August Wilson's Four Bs: JORGE LUIS BORGES

Acting Apprentice Jake Simonds did some digging on another one of August Wilson's Four Bs: writer Jorge Luis Borges. Read what he found, below:

Jorge Luis Borges was a prominent short story writer and translator, one of the big names in 20th century Spanish Literature. Born in Buenos Aires at the turn of the 20th century, Borges wrote his most celebrated works, including the two short story collections Ficciones and El Aleph in the 1940s. His style was all his own; drawing from intellectual movements such as Heidigger's phenomenology and Sartre's existentialism, as well as some of his contemporary latin writers, such as Juan Rulfo, critic Anna Maria Barrenechia called his signature style "irreality." Others have suggested Borges is an early magical realist. 

"I've been trying to write a play the way he writes a story," said August Wilson (Author of The Piano Lesson) of the argentinian writer. Wilson loved the way Borges could, in Wilson's words, "tell you exactly what was going to happen" in the short story, but then tell the story so masterfully, the reader still doesn't quite see it coming: "The suspense is, how is this going to happen?" There's a dramatic tension, Wilson notes, when the reader knows something a character in the story does not know. Wilson strived to bring this to the stage.

When you come and see The Piano Lesson, look for the Borges influence by paying extra close attention in the first act. Wilson might just be telling you the whole story of the play, and inviting you to join him, in speculating just how this event will happen. This revelation should not be thought of as a spoiler, but rather a challenge to how we look at narrative. Wilson's lesson from Borges was that the meat of a narrative is not what happens, but how it happens. 


De aquel hidalgo de cetrina y seca 
tez y de heroico afán se conjetura 
que, en víspera perpetua de aventura, 
no salió nunca de su biblioteca. 

La crónica puntual que sus empeños 
narra y sus tragicómicos desplantes 
fue soñada por él, no por Cervantes, 
y no es más que una crónica de sueños. 

Tal es también mi suerte. Sé que hay algo 
inmortal y esencial que he sepultado 
en esa biblioteca del pasado 
en que leí la historia del hidalgo. 
Las lentas hojas vuelve un niño y grave 
sueña con vagas cosas que no sabe.


Of that knight with the sallow, dry
Complexion and heroic bent, they guess
That, always on the verge of adventure,
He never sallied from his library.

The precise chronicle of his urges
And its tragic-comical reverses
Was dreamed by him, not by Cervantes,
It’s no more than a chronicle of dream.

Such my fate too. I know there’s something
Immortal and essential that I’ve buried
Somewhere in that library of the past
In which I read the history of the knight.
The slow leaves recall a child who gravely
Dreams vague things he cannot understand.

See you at THE PIANO LESSON, now extended through November 16 -- Click here for tickets.

Quotes were found in the book
Conversations with August Wilson
edited by Jackson R. Bryer, Mary C. Hartig

Jorge Luis Borges; photo by Grete Stern