Life and War with Mikey Fatboy Delgado
Monday, January 15, 2018
 
Reviews of Books We’ve Never Read ---- The Collected Fiction of Jorge Luis Borges


Borges makes sense of Trump

The Collected Fiction of Jorge Luis Borges /

reviewed unread by Kemoe Hopscotch

When the circus came to town when we were kids we wondered how they got
the posters advertising the circus onto the inside of the front windows and onto
the inside of the glass doors of the abandoned shops and the closed-down shops
and the repossessed shops and the bankrupt shops and every other empty shop
in our small town.

All the mail and the flyers that had been delivered to the shops since they’d failed
and closed was still littering the floor. No footsteps could be seen in the dust that
had accumulated on the floors since the closures, but someone had somehow
managed to get in and put these posters up on the other side of the glass. We had
a strange guy who used to hang around with us who even then at that age had
plenty of theories that he presented as fact. He said there was a circus man who
could float through keyholes. That, he was confident, was how it was done.
He said the guy was called The Wisp. Many years later I remembered, apropos
of nothing, in the midst of a day, that that kid’s home had three or four paintings
by Chagall on the walls of different rooms.

Another kid I knew, a kid who in later life became fond of repeating that all that
is solid melts into air, disagreed. He said that the explanation was simpler, the
explanation was that the circus could get in anywhere it damn well liked when
it came to town with its horses and horseshit, its cages of drugged animals, its
poisonous warmed-over interval snacks, its fat ladies and bearded ladies, its
clowns, its dwarfs, its colours and flags, its bully boys who stop you getting
in without a ticket, its man who tells big lies about the greatest show on earth
and its woman who tells big lies about the greatest show on earth. I wish I could
tell you that on the walls of his house there was some of Edward Hopper’s stuff.
I don’t know though. I think I would have remembered, even from then.

But how could they get the keys to these shops? That’s what interested the pragmatists
among us. It was a mystery even above the mysteries in that poem I’ve also never
read - that poem that some people you meet in life like to talk about, that poem by
that guy Prévert. People who’ve actually read the poem tell me that Prévert
numbers among the mysteries of the earth the river at Morlaix, the little canal at
Ourq, the masters of the world with their priests and their troops, the wonder
of people themselves, and finally the straw of misery rotting in the steel of cannons.
Somehow, even at this distance, it seems to me to be right not to have read that man’s
poem if among his litany of mysteries of the earth he has discounted this one, this of
the appearance of the circus posters in the abandoned premises of people whose
hopes or grandiose plans didn’t survive, whose dreams and schemes became piles
of letters with no one to read them, fronted by posters featuring a girl in a white
sequinned tutu, and a lovely face with a whitetooth smile, standing upright on the
back of a drugged horse, with one hand on her hips and the other arm crooked at the
elbow, and a flat hand with outstretched palm, as if asking permission (for what?)
of all who gazed at her.

And now here we still are in our small town, and now we are old, and the circus has
been and gone again and the mystery repeats itself still. It was cold again today
but the sun shone, and on the way to buy food to feed my family I noticed that the
red-bordered door of the bankrupt butcher’s shop still has a circus poster on the
other side of the glass. So does the toyshop that failed six months ago, and so
does the repossessed tanning shop, and so does the Thai restaurant whose owners
fled before arrest. And sometime in the coming months there will occur, I know,
the other mystery, the mystery of the removal of the circus posters, as if someone
in the future will be sent back from the far-receded circus to collect up those
posters, without disturbing the growing piles of mail and dust on the other side
of the plate glass doors. Among the many wonders of the world then, this, of
the display and the collection of circus posters from the windows of failed enterprises.
In my time I have never seen them being installed and I have never seen them being
removed. It has the air of a trick. It is worthy of a magic show. I have, as you
see, sometimes wondered how it’s done. I hope I never find out. Who knows where
the kid whose parents liked Chagall is these days, now that he too is old. Who knows
where the kid is who thought that a spectre is haunting Europe. Who knows what
mysteries have been resolved for them, or renewed, or receded. But I know what the
guy who haunts the second-hand bookshops in our small town thinks. He thinks
if I read Borges I will find out, and I don’t want to find out, I don’t want to know
how the magic is done, I don’t want to look at the back of the tapestry to see the
gathered threads.

I haven’t known the guy who haunts the second-hand bookshops of our small town
for long but already when I am out in the streets I am adopting a thousand yard stare
so I can avoid him if I see him in the distance. I am not being unsociable for the sake
of it. I asked him how he knew so much about Borges. He said quite correctly that
what I meant was why did he tell me about Borges. He said think of me as a deus ex
machina
. In our small town that is not a usual response to either a question or an
observation. Even before he continued I knew that to deepen acquaintance with him
would be foolish but I would have to endure this one meeting until I could find a
moment to tap him on the arm and say yes yes and take my leave. Imagine, he
suggested, to walk through a small town like this, through the centre of a town
where all of us are visible, all known by sight at least, and imagine resting on a
bench, one of the benches that are situated at intervals all over this town, or to sit
at one of our café tables in sunlight, and to read, simply to read and to feel that
one may weep at a sentence of Borges, to weep at a short run of words which he has
fashioned into a mirror in front of which you are caught, and in front of which it
occurs to you to muse on what events have brought you to this moment. Or perhaps
it is a small run of words which deliver a memory of a love that was terminated by
the other, or a run of words that sees you placing Borges on the table, or beside you
on the bench, to recall the life of a parent or an animal that was terminated by whatever
process was allotted to that intersection between your life and theirs. And imagine you
look up from the book as you sit at the bench or the café table in sunlight and the world
has become other than it was when you first sat down, and no colour is the same, and
nothing is the same, and no one is the same.

This is why I haven’t read The Collected Fiction of Jorge Luis Borges and why I will
continue not to read it. I don’t want to know how magic is done. The mystery, I tell
myself, to hide behind an explanation, is poetry. Explanation is prose, and too often
it is couched in the genre of horror. Whether or not people think deeply about their
existence, and about what is in their own interests, is another mystery. Some say
yes, some say no, some say (having thought about it) that the act of thinking
and the conclusions drawn from thinking are in any case illusory. When I hear
these latter people I recoil inside and think to myself these people have read Borges.

Many people whose lives are lived in almost identical circumstances to those of other
people also think they think, but nevertheless they draw different conclusions from the
same shared experiences. These conclusions may, to the dissenting concluders in the
group, seem to cause them to act against their own interests. Some people think that
this must surely indicate a pathology. Some people think that it is safe to allow the
election of those who will make decisions on their behalf, if not necessarily in their
interests (as they broadly judge their interests to be). The goal of these elections is
in part at least to mollify all shades of people who do not agree with each other. So
periodically the circus comes to town and, oh my townspeople!, the mystery of the
posters reoccurs, followed within the month by the coming of the horses themselves,
and the horseshit, the cages of drugged animals, the poisonous warmed-over interval
snacks, the fat ladies and bearded ladies, the clowns, the dwarfs, the colours and flags,
the bully boys who stop you getting in without a ticket, the man who tells big lies
and the woman who tells big lies. They tell big lies in plain sight, from the centre of
the ring. In any other existence where the brains of people do not act as reducing
valves this would seem outrageous. Among us though, among the many mysteries
of the earth including the river at Morlaix, and the little canal at Ourq, and the masters
of the world with their priests and their troops, and the wonder of people themselves,
and finally the straw of misery rotting in the steel of cannons, this all passes for
normal. Few are shocked, few are surprised. Only those with damaged reducing valves
acknowledge much of a rise in blood pressure. “The world is as it is,” says the
bookshop haunter. “The world is exactly as it is.”

Maybe a reason for not reading The Collected Fiction of Jorge Luis Borges may be
compared to previous reading mistakes which, at circus time, come back to haunt
us. Let’s say, to choose one, Appelfeld’s Badenheim 1939 for instance, may be
considered one such mistake. In other words, what if it were a terrible failure of
judgement to pick up Borges as if his name were merely a noun meaning “one
who writes”, as if it was something to do to pass the time, as if it was a momentary
escape into solitude, a momentary escape into being with ourselves. And what if
the innocent picks him up and reads him and discovers there that this madness of the
circus is not just explicable but utterly normal. What if inside the pages he finds Borges
holding up a person in one hand and displaying a ballot paper in the other and he
proceeds to dash one against the other? What if unheeding madness is the default state,
coupled with an unnoticed incomprehension, and bewilderment? What if at the supposed
height of feeling, at a time of rapt attention to beauty, to Bach, to Chopin, to any number
of painters, to rooms reduced to weeping by a passage of sounds, what if the reducing
valve of our brains collectively acts up and urges culls? What if people start up again
about the necessity for hunting humans, what if the country has developed to the point
where the best it has to offer is a ludicrous binary, what if the man who lies and the
woman who lies are taken seriously by anyone, what if one of them wins the key to the
circus’s ticket office safe? What if that’s why Borges comments and doesn’t preach? What
if he tells a story that goes not only from end to end but also from side to side, and then
beyond those sides which he makes clear are, anyway, always moving away from us.
What if that is why his name isn’t to be found among the condemners of the generals?

I have seen myself in one of these alternate universes, if that is what they are, or parallel
universes, if that is what they are, or senseless realities, if that is what they are, and if I
continue not to read The Collected Fiction of Jorge Luis Borges I can hope that my
reducing valve will continue to work and irreality will remain hidden and I can imagine
reading some story of his that I will never read. Let’s say I will imagine reading
his last story, Shakespeare’s Memory, and in the reality where I am reading this story I
am one of the visible eccentrics in our small town, the kind that will read a book as he
walks along the street on the way to buy food to feed his family, the kind that will note
as he passes the bankrupt butcher’s old shop (inside which a slab of sunlight is framing
the piles of letters with no one to read them, on the other side of the glass door) and what
if I will be so enraptured that life can be like this, that a man can read the thoughts of
another man about possessing the memory of yet another man, that I am easy prey for
what happens next. And what happens next is that, by way of a simple short run of
words, a door opens.

Let’s say it is the door of that butcher’s shop we have already mentioned. And from that
door emerges a man. And it is cold today but the sun is shining and that huge slab of
light from the sun is cast across the floor of that abandoned butcher’s shop. The sunlight
has streamed unimpeded through the glass of the door and windows because today they
are clear of circus posters. And perched opened in my left hand, like a thick-winged
bird, is The Collected Fiction of Jorge Luis Borges opened at that last story that the blind
Borges ever dictated, and under the arm of a man emerging from the abandoned butcher’s
shop are the circus posters. And what if I look at the man’s face and it is identical to mine?
And my reducing valve fails to protect me, it registers that this matter – the matter of the
sun and the window and the posters and the man - has occurred. And what if I am unsettled,
and I continue to read as I walk along the street through our town, like one of the visible
eccentrics of our town, before I can avert my eyes from the page

And what if I too have caught sight of the mysteries of the world, I too have caught
sight of how Trump was elected, and of how Clinton was offered as a ludicrous
alternative to a ludicrous proposition. I have caught sight of how this happens and
how this will always happen. I have caught sight of our fate, from end to end and, worse,
from side to side. I have caught sight of chaos and foolishness and determinism, and because
I have only imagined reading Borges my reducing valve has saved me and the posters have
gone and I still believe in magic and I still haven’t bothered to try to track down the page
of that book, the bookshop haunter’s other obsession, which has Ruskin saying that it all
went wrong when the first man put a fence around a plot of earth. And that is why I can
be one of the visible eccentrics of our town, because I don’t know the truth, because on
my way to buy food for my family I don’t read from a book as I walk along, and I don’t
weep at the terrible truth laid out in a short run of words. And I haven’t noticed as I
lingered in sunlight
that the open book in the woman’s hand over there by the fountains
in the centre of our small town is The Collected Fiction of Jorge Luis Borges, and as I
stand in that same sunlight I haven’t heard her reading aloud to the wheelchair-bound invalid,
and the scene hasn’t put me in mind of some scene from Russian literature or conjured a
recollection of voices at dusk on the terrace of the Winter Palace hotel in Luxor as the hills
of West Thebes turn purple in the dying light. And I haven’t, upon hearing her read a
sentence of what seems to me to be pure beauty, pure truth, immediately felt a sob rise in
my throat, and wondered if it is really a sob or if it isn’t a barely silent scream escaping or
an oh my god or the catching of myself in front of the mirror of that one sentence. And
I won’t be puzzled for days. I will take home the food I have bought to feed my family,
and someone will say who won and someone else will say how that makes them feel
and the world will be exactly as it is and what will happen tomorrow will be only what
can possibly happen.

And that is why I haven’t read The Collected Fiction of Jorge Luis Borges and why
you shouldn’t read it either.

--

Kemoe unreviewing Bolaño
http://www.pretendgenius.com/review.html

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