A dense and fascinating debate is under way in Brazilian academic, press and on-liue circles over the relationship between the Internet, the fictions of Jorge Luis Borges and the (hitherto underplayed) role of Brazilian literature in anticipating aspects of today’s networked world.
On Sunday, 25 November 2007. the newspaper O ESTADO DE SÃO PAULO carried, in its section ESTADÃO DE HOJE – CADERNO 2, a piece entitled ‘Profeta da web, refém do presente’ (‘Prophet of the Web, hostage of the present’), by Leyla Perrone-Moisés, Professor Emeritus of the Faculty of Philosophy, Letters and Human Sciences of the University of São Paulo –
The article was devoted to Borges as a precursor of the Internet. The author took as her starting-point two articles available on-line, one by Douglas Wolk (www.salon.com), and my own: ‘Borges’ "Library of Babel" and the Internet’, IJOWLAC (Indian Journal of World Literature and Culture) (Kolkata/Calcutta, India), Vol. 1.1, January-June 2004, pp. 117-120; www.themodernword.com/borges/borges_papers_rollason2.html). Douglas Wolk’s piece, in Perrone-Moisés’ words (my translation), ‘says that Borges predicted the Internet’, with examples drawn from stories such as ‘La lotería en Babilonia / The Lottery in Babylon’ and ‘El Zahir / The Zahir’. My own article, in which I take issue with Ignacio Ramonet, the editor of LE MONDE DIPLOMATIQUE, argues that Borges’ ‘La Biblioteca de Babel / The Library of Babel’ anticiupates certain aspects of today’s endless library that is the Internet, but fails to predict one of its key elements, namely that it is a library made by its users (this essay has been placed on the reading lists of several higher education institutions, includiong – !!! – a librarianship college in Denmark).
Perrone-Moisés accepts my and Wolk’s notion that the Argentinian witer is at least a partial precursor of the Internet, and goes on to list some of the many Borges rsources available on the Web (out of over three million ..).
The same day (25 November 2007), the Brazilian writer and journalist Janer Cristaldo published an on-line response to Perrone-Moisés, at: http://www.oexpressionista.com.br/?p=363, entitled ‘Uspiana anuncia profeta errado’ (‘University of São Paulo academic announces the wrong prophet’). Cristaldo too cites Wolk’s and my own articles, but goes on to claim that if there is a true Latin American precursor of the Internet it is not the famous Argentinian, but a much lesser-known Brazilian, Monteiro Lobato. He shows how in Lobato’s novel of 1926, ‘O Presidente Negro’ (‘The Black President’) – a futurological narrative set in 2228 – elements like ‘radiotransportation’ (anticipating teleworking), instantaneous voting, and the ‘porviroscópio’ or ‘futuroscope’ all presage aspects of today’s networked world. Indeed, he goes so far as to compare, side by side, a passage in which Lobato describes the ‘poviroscópio’ and a famous extract from Borges’ ‘El Aleph / The Aleph’ (1949), concluding that Borges’ proto-networked image of an object which contains all objects derives very closely from the similar imagining of this little-known Brazilian writer (Lobato’s novel is apparently out of print). Borges, it would seem, knew the work of Lobato, who spent some time in Buenos Aires …
On 13 January 2008, on a site called ‘Baguete’, Cristaldo returned to the subject of Lobato, in a text entitled ‘Lobato e Obama’ (‘Lobato and Obama’) – http://www.baguete.com.br/colunasDetalhes.php?id=2631.
This time, while referring once again to the Borges debate, he stressed a rather different predictive aspect of Lobato’s novel: it narrates a US presidential campaign in which, of the three candidates, one is a woman and one (male) is black ….
I am most grateful, both to Leyla Perrone-Moisés for citing my Borges article and to Janer Cristaldo for opening up the debate. My own response is that no single author can or should be considered ‘the’ precursor of the Internet, and I greatly welcome the way Cristaldo has ‘rescued’ the little-known Lobato as a player in the complex intertextual game of anticipation and prediction. Let us meanwhile not forget the precursor role of another Argentinian, Julio Cortázar. I hope to return to these fascinating issues soon in future writings!