Tag Archives: Jorge Luis Borges

Fairy of Fate

As my only answer, I let my head drop on his heart, as I had so often done in my dreams.
-María Luisa Bombal, House of Mist (53)


What took place after that was unquestionably the most tragic experience any woman in love could have had to endure in all her life. (63)

Every morning among my emails a question of the day for SAT practice appears. I only have a couple of weeks left, I really need to practice the math but about three to one are grammar and vocabulary questions. My 17 year-old son and I will take the test together, which delights me and somewhat dulls the anticipated pain.

The other fun part of taking the test is the seemingly random literary references that appear in the grammar sections. Either a Roberto Bolaño reference is wildly inappropriate for teenagers, or perfect. I can’t quite decide.

One of the questions involved the Chilean author María Luisa Bombal. I was intrigued enough to hunt her down. It wasn’t effortless. The librarians I work for relieved me of some of my bottomless ignorance- where I had thought I was doing sweeping state-wide searches for books, I had in fact been trapped in a small consortium of libraries. I was so happy to discover this, that when I went back into the stacks, to finish the shelves I was meant to dust and “read” for accuracy of order, I put my headphones on and danced.

So, victory! I finally found Bombal in the U.S. Coast Guard library of all places. That’s the odd path that led me to this writer. I love an odd path.

“So Serena is engaged?” I inquired, just for the pleasure of repeating their sister’s lovely name.

What a wonderful detail – just for the pleasure of repeating.…. Initially I was unsure what to make of the child-like voice of the heroine, but it’s a beautifully fresh if odd voice. There is a sad mysteriousness at the heart of the tale, the first being how she could possible love the beastly Daniel. But even there I am sympathetic, the arrow of  love is a powerful force and does leave one a defenseless child of Eros. It’s cruel. The book is like a fairy tale – brutal, nostalgic, magical, with a child’s profound capacity for fear and passion.

The word “fairy” can be etymologically traced to the Latin  Fata, the Goddess of fate. Fate is a strange concept: whether or not we are resisting or yielding to something that is real is a plaguing question. Are we fated to be loved or unloved? It’s convenient to think so –it’s not me, it’s fate– is a salve on the heart of the miserable. Never the less, everyone knows fairy tales end happily. Everyone also knows that fairy tales don’t exist -except between the covers of the pages.

And it happened that in spite of myself, I was beginning to hear the precise working of this destructive rhythm hidden at the center of life.
Tic-tac! I could hear, out there in the abandoned tower, the books in the enormous library shriveling up, turning yellow, being blotted out, collapsing in rows…(74)

Life as a library is a favorite theme of mine. Here it is almost a metaphor for being an unloved woman. Bombal was known for writing stories about women who escaped their lives into a dream world ( according to the SATs). Her life took an extraordinarily odd path as well:  there was her suicide attempt, her near murder of one husband (probably had it coming as he didn’t share her love of literature), friendships with Neruda and Borges- is it any wonder that she keeps the story on half-footing in and about reality?

And that night I knew love…that love of which I had had only a glimpse through Daniel’s taciturn passion, the love that gives and receives…the love that is knowledge, exaltation, tenderness… (115)

I confess, I became absorbed in the story.  The orphaned heroine is quite lovely and grows on the reader. Like me, she roots for the love story, even when it is not her own. The Beauty and Beast heart of the tale is complicated by the loose boundaries of the mind. The heroine remains throughout the entire story pure in her love. It seems a fragile, childish thing, but the force of it is unrelenting.

Called La última niebla in Spanish, (which, correct me if I’m wrong, translates as The last mist) still, as a title, The House of Mist works, all fairy tales need a house –  the starting point of the collusion by collision of our inner and outer worlds that clouds our view and tangles the path.

For now, now I knew all was but a dream, life to me seemed no more than a long, dull, purposeless road along which in time I would become old and die without having known love (162)

unwind the web


The night assigns us its magic
task. To unravel the universe,
the infinite ramifications
of effects and causes, all lost
in that bottomless vertigo, time.
Tonight the night wants you to forget
your name, your elders and your blood,
every human word and every tear,
what you would have learned from staying awake,
the illusory point of the geometricians,
the line, the plane, the cube, the pyramid,
the cylinder, the sphere, the sea, the waves,
your cheek on the pillow, the coolness
of the fresh sheet, gardens,
empires, the Caesars and Shakespeare
and the hardest thing of all, what you love.
Oddly enough, a pill can
erase the cosmos and erect chaos.
— Jorge Luis Borges.

Charleston. Short Story.

I have spent the last week in Charleston, South Carolina, a beautiful city if ever there was one. I was visiting my aunt and uncle: enjoying their city and most especially their company.

It all began with William Trevor. Both my aunt and uncle have an earnest ardor for books. My uncle has a passion, in particular,  for short stories and thought I would enjoy the subtle poignancy of William Trevor. I read Teresa’s Wedding and was a convert. Office Romance, Afternoon Dancing, and the ironic Last Wishes all quietly shinning a light on some of life’s saddest aspects.
What could easily have passed for massive door weights, were two volumes presented enthusiastically to me of V.S. Prichett essays and short stories. The essays were almost exclusively about writers and were wonderful. I just had to read his story entitled Sense of Humor, how could I pass up a title like that? I could not. Lovely reading all.

Things to do when you’re not reading:

Charleston is a beautiful city, surrounded by rivers, lakes and of course the ocean. Sea kayaking  is a beautiful sport that my uncle loves. The zeal with which people embrace kayaking is infectious. I innocently believed that one simply got in the water and paddled, hopefully in a forward direction at will. Oh dear me no! There are strokes to learn, techniques to master, celebrity paddlers to marvel over, and don’t even get started on the rolling. It’s one of the those wonderful (if sneakily expensive) activities that offers endless permutations and advancement, but at each stage a full measure of enjoyment can be drawn. A most excellent sport that captures (by the hips) the primordial pleasure of gliding across a surface.

“He tasted the almost preverse pleasure of disengaging himself line by line.” – Continuity of Parks, Julio Cortázar

Next we were onto South American writers. My uncle was a professor of Languages (Spanish and Portuguese). A mutual admiration of Jorge Luis Borges led to Julio Cortázar’s wonderful short stories Axolotl, Letter to a Young Lady in Paris, Continuity of Parks, The Night Face Up, Blow-up, and my favorite, The Yellow Flower. His stories are presented with a light tone that belie the metaphysical under-notes that linger.

Other sights to see:

Charleston has America’s only tea plantation. What look like endless rows of perfectly manicured hedges are tea bushes which get a haircut every 20  days by something called the “green monster,” it brings the top leaves in for processing. After chopping up the leaves it’s just 50 minutes oxidation for black tea, 15 for oolong and naught for green. Maybe it’s not so puerile, simply an evocation of watching Mister Rogers factory tours as a child delighting in the hidden processes, but learning about these sorts of things brings out a certain…elation in me. We all really enjoyed the tour.
A fruit is nothing
picked out of season.
Even a brute’s praise
won’t stand to reason.  – Antonio Machado (Proverbs and Songs #5)

The weekly market on the downtown green was a wonderful finish to a week spent enjoying some of the fantastic food and restaurants that Charleston is known for. The flowers, fruits and vegetables in all their colorful bounty exemplifying all that is wonderful about the south.

Walking the piquant streets of the city with my aunt, lounging on the beach, visiting the Gibbes Museam of Art where we saw the incredible skill of artist Mary Whyte (Working South watercolors) and  wonderful, whimsical, mysterious photographs of Traditional African American Gardens of the South by Vaughn Sills, coming back each day to sit, chat and read enjoying the lovely order of my aunt’s home- her former life as a master (doctorate, in fact) librarian the leading aesthetic which, naturally, I keenly appreciate-

“I who always imagined Paradise
To be a sort of library.” – from The Gifts, by Jorge Luis Borges

The wonderful abiding quality of short stories is the condensed presentation of feeling and ideas. Every moment matters, every tone has purpose and meaning. These very same attributes define the ideal vacation. If you are lucky enough to visit a beautiful spot in the world generously hosted with love, intelligence and grace, then you, as I,  have experienced the perfect short story. Edited to perfection.

A las palabras de amor
les sienta bien su poquito
de exageración. 

– Songs, Antonio Machado

For words of love
a bit of exaggeration
feels good.

“Angel Oak”

but I never exaggerate.
Here is some incredible music that has nothing to do with South Carolina apart from my first hearing it there:

Your Venial Versatile Blogger Nominee

Straight to the after party!
pastel drawing by Victoria Accardi

I was nominated for an award here in the little world of wordpress bloggydom, but typically I failed to comprehend that this meant that I was nominated for an award. I’m a bit slow. I hate to be churlish and so will try to comply gratefully to the requirements of acceptance. Gee, my long awaited imaginary Oscar speech….

Thank you mofman for the nomination. You can see his beautiful and informative blog here: http://themofman.wordpress.com/about/

Just as I pictured, my mind goes blank, the words don’t come, I stand helplessly holding the gold statue looking stupidly at the camera as the time clock runs down. Say something idiot! My mind races, I’m overwhelmed: it’s possible I suddenly love everyone and have a burning desire to thank them all and their little dogs too. Don’t be an ass. I’ll try. Keep it simple. Okay, focus, where was I?  oh shit no more time…Thanks ever so, I’m so..very…very…

And my 15 nominees in no order are-
















Rules of engagement: Thank person who nominated you. Nominate 15 bloggers. Tell person who nominated you 7 things about yourself –

1) “He loved books; books are remote but reliable friends” Les Misérable, Victor Hugo

2) “Doubts of all things earthly, and intuitions of some things heavenly; this combination makes neither believer nor infidel, but makes a man who regards them both with an equal eye.”  Herman Melville (Moby Dick)

3) “Better to have a bitter happiness than a grey dull life.”  Stalker (film)

4) “Between the desire and the spasm, between the essence and the descent.” TS Elliot

5) “Nothing is worth anything except through it” – Camus

6) “Love, according to the inmost laws  of its being, ever desires the illimitable, all finiteness, all moderation, is repugnant, intolerable to it.”  Stefan Zweig

7) “Let your enormous library be justified.” Jorge Luis Borges

Labyrinths of my Solitude

“I see that the pious Hsi P’êng persists in correcting my solitude”
The Garden of Forking Paths, Jorge Luis Borges

snow on moss labyrinth

As I mentioned, I am reading 2666 by Roberto Bolaño. It was a swell start, apart from the sore wrist I have from carrying the leviathan around.  Entertaining, fascinating characters, the incestuous world of academia, cynical reporters, police officers, and a half deranged professor all circling around a reclusive German writer and the horrific events in Santa Teresa, Mexico. A whole world of weirdness, weird enough to be highly likely.

And then there was part 4: The Part About The Crimes.
By the end of this nearly 300 hundred page section my jaw is tired from bearing down to get through it. I kept having this reoccurring thought as I read it – what would it have been like to have written this? At least my eye could occasionally skim the in-numerous rapes, body parts, rotting corpses, and chillingly placed shoe or panties. But when one writes, they are not afforded such a luxury. One is forced to linger on the words and imagery that pile up in heaps. It’s rough.
So when my philosophy teacher assigned us in his quasi-homeschooling-the-information-is-here-for-the-taking-if-you-are-interested-but-it’s-not-necessarily-anything-to-me-whether-you-are-or-you-are-not-it’s-your-own-mind-to-do-what-you-will-drink-horse-or-don’t way, a short story by Jorge Luis Borges – I did not need to be coaxed. Get me the hell out of Santa Teresa for 10 minutes PLEASE.

It took a little more than 10 minutes, not least of all because he did not give us the correct title. I am 99.3% certain he meant for us to read Fuñes the Memorious because it is on point to our in-class discussion. I am now completly transported into Borges Labyrinths. Furthermore, I can no longer see the point of a philosophy class without Borges being required reading. My professor seemed to suddenly come upon this idea yesterday as well, hence the impetuous assignment. But I could see designing a syllabus around these stories, they seem to me a sort of applied philosophical literature. The class might look something like:

Metaphysical primary conditions (what is real?): Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius
What is the mind?: Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote
Western Religious Thought: The Library of Babel
Free will: The Garden of Forking Paths
What is Intelligence?: Fuñes the Memorious

And so on…I’m sure someone has thought of this already and much more competently than I. But I would love to take such a class. Anyone who conceives of the universe as a library and man as an imperfect librarian is all right in my book. The complexity and beauty with which these stories are written is mind boggling and so far, only one murder and time spent if not correcting my solitude, (I given up on correcting that) at least correcting…something. Hopefully some of my more deleterious character traits are not yet beyond the reach of correction. Oh that’s right, I’ve given up on hope too. Damn. “As was natural, this inordinate hope was followed by an excessive depression.”*
Mr. Archimboldi*- I’m ready for you now.

* The Library of Babel, Borges
*Part 5, The Part About Archimboldi, 2666 Bolaño