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Translated by Alfred Mac Adam. From On Argentina, one of a series of five new volumes of Borges' writings under the general editorship of Suzanne Jill Levine, published in the US by Penguin Classics.

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Insane human afternoons

Not by morning light, not when day has come, and not even at night do we really see the city. Morning is an overwhelming blue, a swift and massive surprise spanning the sky, a crystallizing, a lavish outpouring of sunlight that piles up in squares, smashes mirrors with fictitious stones, and lowers long insinuations of light down wells. The day is a playing field for our endeavours or for our idleness, and there is only room for them on their usual chessboard. The night is a truncated miracle: the crowning moment of wan streetlights, when palpable objectivity becomes less insolent and less solid. The dawn is an infamous, dragged-out affair, because it conceals the great plot arranged to set right everything that fell apart ten hours before. It goes about straightening streets, decapitating lights, and repainting colours exactly where they were the previous afternoon. Finally, we – with the city already hanging on our necks and the abyssal day yoked to our shoulders – have to give in to the mad plenitude of its triumph and resign ourselves to having yet another day riveted to our souls.

Now for the afternoon: the dramatic altercation and conflict between the visible and the shadows. It's as if visible things begin twisting, going insane. Afternoon weakens us, eats away at us, abuses us, but because of its persistence the streets recover their human meaning, their tragic meaning of volition that manages to last in time, time whose very essence is change. The afternoon perturbs the day, and for that reason it agrees with us, because we too are perturbed. The late afternoon prepares the easy decline of our spiritual electricity. It's by force of afternoons that the city goes about entering us.

Despite the transitory humiliation some eminent buildings manage to inflict on us, the total vision of Buenos Aires has nothing vertical to it. Buenos Aires is not a raised-up, ascendant city that disturbs the divine limpidity with the ecstasy of assiduous towers or a smoky mob of busy chimneys. Rather, it is a replica of the flatness that surrounds it, and the submissive straightness of that plane continues in the straightness of streets and houses. Horizontal lines overwhelm vertical lines. Perspectives – on one-or two-storey dwellings lined up and facing one another all along the miles of asphalt and stone – are so easy that they don't seem improbable.

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