Alifano: One of the most beautiful definitions of the aesthetic act comes from you, Borges. In one of your essays you state: ‘The aesthetic act is the imminence of a revelation which is never fulfilled.’
Borges: Ah, yes. I did say that. It’s true. Certain sundowns, certain dawns, some weathered faces are at the point of revealing something to us, and this imminence of a revelation which is not fulfilled is, for me, the aesthetic act. Now, language itself is also an aesthetic creation. I believe this is indisputable; a proof is that when we study a foreign language, when we are compelled to look at words closely, as though with a magnifying glass, we see them either as beautiful or not. This doesn’t happen with one’s own language, since we see and feel our words as integral to our expression.
Alifano: You have said that metaphors exist from out very beginnings. Could you expound on that concept, Borges?
Borges: Yes, certainly. I believe that metaphors, if they are truly metaphors, exist from the beginning of time. I don’t believe it is easy to invent them or to discover affinities that have not already been perceived. But we express them differently. I have occasionally thought of reducing all metaphors to five or six which seem to me to be the essential metaphors.
Alifano: What are those metaphors?
Borges: Well, time and a river; life and dreams; death and sleep; stars and eyes; flowers and women. These would be, I believe, the essential metaphors that are found in all literatures; and then there are others that are whimsical. I believe that the poet’s task is to discover metaphors, even though they may already exist. I think that a metaphor doesn’t come to a poet as a revelation of a similarity between disparate things: a metaphor is revealed to the poet in its wholeness, in its form, in its intonation. I don’t think that Emily Dickinson thought: ‘This quiet dust was men and women,’ and that afterward she changed the latter phrase to ‘gentlemen and ladies’; that seems unlikely to me. It is more likely that all this was given to her by someone–whom we could call the spirit, the muse–as a single even, at a single time. I don’t believe that one arrives at poetry by means of progressions, by searching all possible variations of words. I believe that one comes upon the proper adjective or adjectives. I remember a verse by Rafael Obligado which reads, ‘Estalla el cóncavo trueno’ (the concave thunder bursts). And I am sure that he didn’t arrive at such an expression by trying several adjectives accented on the antepenultimate syllable; I think he came directly upon the word cóncavo, which is the precise word, the word we feel as proper, and it is the one that gives the verse its beauty."
— Twenty Four Conversations with Borges: Interviews by Roberto Alifano 1981-1983