If there is anybody of whom I can assuredly identify myself as an admirer, without bothering too much by recognizing it, without being ashamed by blushing, that’s Jorge Luis Borges. An Argentinean man of letters, poet, a writer of short stories, reviews, essays and literary critiques; he was born in 1899, died in 1986. Married twice. These are very schematic details of a very interesting life. What happens in between will be discussed here, in the accustomed way of Paul: eclectically, disorganized and incoherently.
Every writer/creator admitted to the Pantheon of the Greatest (immortal, universal literature classic- you know-) normally leaves to the posterity a very powerful image to be remembered for eons: Cervantes had Don Quixote and Sancho, Shakespeare had Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet, García Márquez had Colonel Aureliano Buendía. Others leave as a powerful image, not a character but a place: Thomas Moro left his Utopia, the same García Márquez has Macondo; Borges belongs in this second category. We vaguely could remember the affront suffered by Emma Zunz, or the affront perpetrated by Kilpatrick, but we always better remember Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius and the Library of Babel both as two of the most marvelous and at the same time monstrous visions of universal literature.
Talking about the extraordinary capacity that Borges had for playing (and toying, why not?) with ideas might be redundant, but one has to do it. To describe a world, in which Berkelian idealism molds every knowledge, perception, civilization and language (Bite on that bullet, Chomsky!), and in the meanwhile materialism is not a heresy, but the mother of all heresies, that is more than scholar’s trickery: it takes years to metabolize the whole short story and grasp all the ramifications coming out of it. I’m still thinking of Tlön (and Uqbar, and Orbis Tertius, for that matter), and I know I’ll never go too far.
Why? Because we’re not Jorge Luis Borges. Most of us weren’t born in a bilingual family at the crossroads of XIX and XX centuries, nor we didn’t spend our early childhood and adolescence in a big family library, nor we weren’t taken from Buenos Aires to Switzerland and then to Spain; i.e., we didn’t have our whole lives to prepare an erudition comparable to that belonging to the Universal Argentinean himself. Some people is going to elaborate about Infinite Monkey Theorem ad nauseam, but is remarkable indeed, that humanity had to wait some 1950 or 1400 (consider the source) years from the destruction of the Alexandria Library, for someone bold enough to conceive the Total Library: The Library of Babel, in which all the knowledge that was, is and will be exists, and the one that isn’t, too.That is Borges.
By the way, could you imagine the power of the Librarian that could grasp the order of such a library? Well, it would be bigger than a poultry inspector for the Buenos Aires municipal market, for sure. That ‘promotion’, from the post of head librarian, was an indignity our writer had to suffer, a courtesy of the newly arrived peronista regime, as a reminder of what totalitarian regimes, dictatorships and chieftains really mean to literature. But why bother, Borges himself said:
Dictatorships foster oppression, dictatorships foster servitude, dictatorships foster cruelty; more abominable is the fact that they foster idiocy.
I insist in things like these, because thanks to them, the Nobel Prize of Literature awards more ideological affinity than real talent. Borges, being basically a conservative, it is said he lost every chance of winning by committing the mortal sin of accepting an award in Pinochet’s Chile (he would regret that later). Besides, what about Kafka? Too much of an offbeat writer, or too much of a posthumous writer? And Joyce? And Proust? It is said that the greatest cable channel that never existed could be made with all the series Fox cancelled. Well, you could easily create quite an anthology with all the Nobel rejects.
Not all is bitterness: Borges could have make mistakes, but his achievements and regrets are securing the place he rightfully deserves in our time. For instance, being named by Wikipedia as his precursor, is a vindication. According to its Spanish article on him, the way the artistic and scientific works were published in Tlön, resembles a lot of that of the Wikipedia (with the same ideological
bias uniformity, I might add).
Without fake modesty, I’ve been thinking of this for years, the question was if Borges preconfigured or preconceived the Internet. Nowadays anybody could say yes, being Internet a combination of the encyclopedic project Orbis Tertius, inserted in a Library of Babel (you know, the Labyrinths are kind of a Borges’ specialty). What makes me doubt is thinking that the Internet era could not give birth to Jorge Luis Borges. Being born in these times, his energies would have been channeled into developing software, videogames or virtual reality environments. Our real and historic Borges deals a lot better being considered as custodian and/or Saint Patron of the pre-Internet culture. It was the traditional culture, with its information-flow limitations, and the language barrier partially dissembled by someone who only realized after years that a part of his family spoke English and the other one spoke Spanish. That was the culture that allowed him to visualize in the virtual reality of the human imagination, the virtual reality of the computers.
I strongly recommend the reading of Jorge Luis Borges. FULL DISCLOSURE: I’m not even halfway to read his complete works yet.