Momaday on Borges: Sagrada Horror

But in America there is something else, a continuum of language that goes back thousands of years before the printing press -back to the times of origin- an indigenous express, an utterance that proceeds from the very intelligence of the soil: the oral tradition. Alastair Reid tells us that Borges was not especially concerned with literary criticism, 'For him,' Reid writes, 'literature at its highest point generates awe, the disquieting astonishment that arises from a poem, a deep image, a crucial paragraph, what he calls either asombro or sagrada horror, 'holy dread'.

The asombro, the sagrada horror, this awe and disquieting astonishment, is at the heart of the oral tradition, as Borges well knew. And it arises from a song, indeed a deep image, a crucial prayer, the central character to the human voice itself. What Borges most esteemed in writing, in those great books he knew but could not see to read, I suspect, were precisely the things that distinguish the oral tradition - awe, astonishment, imagination, belief, holy dread.

The Man Made of Words, N. Scott Momaday