Yesterday was Jorge Luis Borges’s birthday–google reminded me of this, while making use of the quote that has long been one of my email signatures: “I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library.”
Happy belated, wonderful Jorge.
It’s probably safe to say that Borges and his marvelous ficciones changed my life, because they shifted my way of seeing the world. The blind librarian of the national library in Buenos Aires wrote short, conceptual sketches. Many of them didn’t really have a story, per se, but were more like cerebral explorations of fascinating concepts, formulated by an original and beautiful mind.
So many of his pieces are like exquisite jewels. They are wonderful thought experiments that emerge and find shape and form as you read the story. The concept soon reveals itself in its full elegance, like the ingenious, mechanical clockwork at the core of a faberge egg.
A tiny selection, from among my many favourites:
The Garden of the Forking Paths in which an elderly statesman, after retiring, states his ambitions: he wants to write a book, and also plans to build a maze. Upon his death, it is discovered that his book, “a contradictory jumble of irresolute drafts”, and the labyrinth are not two discrete creations at all. Borges’s descriptions of the labyrinth, penned in the early part of the 20th century, have often been cited as a conceptual prefiguration of the internet itself.
The Book of Sand has been cited as another internet metaphor–the idea of a book that can only be opened to any given page once. You can never find the same page twice, try though you might (sound familiar? I’ve so often been in search of some page or other that I want to re-read, only to find it gone, or merely elusive).
Pierre Menard, author of the Quixote is in the form of a eulogy to a french surrealist, who took it upon himself to write Don Quixote–independently, and without consulting the original Cervantes work. He wrote it in archaic Spanish, and by the time of his death had managed to create several different passages that were exactly the same as those in the Quixote. The narrator then discusses how the same passages, written in contemporary Spanish as a political commentary by Cervantes, and in what was by then archaic Spanish, by the surrealist Menard, were profoundly different.
“Well, but it’s like Menard” and other such invocations have become standard idiom in discussions of contextual importance in upper level university English courses. To my delight, my intellectual property prof even referenced Menard a few times at law school this past year (in the context of the defense of independent creation under (c) law).
Other concepts–the idea of seeking, and finding, God in a word or a punctuation mark on a page, in a book, among hundreds of volumes in a vast library, speaks to the elusiveness of faith and transcendence for so many seekers.
Borges is a monumental figure in 20th century speculative fiction, his works filled with wonder and originality (from the non-linearity of his stories to the fantastical, core concepts that underlie them). Do give him a read, should you get the chance.