Borges was sixty-two and almost unknown outside Argentina when he won the Prix Formentor in 1962. This prize, – ‘hatched’, according to James Woodall, ‘by six international publishers’ (the British one being Weidenfeld and Nicolson, predictably enough) – was intended to honour ‘an author of any nationality whose existing body of work will, in the view of the jury, have a lasting influence on the development of modern literature’. It was also, Woodall tells us, ‘designed as a kind of alternative Nobel, which many at the time believed was becoming haphazard and over-politicised’. As it happened, Borges was to be denied the Nobel, probably for political reasons.
The author thus selected for honour was a blind conservative (or reactionary) who believed that all literature was ultimately autobiographical and whose works expressed no political commitment, despite his severe criticisms of the Argentinian dictator Juan Peron and the Peronist movement’s fascist tendency. He thought of himself primarily as a