English · Teaching Ideas · Writing

Using Borges for creative writing

Yesterday, at the NATE conference, I was lucky enough to listen to Tessa Hadley discuss how we might engage students in their creative writing. She advocated using the parables of Jorge Luis Borges whose writing can be incredibly dense and yet at other times deals with complex  ideas with such clarity. If you haven’t read any of Borges, one way in is to read his Gospel According to Mark (which can be found here, but also buy a copy of Labyrinths which contains other great works).

Anyway, back at home, I leafed through my copy of Labyrinths. Tessa referred to a parable called The Witness which tells of how death slowly erodes the witnesses of events: ‘there was a day that extinguished the last eyes to see Christ’ and includes the remarkable and apocalyptic sentence: “What will die with me when I die, what pathetic or fragile form will the world lose?” A bit depressing, I know, but I wonder how we might use this to immerse students in a bit of existential thinking?

Write of a memory that will stay with you/haunt you forever? Or even (and I like this one) imagine you were the last witness to a remarkable historical event – how would you relate it? What would you want the world to remember about it? What about is it so important?

I flip the page of Borges’ Labyrinths and find this:


Get pupils to imagine they meet themselves: what will they say about this doppelganger? Use Borges’ text as a springboard. Use the first sentence: “The other one, the called Lance is the one that things happen to” – what does happen to this other Lance? What ambitions and desires does he harbour that might come true in this alternative world? What does he like to do? What possessions does he own?

Alternatively, it could be used ironically. “Years ago, he tried to free himself from the labyrinth of exercise books that he had assembled around him, only to find that the more he touched the more they reproduced…”

I might have a go with my year 10s…





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