And Frame My Face To All OccasionsMonday, November 01, 2010
|Christopher Gaze as Richard III|
El Zahir usually is found in Borges’1949 El Aleph which is a collection of stories written during the five years before that. I do not have El Aleph (I will have to remedy this oversight quite soon) so I went to the library. They did not have El Aleph on the shelf but a collection called Labyrinths –Selected Stories and Other Writings by Jorge Luís Borges (Edited by Donald A. Yates & James E. Irby, A New Directions Book 1964) did have the story.
But I found something else, a short little piece which Borges wrote later in life. This one and others was extra short because of his blindness he had to dictate them from memory. I had never read the particual story I will add below.
I am acutely aware that thanks to facebook and Twitter (and earlier by email) we are now subjected and bombarded by:
“I saw this neat video. Check it out.”
“I read this article in the Guardian. It is really relevant.”
“Check out this rant on Obama!”
And so on. With the instant ability to link wit the touch of a button a generation of people are contributing (making, forming, composing) less and “air guitaring” their way as they attach themselves to the more famous and better known. Look at the stuff inserted into facebook on any day and you will know what I mean. Then if you like someone’s contribution you need not write, “Hey Robert I really like this!” All you need is to check the mark “I like this” and it magically appears as thumbs up without the need of putting anything of yourself on line (literally and figuratively).
I am not going to try to see myself as an exception to the “air guitaring” explosion in pointing out that I am not linking here to some site but I am actually copying out a story (and perhaps subject to copyright infringing and instant arrest by the Interpol folks).
But the fact is that when I read Everything and Nothing by Jorge Luís Borges I was blown away and I found myself wanting to instantly share it with those who might be reading this.
Everything and Nothing
There was no one in him; behind his face (which even through the bad paintings of those times resembles no other) and his words, which were copious, fantastic and stormy, there was only a bit of coldness, a dream dreamt by no one. At first he thought that all people were like him, but the astonishment of a friend to whom he had begun to speak of this emptiness showed him his error and made him feel always that an individual should not differ in outward appearance. Once he thought that in books he would find a cure for his ill and thus he learned the small Latin and less Greek a contemporary would speak of; later he considered that what he sought might well be found in an elemental rite of humanity, and he let himself be initiated by Anne Hathaway one long June afternoon. At the age of twenty-odd years he went to London. Instinctively he had already become proficient in the habit of simulating that he was someone, so that others would not discover his condition as no one; in London he found the profession to which he was predestined, that of the actor, who on a stage plays at being another before a gathering of people who play at taking him for that other person. His histrionic tasks brought him a singular satisfaction, perhaps the first he had ever known; but once the last verse had been acclaimed and the last dead man withdrawn from the stage, the hated flavor of unreality returned to him. He ceased to be Ferrex or Tamerlane and became no one again. Thus hounded, he took to imagining other heroes and other tragic fables. And so, while his flesh fulfilled its destiny as flesh in the taverns and brothels of London, the soul that inhabited him was Caesar, who disregards the augur’s admonition, and Juliet, who abhors the lark, and Macbeth, who converses on the plain with the witches who are also Fates. No one has been so many men as this man, who like the Egyptian Proteus could exhaust all the guises of reality. At times he would have a confession hidden away in some corner of his work, certain that it would not be deciphered; Richard affirms that in his person he plays the part of many and Iago claims with curious words, “I am not what I am.” The fundamental identity of existing, dreaming and acting inspired famous passages of his.
For twenty years he persisted in that controlled hallucination, but one morning he was suddenly gripped by the tedium and the terror of having been so many kings who die by the sword and so many suffering lovers who converge, diverge and melodiously expire. That very day he arranged to sell his theater. Within a week he had returned to his native village, where he recovered the trees and rivers of his childhood and did not relate them to others his muse had celebrated, illustrious with mythological allusions and Latin terms. He had to be someone; he was a retired impresario who had made his fortune and concerned himself with loans, lawsuits and petty usury. It was in this character that he dictated the arid will and testament know to us, from which he deliberately excluded all traces of pathos or literature. His friends from London would visit his retreat and for them he would take up again his role as poet.
History adds that before or after dying he found himself in the presence of God and told Him: “I who have been so many men in vain want to be one and myself.” The voice of the Lord answered from a whirlwind: “Neither am I anyone; I have dreamt the world as you dreamt your work, my Shakespeare, and among the forms in my dream are you, who like myself ar many and no one."
Jorge Luís Borges, translated by James E. Irby