Hideyasu Kurose, Comparative Literature major, University of California - Berkeley.
Hideyasu Kurose,
Comparative Literature major, University of California – Berkeley.

Arguably, more than any other modern writer with the exceptions of perhaps Italo Calvino and Haruki Murakami, Jorge Luis Borges has lyricized the arbitrariness of the arrow of time. Despite the extraordinary scope of his eclectic, arrestingly aesthetic and often unclassifiable short fictions, Borges never received the Nobel Prize for Literature. Perhaps, in order to truly demonstrate what an injustice this denial was and remains, the socio-historical prescience of Borges’ writing should be addressed. Although many modern writers have incorporated Einstein’s view of time as an illusion into their work, within the writing of Borges exists a definitive caution and an adept dissection of the most virulent phenomenon in modern global history, namely fascism. In order to understand why Borges’ writing is pertinent to what many scholars have labeled a toxic political religion, a digression into the research of Tobias Abse and Lital Levy is necessary.

In his landmark research regarding sovverisivismo or “subversivism”, Tobias Abse discusses how fascism startlingly failed to take hold in the Tuscan city of Livorno following World War I. Considering the steady rise of fascism in Europe following World War I, particularly in Italy, Abse’s assessment is of the utmost importance in grasping what political thinkers such as Emilio Gentile and Hannah Arendt rightfully identified as a political religion. Although the term “fascist” and the phenomenon of “fascism” are thrown around incessantly in the current political climate, according to many modern scholars such as Robert Paxton and Joshua Arthurs, the term has a very specific etiology and cultural morphology. Therefore, to fully understand more complex fascist uprisings such as Latin America experienced in the 1970s, it is important to inspect the phenomenon rigorously.  Through contemplation of both fictional landscapes and socio-historical landscapes, it is possible to diagnose the onset of this particularly noxious political epidemic and thus underscore the surprising prescience Borges’ fiction possesses with regard to exposing it through the lens of innovative, runic literature.

In his commentary upon the resistance of everyday citizens of Livorno to fascism, Abse does not emphasize the superior moral or ethical character of the sovversivi or “subversives” but rather their inherently subversive instincts. As has been demonstrated both in the fictional and socio-historical realm, subversivism can oftentimes be as ostensibly violent or brutal as fascism. That being said, to use the logic of Abse and later scholars such as Paxton, subversivism has an underlying opportunism which a political religion such as fascism intrinsically lacks. A perfect example would be the phenomenon of the secuestrado in Colombia. Although the secuestrado phenomenon has resulted in a great deal of mayhem, destruction, and general suffering, there is a vicious capitalism at the foundation of the criminality. A close examination of Borges’ short fiction “The South” provides us with Juan Dahlmann, a man who transforms from humble, assiduous, metropolitan porteño to combative gaucho for seemingly no reason whatsoever. Herein lies the difference between those that commit the kidnappings in Colombia for monetary gain and those that “disappeared” many in Argentina for no logical purpose at all absent ambiguous phantasms of hyper-masculinity and zealous, retrograde imperialism.

Dahlmann, although a fictional archetype, abandons a seemingly high-level career and a comfortable existence to engage in atavistic recidivism. As he boards a train, defying space and time, and heads toward the polar opposite of Buenos Aires, namely the Pampas, Dahlmann experiences a deep and profound metaphysical shift. Conversely, the perpetrators of the secuestrado catastrophes in Colombia have demonstrated similar subversivism as Dahlmann but only in the name of brutal, almost Objectivist entrepreneurialism. On the other hand, Dahlmann’s atavistic regression renders him penniless and property-less.  He is lead to a gaucho bar where he is ultimately engaged in a knife fight worthy of the ancient, founding struggle between Aeneas and Turnus which would provide some of the mythos of Mussolini’s Second Roman Empire propaganda. As Abse lucidly illustrates, those in Livorno resisted this revisionist propaganda as subversives and those in Colombia resisted similar propaganda even though they may not have resisted for any ethical or moral reasons. Borges’ “The South” thus captures this distinction between the subversive and the pre-indoctrinated fascist disciple brilliantly. More importantly still, like some avant-garde Laocoon he predicts the impending political doom roughly two decades prior to Argentina’s “Dirty War” or Chile’s coup d’etat.

Furthermore, as is documented by the movement of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo during the Dirty War, ransom was never the goal of the fascists rather, simply prolonged, inexplicable absence. In her excellent commentary Poetic Trespass: Writing Between Hebrew and Arabic in Israel/Palestine, Lital Levy articulates the conundrum of a “presence of absence.” Although she does not explicitly relate this quandary to fascism, the fact that the chronotope or socio-historical “spacetime” gets distorted in this apparently paradoxical event perfectly emphasizes the fate of the desaparecido in the wake of phenomena such as Pinochet’s apprehensions and the “Dirty War.” Chronologically preceding the rise of fascist tyrants such as Pinochet by many decades, Baldomero Lillo’s gripping “The Devil’s Blast” perfectly indicates both this presence of absence and the resulting warped chronotope in Latin America.

However, it is ultimately Borges’ “The Two Kings and the Two Labyrinths” that dares to explore this presence of absence enigma objectively and without a populist agenda. In this concise, haunting vignette, Borges introduces a mortal vacuum or, maybe more accurately, an upper bound on the channel capacity of human perception. As the second searcher becomes stranded in a maze “with no walls,” Levy’s notion of the warped chronotope and the presence of absence are confirmed. The second searcher becomes a desaparecido as the many who would vanish in the fascist uprising of the 1970s would come to be known in Argentina. Pinochet’s Estadio Nacional massacre is no less suggestive of Borges’ first searcher stranded in a maze “with walls” experiencing utter terror, confusion, and disorientation.

Colombia’s secuestrado phenomenon has doubtlessly destroyed many lives and is indicative of a morally bankrupt ethos in many regards. Nevertheless, Colombia would never proceed to be infected with the political religion of fascism, or rather the cancerous mythos of fascism, to the same degree as Chile and Argentina. At its core the secuestrado phenomenon is thus linked to Abse’s subversivism. Without a doubt, the Medellín cartels subverted and continue to subvert democratic government, ethical standards, and in many cases jus cogens norms (universal legal constructs) regarding human rights. Regardless of all these glaring violations, since their inception, no different than the mafia or Camorra in the Mezzogiorno, the secuestradores or “kidnappers” have been focused upon rates of return rather than ontological erasure. The relentlessly capitalistic and avaricious have been rightfully indicted and impugned for centuries across the international stage.

The vicious game which the two potentates play in Borges’ “The Two Kings and the Two Labyrinths” suggests violence but no avarice. What are the two kings playing their twisted game for? It surely is not for money. Thus, the error would be in assuming capitalism is based upon anything but Ayn Rand-esque, fervently pure logic. Fascism, on the other hand, is canonically divorced from logic as Albert Camus epically depicted in his unforgettable The Plague. Accordingly, when assessing modern fictional and socio-historical landscapes, it is imperative to utilize the term fascism and the pejorative “fascist” with care so as not to homogenize the two vastly different phenomena of unchecked avarice and virulent political religiosity. In his brief, arcane parable “The Two Kings and the Two Labyrinths” Borges demonstrates the difference between men who war abstractly and men who battle opportunistically. Strangely enough, the former is more deleterious to society and humanity.

Camus rightfully was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature as a result of such globally and historically powerful works as the above-mentioned The Plague. Nevertheless, Jorge Luis Borges expanded beyond the bleak naturalism of Lillo to demonstrate the “presence of absence” discussed by Levy in his short fiction “The Two Kings and the Two Labyrinths” and an abnormally non-opportunistic, atavistic recidivism in “The South.” Despite a myriad of powerful prognostications disguised as protean poesy, Borges remains unrecognized by the Nobel Prize Committee. In the past, several Nobel Prizes have been awarded posthumously. Most recently, Kip Thorne and others were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for verifying experimentally a prediction Einstein made roughly a century earlier regarding gravitational waves. Borges’ socio-historical prescience needs to be rewarded even though falsifiability has never been a standard for the Literature Prize. In the predictive capacity of his fiction, he has exceeded all critiques of string theory without losing his groundbreaking creativity. Such a feat is unprecedented.

Therefore, for a man whose writing defied time and space, it is time to defy time and space and recognize the porteño master who not only rendered the ideas of Einstein accessible to the literary landscape but also predicted and diagnosed the virulent phenomenon which would infect both Argentina and Chile in the 1970s as well as distant nations such as Hutu-ruled Rwanda, Milosevic-ruled Serbia, and Hussein-ruled Iraq years later. The fact that fascism still attacks unsuspecting populaces and nations in the modern era makes the writing of Borges more intriguing than ever and its lack of recognition by the Nobel Prize Committee must be labeled inexcusable and myopic. The recent unconventional winner of the Prize, Bob Dylan, may have re-purposed the populism of Lillo in his transient ballads yet in musings that veer seamlessly between the fiercely poetic and passionately prosaic, Borges consistently captured the pulse of a megalomaniacal mythos whose perpetual existence threatens the very fabric of civilization.