by Jorge Luis Borges
"The world, according to Mallarme, exists for a book; according to Bloy, we are the versicles* or words or letters of a magic book, and that incessant book is the only thing in the world: more exactly, it is the world." - Jorge Luis Borges, "On the Cult of Books", 1951
Borges is a reader's writer and he is a writer who reads; but unlike the many other writers who read he writes about reading as both an intellectual challenge and an inspiration (some might find that redundant). The connections he makes with writers from Plato to Cervantes, from Bacon to Mallarme, are made fascinating by his ability to be comprehensible while demonstrating an erudition that is almost beyond description. That his erudition does not obscure his attempt to share his ideas is one of his many charms.
This collection displays his writing skill in the essay, the prologue, the review, the lecture and the dictation of literary miscellany, all of which have their unique appeal. He reveals the mind of an omnivorous reader who is incapable of writing uninteresting pieces about what he has read and the surprising ideas and connections to which he is led by his reading. He shares his personal library; while elsewhere you learn about the synergy between Swedenborg and the Kaballah! The "Library of Babel" is represented and his comments make you suddenly want to go back and reread that wonderful story. One aspect of all of this is to provide some little insight into the mind of the writer who created the stories of Babel and Menard and the wonderful Ficciones that entrance your reader's mind.
I return to Borges to remind myself why I read and to find out more about the process, the act of reading, the humanity of it all -- the magic he performs is spiritual food for my soul.
*When I was growing up I spent each Sunday morning attending services at the local Methodist Church. One of the rituals was always a "responsive reading". It took many years and my reading of Borges before I learned that I had been participating in a versicle. One of the many ways reading Borges has expanded my vocabulary and my experience.
Selected Non-Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges, ed. by Eliot Weinberger. Viking Press, 1999.