Archive for August, 2014

21
Aug
14

Review of Jorge Luis Borges – On Mysticism | The Philosophy of Self-Destructing Ideas

Xul Solar - Jorge Luis Borges artwork

Xul Solar – Jorge Luis Borges artwork

 

Jorge Luis Borges’ writing is single minded, driven, and uncompromising.   It is the fumbling of heightened senses, the near-mad scramble of an accomplished polymath demanding sacramental alchemy from his words. It is exacerbation, a skyward launch seeking the velocity to escape the jail of physics.  It is hot blood trapped in cold bodies, flight with clipped wings and sideways staircases.

All ideas are unsustainable, destroying themselves when expressed. One could go blind to see the sun but, most importantly, what is blindness? And, ultimately, what is the sun? Borges is enormously self-conscious of this dilemma, and these works are his attempts at taking the reins. It’s a tough problem, explaining the nature (and non-existence) of time! Intellect is an important tool for the task but, as Borges writings subtly express, a resigned sense of humor appears to be the only recourse. Man’s submission to his flawed insignificance is inescapable.

To summarize while introducing: man’s existence and biological reality can’t explicitly translate the ideals constituting reality. This is fact. This is our fundamental struggle, which permeates our essences.

Borges realizes he can’t jump over, sneak past, crawl under, wish-away, transmute, much less destroy, this hurdle. What can Borges do? Realizing the futility and imperfection of the solution, he nevertheless writes his way through the implications. This vigilance to craft, steeped in physicality, is our hope – our proxy to circumnavigate Nature.  He devises a diabolical solution, which is no solution at all: Time (thus our Reality) is both infinite and non-divisible – and thus non-existent. Enter the Paradoxes. Famous labyrinths, simultaneity, spherical spaces, gods made of birds made of gods made of birds, words made of TIGERS made of words, and even simple dusk-lit observations are his attempts to weaponize language. Then throw those words (or bang one’s head) against the wall which is the substantive. The words themselves aren’t real, but the hollow reverberation we hear from the wall IS real. It is not the object, but what the object displaces from Reality. This is the idea. This idea is the object. Behind this Idea is the indescribable Truth.

Pure Ideas (capital I) are destroyed by the chronological nature of their expression through language. Even pure Thought, inherently successive itself, must fail to imagine the Timeless. Ultimately, if one understands the noble failure implied by this situation, one has at least begun the journey. Paradoxically, the journey is then ended?

Borges conveys this better than most, but unfortunately relies on a rigid, academic narrative style out of necessity to his task. Another sardonic irony, perfectly apt in its existence: A nebulous, implied narrative could very well immerse the reader in the actual “reality” of timeless senses (an escape from time into the feeling of the text). But so could an ordinary dream, or even a serendipitous shimmer of light on glass when the mood is right. Although Borges does chase this aesthetic in some of his short fiction, he is too obsessed with the mechanics of the Idea to ever surrender the implied to the explicit. He refuses the role of sculpture directly helming the potter’s wheel. Still, what he accomplishes is something not duplicated elsewhere in literature. It is not a perfect beauty. But his hammering attempts at classifying the unclassifiable are as successful as he himself would have allowed possible.

Editorially, this book is great. The introduction by Borges’ widow Maria Kodama is flawless. Aside from providing a framework for the reading, and the topic (Mysticism!) the nature of the relationship between author and editor is beautiful. Borges and Kodama must have shared a very special bond, for Kodama’s insights into the man’s ideas and work are concise, explanatory and effortless. It appears he, in his struggles with infinity, was blessed in this temporal existence.

Advertisements