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That's the trouble with being innocent, you don't know what really happened.

Tomek Zaleska


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Thursday, February 27th, 2014

Poem in progress

Here is a poem I have been working on this week. The genesis is as follows: I was thinking about my poem Analogies for Time, and also about the Persistence of Memory. I thought, well, the Persistence of Memory is a suspension of time, time does not progress in a painting, the time on the melting watch will always be 6:55 and the watch will never melt away -- from all this came the line "No hay río para correr a través de este paisaje soñado" -- it's a landscape without a river.

Well: a promising line. I spent a while tossing it around and it is seeming not to be so much a poem about that painting, but about a landscape that is outside of time. (Possibly this landscape could be the setting for the eternal city in "El inmortal".) Here is what I've got so far:

No river flows through this immortal landscape, dry and still.
No hunter seeks the spoor of his hallucinated prey.
The jagged cliffs look down on desert -- cliffs of granite, dreary desert --
static sands untouched by wind or moisture, waiting still
for time eternal, the imagined camera pans and zooms
but finds no hint of motion, no decay,
no sign of change for good or ill.

posted evening of February 27th, 2014: Respond
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Saturday, June 19th, 2010

The Immortal

To be immortal is banal -- except for man, every creature is immortal, not knowing of death. The divine, the terrible, the incomprehensible, is to know oneself to be immortal.
Bryan Nelson's post at Mother Nature Network on the 10 animals with the longest life spans has some beautiful photography, including this magnificently anthropomorphic* picture of turritopsis nutricula, believed to be the only animal with no natural limit to its lifespan. (Thanks for the link, John!)

Related in only the very most tenuous and impressionistic manner, Katy Butler's piece in this mornings New York Times Magazine on dealing with her father's dementia and unnaturally prolonged death, and with a medical establishment devoted unreflectively to such prolongation, sent a chill down my spine. To be, like Ms. Butler's mother, "continent and lucid to [one's] end," seems to me a fine thing, a fate I will hope for for myself and those I love, a fate I will try to work for.

*(or "cyclopomorphic" I guess -- a grimacing Cyclops with a frizzy beard.)

posted morning of June 19th, 2010: Respond
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Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

Borges the storyteller (part III of...)

The anniversary of Borges' death just passed -- got me thinking of a couple of things, principally that I should get back to my translation of Réquiem by Slavko Zupcic (in which Zupcic "accidentally" kills Borges); and also about which Borges fictions would be the best ones to start out with for a new reader. (This thanks to a Facebook post of Matt Dickerson's, in which he suggested "The Library of Babel" as a starting point.)

I was thinking there might be a good argument for starting off with any of:

  • "Tlön, Ukbar, Orbis Tertius" -- Donald Taylor mentioned in that thread that he had not yet read the story of "The Library of Babel" but he appreciated the puzzle of it -- I think Tlön and Babel and the other stories in Garden of Forking Paths (part I of Ficciones) are a great starting point if you are primarily interested (or even "strongly interested") in the intellectual-puzzles aspect of Borges' work.
  • "Funes, His Memory" -- this was the first thing I thought of, because I had read it quite recently and been really taken with the quality of Borges' voice and of his narrative. This is the first story in Artifices, which is part II of Ficciones and postdates part I by three years. Drawing of character is much stronger here than in any of his earlier stories.
  • "The Immortal" -- This is the first story in The Aleph, published 5 years after Ficciones. A wonderful, wonderful story and a good introduction to the role of time and of infinity in Borges' fictions.
In the end I would probably go with "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" just because having it be one's first taste of Borges seems like a sort of canonical experience among people I know who like his work. But probably would suggest that my interlocutor skip ahead to some later work next instead of reading straight through The Garden of Forking Paths. Certainly I would recommend either starting with the translations in Collected Fictions or with those in Labyrinths.

(Of course I am hoping the person I am recommending these stories to will feel moved to read much more of his work -- these three stories seem sort of like good vehicles for figuring out if you are interested in reading more, I don't by any means think that these three stories in isolation would be particularly enlightening.)

posted evening of June 15th, 2010: 4 responses
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Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

Homeric scribblings

I've been thinking about asemic writing over the past few weeks, and I was happy to notice this passage (which I had forgotten completely) when I was rereading "The Immortal" this morning:

Quienes hayan leído con atención el relato de mis trabajos, recordarán que un hombre de la tribu me siguió como un perro podría seguirme, hasta la sombra irregular de los muros. Cuando salí del último sótano, lo encontré en la boca de la caverna. Estaba tirado en la arena, donde trazaba torpemente y borraba una hilera de signos, que eran como letras de los sueños, que uno está a punto de entender y luego se juntan. Al principio, creí que se trataba de una escritura bárbara; después vi que es absurdo imaginar que hombres que no llegaron a la palabra lleguen a la escritura. Además, ninguna de las formas era igual a otra, lo cual excluía o alejaba la posibilidad de que fueran simbólicas. El hombre las trazaba, las miraba y las corregía. Those who have been reading my story attentively, will remember that a member of the tribe had followed me -- like a dog might follow me -- up to the formless shadow of the walls. When I emerged from the final cellar, I found him in the mouth of the cave. He was stretched out on the sand, where he was languidly tracing and erasing a row of symbols like the letters in a dream, letters which one is on the verge of understanding when they flow together. At first I thought it was some kind of barbarian alphabet; but then I saw how absurd it was, to imagine that men who had never arrived at the spoken word would get to writing. Furthermore, none of the shapes was the same as any other; that excluded, or rendered unlikely, the possibility that they were symbolic. The man was drawing them, then examining them and updating them.
I've been thinking about asemic writing as a path to expressive, semantic writing, and I'm happy to think about this Immortal (who will be revealed in a few pages to be Homer) languidly tracing and correcting his asemic symbols, contemplating the possibility of communication.

posted evening of May 26th, 2010: Respond
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Saturday, March 20th, 2010

The City of the Immortals

That day, all was revealed to me. The Troglodytes were the Immortals; the stream and its sand-laden waters, the River sought by the rider. As for the city whose renown had spread to the very Ganges, the Immortals had destroyed it almost nine hundred years ago. Out of the shattered remains of the City's ruin they had built on the same spot the incoherent city I had wandered through -- that parody or antithesis of the City which was also a temple to the irrational gods that rule the world and to those gods about whom we know nothing save that they do not resemble man. The founding of this city was the last symbol to which the Immortals had descended; it marks the point at which, esteeming all exertion vain, they resolved to live in thought, in pure speculation. They built that carapace, abandoned it, and went off to make their dwellings in the caves.
I know the parallels are pretty vague; but this portion of "The Immortal" is reminding me of nothing so much as the City of Reality (and Illusions), in The Phantom Tollbooth.

posted evening of March 20th, 2010: Respond
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