Reading Borges after Benjamin

Allegory, Afterlife, and the Writing of History

By Kate Jenckes

Subjects: Latin American Studies
Series: SUNY series in Latin American and Iberian Thought and Culture
Paperback : 9780791469903, 186 pages, January 2008
Hardcover : 9780791469897, 186 pages, February 2007

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents


1. Origins and Orillas: History, City, and Death in the Early Poems


Family Trees
A Journey of No Return
Borges and His (Own) Precursors
Sepulchral Rhetoric
Life Possessions
Melancholic Fervor
The Orillas
Acts of Life


2. Bios-Graphus: Evaristo Carriego and the Limits of the Written Subject


The Fallible God of the “I”
Life and Death 
The Other American Poet
The Paradoxes of Biography
Carriego Is (Not) Carriego
Violence, Life, and Law
“Generous” Duels


3. Allegory, Ideology, Infamy: Allegories of History in Historia


Universal de la Infamia
“National” Allegory
Two Moments of Allegory
Magical Endings Et Cetera


4. Reading History’s Secrets in Benjamin and Borges


Historical Idealism and the Materiality of Writing
The Conquests of Time
History’s Secrets
Possession or the “Weak Force” of Redemption
Refuting Time  
Ego Sum
Terrible Infinity
Recurrent Imminence
Reading, Writing, Mourning History

Works Cited

Together with original readings of some of Benjamin’s finest essays, this book examines a series of Borges’s works as allegories of Argentine modernity.


This book explores the relationship between time, life, and history in the work of Jorge Luis Borges and examines his work in relation to his contemporary, Walter Benjamin. By focusing on texts from the margins of the Borges canon—including the early poems on Buenos Aires, his biography of Argentina's minstrel poet Evaristo Carriego, the stories and translations from A Universal History of Infamy, as well as some of his renowned stories and essays—Kate Jenckes argues that Borges's writing performs an allegorical representation of history. Interspersed among the readings of Borges are careful and original readings of some of Benjamin's finest essays on the relationship between life, language, and history. Reading Borges in relationship to Benjamin draws out ethical and political implications from Borges's works that have been largely overlooked by his critics.

Kate Jenckes is Assistant Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures at the University of Michigan.


"In Kate Jencke's clearly written and often persuasive book, Borges scholars finally encounter a sustained study of the remarkable parallels and intersections in Borges and Walter Benjamin's thought … Jenckes [skillfully] intertwines Benjamin's thinking with Borges's texts; so skillfully, in fact, that one might finish this book wondering how it was ever possible to read Borges before Benjamin." — Variaciones Borges

"This book is a clever turning point in our contextual readings of Borges; it suggests the need to come back to the texts in order to move forward. Departing from an early poem on a family gravestone, Kate Jenckes unfolds Borges's notion of a national allegory, ironically illustrated by lives of eternal infamy. From there, Jenckes manages to engage Borges and Benjamin in a lively conversation. The reader will be part of it, thanks to this discreet, persuasive argument." — Julio Ortega, Brown University