From Conversations, a collection of dialogues conducted in 1984 and 1985 between Jorge Luis Borges and the Argentine poet Osvaldo Ferrari, out next month from Seagull Books. Translated from the Spanish by Jason Wilson.
OSVALDO FERRARI: In many of our conversations we approach, unawares, the National Library on México Street, where you were the director.
JORGE LUIS BORGES: Yes.
FERRARI: For a long time I have wanted to know the journey that brought you to that library — that is, the libraries you worked in before reaching the National Library.
BORGES: I worked for nine years in the Miguel Cané library on Carlos Calvo and Muñiz. We were, I believe, some fifty employees, and the work we had to do was completed in, let’s say, half an hour or three quarters of an hour. The next six hours we dedicated to talk of football — something I am deeply ignorant of — or gossip and dirty stories. So I hid myself reading the books in the library. To those nine years I owe my knowledge of the works of Léon Bloy and Paul Claudel, and I discovered books I’d never heard of.
FERRARI: In that atmosphere, you decided to read more difficult works than at home.
BORGES: That’s true, yes. [Laughs] But that I was reading books did not meet with approval. One day I was asked which “square” I preferred and thought they were referring to a canvas or an oil painting. But no, “square” meant football pitch. So I said I knew absolutely nothing about football. They told me that as we worked in the Boedo and San Juan area, I should say that I supported San Lorenzo de Almagro. I learned that by heart and always said that I supported San Lorenzo so as not to offend my colleagues. But I noticed that San Lorenzo de Almagro almost never won. So I talked with them and they said, no, the fact of winning or losing was secondary — and they were right — but San Lorenzo was the most “scientific” team of all.
FERRARI: They told you that.
BORGES: Yes, that they were scientific.
FERRARI: That they lost scientifically.
BORGES: Yes, that they didn’t know how to win, but lost methodically.