Within my own limited world this man survives as an enigmatic name mentioned on occasion without explanation in snatches of the fictive prose or philosophic poetry contained in two impressive Borgesian volumes, which sometimes strike me as more catalogs of all the books that literary voracity read, and a collection of the most adamantine quotes from those books, rather than the authoritative anthologies of essays or short stories these two impressive volumes purport to be. Like Penelope, Borges’ weaves his work not from any raw material but undoes it from great texts already produced. This example is from a spectacular essay entitled A History of Angels—
I always imagine them at nightfall, in the dusk of a slum or a vacant lot, in that long, quiet moment when things are gradually left alone, with their backs to the sunset, and when colors are like memories or premonitions of other colors.
If someone were to submit this excerpt to an “Imitate Borges” contest, and throw in a knife, a mirror, a library, a labyrinth, impersonality, a tiger, a gaucho, revenge, a rose, the word “infinite”, references to Norse Sagas and The Arabian Nights and Thomas Carlyle and Thomas De Quincey, and a self-undoing list, no judge could refuse him.
As for Macedonio Fernandez, one of Borges’ inspirations, and the ostensible subject of this note, he’s quoted briefly in the first essay in Non-Ficciones, in a daunting key to all subsequent texts entitled The Nothingness of Personality—
La realidad trabaja en abierto misterio.
[Reality works in overt mystery.]
I live in an Asian country, which is another way of saying that I am far from considering myself capable of critiquing translations of vernacular poetry into English, and often forget (in my state of seemingly typical American monolinguality) that I have studied Spanish enough to occasionally critique the English translations you sometimes find next to their delicate Spanish originals. I should add that I always do so with the most sophomoric temerity. Though I am no expert, abierto should read “open”—“Reality works in open mystery”—a quote that is itself a paraphrase of Heraclitus, probably the greatest philosopher, which states “The Lord whose oracle is at Delphi neither reveals nor conceals, but gives a sign.”
When I see the Spanish and English together, I pick the English apart, or question it ceaselessly, not trusting it as being true (or even superior) to the original; when I see the antiquity of the threads “warped in the textual wefts”, I cannot help but view Borges as a supreme synthesis, a living aleph, a ghost of symbolic geometry rapt in the glimmer of a candle, rather than something as petty as a mere writer or human being.