Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Last Days of Borges




The Last Days of Borges
AE Reiff

Estimado Señor,
    Since you requested my memory of the great Borges I sought to give tranquil contemplation to those events. At your command I set it down. May God preserve you!
   

 
Borges, child agape at a world, believed the unbelievable, the dream body, döppelganger, mirror, virtual world. You would have thought him its patron saint when Borges turned from those myths of the sword and Argentine, those bestial acts of the Minotaur, confessions of a labyrinth, veneer of the underworld. Expatriate of Germanic English traditions more than the Spanish north and south, Borges also endured the protectorate of his mother whom he lived and traveled with even in her old age. His fetching bibliographic absurdities compensate for it, a compensation in the virtual for imprisonment in the natural. Escape from such things came only when he consummated with Maria Kodama the deeper self. To her he gave to wonder that journalists will try to record my last breath and offer it for sale, for she knew nothing in advance of their final refuge and escape to Geneva.
    Borges escaped his fame, nation, himself; he stumbled from domestic conflict with underworlds, an imaginative landscape yet familiar to inhabit. In simpler locales of The Book of Sand, with its professors of likeable names, he was a hobbit, home before adventuring, and after, returned from the imaginary to the real to set things right; he was Ransom before Mars, a philologist taking the hedge. I too love the domestic, but not without eldritch intrusion. Tranquilities are short lived. The greater and the less confront Borges on Belgrano Street, at the University of Texas, on Florida Street, at the University of Leiden, in Cambridge; the known irrupted with visions that connect visible with invisible world.
    We want to live before this quest and after, but may only get moments between. These moments get us through. So, Señor, when Macedonio married, who worked two jobs and had an infant, worked all that evening, his spouse called you at midnight to declare her leaving, demanded you be there for his return at dawn. Two days later he would have killed himself, blown up the house, landlady and all, but you divined it and the medicos carried him from the Shade. That whole night before you had reclused yourself unknowing, in between moments to read the Psalms over and over that say "wait," "wait on the Lord," "wait all the day."
    I meditate with you, Don Esteban, as real as the fictional Borges visiting himself another time, another self. What counsel can we give that child before the man or the man of eighty made? Finish the work and let us pray. Will we believe? What level of irruption can stand? Are we eternal? It is given my friend to confront the other, the past fundamentalisms, but in what form "The Other"? The biographer says only the most acute estrangement from his own past could have inspired such a story where Borges sees himself on that park bench, and in another last story, twenty three years before or after, he is again on a bed in Room 19, "August 25, 1983," "older, withered, and very pale -- lay I, on my back."
    Blake had such concourse with the eternal. He told Butts, "I can alone carry on my visionary studies in London unannoy'd, & that I may converse with my friends in Eternity, See Visions, Dream Dreams & prophecy & speak Parables unobserv'd & at liberty from the Doubts of other Mortals." To seek that dialogue of old and young selves, that eternal incarnate conversation of Father and Son in Psalm 16, "the path of life," we hear blind Milton take dictation of the muse upon his bed, versifying to his daughter awake the next day.
    Nobody says how hard it is, this work to know you don't know, to wait to go to sleep to speak and wake to write the unseen. Borges pretends what he is already, a professor at Lahore in "Blue Tigers" confronting the riddle. He impersonates to entertain, a patina of the world idea, a spiritual reality, a mystical quest for knowledge and power, but not one at which we want to succeed, for it makes us different. Changed, we cannot relate to every day, so the wise talk to eternity in measure, like Blake talking to his brother, and as readers, disciples of Borges, we stay in our worlds of normality, not find unique paths to the eternal Milton in his dreams, Blake in his musing, Yeats in his raving.
    Borges fosters his source of fame in imitation of himself. He plays with Pythagoras, alchemy, Paracelsus, döppelgangers, all the mystic toys are his attractions, but what if he attained, what if he became the being becoming, as if to say not but to be? He'd be no more a writer. The pretty allegories tantalize a notion that we could become the being become if only in the moment we read. He takes us out and brings us back. We feel we've had a taste of Spinoza, Leviathan, creation, dragon, but are left in the same position as "Blue Tigers," putting blue stones of the quantum worlds back into the hand of God again just so we can avoid the supernatural we ourselves invoked, domestic to domestic with a thrill and twist between. When the stones fall through the hand of the beggar to the mind of God, or the memory of Shakespeare is transmitted by phone in "Shakespeare's Memory," Hermann Sörgel can be himself again: "the stone wishes to be stone, the tiger, tiger -- and I wanted to be Hermann Sörgel again." Always the point after invoking the self is return. As everyone who has experienced the loss of life attests, restoration of the commonplace is the greatest gift of all.
    Muy Estimado, Borges, Kafka, Yeats leave a crystalline of thought in their last works. We start and end with the last written, the end of books. Enthusiasm carries youth through ignorance until Yeats bakes it out, pares it down. In the rhythms of life the dregs are better than froth. A vintage may mature in the bottle as a poem betters with age, but the dregs are raw distillate in Blake's Jerusalem, Yeats' Ben Bulben, Borges' Shakespeare's Memory, that call to love Chapman, Marlowe and Icelandic sagas, the sum of Borges' affection. We take counsel with the sober Blake, no neophyte in that invitation of Jerusalem, unfiltered by the reprobate, the Author hopes the Reader will be with me, wholly One in Jesus our Lord, a devotion that flowers with Smart and Herbert, Hopkins and Donne, who lend nothing to understanding such disputes. Who will dispute Blake?
    I do not name names. With Borges, speaking tells all. I expunge biography to gain an anonymity to be dissatisfied. Revelation is transparent. Borges never says it of himself or he says everything. We void the reflexive if we live. In 1962 Borges sat next to me in the Panama airport. He was not so blind then, neither at forty, twenty or eighty in the absolute.
    Let us be kind to one another while we fail, lost in the lives we hold to highest standard and higher. Our heads, hands, shake, break with the burdened red barrow. What say we to our contradictions past those handfuls of poems cast into the future, as you, Don Esteban, have said, speaking to our future selves against the protectorate. We write for the undiscovered self, the idiots of the fourth Reich, the universe library.
    It is no following of passion, imagination at the door of fame. Borges collected his medals, the approbation of Updike, but did not consummate laughing love until Maria. In and out of misery he retired in last stories to memory, order, the domestic, the deep yearning of his soul, not inoperative paranormal numbers or stones that multiply. Life is different from imagination. In life there is death. Borges, nihilist of decades, raised questions whether there might be an afterlife to the one he loved, his Maria, unless you think no child can be a nihilist and if no child no poet.
     We grant the child's best view of this shambles. Borges in Geneva thought to question answers, invited a priest and minister, at end took absolution. He takes a final turn domestic, quells imagination with life. Whether this hedges the Pascal wager, the turmoil of Borges' estate in the next decade shows how disordered imagination can make the real. This is what happened to the medals. Yours,

     Giambattista Marino

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