Babylonian Borges. An Encyclopedia

By Jorge Schwartz


Lola Rubio

Responsable de Obras para Niños y Jóvenes

About the book:

Jorge Luis Borges’s extensive oeuvre —with its imaginative geographies and fictional locations, its fabulous characters and fabled creatures, its reimagined mythologies and classic rewrites— has been a source of much debate and wonder among literary critics. Babylonian Borges, a book encompassing more than a thousand entries by various authors, is a kind of Warburgian encyclopedia that will allow us to delve into the themes, references and quotes in the writings of Jorge Luis Borges, an man who wavered in and out of realities and creations, facts and fancies. Under Jorge Schwartz’s direction and with contributions by more than seventy scholars, this project invites the reader to embark upon a journey across Borges’s mind and imagination, thus enabling multifaceted and manifold readings of an author who is now unquestionably part of the literary canon.


Prologue to the Argentine edition

By Jorge Schwartz

In 2017, Companhia das Letras published Borges babilônico. Uma enciclopédia (Babylonian Borges: An Encyclopedia) in São Paulo. Today, being able to publish it in Buenos Aires with Fondo de Cultura Económica is a dream come true. We seized this opportunity and requested new entries in order to fill some of the gaps that had been left in the original version, whether by mistake or owing to the specifics of creating a dictionary. From an original number of 66 contributors, we have now reached 75.

The entry on Nazifascism by Annick Louis was particularly indispensable and one of the most remarkable gaps in the Brazilian edition. Although we had not included works of criticism—for it would have been an impossible task—we decided to add Júlio Pimentel Pinto’s entry on the book Ficcionario, edited by Emir Rodríguez Monegal in 1985, due to its original and encyclopedic quality, and its current stance as an essential reference in the study of Borges’s works.

In this edition, we could not fail to include a review of Adolfo Bioy Casares’s spectacular Borges—a task that Isabel Stratta took upon herself and successfully completed. Four decades’ worth of dinners with Borges (in records spanning from 1947 to 1987 throughout 1,663 pages) unveil the backstage of an ongoing conversation between two prominent literary figures; a backstage where certain biases and opinions not present—or at least not explicitly—in the authors’ literary works emerge.

The intimate nature of that spontaneous and virtually uninterrupted conversation revealed, among other things, recurring homophobic remarks. We decided that this finding could not be omitted, and asked Daniel Balderston to write an entry for “Homophobia.” Bioy Casares’s remark that “for Borges, sex is a dirty affair” (which is included in the new “Censorship” entry by Gonzalo Aguilar) also allows for the delicate yet widely discussed and analyzed subject of Jorge Luis Borges’s sexuality to be approached.

Due to a genuine slip on our part, there was no entry in the Brazilian edition for “H. Bustos Domecq,” a pseudonym used for several collaborative works by Borges and Bioy Casares. This mistake has now been amended thanks to another significant contribution by Gonzalo Aguilar. Although we had decided not to read into his characters, some exceptions were made even in the Brazilian edition: for example, with Beatriz Viterbo (how could we possibly omit her?), Pierre Menard and Ts'ui Pên, who were too iconic to be left out. Following this criterion, we thought it important to add the “Emma Zunz” entry by Horacio González, director of the National Library of Argentina between 2005 and 2015, and author of Borges. Los pueblos bárbaros (2019). Today we are saddened by his passing, and hope that his inclusion in Babylonian Borges can be our humble tribute to him. Another great loss is that of Adriana Astutti, founder of a publishing house named Beatriz Viterbo in the city of Rosario. Who better than her, then, to take on this character’s entry? Tenderly she writes: “Towards 1991, perhaps to make a career out of her habit of never opening the books that were dedicated to her, Beatriz Viterbo turns into an editor by giving her name to a new publishing house.”

Antonio Fernández Ferrer—the author of Borges A/Z and Ficciones de Borges. En las galerías del laberinto—provides the entry on Franco Maria Ricci, a highly sophisticated Italian editor and a friend of Borges who, until now, had been overlooked in other dictionaries and encyclopedias. Moreover, we commissioned Carlos García, in Hamburg, to write the entry “Evar Méndez” given his expert knowledge in historical avant-garde movements. The entry he wrote reveals a solid work of research that draws from his book La ardiente aventura. Cartas y documentos inéditos de Evar Méndez, director del periódico Martín Fierro, co-written with Martín Greco. Recovering this historical figure is one of Babylonian Borges’s much-needed contributions.

Some of the entries have been reviewed and rewritten for the present edition. For these amended versions, I thank Julio Schvartzman—and, especially, Magdalena Cámpora for the new “Flaubert.”

In the original version of this book, we took great care not to leave out any of the main magazines to which Borges had made contributions—therefore, Sur, El Hogar and Anales de Buenos Aires were thoroughly analyzed and referenced. However, thanks to the contribution of French Argentine author Annick Louis, there is a new addition to this edition: Revista Multicolor de los Sábados, a literary supplement that has long been overlooked in the studies of Borges’s literature.

Even though our encyclopedia does not feature titles of articles, we believed it was paramount to include Borges’s remarkable essay “The Argentine Writer and Tradition” which, according to Guido Herzovich, the entry’s author, is “perhaps the best example of the Borgean notion that texts get rewritten by time and context.” An approach specific to the field of cultural studies has turned this essay into a classic that is referenced in many of the entries in Babylonian Borges.

The quality of the texts that were translated from Portuguese would not be the same without Patricia Artundo’s thoroughness and passion for research. To her we owe many of the corrections and updates: she is a great expert in the Argentine and Brazilian avant-garde movements, especially in Mário de Andrade and the Borgean universe (see Correspondência. Mário de Andrade & Escritores/Artistas Argentinos & Mário de Andrade e a Argentina). I daresay the Argentine edition is not only an expanded version, but also an improved one. I will steal Borges’s remark on William Beckford and say that here, too, “the original betrays the translation.” A lot we owe to Gênese Andrade as well, who was in charge of translating all entries from Spanish to Portuguese for the Brazilian edition, and now had to recover them with the necessary updates and crossed references. Every step of the way, both Patricia and Gênese have been essential for the completion of Babylonian Borges.

I would also like to thank Miguel de Torre Borges (1939-2022), Borges’s nephew and the author of Borges. Fotografías y manuscritos (1987) and Apuntes de familia (2019), for his many corrections and comments, especially regarding Borges’s family life.

To stay true to the Borgean spirit, we recommend that Babylonian Borges be used not only as a reference work, but also as a reading material. It will be an endless source of surprises—for instance, placing Robert Louis Stevenson’s entry between those of Josef von Sternberg and Snorri Sturluson seems to follow the same kind of logic that Aby Warburg used for his libraries: the “law of the good neighbor.” On this note, I will take over Daniel Molina’s words of advice in Autoayuda para snobs (Paidós, 2017) when he tells readers “to get lost in the pages, quit, try again, not worry about following a pre-established order, read again. Allow yourselves to stumble into new meanings in the words you have already read.”

Nota bene: So many years after the original Brazilian edition was published, it has been a delight to reconnect with almost everyone who took part in writing these entries, but it has been especially pleasurable to reach out to those alumni of the University of São Paulo who, out of sheer love for literature, spent years investigating the infinite universe of Borges.

São Paulo, December, 2021.


Translated by Rocío Molina Biasone - Edited by Paula Galindez