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MLN 116.2 (2001) 350-370

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Confused Oratory:
Borges, Macedonio and the Creation of the Mythological Author A Cervantine Reconstruction

Todd S. Garth

In 1921, a young Jorge Luis Borges returned to Buenos Aires from Switzerland via Spain, possessed by the new and radical aesthetic sensibilities he had absorbed in Europe and eager to transplant them to his native turf (Borges, "Ultraísmo" 135; Fernández-Moreno, "Ultraísmo" 34-35). Upon renewing his former acquaintances at home, Borges was astonished and delighted to encounter many of those radical sensibilities in an old family friend of his father's generation. Macedonio Fernández, Borges discovered, had been sitting in complete isolation from the cosmopolitan fervor of Europe, hardly stirring from his simple Buenos Aires boarding house, yet had come up with a startlingly new vision of the world and the means to express that vision. Borges immediately determined that Macedonio's philosophical and aesthetic vision deserved dissemination.1

Over the next forty-five years, Borges, along with other avant-garde writers of the Argentine generación martinfierrista, made periodic concerted efforts to establish Macedonio's reputation as a founding father of modern Argentine culture, a founder of mythological proportions, simultaneously definitive of Argentine culture and transcendent [End Page 350] to its texts. Within ten years after the initial "discovery" of Macedonio--and more than twenty years before his death--this conversion from local character to living mythological figure was established enough to be summarized in an indelible portrait by Raúl Scalabrini-Ortiz:

El primer metafísico de Buenos Aires y el único filósofo auténtico es Macedonio Fernández. Su libro "No toda es vigilia la de los ojos abiertos" es ya una biblia esotérica del espíritu porteño. Todo lo que se pueda decir, ya está en él. Lástima que sólo pocos elegidos pueden salvar el escollo de su idioma enmarañado. Es un alegato pro pasión, un ataque al intelectualismo extenuante. Su filosofía es la filosofía de un porteño: es la quintaesencia, lo más puro, lo más acendrado del espíritu de Buenos Aires. Por eso está sólo y espera; él es también, en gran parte, un eslabón en que el espíritu de la tierra se encarna. Posiblemente seguirá solo y seguirá esperando. Y así por los siglos de los siglos, porque Macedonio ya está para siempre el primero y más grande en la secuela de profetas porteños. Amén. (Scalabrini-Ortiz 123)

The first metaphysical thinker of Buenos Aires and its only authentic philosopher is Macedonio Fernández. His book, "No toda es vigilia la de los ojos abiertos," has already become an esoteric bible of the porteño spirit. Anything that can be said is already in it. It is a pity that only a few chosen can navigate the reefs of its tangled language. It is a plea in favor of passion, an attack on exhausting intellectualism. His philosophy is the philosophy of a porteño: it is the quintessence, the purest, the most distilled of the spirit of Buenos Aires. This is why he is alone and waits; he is also, in large measure, a link into which the spirit of the land joins. Possibly he shall continue alone and shall continue to wait. And thus it shall be for centuries of centuries, as Macedonio is forever the first and greatest in the line of porteño prophets. Amen.2

This passage from Scalabrini's best-selling El hombre que está solo y espera (1931), setting the stage for a virtual apotheosis, served to solidify Macedonio's reputation as a reclusive, Socratic figure, interested in passion and metaphysics as opposed to society, and in conversing as opposed to writing. Reading this tribute, one can see how Macedonio, while still relatively young, should metamorphose from a living cult figure into a veritable mythological one.

Macedonio's considerable stature in twentieth-century Argentine letters today seems to rest entirely on this mythology. Among Buenos Aires's intellectual...


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