Sunday, February 06, 2011

A Blind Librarian Dreams Of Tigers: Borges

"I trudge from side to side
Of this lofty, long blind library"

- Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986)

The other morning when I woke up and gave my wife Yuko a hug she said my heart was beating louder then usual. I told her I'd just had a dream where some statistician was measuring my heartbeat and had translated its code declaring it "good." It was a weird coincidence and later in the day I had to ask Yuko about it again because I'd forgotten the details. I'd been in that twilight state between the sleeping and waking worlds where dreams seemed to be spilling over, creating a sympatico reality.

Jorge Luis Borges' Dreamtigers is a collection of similar moments, a synthesis of dreams and waking visions where he engages in conversations with figures like Shakespeare, Cervantes, Don Quixote and himself.

Poem About Gifts

Let none think that I by tear or reproach make light
Of this manifesting the mastery
Of God, who with excelling irony
Gives me at once both books and night.

In this city of books he made these eyes
The sightless rulers who can only read,
In libraries of dreams, the pointless
Paragraphs each new dawn offers

To awakened care. In vain the day
Squanders on them its infinite books,
As difficult as the difficult scripts
That perished in Alexandria.

An old Greek story tells how some king died
Of hunger and thirst, though proffered springs and fruits;
My bearing lost, I trudge from side to side
Of this lofty, long blind library.

The walls present, but uselessly,
Encyclopedia, atlas, Orient
And the West, all centuries, dynasties,
Symbols, cosmos and cosmogonies.

Slow in my darkness, I explore
The hollow gloom with my hesitant stick,
I, that used to figure Paradise
In such a library’s guise.

Something that surely cannot be called
Mere chance must rule these things;
Some other man has met this doom
On other days of many books and the dark.

As I walk through the slow galleries
I grow to feel with a kind of holy dread
That I am that other, I am the dead,
And the steps I make are also his.

Which of us two is writing now these lines
About a plural I and a single gloom?
What does it matter what word is my name
If the curse is indivisibly the same?

Groussac or Borges, I gaze at this beloved
World that grows more shapeless, and its light
Dies down into a pale, uncertain ash
Resembling sleep and the oblivion of night.
In the 1938, Borges found easy work at the Buenos Aires Municipal Library where he was able to do much of his writing during his free time. He soon realized he was going blind and his sight came and went for the rest of his life depending on different treatments. When Juan Perón took power in the mid-forties Borges was "promoted" to inspector of poultry and rabbits at a local market for not supporting his regime. As a result of this humiliation, Borges never forgave the Perónists and held a grudge for the rest of his life.

Borges is often regarded as the greatest writer never to win a Nobel, generally attributed to his support of Argentine and Chilean right-wing military dictators, including Augusto Pinochet. When the Argentinian junta finally collapsed, his feeble statement, "No leo los diarios" ("I don't read newspapers"), was ridiculed as echoing those oblivious Germans who claimed never to hear about the extermination camps until it was all over. Borges was a fierce individualist suspicious of any collective form of authority. He famously dismissed Pablo Neruda as:
"a very fine poet. I don't admire him as a man...he's on the side of the Communists, I'm against them."
Then in 1982 he condemned the Falkland Islands War as "Two bald men fighting over a comb." He went against the grain of his times, ultimately pleasing no one with his political opinions. But as even Neruda knew, it's not the singer that matters, but the song.

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