“Mirrors and copulation are abominable, since they both multiply the numbers of men…”
-Jorge Luis Borges, Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius
I thought that would be a nice introduction to Jorge Luis Borges. My sister Karina told me years ago that I should read Borges’ Collected Fictions. The book holds about 7 of his different books of short stories. For those of you that follow me on Goodreads, you better bet I’m counting them all as separate books for my 30 books by the end of they year challenge.
I was worried that Karina thought I’d like it for the same reasons that everyone I know thinks I would love The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.
It’s weird. Confusing. Seems like it might be deep, but only because it has to be.
But I should have known Karina’s taste better than that. This has been one of the best books I have ever read.
Borges mind is like an unfolding staircase that climbs ever upward forever and ever. He writes about eternity, infinite concepts and time in terms that are not only simple, but startling.
One of my favorite stories he wrote was Funes, His Memory. About a man who has an infinite capacity to remember everything. He can describe every crack, imperfection and flaw of a wall in the room he sat in last Tuesday. He thinks that calling a dog a dog is too limiting because that dog is different from the dog it was yesterday, from a second ago, from the possibility of what it will be in a few seconds.
He paints a world in The Library of Babel that feels so familiar that I’ve seen it in dreams. A library built in hexagonal levels that extends forever upwards and downwards. All of the letters of the alphabet are arranged in an infinite amount of variations within the shelves of this library. But the reason that Borges excels is that he doesn’t take a unique concept and dwell on the superficial nature of it. He focuses on how these infinite concepts warp and twist human perceptions. Men go mad in The Library of Babel because they know that this library must contain all perfect truth, but it also contains a book of all perfect lies. It’s a torturous reminder of the sometimes impossible task of separating the truths we are told from reality.
This point of collision between the infinite and human nature is what makes his writing so incredibly powerful to me. I’m always intrigued by treatments of the infinite and the eternal, but the stories he tells are all very human. Flawed and lost while we try and grasp with these concepts. It’s surrealism that never feels indulgent.
I still have a few more books in this volume to read. However, I’d recommend The Garden of the Forking Paths and Artifices out of the books I’ve read thus far.