Having had a little time on my hands over the past week, I have been reading the complete non-fiction of Jorge Luis Borges, a corpus of work produced between 1922 and 1986.
Nah, make that trying to read instead. There are very few books that have actually defeated me. Trevor Royle's history of the Crimean War was one, 'Das Kapital' another (got as far as page 49, and the used train ticket I used as a bookmark still stands at the point of my retreat, a silent rebuke on the bookshelf), and I was determined not to let Borges go the same way.
He was clever and well-read, for sure; and he knew it. Yet he had no airs; much of his non-fiction was produced for a woman's magazine, in Scottish terms, a bit like Hugh MacDiarmid writing for 'The People's Friend'. He was at his strongest when dealing with literary criticism, popular culture (his brief review of 'King Kong' is a classic in any language, for example), and the places and people and types of people he knew best; it takes a particular kind of confidence to be able to write an angry but still hilarious letter to your fellow Argentines on their annoying habit of making nuisance telephone calls. His observations on anti-Semitism, Nazism and Peronism are, or should be considered to be, timeless; and that's where the problems start.
Time is a four letter word that seemed to give Borges enormous trouble. While freely admitting to not possessing a philosophical bent, discourse on the nature of time seems to be one of the most worthless and redundant of intellectual activities. The sun comes up. Then it goes down again. What's the bloody problem?
Ditto with what seems to be atheism and pantheism. Unless you adhere to the Third Way cop out called agnosticism, most people either believe in God or they don't, and no amount of incredibly windy wordplays are going to convince the other side one way or the other. Sometimes we get a nudge in the right direction, in which case defences of Basiliades are going to bounce right off us.
In sum, the non-fiction of Jorge Luis Borges is not at all unlike a glass of milk - both are healthiest when consumed semi-skimmed.