Monday, January 15, 2018

Encounters with Rousseau and Borges in Geneva

I was recently on vacation, in Lyon and Burgundy, a food-and-wine vacation, of little literary interest.  Well, try the Memoirs of Phillippe de Commines for some firsthand Burgundy history.  The Duchy, not the wine, I mean.

Aside from that, we ended up, briefly, in Geneva, where we visited the birthplace of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the upstairs of which is now, how to describe it, a narrated, illustrated encyclopedia entry.  How fun does that sound.  Not worth visiting except as a pilgrimage, and an excuse to think about this complex, and, to me, confusing figure.  So, put that way, worth visiting, absolutely.

A bit down the street, this tribute to Jorge Luis Borges:

“Of all the cities in the world,
of all the intimate homelands
that a man searches for (to deserve)
in the course of his travels,
Geneva seems to me
the most propitious
to happiness.”  (translation mine, obviously; third line a puzzler)

Geneva has no place at all in my idea of Borges, but my idea is wrong.  He went to John Calvin High School, for pity’s sake.  That is a true Genevan credential.


  1. I’d translate the 3rd line as “that a man seeks to be worthy of”

  2. I've lived here for almost 4 years and, despit knowing Rousseau was born here, had no idea about those two please. Also surprised at Borges' homage, must do a bit of research about the connection. Thanks!

  3. There are at least two other "Rousseau houses" in Switzerland, places he stayed for a long time, that might be more interesting, or more scenic, or have, I don't know, one of his inkwells.

    The Borges plaque is on Grand-Rue, towards the river from the Maison de Rousseau, if that is any help. I wonder what other connections might still exist.

  4. I would really like to hear your opinion of this book: The Death Ship, B. Traven

  5. Tom, I'm glad you came by because I have not been here in a while (and have just read some of your Lyon postings) and because I'm never confident (given how things work on this side of the sea) that anybody is reading those poems unless I see a comment. And you are such a good reader.

    I agree with that reading-in-comments of the Borges line (despite my abysmal French), as it was what I was already thinking based on other of his poems--home being the essential "place where they have to take you in." The wonder of certain places and the idea of home are strong in the poems.

  6. If I remember, I will come back and leave a comment on the Traven novel. It may be a couple of weeks. I have just started it. That voice! The hardest-boiled egg I have ever tasted.

    Marly, thanks. The poems were a generous gift.

  7. Thank you again for reading them! That, too, was a gift.

  8. Notes on The Death Ship: Genuine descendant of Moby-Dick; genuine Wobbly novel; curious example of the Baroque plain-style (repetitive, digressive, full of flourishs); all voice and attitude; surprisingly relevant in its depiction of statelessness and borders.

    Maybe that is not exactly an "opinion," but that's what I saw in the novel.

  9. Thank you. I thought it was the most frightening possibly great novel that I have ever read.

  10. I enjoyed the way Traven made fun of "The Hairy Ape" as, essentially, not frightening enough.

  11. I always meant to visit Borges’ grave in Geneva. I saw photos and it looked beautiful.

  12. I looked up a photo of the grave. Maybe next time I'm in Geneva.