Friday, July 11, 2014

Dreamtigers (Borges)

For at least a couple of years, I have been lazily hunting for Borges' Ficciones. I believe it was a reference in Alejandro Zambra's brilliant work Bonsai that triggered this search, something about a story that was so fantastic yet so touching.
Though this search has been futile so far, it took me to a section of the library which I had not yet visited. Why certain books need to be classified under World Literature, while books from the same authors find a place in the Adult Fiction section is beyond my comprehension - nevertheless this classification has opened a new spot for me in the library and I don't mind at all.

Even as I browsed through Dreamtigers, a collection of Borges' short pieces, my eyes fell on this and ensured I picked out the book:

To say goodbye to each other is to deny separation. It is like saying “today we play at separating, but we will see each other tomorrow.” Man invented farewells because he somehow knows he is immortal, even though he may seem gratuitous and ephemeral.

Delia, we will take up again–beside what river?–this uncertain dialogue, and we will ask each other if ever, in a city lost on a plain, we were Borges and Delia.
The book, which is a rather slim volume, is divided in two parts. Part I reads more like essays, short notes and outlines of some dreams, part II is all the above things put as poetry. There is also a very small part called Museum, which is a section tough for me to classify. Being far more inclined towards clearly expressed thoughts unconstrained by an unnatural form (read rhyme), I certainly had a preference for Part I. And even though it is a small collection, I largely skimmed through part II.

In this collection, if there is a running theme, it appears to be immortality & perpetuity. Borges seems  singularly preoccupied with the question of immortality and what comes after the end of life apparent. In this collection, he has put his dreams, hopes, memories and conflicts about immortality on paper. For instance, in a note called Borges & I he seems to contemplate whether the writer in him is falsifying and exaggerating his life to keep it alive in the form of Spanish literature for later:

It’s the other one, it’s Borges, that things happen to......It would be too much to say that our relations are hostile; I live, I allow myself to live, so that Borges may contrive his literature and that literature justifies my existence. I do not mind confessing that he has managed to write some worthwhile pages, but those pages cannot save me, perhaps because the good part no longer belongs to anyone, not even to the other one, but rather to the Spanish language or to tradition. Otherwise, I am destined to be lost, definitively, and only a few instants of me will be able to survive in the other one. Little by little I am yielding him everything, although I am well aware of his perverse habit of falsifying and exaggerating
It reminded me of Pamuk's memoirs in Istanbul, where he imagines another Orhan living elsewhere (you can find the extract here). Perhaps it is natural to writers that they create an alter ego. After all they split themselves into so many characters, that the feeling of otherness is almost a certainty.

In another piece, Borges again mentions the need for continuity, the perpetuity and how it might lead to a waste of life. It refers to the dying of Caesar, and how it repeats 19 centuries later:

Destiny takes pleasure in repetition, variants, symmetries: nineteen centuries later, in the south of the Province of Buenos Aires, a gaucho is attacked by other gauchos. As he falls he recognizes an adopted son of his and says to him with gentle reproof and slow surprise (these words must be heard, not read), “Pero che!” He is being killed, and he does not know he is dying so that a scene may be repeated.
I am not sure how tigers fit into this quest for perpetuity, but the poem the other tiger offers some clue. To Borges tiger is something otherworldly, something imagined through his reading of the encyclopaedia,  and through this tiger of the text, he dreams of the living tiger. In doing this, he wonders whether text can recreate life. With the imperfect tigers of his dreams, he is not convinced - and the same conflict hinted at in Borges & I seems to reappear here.

Interpretations aside, this book did make me think about afterlife, and the angst of not knowing the vastness that lies beyond. I will be coming back to this, and it is just as well that I have found all the pieces preserved at the floating library.