Breakfast More Geometrico: A Conversation with Jorge Luis Borges
Translated by Natasha Wimmer
to the issue 8 page
Jorge Luis Borges was briefly in Mexico at the end of 1978. Immersed as I was in my arduous Spinozan studies (to the foolish extent of attempting a biography of the philosopher), Borges’s visit seemed providential. If I could talk to him, I would be able to pay tribute to two of my old idols: Borges and Spinoza.
After Schopenhauer and Berkeley, Spinoza was surely the philosopher Borges loved best. In Borges’s essays and stories there are several references to Spinoza that omit, as the philosopher himself generally did, any reference to his life and instead address his vast metaphysical system. Borges recalls, for example, the famous dictum “All things endeavor to persist in their being,” both in order to explain the presumption of immortality of the builder of the Great Wall and to lament that like the stone that persists in being a stone and the tiger that persists in being a tiger, he himself must eternally reside in “the other Borges.” Along with Parmenides, Plato, Kant, and Bradley, Borges always made special note of Spinoza in the genealogy of idealist philosophers. Some of the adjectives that he applies to the Spinozan God—like “boundless” or “indifferent”—function as shorthand for long theorems and scholia. Of the Ethics (More Geometrico Demonstrata, as the original title reads), Borges turned mainly to the first two parts, those that define God and the mind. Conversely, he barely touched the middle two sections, in which Spinoza descends to the plane of man, explains the nature of emotions, and cautions against human bondage. The fifth book of the Ethics, which revolves around the “power of understanding, or of human freedom,” leads man back toward God, and perhaps that’s why it recaptured the Borgesian attention.
That Borges was much more interested in the invention of God than in the moral aspect of Spinoza’s system is evidenced in the two famous sonnets that he dedicated to the philosopher of Amsterdam. In the sonnets, the birth of God in the Ethics is described in five different ways: Spinoza conjures up a clear labyrinth, builds God, engenders him, carves him, constructs him. Apart from the usual evocation of the philosopher’s work as a lens grinder and his Jewish origin, Borges slips in two central references to his life:
[No one] Is granted such prodigious love as he:
The love that has no hope of being loved.