Reading the South Through Northern Eyes: Jorge Luis Borges’s Australian Reception, 1962–2016


Three decades on from his death, the Argentine Jorge Luis Borges (1899–1986) remains arguably Latin America’s most widely-translated and influential twentieth-century writer at a world-scale (Sánchez-Prado 33). This study provides the first detailed account of Borges’s Australian reception, covering the period from the publication of the first two English anthologies of his work until the thirtieth anniversary of his death. Borges raises some interesting methodological questions for Australianists. What happened when this great Latin American modernist, having been translated and canonised by the northern metropole, suddenly became widely read and highly influential in another space at the southern periphery of the world republic of letters? What are the implications of the way Borges’s work has been read in Australia for recent transnational critical methodologies that tend to view world literature as a series of interactions between a Northern centre and Southern periphery? To what extent can world literature, as it has been formulated in Europe and the United States, account for the flow of texts, literary forms, and influence between Latin America and Australia? A diachronic survey of Australian responses to Borges’s writing – including texts by Martin Johnston, Helen Daniel and Michelle Cahill – allows the essay to track Australian literary culture's deepening engagement with Latin American writing across the Cold War period and beyond.

Everything, as is well-known, happens first in other countries, and then in ours.

– Jorge Luis Borges1

The labyrinthine corpus of scholarship on the work of the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges (1899–1986) has expanded in the three decades since his death, bolstered by new editions2 and by successive waves of interpretation. While the study of his international reception has been a significant subfield of specialist criticism since the 1990s, this body of research focuses overwhelmingly on how the Argentine has been read in Western Europe and the United States, and occasionally Latin America. With Africa, Asia, and Oceania more or less absent from the literature, there is a sense this ‘writer on the edge’ (to borrow the Argentine critic Beatriz Sarlo’s term), matters mostly because he is read in the centre.3

Here, I examine how Borges was read in Australia from the publication of the first two English anthologies…

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Published 9 July 2018 in Volume 33 No. 2. Subjects: Jorge Luis Borges, Reception, Latin American literature.

Cite as: Halford, James. ‘Reading the South Through Northern Eyes: Jorge Luis Borges’s Australian Reception, 1962–2016.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 33, no. 2, 2018, doi: 10.20314/als.12934faa32.