The Story Behind This Rare Drawing by Jorge Luis Borges
Writer-Artist Four: Jorge Luis Borges
Jorge Luis Borges, the great Argentinian master of both philosophical and fantasy literature, of whom Nobelist J. M. Coetzee wrote: “He, more than anyone, renovated the language of fiction,” produced little visual art.
After progressive deterioration of his eyesight, he went totally blind at 55. The only surviving work of which I’m aware is this primitive, appropriately fantastical rendering of a tiger. I include it because it is Borges’ and because of the meaning the tiger held for him.
“In my childhood,” he declared, “I was a fervent worshiper of the tiger.” He lingered before them in the zoo. “Childhood passed away,” he wrote, “and the tigers and my passion for them grew old, but still they are in my dreams. At that submerged or chaotic level, they keep prevailing. And so, as I sleep, some dream beguiles me, and suddenly I know I am dreaming. Then I think: this is a dream, a pure diversion of my will; and now that I have unlimited power, I am going to cause a tiger.”
The drawing matches the inaccuracy of his dream images: “Oh, incompetence! Never can my dreams engender the wild beast I long for. The tiger indeed appears, but stuffed or flimsy, or with impure variations of shape, or of an implausible size, or all too fleeting, or with a touch of the dog or the bird.”
[From Dreamtigers, by Jorge Luis Borges, translated by Mildred Boyer]
For more writer-artists, check out The Writer’s Brush: Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture by Writers for more than 400 plates of artwork by great writers and the stories behind them.
There are many drawings from Borges at various stages of his life. I submit this comment is reference to your line “The only surviving work…”.