". . . Merely a Man of Letters": an interview with Jorge Luis Borges

Philosophy and Literature 1 (3):337-341 (1977)
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In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:.. MERELY A MAN OF LETTERS" an interview with Jorge Luis Borges* Philosophy and Literature: Why don't you tell us about some of the philosophers who have influenced your work and in whom you have been the most interested? Jorge Luis Borges: Well, I think that's an easy one. You might talk in terms of two: Berkeley and Schopenhauer. But I suppose Hume might be worked in also, because, after all, Hume refutes Berkeley. Really, he comes from Berkeley—even if Berkeley comes from Locke. You might think of Locke, of Berkeley, and of Hume as being three links in an argument..... But I suppose that when someone refutes someone else in philosophy, he is carrying on the argument. P&L: And Schopenhauer? Borges: Schopenhauer is very different from Hume. Of course, Schopenhauer had his idea of the Will. That is not to be found in Hume.... The case of Berkeley was different. I suppose he thought of God as being aware of all things all the time, if I don't get him wrong. If we go away, does this room disappear? No, because God is thinking about it. Now, in the case of Schopenhauer, I was rereading Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, The World as Will and Idea, and I was rather taken aback, or baffled I should say, puzzled by something that keeps on recurring in Schopenhauer. Of course it may have been a slip of the pen, but as he goes back to it, and as he was a very careful writer, I wonder if it is a slip of the pen. For example, Schopenhauer begins by saying that the universe, the stars, the spaces in between, the planets, *On April 14, 1976, two editors of Philosophy and Literature, along with an interested colleague, interviewed Jorge Luis Borges at Michigan State University, where he held a position as visiting professor for the winter term. These remarks are edited from the transcript of that conversation. 337 338Philosophy and Literature this planet, those things, have no existence—except in the mind which perceives them. But then, to my surprise—and I suppose you can explain this to me, since you are philosophers and I am not—what Schopenhauer says is that all those things have no existence except in the brain. And that the universe—I remember these words, I don't think I'm inventing them now—"ist ein Gehirnphänomen," that the world is a cerebral phenomenon. Now, I was baffled. Because, of course, if you think of the universe, I suppose the brain is as much a part of the external world as the stars or the moon. The brain after all is a system of visual, of tactile, perceptions. He keeps on insisting on the brain. I don't think, for example, that Bishop Berkeley insists on the brain, or Hume, who would have insisted on the mind, consciousness. P&L: People sometimes say that they see Berkeley in stories like "Orbis Tertius." Borges: Yes, I suppose they do. Well, of course. But in that story I was led by literary means also. P&L: How do you distinguish the literary from the philosophical means in that story? Could you explain that? Borges: Very easily.... Encyclopedias have been my chief reading. I have always been interested in encyclopedias. I used to go to the Biblioteca National in Buenos Aires—and since I was so shy, I felt I could not cope with asking for a book, so I looked on the shelves for the Encyclopaedia Britannica. I would pick up any chance volume and I would read it. One night I was richly rewarded, because I read all about the Druses, Dryden and the Druids—a treasure trove, no?—all in the same volume, "Dr-." Then I came to the idea of how fine it would be to think of an encyclopedia... a very rigorous one of course, of an imaginary world, where everything should be linked. For example, you would have a language and then a literature, and then a history and so on. Then I thought I would write a story of a fancy encyclopedia. Of course that would require many different people to write it...



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