Sunday, August 19, 2007

of mirrors and of the labyrinth

from with borges (by alberto manguel):

two nightmares haunted borges throughout his life: of mirrors and of the labyrinth. the labyrinth, first discovered as a child in a copperplate engraving of the seven wonders of the world, made him fear 'a house with no doors' in whose centre a monster awaited him; mirrors terrified him with the suspicion that one day they would reflect back a face that was not his own or worse, no face at all. (page 53)

'every writer creates his own precursors'. with this statement, borges adopted a long lineage of writers who now appear borgesian avant le lettre: plato, novalis, kafka, shopenhauer, remy de gourmont, chesterton...

in 'pierre menard, author of don quixote' he argued that a book changes according to the reader's attributions. when the text appeared in sur in may 1939, several readers assumed that pierre menard was real; one such reader even went as far as telling borges that there was nothing new in what he had outlined, that it had all been noted by previous writers. pierre menard is, of course, an invention, a superb and hilarious imagining, but the notion of a text that changes according to the reader's assumptions is old. from fakes such as macpherson's ossian, over whose verses werther wept as if they belonged to an ancient celtic bard, to the 'real life' adventures of robinson crusoe and sir john madeville that led enthusiasts of archaeological truth to explore the island of juan fernandez and to unearth the ruins of what might have been cathay; from the 'song of songs' studied as a sacred text to gulliver's travels catalogued dismissively as a children's book..... (pages 62-64)

he amused himself with such subversions. 'imagine', he would say, 'reading don quixote as if it were a detective novel. (page 64)

like so many of his texts the words compose a list, since, he says, 'making lists is one of the oldest activities of the poet'. (page 70)

from borges et l'architecture by cristina grau (from the interview with borges):

le labyrinthe de kafka est un labyrinthe intime. le heros ne sait pas qu'il se trouve dans le labyrinthe. et sans doute kafka non plus ne le savait-il pas. (page 143)
(the labyrinth of kafka is an intimate labyrinth. the hero does not know that it is in the labyrinth. and undoubtedly kafka did not know it it.)

borges and maría kodama stroll along the seine, 1983

on a side note; a great book on the labyrinth is hermann kern's through the labyrinth, prestel 2000


Anonymous said...

I would be remiss in not demanding that all read Borges lesser-known "House of Asterion" in connection with the above, though I won't say more....

the art of memory said...

every nine years nine men enter the house so that i may deliver them from evil. i hear their steps or their voices in the depths of the stone galleries and I run joyfully to find them. the ceremony lasts a few minutes. they fall one after another without my having to bloody my hands. they remain where they fell and their bodies help distinguish one gallery from another. i do not know who they are, but I know that one of them prophesied, at the moment of his death, that some day my redeemer would come. since then my loneliness does not pain me, because I know my redeemer lives and he will finally rise above the dust. if my ear could capture all the sounds of the world, i should hear his steps. i hope he will take me to a place with fewer galleries and fewer doors. what will my redeemer be like?, i ask myself. will he be a bull or a man? will he perhaps be a bull with the face of a man? or will he be like me?

thanks, i had forgotten that one. not a good bedtime story.

sroden said...

thanks for posting all these! my copy is so full of scraps of paper page holding such things, and now i can just bop over here to find them :-)

the art of memory said...

thanks for pointing it out.
i never finished the di giovanni memoir, so i am reading that one now, maybe will post some bits from there as well.
it is funny that these books on him seem no different than reading his own work.

Anonymous said...

'making lists is one of the oldest activities of the poet'

reminds me of Ilias ch.II catalogue of ships, there was a comparison by Baumgarten once who said that it is not in the least dull, this list of ships, and there is some aesthetic value to it, but I can't find the passage anymore....must be making lists too maybe.

* said...

this is more apt:
"[...] sense and ocular Observation, which seems to me the surest path, to trace the Labyrinth of Truth. For though discursive enquiry and rationall conjecture, may leave handsome gashes and flesh-wounds; yet without conjunction of this expect no mortal or dispatching blows unto errour." Th. Browne

the art of memory said...

i would like to see the passage if you find it. one reason i love moby-dick, all the lists in there, and for boats, there is a multi-volume set on all the boats, etc. related to columbus' journey.
thanks for the 2 references, a true bibliophile i can see.

woolgathersome said...

This a is perfect and lovely post, M. And, of course, the lists and imagined authors / texts remind me of Perec's User Manual with the lists of stones and stairs and all the "authors" he mentions... I remember writing Ossian down in a notebook when I was seventeen or so and trying so hard to find his books for so long...

the art of memory said...

thank you k.
any luck with finding ossian, had not heard of him before.
i should read a user's manual again, has been a while.
an amazing book isn't it?
maybe that will be my next one. did you read perec's winter journey?