The Frontal Cortex

Borges’ Brain Injury

This is from The Paris Review Interviews, Volume 1:

Q: I would like to ask about your having said that you were very timid about beginning to write stories.

Borges: Yes, I was very timid because when I was young I thought of myself as a poet. Then I had an accident. You can feel the scar. If you touch my head here, you will see. Feel all those mountains, bumps? Then I spent a fortnight in a hospital. I had nightmares and sleeplessness – insomnia. After that they told me that I had been in danger, well, of dying, that it was really a wonderful thing that the operation had been successful. I began to fear for my mental integrity – I said, Maybe I can’t write anymore. Then my life would have been practically over because literature is very important to me. Not because I think my own stuff particularly good, but because I know that I can’t get along without writing. If I don’t write, I feel, well, a kind of remorse, no? Then I thought I would try my hand at writing an article or poem. But I thought, I have written hundreds of articles and poems. If I can’t do it, then I’ll know at once that I am done fore, that everything is over with me. So I thought I’d try my hand at something I hadn’t done; if I couldn’t do it, there would be nothing strange about it because why should I write short stories? It would prepare me for the final overwhelming blow: knowing that I was at the end of my tether. I wrote a story called, let me see, I think, “Hombre de la esquina rosada,” and everyone enjoyed it very much. It was a great relief to me. If it hadn’t been for that particular knock on the head, perhaps I would have never written short stories.

Comments

  1. #1 McFawn
    March 31, 2008

    The possible brain injury here isn’t as important as the fact that it forced Borges into a genre (fiction) where he had no expectations for himself. Creating without having any notion that you have any ability, proclivity, or talent might be what made his first story so great…

    And it might explain the beauty of the work of “outsider” artists like Henry Darger who lack self-identification as “artists.” The consciousness of talent might actually be a barrier to its release.

  2. #2 Layla
    April 2, 2008

    I agree with McFawn, I feel the conscious expectation of performance can subvert the ability to perform by the fear of not meeting expectations, however subliminal that fear might be.
    I expect most of us experience this in various sports or instruments we might play, or in any area we try our talents. Maybe this lack of expectation accounts for “beginners luck” in some arenas.

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    November 25, 2008

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