The Foreign Book (Borges)

President Cristina Kirchner, like her husband Néstor before her, plays with the rules of Argentina’s international trade like a Machiavellian puppeteer pulling the nationalist strings.

All of this week the Argentine literati pondered the true motives for government’s new restrictions on the import of foreign books. Was it really just the application of regulations in Resolution 453/2010 to “protect the population from high levels of lead in the ink” in foreign books, as the Secretariat of Domestic Commerce announced? Or was something more sinister afoot?

A domestic manufacturer of print products and member of the Argentine Industrial Union, Juan Carlos Sacco, welcomed the measure. He explained that “if you wet your finger with your tongue to turn a page, that can be very serious for human health”.

Ordinary Argentines may need to employ the expensive services of a customs broker to clear their small parcels of fiction from Amazon. Jude Webber, a Latin America correspondent of the Financial Times in London, reported this complaint: “Why should a scientist in Tucumán who subscribes to the journal Nature have to travel, every month, 1,200 km to pick up his copy in Ezeiza Airport?”

The Buenos Aires Herald heard the rumblings of revolution:
“Angry buyers took to social networks such as Facebook and Twitter in order to condemn the measure while urging the government to Release The Books”.

Aha. It seems to me that this is as good a time as any to reread a beautiful tribute to the book by the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges. Taken from The Total Library: Non-Fiction 1922-1986), it is a segment of Borges' catalog entry in 1962 for an exhibition Books from Spain. We have to assume that it would be difficult to mount such an exhibition 50 years later (2012).

Subscribe now

For a limited time only, get unlimited access to On Point, The Big Picture, and the PS Archive, plus our annual magazine, for less than $2 a week.


As the sunset contains both day and night, and the waves, foam and water, two disparate elements of nature inseparably constitute a book. A book is a thing among many things, an object among the objects that coexist in three dimensions, but it is also a symbol like an algebra equation or an abstract idea. We may compare it to a chess game: a checkered black and white board with pieces and an almost infinite number of possible moves. The analogy to musical instruments is also clear, such as the harp Bécquer glimpsed in the corner of a drawing room and whose silent world of sound he compared with a sleeping bird. Such images are mere approximations or shadows; a book is much more complex. Written symbols are mirrors of oral symbols, which in turn convey abstractions, dreams, or memories. Perhaps it will suffice to say that a book, like its writer, is made of body and soul. Hence the manifold delight it gives us, the joys of sight, touch, and intelligence...

No, no, Jorge! No lo tocas! Please do not lick your finger!

ADDENDUM: 29 March 2012, Buenos Aires Herald announces “government reverses policy on imported book ban”.;

Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated cookie policy and privacy policy.