Monday, May 14, 2007

B is for Borges

And Belloc, or Benchley.

There are just too many people whose names start with B. But, since it was Jorge Luis Borges I thought of writing about first, before I decided to make this a series, I will stick with him.
I thought of him twice when I was writing about ‘The God Delusion’.

The first time was when I was writing about the tendency of matter and energy to become more randomly distributed in our universe as it goes along, which means it was more organised at the beginning than it has been since. I was going to say this was hardly less peculiar than Borges’ library universe consisting of an infinite lattice of hexagonal rooms filled with books.
I decided not to make this analogy, because it would be (1) kind of pretentious and (2) kind of obscure and (3) kind of over the top, since the infinite lattice of hexagonal rooms full of books really is, I suppose, quite a lot more peculiar than our universe.

The second time was when I was writing about the sort of morality that Dawkins believes in, and the logical outcome of his ‘misfire’ theory of morality. People like me, I think I said, would be driven to rebel against a morality that was nothing more than a ‘blessed, precious accident’. I was pretty sure that this was what the narrator of Borges’ Deutsches Requiem was doing, and was going to quote it.

But, I was surprised when I reread it that it doesn’t mention Darwin or ‘survival of the fittest’ at all. The social darwinism reading of the story is something I brought with me from my more scientific background. Which doesn’t mean it isn’t a valid reading, of course.

I like Borges' baroque stuff best, the overwritten things he later repented of. I like all the unclassifiable stories of his: the essays about nonexistent historical events, or imaginary heresies, or things like 'Funes the Memorious' that are science fiction without any science in them.

It was dead easy for me to pick a favourite Asimov novel. But I cannot possibly pick a favourite Borges story, because they are all so different. It is the sum of all those very different parts that is splendid. I would need a whole bunch of them.

I find that I do have a favourite Borges poem, and this is it:

Juan, I, 14

No será menos un enigma esta hoja
que las de Mis libros sagrados
ni aquellas otras que repiten
las bocas ignorantes,
creyéndolas de un hombre, no espejos
oscuros del Espíritu.
Yo que soy el Es, el Fue y el Será
vuelvo a condescender al lenguaje,
que es tiempo sucesivo y emblema.

Quien juega con un niño juega con
algo cercano y misterioso;
yo quise jugar con Mis hijos.
Estuve entre ellos con asombro y ternura.
Por obra de una magia
nací curiosamente de un vientre.
Viví hechizado, encarcelado en un cuerpo
y en la humildad de un alma.
Conocí la memoria,
esa moneda que no es nunca las misma.
Conocí la esperanza y el temor,
esos dos rostros del incierto futuro.
Conocí la vigilia, el sueño, los sueños,
la ignorancia, la carne,
los torpes laberintos de la razón,
la amistad de los hombres,
la misteriosa devoción de los perros.
Fui amado, comprendido, alabado y
pendí de una cruz.
Bebí la copa hasta las heces.
Vi por Mis ojos lo que
nunca habia visto:
la noche y sus estrellas.
Conocí lo pulido, lo
arenoso, lo desparejo, lo áspero,
el sabor de la miel y de las manzana,
el agua en la garganta de la sed,
el peso de un metal en la palma,
la voz humana, el rumor de unos pasos sobre la hierba,
el olor de la lluvia en Galilea,
el alto grito de los pájaros.
Conocí tambien la amargura.
He encomendado esta escritura a un hombre cualquiera;
no será nunca lo que quiero decir,
no dejará de ser su reflejo.
Desde Mi eternidad caen estos signos.
Que otro, no el que es ahora su amanuense,
escriba el poema.
Mañana seré un tigre entre los tigres
y predicaré Mi ley a su selva,
o un gran árbol en Asia.
A veces pienso con nostalgia
en el olor de esa carpintería.

1 comment:

Dr. Clam said...

I was going to play World of Warcraft immediately after writing this, but my daughter wanted to use the computer, so I went off to read a book of Christopher Hitchens essays I picked up in the library.

Very first essay, a review of some novel about the CIA, on the third page is:

'With all the resources of the Borgesian infinite library at his command, he learns that the tapes, documents, and calibrations generate only theories and dreams.'