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Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Jorge Luis Borges: Borges y Yo / Borges and I


Self-Portrait with Eyeshade: Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, 1775 (Musée du Louvre, Paris)

The other one, the one called Borges, is the one things happen to. I walk through the streets of Buenos Aires and stop for a moment, perhaps mechanically now, to look at the arch of an entrance hall and the grillwork on the gate; I know of Borges from the mail and see his name on a list of professors or in a biographical dictionary. I like hourglasses, maps, eighteenth-century typography, the taste of coffee and the prose of Stevenson; he shares these preferences, but in a vain way that turns them into the attributes of an actor. It would be an exaggeration to say that ours is a hostile relationship; I live, let myself go on living, so that Borges may contrive his literature, and this literature justifies me. It is no effort for me to confess that he has achieved some valid pages, but those pages cannot save me, perhaps because what is good belongs to no one, not even to him, but rather to the language and to tradition. Besides, I am destined to perish, definitively, and only some instant of myself can survive in him. Little by little, I am giving over everything to him, though I am quite aware of his perverse custom of falsifying and magnifying things.

Spinoza knew that all things long to persist in their being; the stone eternally wants to be a stone and the tiger a tiger. I shall remain in Borges, not in myself (if it is true that I am someone), but I recognize myself less in his books than in many others' or in the laborious strumming of a guitar. Years ago I tried to free myself from him and went from the mythologies of the suburbs to the games with time and infinity, but those games belong to Borges now and I shall have to imagine other things. Thus my life is a flight and I lose everything and everything belongs to oblivion, or to him.

I do not know which of us has written this page.

Self-Portrait: Samuel Palmer, 1825 (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford)

Al otro, a Borges, es a quien le ocurren las cosas. Yo camino por Buenos Aires y me demoro, acaso ya mecánicamente, para mirar el arco de un zaguán y la puerta cancel; de Borges tengo noticias por el correo y veo su nombre en una terna de profesores o en un diccionario biográfico. Me gustan los relojes de arena, los mapas, la tipografía del siglo XVII, las etimologías, el sabor del café y la prosa de Stevenson; el otro comparte esas preferencias, pero de un modo vanidoso que las convierte en atributos de un actor. Sería exagerado afirmar que nuestra relación es hostil; yo vivo, yo me dejo vivir para que Borges pueda tramar su literatura y esa literatura me justifica. Nada me cuesta confesar que ha logrado ciertas páginas válidas, pero esas páginas no me pueden salvar, quizá porque lo bueno ya no es de nadie, ni siquiera del otro, sino del lenguaje o la tradición. Por lo demás, yo estoy destinado a perderme, definitivamente, y sólo algún instante de mí podrá sobrevivir en el otro. Poco a poco voy cediéndole todo, aunque me consta su perversa costumbre de falsear y magnificar. Spinoza entendió que todas las cosas quieren perseverar en su ser; la piedra eternamente quiere ser piedra y el tigre un tigre. Yo he de quedar en Borges, no en mí (si es que alguien soy), pero me reconozco menos en sus libros que en muchos otros o que en el laborioso rasgueo de una guitarra. Hace años yo traté de librarme de él y pasé de las mitologías del arrabal a los juegos con el tiempo y con lo infinito, pero esos juegos son de Borges ahora y tendré que idear otras cosas. Así mi vida es una fuga y todo lo pierdo y todo es del olvido, o del otro.

No sé cuál de los dos escribe esta página.

Self-Portrait: Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, c. 1825 (Musée du Louvre, Paris)

Jorge Luis Borges: Borges y Yo / Borges and I, from El Hacedor (The Maker), 1960, translator unknown




Chardin, Samuel Palmer, Corot -- such great pictures of/by such great painters -- next to Borges ("I do not know which of us has written this page". . . .). . . .


pale yellow orange cloud above shadowed
ridge, silhouette of blue jay on branch
in foreground, wave sounding in channel

being in the midst of which
is, sense of subject

what to see again, geometry
of windows, diagonal

silver of sunlight reflected in channel,
line of cloud on horizon across from it

TC said...

That is a lovely poem, Steve, a bright uplift to the morning.

Earlier we saw the story in the paper about the $3.9 million hunk of cliff that collapsed on Ocean Parkway near Overlook. I spent a few minutes trying to work out how much that came to, per square inch.

Yes, the three great painters -- I saw them staring at us staring back at them, in the mirror.

The looking glass labours of the writer and his several selves, disappearing into the tradition, the translation, the language, or whatever it is,

being in the midst of which
is, sense of subject

(as yet to be determined?)



Yes, that "hunk of cliff" is right down the street, just at the top of where Terrace starts down from Overlook -- "collapsed" doesn't quite get it, more like "sloughed" or "settled," the pull of gravity upon Bolinas Mesa Clay, no granite cliffs here, for sure!). The road has been closed for over a year now (is it that long? I think so), when I started out on my run down to the overlook on Sunday I heard an unfamiliar sound of motor running, saw county truck parked down at the end of road, and when I got there there they'd put sandbags in the culvert, placed a pump in there (w/ generator, that was the sound) that was pumping water through hose across the street and running it just a bit down the (also clay, of course) cliff, bound to make more erosion. And the place where the "collapse" had been going on for all these months, which they had at first tried to 'fix' by putting more asphalt on it, building up the road to it's 'correct level' (a road which had simply continued to slough away a few days/weeks/months later) -- that place had settled further, pulled the 2-ft plastic pile that was carrying runoff water (and which they'd built a small suspension bridge across the hole in the ground left by the "collapse") apart, so water as pooling up inside the "collapse" -- more like a sink hole really, except open on the side next to where the cliff heads down to the ocean. . . .
more than you wanted to know (!), but maybe you'll be able to 'see better' now. . . . Meanwhile, yes, "the great painters" . . . . (!)



Another "bright uplift to the morning," I hope --


light coming into sky above still black
ridge, planet below moon by pine branch
in foreground, wave sounding in channel

that sun could not possibly
have been seen, that

that is why this is in fact,
which was still, but

cloudless blue sky reflected in channel,
sunlit green of pine on tip of sandspit

TC said...


You know that sort of cliff erosion has been going on forever. In the years we lived out over Agate Beach, each year there was less and less of the cliff between us and the beach. Some friends had a house just above beach, up a bit toward RCA. They left there around the early Seventies, and I don't know whether the house they left behind is there any more; even at that time, it didn't appear to have much of a future.

In the battle between geology and man, geology usually gets its own back in the end.

(Of course, not usually at the sweet cost of $3.9 m. for a few acres... an insanely inflated pricetag which, were Geology not such an Olympian thing, might bring it some quiet satisfaction?)



Yes, that house is probably gone -- at least some that once where there (at the end of Poplar) are now merely their concrete foundations, and the cliff continues to slough its way toward the sea, sometimes one pebble at a time, sometimes whole chunks. And now they're doing work on Panoramic to 'fix' a slide (will be one-way traffic until late April; and a slide closed half a lane on the road down to Muir Beach; another a half lane on road above Tocaloma Bridge -- what cost to fix those (and how long 'fixed') ? ? ? ?


first grey light in sky above blackness
of ridge, silver of planet below branch
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

perception which is present,
event memory ‘traces’

so to speak, here and there,
that which is to see

silver of sunlight reflected in channel,
sunlit green of pine on tip of sandspit

TC said...

Steve, re.

event memory 'traces' --

Yes, those houses which once stood at the end of Poplar are now all gone into oblivion, it seems. In 1968 some time was spent, when time seemed to be stretched into much longer, more relaxed units than it is now (getting and spending seemed less urgent somehow), every day, out there, at what were called "The Cliff House" and "The Dellinger House," specifically. Vividly remembered -- at least by me -- and in this particular case not covered over by any cloudy wonderments as to who and how and what came later, and what ifs and maybes, or what happened in the real estate market, etc. In a curious way, having the actual geophysical locations of memory sites completely washed away is, from a purely subjective point of view, something of a relief.

So doth th'alluring thought invite at last,

Of th' annihilation of all that's past.



Yes indeed, "to a green thought in a green shade". . . . With these last few warm days, it had dried up enough yesterday that I could get the mower through the grass (barely) -- very long and very thick and very green. . . .