Borges on Sunday – Writer’s Life #3

Jorge_Luis_Borges Sunday I did absolutely nothing (but write this).

I decided, at some point, that I would take a break from worries and writing. That my attention would not be riveted to the page or problems therein.

I slept, drank coffee (decaf), sat out on the porch and ruminated about Jorge Luis Borges. His writing seems to be a continual source of internal conflict for me.

I like his work, then I hate it. A profound sentence or passage is replaced with a paragraph that makes no sense. Some of his work, I have to admit, I just don’t get.

Perhaps there’s a point. But there really doesn’t seem to be, in many of his stories. There may be a conflict (there are many), but the climax, followed by the conclusion is missing. Many of his works just end in a death of someone, followed by a brief statement like, “…On the 2nd of April 1898, he died.”

I laugh as I write this, because I wonder what other writer could get away with this today and still be studied so earnestly? No one. Not a single author could get away with the crappy endings that JLB leaves us with. Not any popular authors. We would stop reading. That would be the end of our relationship with that particular writer. Adios Senor.

But there is something compelling in JLB’s stories. The Library of Babel is a spell upon the reader. There is a tendency to want to figure it out. To solve the riddle of the structure.

Jose Saramago, though a student of Borges, is not as difficult. This author pushes through the wall of contemporary expectation and says, “the hell with you all. I will write what I must.” Then he does.

But the writing style, we know from reading both authors is from another time. These authors are not easy reads.

I don’t read them for style, but more because that kernel of story I must acquire. I must know the TRUTH of the work. I need to get to the meat of it, rend it from the bones, take it into myself and understand.

At the end of Saramago’s Blindness, I was not so much satisfied with that rending, as in love with words again. The story was told and I was grateful for it, though it was not an easy journey getting to that point. I worked for the understanding I found there.

Borges is difficult and I want to go through all of his work. The local library has his complete collection; I know, because I asked them to order it and checked it out when it first came in.

But I cannot get through it in two weeks. I don’t know if I could get through it in a month. Not because I could not read through it, but because I would not be able to UNDERSTAND it in that time. I must have a year, I think. Maybe two.

To go through one story at a time and linger on each. Though that idea is a bit scary. Borges’s work has a haunting quality, that speaks a little of mental instability. Or, perhaps it’s that he unmoors my understanding of reality.

[An aside here] My brother was enthralled by H.P. Lovecraft
for awhile (many years ago). A friend of his ran across a book (of Lovecraft’s) that someone they knew attempted to burn.

So when I first heard the story, I thought it came from the annals of Lovecraftian fans, or was something the boys made up from their readings.

The friend was another Lovecraft fan. Someone else had told him about the Necronomicon and another (unnamed) book that was the REAL Necronomicon. It was said (by these several boys) that anyone who read through it became infected with madness. They would go insane, killing those around them, attempting to destroy the book; but somehow, no one was ever clear how exactly, the book came through it and moved along to its next victim.

So the idea was that the book was haunted by something otherworldly. Something strange, yet pervasive and on a mission to destroy humanity or the reality we have constructed.

My brother’s friend ended up possessing it, but the story about the book, by these other people had so cautioned them that no one was willing to open it, much less read it. By the time I heard about it, the book (conveniently?) had moved to someone else.

The point to this little aside, is this: Borges work could be maddening, I think. Perhaps not to the point of insanity, but something close. That to puzzle his work too much, too intensely in a short time, could be damaging in some way. That I would be left haunted by the tales without the satisfaction of understanding them.

I do not enjoy his work (much), but have a feeling I must understand it.

Saramago, though difficult, is not Borges. His style is unconcerned with the reader, but compared to Borges, his ideas float across our minds. They do not work their way into misunderstanding and leave us unmoored. We are on firm ground throughout.

Borges Collected Fictions sits on my kitchen table. I read one story at a time, linger a bit and read through the notes. I have read Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius three times, going on my fourth. I’m working on all the notes and doing the research to see what I’ve missed about this story. There’s something, not obvious about this story. A key to understanding it fully.

I’ll read it just one more time. To get to the point–or the meat–or the understanding. Or perhaps to just finally be able to let it go.

That’s how I spent my Sunday.



4 thoughts on “Borges on Sunday – Writer’s Life #3

  1. There is a tradition (in some places and times, but not here and now) where the significance of telling a story is neither in the story nor in the telling, but in the underlying transference of one mind to another. In the end, one person can never truly know another, and this fact is perhaps the tension beneath all of our attempts at communication, but the great value of certain writers is the way they share their consciousness, to let you see what they see, think what they think. (Borges went blind but nevertheless …). This doesn’t jibe with the contrived plots, bullshit “character development” and false pathos that we expect from storytelling in our current culture. I sometimes think we have all fallen for the fallacy that we are in fact all the same, interchangeable, no more than an array of identical consumers a la Matrix who line up dutifully like cattle at the box office to soak up this week’s stupid melodrama and root for this or that pretty face. Now, Borges is sometimes at his best when telling a simple story of a gaucho knife fight, but he is also often offering us his visions – complex, irrational, paradoxical and impossible as they may be – and we get a glimpse from a radical angle, but perhaps only a glimpse. Part of his greatness, I think, is that he is one of those keys that unlocks others’ potentials. They read him and believe that anything is possible, that even what they have to say is worth saying. At any rate, this is some of what Borges has meant for me.

  2. Wow. We need to discuss this a bit more Tom. I understand the term transference as it refers to psychology. To direct one’s feelings about something on to another individual. I think this definitely applies to fiction writers, because we want the audience to see what we see.
    There are few people who can do this well, but once inside the world of Borges’s vision, I feel just a bit chilled. You may be right when it comes to him “being a key”. Certainly, he affects some of us on a strange fundamental level. I think about his stories long after I’m done with them, in fact I’ve dreamt about them.
    Still, I have too much to learn about Borges to be able to make any real evaluations or judgments on what his work is really about. I’m still trying to figure out the basics.

  3. I guess I used the wrong word because I didn’t mean anything fancy by it, just the act sharing one’s mind. In most of what I read I get no sense of the person who wrote it and that leaves me cold. What I like, for instance as an example in your tesla story the interplay between the mother and daughter was the best part to me. I thought I sensed a bit of you shining through there and even if I was wrong I still enjoyed having that thought. I guess I like writing that means something more to the writer than just a formula for making money but you know all about that pet peeve of mine 🙂

  4. 🙂 Yes I do. And I’m glad you have it. I think you help provide a balance in the world of indie publishing, besides writing some exceptionally awesome, fantastical stories I’d like more of… 🙂

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