Tag: Jorge Luis Borges

Blue Tigers

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Today WWF issued a report on tigers.  Among other distressing items, there is this:

More tigers are kept in captivity in the U.S. than are left in the wild — and there are few regulations to keep these tigers from ending up on the black market. The largest numbers of captive tigers are in Texas (an estimated 3,000+), but they are also kept in other states

Impossible Things, Things Like Health Care

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Jorge Luis Borges (photo by Diane Arbus)

Some of Jorge Luis Borges’s stories seem to be mined from that deep dream filled gap between being awake and being asleep. It’s a magical space: vivid events occur that are at once as real as they are impossible. If the sleeper wakes, sometimes the impossibilities are revealed. And then there’s wondering: how could anything that defies physical reality appear to be so real.

In “The Disk,” a story from The Book of Sand (El Libro de Arena)(1975), the impossible object is the “disk of Odin”:

“It is the disk of Odin,” the old man said in a patient voice, as though he were speaking to a child. “It has but one side. There is not another thing on earh that has but one side. So long as I hold it in my hand I shall be king.”

Ordinarily, objects are in three dimensions. Here one appears that has only a single side. Of course, it would be more or less invisible. And physically impossible on earth.

This, of course, is not entirely correct. The Moebius strip, discovered in 1858, has only one side and one boundary component. But that’s not important to the story.

The person with the disk eventually “opened his hand, and [the narrator] saw the gleam of the disk in the air.” But when he returned to where the disk was released, he couldn’t find it. And he’s been looking for it for years. In other words, the disk of Odin vanishes like a dream.

This kind of impossibility sometimes possesses far larger objects.

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Italo Calvino

Italo Calvino tells us of this “Invisible City”:

When you have forded the river, when you have crossed the mountain pass, you suddenly find before you the city of Moriana, its alabaster gates transparent in the sunlight, its coral columns supporting pediments encrusted with serpentine, its villas all of glass like aquariums where the shadows of dancing girls with silvery scales swim beneath the Medusa-shaped chandeliers. If this is not your first journey, you already know that cities like this have an obverse: you have only to walk a semi-circle and you will come into view of Moriana’s hidden face, an expanse of rusting sheet metal, sack cloths, planks bristling with spikes, pipes black with soot, piles of tins, behind walls with fading signs, frames of staved-in straw chairs, ropes good only for hanging oneself from a rotten beam.

   From one part to the other, the city seems to continue, in perspective, multiplying its repertory of images: but instead it has no thickness, it consists only of a face and an obverse, like a sheet of paper, with a figure on either side, which can neither be separated nor look at each other.

Alas, the city is a two dimensional solid, another escapee from the chasm between waking and dreaming.

In the moments between sleep and wakefulness these objects seem tangible to me. The city is flat, but it’s a city. The disk glimmers. I know I’m dreaming, but I try to remember to hold onto the dream so that I will be able to examine it more fully when I am awake. But as I awake, as my sleep falls away, the fallacy arises, and the object I am clenching so tightly in my fist, disappears. What was it? I wonder, how could that be? What was that? But it’s gone.

All of this is so reminiscent of the Lankavatara Sutra, “Things are not as they appear, nor are they otherwise.”

Which brings me ever so reluctantly to the elusive dream of a national, single payer health care system.  In the dream, I am drinking rum and playing dominoes.  Somehow, my empty glass falls off the table, lands on the cement walkway, and shatters.  Somehow, probably because of the drinking and the kidding around, I cut my hand deeply on the glass when I try to pick up the shards.  My hand hurts and it is bleeding badly.  My friends are surprised that there’s so much blood, so they wrap my hand in a bandage, and we head on foot for the emergency room which is luckily only two blocks away.  When we enter, a man sitting at a desk says to me and my friends, “I see you’ve cut your hand.  Please come with me so we can take care of it.”  And then, mirabile dictu, he does.  Just like that.  I’m out of the hospital in 20 minutes with 3 stitches and a nice, white bandage.  It seems strange to me.  Nobody asks me questions about insurance or citizenship.  They don’t ask me to pay for anything.  When I wake up, I realize it was a dream.  It was impossible. I must have been in Cuba.

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cross-posted from The Dream Antilles

Wonderful Writers You Might Not Have Heard Of: Cesar Aira

cross posted from The Dream Antilles

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Cesar Aira

Maybe this should be an occasional series.  I don’t really know how many wonderful, creative Latin American writers’ works I have come to admire, but which have received completely insufficient notice in the US. These would include works by writers with too few English translations, and works revered in their writers’ own countries, but virtually unknown to US readers.  The authors of these works, like the one in this essay, are the writers you might not have heard of.

Wiki tells the basics about Cesar Aira:

C├ęsar Aira (born on February 23, 1949 in Coronel Pringles, Buenos Aires Province) is an Argentine writer and translator, considered by many as one of the leading exponents of Argentine contemporary literature, in spite of his limited public recognition.

He has published over fifty books of stories, novels and essays. Indeed, at least since 1993 a hallmark of his work is an almost frenetic level of writing and publication, two to four novella-length books each year.

Aira has often spoken in interviews of elaborating an avant-garde aesthetic in which, rather than editing what he has written, he engages in a “flight forward” (fuga hacia adelante) to improvise a way out of the corners he writes himself into. Aira also seeks in his own work, and praises in the work of others (such as the Argentine-Parisian cartoonist and comic novelist Copi), the “continuum” (el continuo) of a constant movement forward in the fictional narrative. As a result his fictions can jump radically from one genre to another, and often deploy narrative strategies from popular culture and “subliterary” genres like pulp science fiction and television soap operas; on the other hand, he frequently deliberately refuses to conform to generic expectations for how a novel ought to end, leaving many of his fictions quite open-ended.

Hello Cruel World: My Plan For Tuesday And Thereafter

Somebody once told me that yawning was a sign of contempt.  So pardon me while I yawn about the Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Indiana primaries and any other ones that might be coming.  And pardon me while I yawn about those anti-democratic superdelegates and their views  And the polling.  And the delegate counts.  And the diaries about people who won’t vote for Obama.  Or Hillary.  And the diaries about how wonderful Hillary is.  And Obama.  And the speculation about the remaining endorsements (Al Gore, John Edwards, Mr. Magoo).  And the talk about the recent ABC “debate.”  And the talk about the brokered/open convention.  This stuff has turned into something stronger than SominexTM.  I’m yawning uncontrollably.  I’m amazed, however, that my yawn apparently isn’t triggering widespread yawns across the country, throughout left Blogsylvania, and beyond.

I have intense, incurable primary fatigue.  My span of attention expired weeks and weeks ago, when it was clear to me that Obama would and should be the nominee and that Hillary was too powerful with insiders and attachment just to stop campaigning.  I don’t care if it was clear to the candidates, because despite the obvious circumstances Hillary isn’t dropping out of anything.  And so, she slogs on.  Slogging tomorrow through Pennsylvania, and on to the next bog.  And those of us in the typing classes, what about us?  She can slog all she wants,but I’m done with this.  Done until there’s a nominee.  Finished until after the convention.  And I don’t want to hear anything more about it until the primary race is over.

I’m yawning so hard my jaw and my temples hurt.  And so I’m going on to the next things.  Of cours, I’m inviting you all to come with me.  In that way this is a Hello Cruel World Diary, a diary in which we step back from the screen and look around at the world outside it.

*Baseball season is underway.  When you watch or listen to the game, it’s about balls and strikes and mostly about making outs.  The strategy has been the same for a century.  Let’s play ball. Going to the ballpark is great.  Even sitting in front of the TV is fine.  Listening on the radio is old school.  And you know what?  They never mention the primaries.  Perfect.

*I’m returning to reading short stories by Jorge Luis Borges.  Two I love are The Zahir and its opposite, The Aleph.  These are particularly good now, because last week, unbeknownst to us in the US Buenos Aires was smothered in smoke.  We didn’t know about this, did we.  Why?  Well, it’s the primary season and our world view (like the Zahir) appears to have become locked on Pennsylvania to the exclusion of the rest of the Universe, especially Argentina, which we ignore even on a good day.

*I’m stepping away from the keyboard and going for a long walk.  With my dog.  Yesterday, I heard a bullfrog for the first time this Spring season.  If I had been sitting at the keyboard, as I am now, I would have missed this.  Or forgotten it.  Or assumed that it was just something else I wasn’t paying attention to.  Yesterday, I was wondering why my dog seemed slightly forlorn.  Maybe it was because she doesn’t give a damn about the primaries and would rather look for rabbits.  And to do that, she prefers to have me along to stir them up.  

*For now, I’m avoiding all essays and diaries about the candidates.  I’m going to go back to reading and writing about other stuff.  Latin America.  Torture.  The law.  Anything but the primaries.

I invite you all to join me.  Enough is certainly enough.  I know I can be a good an excellent Progressive by turning my attention elsewhere.  And I’m going to do just that.

Profiles in Literature: Jorge Luis Borges

Greetings, literature-loving Dharmiacs! (or whatever you’re called)  Last week we danced with the Dame of Amherst and found that she had a few crafty tricks up her embroidered sleeve.  This week we’ll continue with our theme of mind-twisting literature, but we’ll first relocate to a slightly warmer climate:

The setting is Buenos Aires, the time is the 20th century.  A blind seer is guiding us around the labyrinthine National Library, spinning yarns on everything from gauchos to Gargantua.  But how much of it is true, and how much of it is a devilish game?  Have we been wandering around a library with no exit?…

Follow me below through the twisted paths of Argentina’s most famous fabulist.