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An Unquenchable Gaiety of Mind

July 15, 2012

On visits to Cambridge University late in life, Jorge Luis Borges offered revealing last thoughts about his reading and writing.

By his last years Jorge Luis Borges (1899–1986) was often seen as a skeptic. Michel Foucault began Les mots et les choses (1966, published in English as The Order of Things) by acclaiming him for having defied certainty and demolished every familiar landmark of knowledge, since everything “bears the stamp of our age and our geography.” Foucault cited something Borges claimed to have found once in an old Chinese encyclopedia, a hilarious taxonomy of animals using the following categories: those belonging to the emperor, those that are embalmed, those that are tame, sucking pigs, sirens, stray dogs, et cetera. That was impressively credulous of Foucault, since Borges (as I once heard him say) often made up his quotations: “One is allowed to change the past.” Among the literal minded, however, his reward was to be thought to have sounded the death knell of all human hopes to know the world or to understand our place in it.

Excerpt of an essay wriiten by George Watson at The American Scholar. Continue HERE

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