Jorge Luis Borges’s kenningar: from Icelandic skaldic poetry to a reflection about human destiny

  • orge Luis Borges was one of the writers most interested in Germanic medieval literatures within Hispanic world. Specifically, he showed interest in a culture which, despite the quality and extension of its literary production, was isolated from the European cultural context for many centuries, namely, Scandinavian literature. The aforementioned author had access to Scandinavian works since he was young thanks to his father’s extensive library, which was home to several translations from Old Icelandic to English –such as William Morris’ Völsunga Saga–, in addition to essential works of the Anglo-Saxon tradition.

    However, the writer’s interest in Nordic cultures did not give literary results until 1933, when Francisco Colombo published Borges’s essay «Las kenningar». In this work, the author tries to analyse a singular kind of metaphor which acts as one of the essential stylistic pillars of skaldic poetry since 9th century AD. Since 1933, many critics have tried to discover the influence that these constructions have had not only in Borges’s poetry, but also in his short stories. Thus, Margrét Jónsdóttir (1995: 135) states that the Ursprache explained in «Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius» comes from these Old Icelandic metaphors.

    On the other hand, authors like Teodosio Fernández have proven these statements to be non-valid by showing that kenningar presence in some of Borges’s poems – as «Fragmento», in El otro, el mismo (1964) – is due to the writer’s interest in connecting his pieces with the Scandinavian literary context. According to Fernandez (2000: 90), these works «muestran que Borges trataba de circunscribir el uso de las kenningar a un ámbito muy preciso y que debía ser explicado». Even though these studies reveal how the Argentinian writer links his compositions with the Germanic tradition, they do not always capture the semantic values that these metaphors add to his texts nor the new meanings that emerge from kenningar recontextualizations, according to intertextuality theories.

    Therefore, the aim of this presentation is to explain how Jorge Luis Borges translates into Spanish a figure of speech that comes from a different cultural context, as well as to show which connotations arise from the intersection between two distant worlds. To do so, we will examine the sociocultural and linguistic problems that such a transfer involves in literary globalization processes. Finally, we will conclude that, by using other countries’ and other traditions’ formulas, Borges’s works express successfully human concerns regarding fate.

 

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