Borge (Edwin Williamson)

The August 2004 edition of The Atlantic had a beautifully written review by Christopher Hitchens of Borge a life, by Edwin Williamson (Viking). Hitchens quotes from a 1928 address in Buenos Aires in which Borges urged his fellow criollos (Argentines of Spanish descent) to integrate.

In this house which is America, my friends, men from various nations of the world have conspired together in order to disappear in a new man, who is not yet embodied in any one of us and whom we shall already call an “Argentine” so as to begin to raise our hopes. This is a confederacy without precedent: a generous adventure by men of different bloodlines whose aim is not to persevere in their lineages but to forget those lineages in the end; these are bloodlines that seek the night. The criollo is one of the confederates. The criollo, who was responsible for creating the nation as such, has now chosen to be one among many.

I am struck by the parallels and contrasts this has with the Australian experience. People of many nations (including Australia’s indigenous peoples) are indeed ‘conspiring’ together to form a common, new, identity. We of British origin have been the Australian equivalent of the criollos. Now we are but one of the many cultures of Australia. Australia’s cultures have not disappeared in a ‘new man’ as Borges foresaw. Embracing the sometimes-maligned idea ‘multiculturalism’, we enjoy a fabulous array of cultures, in music, languages, food, dress, religions, and social customs. These make Australia a fascinating home.