception in mind. The public may know a person's tastes, may know that they "like hourglasses, maps, eighteenth-century typography, [and] the taste of coffee." However, the nuance, history, or significance of these likes is not necessarily translated. The nuances are part of the inner identity, while the outside world perceives a simple list of preferences or facts. In his story Borges pursues the idea that the outside world can only ever perceive a small portion of someone's complex inner identity.

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