There was at least one place, I would discover, where that “instant” of Borges persisted, a land where Borges lived on as both Borges and “I,” legend and life. That place is Texas. Starting in 1961, Borges made five visits to the state—first, to teach for a semester in Austin as a visiting professor; then to lecture on Cervantes and Whitman as a literary celebrity. When Borges died on June 14, 1986, the University of Texas’s main campus lowered its flags to half-mast, a rare tribute for a writer and a perplexing honor for one without deep Texas roots. Why had Texas so embraced Borges? And why had Borges continued to return there throughout the final twenty-five years of his life?
In early January, I began to investigate what seemed a long-forgotten romance. From New York, I emailed the Ransom Center’s staff about my search for Borges, and they replied that they’d be eager to help me. Indeed, there in the Hill Country, they had a treasure trove of Borges’s work. There was a film-script outline on which Borges collaborated! An autographed draft of his classic revenge story “Emma Zunz”! The completed pages of “Los Rivero,” a fragment suspected to be Borges’s never-finished novel! And, most promisingly, five notebooks full of handwritten essays that might shed new light on Borges’s time in Austin. I was convinced that at the Ransom Center, I’d discover the living, breathing Borges who had so enamored Texas. I booked my trip that week.