Recently, I wondered aloud about the seemingly substantial number of Great Writers who suffered brothel-related misadventures/trauma in pubescence. Someone appropriately named “tlon” simply replied “Borges,” and sure enough, here it is in this month’s Harper’s (and elsewhere, no doubt) in a review of Edwin Williamson’s Borges: A Life:
Williamson has Borges caught between the noble sword of his heroic grandfather and the gaucho knife. His mother enforced the one; his father, the other. Borges went off to his first day of school with a knife his father gave him for fighting duels on the playground.
When Borges was a shy adolescent, his father made an appointment for him at a Swiss whorehouse. He couldn’t bring himself to go. The trauma of this reluctance, Williamson explains, remained with him throughout life: he had let down his father’s chivalric ideal of a man wielding sword and penis with equal fervor, a man with balls enough to engage in a bloody knife fight at every opportunity. On the other hand, he had lived up to his mother’s ideal of moral purity.
Somewhere, surely, a Freudian is smiling.