Borges and I

19 Oct

The idea that we contain a double, or a secret other, is a strangely pervasive one, and has fascinated writers from different traditions and in distinct genres. Among those who have famously approached the topic are Robert Louis Stevenson in The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and Joseph Conrad in his long story The Secret Sharer. In Jorge Luis Borges’ short piece, reproduced below (in the translation Norman di Giovanni made with Borges himself rather than the travesty published by Andrew Hurley in the Collected Fictions) the writer focuses on the schism between the public persona of the famous writer Borges, and the individual, private Borges in whose first person the piece is written. Or is it that straightforward? While this is the apparent message of the text, we, the readers, are nonetheless engaging with it in the knowledge that it is written by Borges, the famous writer, so the dualism is in a sense perpetuated by that knowledge, driven by our relationship to Borges the writer rather than Borges the private individual. In the end, as Borges intended, we are faced with a hall of mirrors, in which Borges’ self-confessed tendency to falsify and magnify things (as do all writers of fiction) reaches into the very representation of the ‘I’ that claims to reject such things. We are all the products of an insidious dualism, the piece tells us, and to attempt to deny it only draws us deeper into the labyrinth.

 

Borges and I

The other one, the one called Borges, is the one things happen to. I walk through the streets of Buenos Aires and stop for a moment, perhaps mechanically now, to look at the arch of an entrance hall and the grillwork of the gate; I know of Borges from the mail and see his name on a list of professors or in a biographical dictionary. I like hourglasses, maps, eighteenth-century typography, the taste of coffee and the prose of Stevenson; he shares these preferences, but in a vain way that turns them into the attributes of an actor. It would be an exaggeration to say that ours is a hostile relationship; I live, let myself go on living, so that Borges may contrive his literature, and this literature justifies me. It is no effort for me to confess that he has achieved some valid pages, but those pages cannot save me, perhaps because what is good belongs to no one, not even to him, but rather to the language and to tradition. Besides, I am destined to perish, definitively, and only some instant of myself can survive in him. Little by little, I am giving over everything to him, though I am quite aware of his perverse custom of falsifying and magnifying things.

Spinoza knew that all things long to persist in their being; the stone eternally wants to be a stone and the tiger a tiger. I shall remain Borges, not in myself (if it is true that I am someone), but I recognize myself less in his books than in many others or in the laborious strumming of a guitar. Years ago I tried to free myself from him and went from the mythologies of the suburbs to the games with time and infinity, but those games belong to Borges now and I shall have to imagine other things. Thus my life is a flight and I lose everything and everything belongs to oblivion, or to him.

I do not know which of us has written this page.

 

 

 

 

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4 Responses to “Borges and I”

  1. Vivian Darkbloom October 19, 2011 at 13:56 #

    It was only last Monday, when the professor asked ‘why does César Vallejo switch to the third person for the line “César Vallejo ha muerto”?’, that I remembered this piece. I thought of the line “besides, I am destined to perish, definitively, and only some instant of myself can survive in him”, and I wondered for a moment if Blanco would agree with my thoughts.

  2. charles October 19, 2011 at 15:23 #

    A labyrinth, yes. A response worth looking at is Frank Bidart’s ‘Borges and I’ (in his Desire: Collected Poems), in which he argues with the Borges piece (‘He had never had a self that wished to continue in its own being, survival meant ceasing to be what its being was’) and in which there’s at least one mirror (‘Secretly he was glad it was dirty and cracked’).

    • richardgwyn October 19, 2011 at 15:26 #

      I will check that out. The line you cite csounds most prescient with regard to JLB.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Thinking aloud about Borges « Ricardo Blanco's Blog - October 20, 2011

    [...] comment on yesterday’s blog gets things churning as I walk the dog this morning along the sunlit banks of the glorious Taf (how [...]

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