Oktober 31, 2015
The Fighting Tango
In a tango book club we discussed the essay “A History of the Tango” by Jorge Louis Borges (1955). Borges emphasizes that apart from the sexual aspects, violence should be considered the very nature of tango. He refers to violence as part of vir (man), and virtus (courage), the fight as a celebration. This ‘joy of combat’ is best transmitted by music, Borges states, even better than by words. According to Borges, the tango degenerated and lost this element of pure courage in the 20th century, while a moral tone entered the dance.
One of the book club attendants wondered how this nature of violence relates to the tango we are dancing nowadays, where we put so much emphasis on connection. Has the violence disappeared or has it been sublimated in certain movements, like the gancho, or the volcado? Or does Borges refer more to the party in general, the milonga, than to the dance itself? Although some of us experienced fights during a milonga, these are a rarity. Is this force sublimated too, in the well-regulated but subtle game of who dances with whom?
After diving a little deeper into the work of Borges, I see another layer of his statement. Borges despised nationalism. He revolted against the idea of national identity and of seeing the tango as a symbol of Argentinian history. He is much more in favor of the rebel who is lead by his own passion. This rebel can be found between the poor and uneducated. I wonder if Borges ever danced the tango himself… but milonga-lyrics he wrote!
Milonga of Albornoz (translation by Alastair Reid)
Someone has counted the hours
Someone knows the days,
to hurry or delay.
Whistling a local milonga,
Albornoz sidles by.
under the brim of his black hat,
morning is in his eye.
The morning of this day,
1890, or so.
On the borders of Retiro
they have lost count by now
of his loves and his games of truco
lasting till dawn, and the dangers-
knife fights with army sergeants,
with his own kind, and with strangers.
More then one thug and crony
has sworn to end his life.
In some corner of the Southside
it waits for him, the knife.
Not one knife but three.
The day had barely dawned
when they faced him, three of them,
and the man took his stand.
A knife thrust found his heart.
His face gave nothing away.
Alejo Albornoz died
as something everyday.
I think that it would please him
that they still tell his story
in a milonga. For time
is both loss and memory.