Literary giant pays homage to Joyce
The Times We Lived In – Published: June 16th, 1982. Photograph by Eddie Kelly
It’s not very often that a gently smiling elderly man makes the front page of The Irish Times – especially when he’s sitting in an armchair. But in mid-June 1982, a legend was in town.
The Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges had come to Dublin to pay homage to James Joyce on the centenary of the latter’s birth – and was promptly surrounded by bookish types who had come to pay homage to himself.
Immaculately dressed and unfailingly courteous, he charmed absolutely everyone including Seamus Heaney and Richard Kearney, who interviewed him for a literary magazine, and – if this uncommonly tender portrait is to be believed – our photographer.
The 82-year-old Borges had been blind for many years, and it’s obvious from the picture that there’s something wrong with his right eye. But just look at the sparkle in that left eye: this, after all, the man who was famous for making literary mischief.
His short stories are full of jokes, genre-defying tricks and, occasionally, outright pranks, playing with ideas and concepts which seem outrageous even now, when we’re used to the idea that a literary text can be part detective story, part poem, part essay on the nature of time and reality.
The photograph presents Borges as seer. The high forehead and untamed eyebrows; the way the light falls across his face; the musician’s hands, clasped across a walking stick as stylish as any of his sentences. Even the hem of his cardigan is curling gracefully inwards – though that tiny imperfection, the open button, offers a glimpse of the vulnerable human being beneath the international celebrity.
In 1982, writers were not required to come out of their ivory towers and perform on the festivals circuit. Borges, however, put on quite a show for his Dublin fans. He admitted to having failed to read Ulysses on his first attempt. He recited Anglo-Saxon poetry. “Am I dreaming now?” he asked at one point. “Who can tell? We are dreaming each other all of the time . . .”
Borges died in June 1986 at the age of 86.
These and other Irish Times images can be purchased from: irishtimes.com/photosales. A book, “The Times We Lived In”, with more than 100 photographs and commentary by Arminta Wallace, published by Irish Times Books, is available from irishtimes.com and from bookshops, priced at €19.99.