Da tomar un solo autor yo habría tomado a Johnson, que permite meterse en The Lives of the Poets, en el prólogo a Shakespeare, en el prólogo al Diccionario.
[If I had to single out an author, I would choose Johnson, because he engages the reader imaginatively in the Lives of the Poets, and in the Preface to Shakespeare, and in the Preface to the Dictionary.]Borges in conversation with Adolfo Bioy Casares
What are we to make of Juan Luis Borges’ comment? What are the implications of not just anyone, but of Borges specifically saying that Johnson’s writing engages the reader imaginatively? What qualities in these works appealed to Borges? What makes Johnson the author for Borges? What new appreciation of Johnson might become possible by taking Borges’ interest seriously? Indeed, what can Johnson have to do with Borges—fiction writer, essayist, reviewer, poet, translator, lecturer, and conversationalist whose name is synonymous with fantasy, dream, and postmodern playfulness? This essay is a report on knowledge and traces a brief history of illumination.
Borges was famously cosmopolitan; he had an English grandmother (Frances Anne Haslam); he lived in Europe as a young man, and grew up speaking Spanish, English, French, and German. As Norman di Giovanni notes, “Borges's feeling for English prose often amounted to a preference for the English language over his own as a writing medium.” He wrote some of his works—such as his autobiography—in English, and only later translated them into Spanish. He read Don Quixote first in English (and when he read it in Spanish, thought it sounded like a translation). He learned and loved Old Norse and Celtic, and proffered his knowledge as Professor of English and American Literature at the University of Buenos Aires from 1955 until 1970. He had visiting appointments at Texas, Harvard, Oklahoma, and New York universities, and gave lectures in Britain and Europe on English literature. Making no formal distinction between prose and verse, Borges’ writings engage variously with Shakespeare, Donne, Milton, Joyce, Whitman, Emerson, Cervantes, Dante, Kafka, and Hugo. He frequently singles out Chatterton, Stevenson, and Wells, on whom—di Giovanni notes—he modelled his own prose (Lesson, 56).