comparing borges and I with The Slaughter House by Esteban Echeverna

he other one, the one called Borges, is the one things
happen to. I walk through the streets of Buenos Aires

and stop for a moment, perhaps mechanically now, to
look at the arch of an entrance hall and the grillwork on
the gate; I know of Borges from the mail and see his name
on a list of professors or in a biographical dictionary. I
like hourglasses, maps, eighteenth-century typography,
the taste of coffee and the prose of Stevenson; he shares
these preferences, but in a vain way that turns them into
the attributes of an actor. It would be an exaggeration to
say that ours is a hostile relationship; I live, let myself go
on living, so that Borges may contrive his literature, and
this literature justifies me. It is no effort for me to confess
that he has achieved some valid pages, but those pages
cannot save me, perhaps because what is good belongs to
no one, not even to him, but rather to the language and
to tradition. Besides, I am destined to perish, definitively,
and only some instant of myself can survive in him. Little
by little, I am giving over everything to him, though I am
quite aware of his perverse custom of falsifying and mag-
nifying things.

Spinoza knew that all things long to persist in their
being; the stone eternally wants to be a stone and the
tiger a tiger. I shall remain in Borges, not in myself (if it is
true that I am someone), but I recognize myself less in his
books than in many others or in the laborious strumming
of a guitar. Years ago I tried to free myself from him and
went from the mythologies of the suburbs to the games
with time and infinity, but those games belong to Borges
now and I shall have to imagine other things. Thus my
life is a flight and I lose everything and everything belongs
to oblivion, or to him.

I do not know which of us has written this page.


“Borges and I” by Jorge Luis Borges,
translated by James E. Irby, in
Labyrinths, copyright © 1962, 1964
by New Directions Publishing
Corp. Used by permission of New
Directions Publishing Corp.

Borges and I
Jorge Luis Borges

Esteban Echeverna

——- ^ ——-

Although Esteban Echevem’a’s renown rests on his intellectual and political ac-
tivities, he was an important writer, and “ The Slaughter House,” the selection
chosen for this volume, is a landmark in the history of Latin American short fiction.
Echeverria was one of the young Argentines who founded in 1838 the Asociaci6n
de Mayo. This organization hoped to develop a national literature reflecting Ar-
gentina’s realities. Having spent four formative years in Paris (1825-30), Eche-
verria was imbued in the romantic spirit, and he became one of the movement’s
promoters. Back in Argentina he devoted himself to the overthrow of the Rosas
dictatorship. In 1841 he went into exile in nearby Uruguay, where he stayed until
his death. Echeverria’s “The Captive,” a narrative poem about a white woman
abducted by Indians, is among the better-known tales from nineteenth-century
Latin America. “ The Slaughter House,” written about 1838, was published thirty
years later, so its immediate political aim was not realized, but it became one of
the most important stories in Latin American literary history. Its opening, which
proposes the colonial chronicles as a narrative model, is a programmatic and
prophetic statement on the relationship between Latin American history and fic-
tion. “ The Slaughter House” is mostly significant, however, because it displays
the clash between “civilization and barbarism” that Sarmiento saw at the core
of Latin American culture. Read in this light the story is a political allegory. Its
more specific design was to accuse Rosas of cuddling the thugs who slay the
civilized young man. A deeper conflict perhaps is between the liberal ideology of
“ The Slaughter House” and its painstaking representation of the ritual murder,
an atavistic story of sacrifice that appears to be the source of its quasi-religious

T h e Slaughter House

Although the following narrative is historical, I shall not begin it with N o ah ’s ark and the genealogy o f his forebears as was w ont once to be
done by the ancient Spanish historians o f America w ho should be our
models. N umerous reasons I m ight adduce for not pursuing their example,
b u t I shall pass them over in order to avoid prolixity, stating merely that
the events here narrated occurred in the 1830’s o f o ur Christian era. M ore-


Digitized by Google Original fromUNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN


over, it was during Lent, a time when meat is scarce in B uenos Aires
because the C hurch, adopting Epictetus’ precept— sustine abstine (suffer,
abstain)— orders vigil and abstinence to the stomachs o f the faithful because
camivorousness is sinful and, as the proverb says, leads to carnality. A nd
since the Church has, ab initio and through G od’s direct dispensation, spir-
itual sway over consciences and stomachs, w hich in no way belong to th e
individual, nothing is more

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