Saturday, May 20, 2017

More than Infinity


“When it was proclaimed that the Library contained all books, the first impression was one of extravagant happiness. All men felt themselves to be the masters of an intact and secret treasure. There was no personal or world problem whose eloquent solution did not exist in some hexagon. The universe was justified, the universe suddenly usurped the unlimited dimensions of hope.”   ― Jorge Luis Borges, Ficciones

One of the earliest memories of reading
that I have is one of Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There. The idea that there is another world beyond or through the mirror in one's parlor is a fabulous way to introduce the flights of fancy that little Alice was prone to engage in as I had learned in Carroll's earlier book, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. I am reminded of this experience because of the importance of mirrors in the writing of Jorge Luis Borges as he privileges the mirror and his stories as books appear as mirrors for reality. Just as in Carroll the mirror image presents a reflection that is backwards and always seems a bit wrong; however, it is wrong in a way that one only senses and cannot actually identify with any hope of specificity. My own dreams, and perhaps yours, often seem to be similarly twisted, even absurd, reflections of reality.

In Ficciones Borges has included nine short fictions in part one and ten even shorter works called "artifices" in part two. I like every story in the first part but my favorite has to be "The Library of Babel" which, for readers, has to encompass the notions of heaven and hell all in one twisted story.

The first story in this collection, "Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, is an example of the importance of mirrors as it begins with the following sentence: "I owe the discovery of Uqbar to the conjunction of a mirror and an encyclopedia."(p 5). Additional stories share favorite places of Borges whether they be a garden in the case of "The Garden of Forking Paths", or the library as in "The Library of Babel". The latter of those two stories would have to be my favorite, and perhaps the favorite of many readers as readers who love libraries. Borges' library is a cheerless and even fearful place. With its incalculably vast size suggesting infinity it can seemingly be a nightmare more than a dream. Yet there is always the possibility of finding hope hidden in the vastness of infinite space. While Borges himself spent several years in a dull library job cataloging books the imaginary library of Babel seems to defy any cataloging. Just like a world reflected in a mirror, "absurdities are the norm" in this library while disorder reigns. Conundrums also abound as with the notion that everything that has already been written, yet there are always new and definitively different books that one may encounter.

The worlds depicted in Borges' stories are filled with blank spaces, the ideas and ideals are abstract rather than personal, yet they yield a personal response. Those unwilling or unable to fill in some of the blank spaces with their own imaginations may find something lacking. No amount of further writing would help though all of the stories are short, even as short stories go with the second part filled with "Artifices" that are typically no more than two or three pages long. Just as the stories beckon with suggestions of ruins, lotteries, libraries, and gardens; so do the artifices with titles that invite you to partake of death, miracles, swords, differing visions of Judas, and the rise of the Phoenix. Infinite libraries suggest stories from an imagination that also may have been infinite.

The world of Borges' fiction expands to encompass more than reality. These short narratives reveal conflicting emotions, motives, and desires shared by all humans and explore what he imagines as a tortured struggle for salvation or perhaps merely redemption.  His genius gives rise to flights of the imagination unique in my experience. My love for these narratives stems from their presences as magical works of a literary master.


Brian Joseph said...

I have not read Borges.

This post makes me want to start read him immediately!

I hope to get to his work soon. I Think that I will start with The Library of Babel.

James said...

You could do worse than exploring Borges strange fictional world. His always short short storied and other writings defy categorization and in doing so delight the reader who is willing to suspend disbelief.