Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 31.1 (Jorge Luis Borges)

Borges, Jorge Luis
Selected Non-Fictions

These three volumes of Borges don't provoke many personal memories, other than my pleasure in having read them. There comes a moment when reading his work when the distinctions between, say, the essay, the story, the "fiction," the lecture, the "non-fiction," and so forth become meaningless. It's all part of the same passionate intellectual effort, the same striving after beauty, the same infinity and eternity and memory and repetition finding new and fascinating ways to work themselves out in words. His modus operandi is that of inquiry, not of argument, and certainly not of attack. All his "non-fictions" are merely traces of a love of literature and of beauty and of thought stretching over the course of a long, full life.

In the final section of the collection, he makes a sort of "desert island list" of books, with a brief description of each one and why it is important to him. Here's the prologue to that section, which one might consider a manifesto for this project:


Over time, one's memory forms a disparate library, made of books or pages whose reading was a pleasure and which one would like to share. The texts of that personal library are not necessarily famous. The reason is clear. The professors, who are the ones who dispense fame, are interested less in beauty than in literature's dates and changes, and in the prolix analysis of books that have been written for that analysis, not for the joy of the reader.

This series is intended to bring such pleasure. I will not select titles according to my literary habits, or a certain tradition, or a certain school or nation or era. I once said, "Others brag of the books they've managed to write; I brag of book I've managed to read." I don't know if I am a good writer, but I think I am an excellent reader, or in any case, a sensitive and grateful one. I would like my library to be as diverse as the unsatisfied curiosity that has lead me, and continues to lead me, in my exploration of so many languages and literatures. I know the novel is no less artificial than the allegory or the opera, but I will include novels because they too have entered into my life. This series of heterogeneous books is, I repeat, a library of preferences.

Maria Kodoma and I have wandered the globe of land and sea. We have visited Texas and Japan, Geneva, Thebes, and now, to gather the texts that are essential to us, we have traveled through the corridors and palaces of memory, as St. Augustine wrote.

A book is a thing among things, a volume lost among volumes that populate the indifferent universe, until it meets its reader, the person destined for its symbols. What then occurs is that singular emotion called beauty, that lovely mystery that neither psychology nor criticism can describe. "The rose has no why," said Angelus Silesius; centuries later, Whistler declared, "Art happens."

I hope that you will be the reader that these books await.

[1985] Translated by Eliot Weinberger

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