The stories, essays and parables in this Borges collection, with all their esoteric references to multiple histories, cultures and literatures, are no more likely to appeal to a casual reader then a textbook on cognitive psychology. To extract literary gold from highly intricate, complex works like The Garden of Forking Paths
, Emma Zunz
, The Library of Babel
or The Zahir
requires careful multiple readings as well as a willingness to occasionally investigate terms and references, for example here are several from The Zahir
: The Book of Rites
, Isaac Laquendem
, The Nibelungen
, the novel Confessions of a Thug
, The Book of Things Unknown
And, speaking of The Zahir
, if I were to move from referring to the tale itself to the ideas which lie behind it, how would my review read? What does it mean for a narrator to dissolve the universe into a single coin? Why does Borges describe, right at the outset, how at different times in the past the Zahir, a coin he was handed in a bar, morphed into a tiger, a blind man, a small compass, a vein in the marble of a pillar, the bottom of a well? How does one compress all time into this one sentence I am now writing? And what of the philosophical and cultural context in which Borges wrote this tale? Could a first-person short-story like The Zahir
have been written in Ancient China? Medieval Persia? Colonial America? These are questions that lie outside the framework of this Borges tale. Or do they?
Philosophical musing on the reality of the Zahir propels Borges (and us as readers) to multiple worlds: of a woman who seeks to makes every one of her actions correct to the point where she desires the absolute in the momentary; the dark light of the Gnostics; a dream where he, Borges the narrarator, becomes a pile of coins guarded by a gryphon. Then, after Borges’ fascination with the Zahir slides into obsession, driving him to seek out a psychiatrist, he writes, “Time, which softens memories, only makes the memory of the Zahir sharper. First I could see the face of it, then the reverse; now I can see both sides at once. It is not as though the Zahir were made of glass, since one side is not superimposed upon the other; rather it is as though the vision were spherical and the Zahir flutters in the center.”
Such refection bring to mind Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game
, where the beads are, in fact, made of glass and can represent, in turn, cosmic topology, a fugue of celestial spheres, variations on relational placement as in the colors and lines of a Mondrian or circles with plasticity in Vasarely; only the Zahir has about it more unity then plurality, and thus one Möbius strip, one musical note, one painting, one print. Toward the very end we read: “Others will dream that I am mad, while I dream of the Zahir. When every person on earth thinks, day and night of the Zahir, which will be dream and which reality, the earth or the Zahir?”
Regarding the essays, Partial Magic in the Quixote
opens us to a least a dozen unique angles in our approach to this Spanish classic; Kafka and His Precursors
explores the connection of writers like Kierkegaard and Browning along with Zeno’s paradox to the famous author of The Metamorphosis
; The Mirror of Enigmas
delves into conundrums such as the symbolic significance of Sacred Scriptures and various forms of metaphysical writings as reflected on by, among others, Philo of Alexandria. Seven more essays will bend and stretch you mind in ways you never thought possible.
In the parable, Borges and I
, the author conducts a dialogue with himself as well as, take your pick - author, public persona, alter ego, younger self, older self, second self – and is uncertain as he concludes his parable who exactly is the author of the lines he has just written. Everything and Nothing
is a parable featuring Shakespeare with a multiple identity crisis; another parable, The Witness
, has the narrator brooding over memory and death and yet in another parable, Inferno 1,32
, we encounter a leopard, Dante, and God in what could be viewed as a dreamscape.
years ago, I was inspired to write this micro-fiction as a tribute to Jorge Luis Borges:LIFE STORY
The bold letters on the cover read: Harold Blackman – Life Story. The book looks quite ordinary. One is required to make a special inspection to see a queer spring-like device along the spine. Harold Blackman opens the book before him. The title page is completely blank as are all the pages. He runs gnarled fingers, tips calloused and slightly trembling, lightly over this ghost of a title page and reflects on the long agonizing nights when he tried to pen the fire of his youth and the spume of his manhood without success. What he saw when the ink dried always left him feeling flat, unsettled. Closing his eyes, he repeats an incantation learned from a half-crazed Argentine, then opens them slowly, very slowly. Harold Blackman, weary adventurer, is now standing on the writing table, shrunken to the size of the book. Lying down on the title page, the back of his legs, buttocks and backbone relax to the paper’s slight give. He released a catch on the spine, the leather cover snapping shut with the vengeance of a mousetrap. But for a muffled groan all is silence. Over time, the blood seeps through the pages, forming, words, sentences, paragraphs.