Thursday, 13 March 2014

“It only takes two facing mirrors to build a labyrinth.” - Borges








“I arrive now at the ineffable core of my story. And here begins my despair as a writer. All language is a set of symbols whose use among its speakers assumes a shared past. How, then, can I translate into words the limitless Aleph, which my floundering mind can scarcely encompass? Mystics, faced with the same problem, fall back on symbols: to signify the godhead, one Persian speaks of a bird that somehow is all birds; Alanus de Insulis, of a sphere whose center is everywhere and circumference is nowhere; Ezekiel, of a four-faced angel who at one and the same time moves east and west, north and south. (Not in vain do I recall these inconceivable analogies; they bear some relation to the Aleph.) Perhaps the gods might grant me a similar metaphor, but then this account would become contaminated by literature, by fiction. Really, what I want to do is impossible, for any listing of an endless series is doomed to be infinitesimal. In that single gigantic instant I saw millions of acts both delightful and awful; not one of them occupied the same point in space, without overlapping or transparency. What my eyes beheld was simultaneous, but what I shall now write down will be successive, because language is successive. Nonetheless, I'll try to recollect what I can.” 
― Jorge Luis Borges

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There's a rather nice link here to audio of Borges 1967/8 Norton lectures on poetry.

UBUWEB: These are the six Norton Lectures that Jorge Luis Borges delivered at Harvard University in the fall of 1967 and spring of 1968. The recordings, only lately discovered in the Harvard University Archives, uniquely capture the cadences, candor, wit, and remarkable erudition of one of the most extraordinary and enduring literary voices of our age. Through a twist of fate that the author of Labyrinths himself would have relished, the lost lectures return to us now in Borges' own voice.

Born in 1899, Borges was by this time almost completely blind (only a single color-- yellow, "the color of the tiger" -- remained for him), and thus addressed his audience without the aid of written notes. Probably the best-read citizen of the globe in his day, he draws on a wealth of examples from literature in modern and medieval English, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Greek, Latin, Arabic, Hebrew, and Chinese, speaking with characteristic eloquence on Plato, the Norse kenningar, Byron, Poe, Chesterton, Joyce, and Frost, as well as on translations of Homer, the Bible, and the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Though his avowed topic is poetry, Borges explores subjects ranging from prose forms (especially the novel), literary history, and translation theory, to philosophical aspects of literature in particular and communication in general. Throughout, Borges tells the very personal story of his lifelong love affair with the English language and its literature, ancient and modern. In each lecture, he gives us marvelous insights into his literary sensibility, tastes, preoccupations, and beliefs. 

Whether discussing metaphor, epic poetry, the origins of verse, poetic meaning, or his own "poetic creed," Borges gives a performance as entertaining as it is intellectually engaging. A lesson in the love of literature and language, this is a sustained personal encounter with a literary voice for whom the twentieth century will be long remembered. 

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