Mario Vargas Llosa: “I have the impression that Borges found a liberation in María Kodama”

In that same year, in the labyrinth of Knossos.


Indeed, this author frequented the images of labyrinths, as well as those of mirrors and tigers. His celebrated narratives, his essays, and his meditative poems are shot through with an elegant sense of unreality. In his writings, the psychological description of the characters is scarce, beyond the schematic, and enigmas, philosophical aporias, exotic lands, spies, archaic temples, English philology abound; Borges transports us to immortal people, people dreamed of by other people and conjectures parallel universes. Perhaps, among all, the existence of infinity is the most beloved idea of ​​the author of The maker; as well as the refutation of the self and freedom. It is unusual, although not impossible, to find in one of Borges’ serene and fatalistic pages an exclamation point or a political consideration. What about Love? Is this literary universe a propitious territory for sentimental effusions between characters? In principle, love is not a very Borgesian issue, but it is time to ponder such an assertion by opening the luxurious edition of Jorge Luis Borges & Maria Kodama. Note, first of all, that in 1984 the writer was not lost alone in the ruins of the Minotaur’s Cretan labyrinth: Kodama accompanied him, Maria Kodama.

The image of that moment in 1984 of Borges in the ruins of the ancient Minoan labyrinth comes from Atlas, a book of illustrated prose, which narrates a series of the aforementioned trips through the world universe. we read in Atlas, of that same year: about the Cretan maze, observes the genius of Buenos Aires, “whose stone network was lost as many generations as María Kodama and I were lost that morning and we are still lost in time, that other labyrinth”. Time, the cosmos, the galaxy are labyrinths, and vice versa, however, the poet is now, in the belly of the labyrinth of the Minotaur, in 1984, perhaps lost… but in company.

Where does the controversy with Kodama come from, then? Biographer Xosé Carlos Caneiro tells us: “[Kodama estaba] concerned at all times for his health, for his desires, for his inspiration. María Kodama, despite so much criticism received, she was an ideal companion for the last years of Borges. They say that her company earned him the enmity of many of his intimates. How to know? Jorge Luis Borges gradually distanced himself from four of the friends who […] They had always been by his side: María Esther Vázquez, Silvina Ocampo, [Adolfo] Bioy Casares or Vlady Kociancich. The biography of the first is clear as to the reasons. Only one: Maria Kodama. And without any kind of prudence, he affirms [Vázquez] exhaustive: ‘The truth, he lived very alone. Many of his friends had died and the few he had left had been displaced. […]’. However, Borges was not alone, that is the reality. Maria Kodama always accompanied him. Who he loved. And also Fanny, her inseparable Fanny”, corrects Caneiro. As Fanny observed, at this time, Borges dressed much better.

La Massone labyrinth designed by Borges and Franco María Ricci.

Assouline Book: Jorge Luis Borges & María Kodama.

Does this certain sentimental fullness have an effect on Borges’s work? Certainly, that retired university professor and librarian since 1973, motherless since 1975, was already more than done. For decades Borges was Borges, one cannot speak of great changes. Although this section of the literary work of the great writer is a return to old themes, the quality of his titles is more than remarkable: the sand book, story of the night, Shakespeare’s memorythe mentioned Atlas and his latest book, the collection of poems the conjuredfrom 1985, house masterpieces, in a style perhaps less hermetic than the most famous Borges (the one by fictions, for instance). And in those pages one finds, from time to time, Kodama, a guide in the labyrinth. in the beginning of the conjuredfor instance:

“This book is yours, María Kodama. Do I need to tell you that this inscription includes the twilights, the deer of Nara, the night that is alone and what oblivion loses and what memory transforms, the high voice of the muezzin, the death of Hawkwood, the books and the sheets?”.

Luis Alberto de Cuenca, poet and member of the Royal Academy of History, entrusts us with some precious considerations: “Perhaps Borges is not considered one of the poets called love, but it must be said that when he does, he approaches it in a deep and exquisite way. He has some of the most beautiful poems about love.” This archiborgian writer adds: “he was very infatuated”.

Indeed, in her delicate and precious work, biographers discover women behind the scenes: at the beginning, in her modernist collection of poems, Margarita Guerrero. In maturity, Estela Canto. Actually, many women pass through the life of this genius, either as ideal lovers or as literary collaborators (Delia Ingenieros, Luisa Mercedes Levinson, Betina Edelberg). Never as lovers. Among all these, in addition, we must remember his first wife, Elsa. Well, after this intertwining of erotic melancholies, 1971 arrives, when Kodama turns out to be the teacher’s only unrequited love… as well as a guide on innumerable trips, from Japan to Madrid, from Madrid to California, from California to Iceland, and from honorary title in honoris causa.

Vargas Llosa finds that in the written work of the last Borges an unknown happiness in the author shines through: “The explanation is that María Kodama, the fragile, discreet and mysterious Argentine-Japanese girl, his former student […] he has finally accepted it and the old writer enjoys, for the first time in his life, without a doubt, a reciprocated love”. For his part, De Cuenca points out that Borges’s poetry in his seventies and eighties is as fabulous as that of previous decades. “In fiction it is something else, but in poetry Borges for me is just as fresh and just as alive at the beginning, in the twenties, as at the end of his career, in the eighties”, he considers. For this good connoisseur of the Argentine’s work, Borges’s work does not age with Borges’s body, especially in his lyrics: “He lives in an eternal present. We have all started with the stories of him, but I like him more as a poet than as a storyteller”. María Kodama, by the way, also began to read Borges because of his stories. In the volume of Assouline we are told the first spell of the stylish Borges through the prose, the unrepeatable and enigmatic prose, of his stories. Kodama read as a child The circular ruins.

Palace of the Normans in Palermo.

Ferdinando Scianna / FotoWare FotoStation

There are numerous muses in this poetry, including the aforementioned Concepción Guerrero, from his first collection of poems (Fervor of Buenos Aires), and, on the other side of life, 60 years later, Kodama, romantic aura of the conjured and of Atlas, final companion of the labyrinth of the cosmos, as it was the labyrinth of Knossos, in Crete. At the beginning of the 1984 work we read these lines dictated by Borges: “María Kodama and I have shared with joy and amazement the discovery of sounds, languages, twilights, cities, gardens and people, always different and unique. . These pages would like to be monuments of that long adventure that continues”.

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Mario Vargas Llosa: “I have the impression that Borges found a liberation in María Kodama”