The Day Borges Blew Up My Head


This week, at the urging of David Foster Wallace, I read two stories by Jorge Luis Borges: ‘The God’s Script’ and ‘The Immortal’. In the same way I will always remember where I was and what I was doing when Princess Diana was killed, I will always remember sitting at that Glenferrie Road café, killing time in between clients on a grey mid-morning when I read those two stories.

I have read a great many things which have astonished me with their beauty, insight or their ability to instantaneously fling open doors to entire dimensions of my psyche, but never before have I felt as if my head had been physically split open by what was inside of it. I was unable to speak, or perhaps it is better to say, unwilling.

I texted a friend of mine, a great reader who had probably read them, also: “I have just read two stories by Borges. I am literally struck dumb with amazement’. What I wanted to do was rush out of the café into the street and howl at the top of my lungs; “All of you must immediately stop what you’re doing because it does not matter! You must read this NOW!”

Both stories are very short; one is five pages’ long, and the other is ten. I am embarrassed to admit that I have had these stories in my possession now for eighteen years; I was assigned to read the collection Labyrinths in first-year literature at university, but didn’t. I think I read the first one and, having failed to understand it, resentfully tossed the book aside and went to the pub.

David Foster Wallace wrote a review of Borges: A Life by Edwin Williamson for the New York Times. He hated the book, complaining that Williamson had sought to reduce Borges’ project to a personal agenda driven by a number of failed romances that had eventually blossomed into the stories he wrote. Wallace argued this was absolutely not the case.

Borges sought to create stories that would be ‘incorporated, like the fables of Theseus or Ahaseurus, into the general memory of the species and even transcend the fame of their creator or the extinction of the language in which they were written.” (Borges’ words).

Wallace goes on to say that, “Borges is a mystic… human thought, behaviour and history are all the product of one big mind… elements of an immense kabbalistic Book that includes its own decoding.” (Both Flesh and Not, p.288)

I write about the experience of reading these stories not to provide insight, but to encourage you to read them, too. The sensation of reading them, in many ways, is like traversing a mobius strip; you think you’re right side up, but then you discover that through some trick of perspective (in which your eyes have been participating), you’re actually hanging upside down. And then, at the last page, the whole thing snaps like an elastic band and flings you not into free-fall, but into orbit.

The effect of speechlessness in the Glenferrie Road cafe, if ‘The God’s Script’ is any indication, would have pleased Borges immensely.

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