Surrounded by space-age automobile tail fins at midcentury-modern Nighthawk restaurant on Austin’s Guadalupe Street, an elderly upper-class Latin American man named Jorge Luis Borges, dressed in suit and tie, was often found holding court in the Fall of 1961. This steak and burger restaurant was a hangout for University of Texas faculty and students. Borges was a visiting faculty member and had his office nearby at Batts Hall. His presence was a big deal. All “his lectures were filled to capacity.”
Fourteen years later, Borges would published a short story called The Bribe about a UT professor who had his first lunch with his academic antagonist at the Nighthawk in 1969. As a point of pride this professor let it be known that he forbid his students to come to class “dressed like hippies.”
Dreams – and memories of La Vanguardia & Bécquer
Austin made a deep impression on Borges and he would come to call himself “a citizen of Geneva, Montevideo, Austin, and (like all men) Rome.” The rest of North America meant nothing to him. Asked why he liked Austin so much, he replied “I dream well there.”
Borges once wrote of a lucid dream, engaged in night after night, where the dreamer with assistance from the god of fire labors to dream up a real human. The dreamed man awakes in the dreamer’s dream and slowly comes to realize that he is a mere appearance. This realization provokes existential terror but also relief in the knowledge that the fires apparently threatening him are as imaginary as he is.
Did Dr. Alberto G. Garcia ever meet or hear Jorge Luis Borges when he was in Austin?
Dr. Garcia loved Spanish literature. In his Austin newspaper La Vanguardia, the Mexican immigrant and new US citizen Dr. Garcia 40 years earlier had serialized Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer. Borges, in 1962, would reach for Bécquer’s image of a harp to describe the magic of books.
Both Borges and Garcia loved libraries. Dr. Garcia would often go to the University’s library in the tower not far from Batts Hall, a tower tall enough to loom over the Nighthawk.
Latin American Spokesmen
Borges was a Latin American dignitary, an intellectual giant. In decades past, Dr. Garcia would be one of the hosts welcoming any such personage coming to Austin. But in 1961, Dr. Garcia was no longer a public intellectual, and no longer a Latino spokesman. He was humbly pre-occupied with administering to his sick patients, practicing astrology and yoga—and enjoying the last year of his life.
Dr. Alberto Garcia, by 1961, was almost deaf. Jorge Luis Borges was almost blind.
Time and Yoga
Blindness brought to Borges an enjoyment of solitude, a solitude where sometimes “I simply don’t think and am merely content to exist. I let time flow past me, and it seems to pass differently.” In A New Refutation of Time, Borges recalled an ecstasy in a “holiday from thought” and “vertiginous silence” where he experienced “eternity.” After reviewing treatises written by Buddhist yogis, Borges wrote: “Time is a delusion: the difference and inseparability of one moment belonging to its apparent past from another belonging to its apparent present is sufficient to disintegrate it…. And yet, and yet…Time is the substance I am made of. Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river, it is a tiger which destroys me; … it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire. The world, unfortunately, is real; I, unfortunately, am Borges.”
In solitude, Dr. Garcia went to rest in silence and existence unmanifest. He applied certain teachings of the Yoga Sutra. One section of the text describes an enlightenment where “Sequence, which depends upon moments, is liberated at the final end of transformations.” Dr. Garcia wrote: “The momentary phenomenon, isolated for study and observation is recognized as an instant coming from the unknown and going to the unknown. It is a crystalized expression of God.” Yet Dr. Garcia too could not ignore his identity and agency in the successive movement of Time out of moments:
Moments are like the atoms of fuel which I ignite.
Like fairy creatures, they rush and whirl about me,
seeking an outlet for their flash expression.
How they express depends upon me….
It is I who generate them into objective being;
It is I who assist or retard them in their ideal attainment.
They are infinite in their number and variety.
I may choose, but why choose?
Let each one come in its time; I will express them
In all their resplendent beauty and variety.
Theosophists guided Dr. Garcia in his yoga. Borges hoped for a Theosophical realm of eternal memory, but he doubted the existence of such a thing.
William F. Buckley Sr. & Jr.
An Austin oil tycoon named Will Buckley had been an adversary of Dr. Garcia’s, disrupting his life, his father’s life, and causing untold suffering among his fellow Mexicans. The son of Will Buckley, William F. Buckley Jr., once flew to Argentina to interview Borges for his television show.
Hermes and Hermaphrodite
Borges described the “illusory library” of “that one god, Hermes Trismegistus,” consisting of “variously estimated number of books (42, according to Clement of Alexandria; 20,000, according to Iamblichus; 36,525, according to the priests of Thoth, who is also Hermes), on whose pages all things were written.” The description of God as Pascal’s sphere found within “the Hermetic books almost enables us to envisage that sphere.” “Almost” –because for Borges existence was a riddle, a contradiction and perhaps an impossibility.
Dr. Garcia closely read a book attributed to Hermes Trismegistus. And in his home in Travis Heights, Dr. Garcia perhaps was a conjurer of Hermes and Hermaphrodite.
Jorge Luis Borges and Dr. Alberto G. Garcia would appear to have had much to talk about in the Fall of 1961.
Yet Borges, “unfortunately,” was Borges.
Borges had espoused pro-slavery beliefs. He believed that blacks were happier enslaved than free. Alberto knew better, and had joined a Mexican army in 1913 to fight for the Maderistas who freed Mexican slaves. He had risked his life by resisting the Ku Klux Klan in Austin in the 1920s. Dr. Garcia associated with Marxists, denounced imperialism and fought a dictator. Borges, in contrast, pleased men like William F. Buckley Jr. by calling for the execution of Marxist intellectual Régis Debray while he was a captive of the Bolivian military dictatorship.
To those who asked, Borges proclaimed: “I dislike Mexico and the Mexicans.”
It is perhaps just as well that Borges never saw Dr. Garcia, and just as well that history does not record Dr. Garcia ever hearing or meeting Borges during the moments of time when they both lived in Austin.
Brad Rockwell, The Life and Times of Alberto G. Garcia (2020).
Alberto Garcia, Space, on file in the Austin History Center; Alberto G. Garcia, M.D., My Moments, on file in the Austin History Center; Yoga Sutra IV 33; Jorge Luis Borges, The Aleph and Other Stories, 1933-1969 (1970); Jorge Luis Borges, The New Refutation of Time, Labyrinths (1962); Jorge Luis Borges, The Fearful Sphere of Pascal; Rodolfo Braceli, Borges, in Caras, Caritas y Caretas (1996); Elizabeth Beaudin, Writing Against Time, Jorge Luis Borges (Bloom, ed., 2004); Peter La Salle, Borges and Batts Hall, Texas Observer (Jan. 7, 2005); Charlie Binkow, Texas, the state that stole the heart of literary giant Jorge Luis Borges, Ransom Center Magazine (October 22, 2015); Paul Theroux, The Old Patagonia Express (1979); Jorge Luis Borges interviewed by William F. Buckley Jr. on Firing Line.
Common Nighthawk, North America’s Bird Nursery, Boreal Songbird Initiative (2015): Oölogists and their confederates point out that the name “nighthawk” is a misnomer. The bird “is not strictly nocturnal, often flying in sunlight, and it is not a hawk….”
#JorgeLuisBorges #WilliamFBuckleyJr. #YogaTimelessness #DrAlbertoGGarcia #HermesTrismegistmus