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Of Pigs and Parchment: Medieval Studies and the Coming of the Animal

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 October 2020


For Jorge Luis Borges, local color was overrated. In “the argentine writer and tradition” (1951), borges responded to the charges of critics who valued indigenous traditions and themes above all else; for Borges, just as Shakespeare could draw on Scandinavian history and Racine from the memories of the ancient world, so the Argentine writer should be permitted to mine the veins of the Western European tradition for the rich ore of literary art (Frisch 43). When the national writer does wish to produce a “truly native” text, he suggests, this should be accomplished with great subtlety, even to the extent of obscuring altogether the indigenous hues of local color in favor of an unspoken affiliation with the authorial homeland. A prime example of this technique, he avows, can be found in the Koran:

A few days ago, I discovered a curious confirmation of the way in which what is truly native can and often does dispense with local color; I found this confirmation in Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Gibbon observes that in the Arab book par excellence, the Koran, there are no camels; I believe that if there ever were any doubt as to the authenticity of the Koran, this lack of camels would suffice to prove that it is Arab. It was written by Mohammed, and Mohammed, as an Arab, had no reason to know that camels were particularly Arab; they were, for him, a part of reality, and he had no reason to single them out, while the first thing a forger, a tourist, or an Arab nationalist would do is bring on the camels, whole caravans of camels on every page; but Mohammed, as an Arab, was unconcerned; he knew he could be Arab without camels. I believe that we Argentines can be like Mohammed; we can believe in the possibility of being Argentine without abounding in local color. (181)

Theories and Methodologies
Copyright © Modern Language Association of America, 2009

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