Friday, February 11, 2005

Bloggers and I

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

"Every novel," said Borges (but he might have said every text), "is an ideal plane inserted into the realm of reality" (in "Partial Magic in the Quixote"). With the retirement of Tony, Laura and Aaron from blogging, my realm becomes a little less ideal. But I wonder what this means, exactly. Their "last broadcasts" would have us believe that somewhere in America three lives now turn to other things. They would know.

This knowledge, or something like it, is probably what leads very reflexive writers like Borges to say somewhat silly things like, "The other one, the one called Borges, is the one things happen to" ("Borges and I"). As if the textual persona could ever be anything "like" the person who writes. As if this problem ever really arises.

"I like hourglasses," says Borges (for I will call him by his real name), "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." And, indeed, his no less vain preference for self-referential art (Las Meninas, Don Quixote, The Thousand and One Nights, Hamlet) has led him to the "disturbing" suspicion that "if the characters of a fictional work can be readers or spectators, we, its readers or spectators can be fictitious." ("Partial Magic")

I don't think this disturbs us today. On the contrary, I think what disturbs us is the possibility that we are as real as the people we read about. In fact, Borges is uncharacteristically wrong about Hamlet. "Shakespeare," he says, "includes on the stage of Hamlet another stage where a tragedy more or less like that of Hamlet is presented" (ibid.). But The Mousetrap is nothing like Hamlet: the scene it presents is a scene that occurs nowhere else in the play, a scene "something like the murder of [Hamlet's] father."

Like the map that supposedly maps the territory on which it has been drawn (though no map ever has this responsibility), the problem simply does not arise. One part of the text refers to some other part of the text. This, because nothing can ever refer to anything, let alone anyone, completely. "Time," said Bergson, "is what keeps everything from happening all at once." And only if everything, suddenly, happened all at once would our words be perfect enough to lament their own abstractness. Borges, in fact, knew that he could not refute time; and he understood exactly what this meant. "The world, unfortunately, is real; I, unfortunately, am Borges." ("A New Refutation of Time")

But the other Borges is, perhaps, entitled to think otherwise. How else, I wonder, can one textual persona lament the loss of another?

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