Sontag on Borges

borgesOn June 14, 1996 Susan Sontag published an open letter in loving memory of Jorge Luis Borges, whose death had taken place 10 years before in Geneva, the city he revered as the nest of his happiness as a youngster. Sontag praised Borges (nothing else can be done as regards his genius), lamented his passing, set him as an example of unselfishness, courtesy, generosity and, above all, literary dexterity, a writer to be worshiped by other writers who should also aspire to become his disciples. She also showed fear as regards the fate of the book: it was a time when no one suspected the future multiplication of platforms where to enjoy reading, but darkly dreaded the disappearance of the written word. No such thing has happened; most likely no such thing will ever happen. Perhaps I am being too optimistic, but I do believe somehow, anyhow, literature will again rise from wizened ashes as it did after the fall of the Urbs.

I remember it well, or so I think: Winston Smith was under torture. He did not concede when taunted about the overwhelming power of the State; he retorted that there would always be a way for mankind to fend off the heel stomping on a human face. Orwell, fearing the seemingly unstoppable rise of Stalinism, described his agony and his defeat, maybe to rouse the rebellion in those who despised oppression. May it be so; may the long reign of the book, now under various, diverse, even conflicting shapes, survive until the last reader is gone, and even longer.

H.B.

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