A Story by Jorge Luis Borges


Once upon a time, he read a story by Jorge Luis Borges.

He was a young man. The idea that he should read a Borges story came from his friends, from some of his teachers, seemingly from everyone he knew, the newspapers that he knew but which did not know him, and from the many sources of which there was no knowing. He was discovering the fashion of ideas. The papers were full of Borges as were the conversations in the bars he went to. Television spoke to him of Borges through the mouths of men and women comfortable in armchairs in television studios, of what was and was was not: what was not being one of the things that most was. The film Performance spoke to him of Borges. He saw the film very soon after its release, his being of the time and the place whereby he could do that. Must. These were early days. So many. He felt he knew some of the actors in the film though he knew none at first hand. The first hand being an illusion of the second hand. Such was the experience of this thing of which I have come to write. He read reviews and reviews of reviews. The idea of the thing and the thing itself, which was a thing in itself. Different.

He was an art student then. Not an artist though many art students were told they are artists and some chose to believe it. The gullible ones. All are artists, Joseph Beuys said, but only few come to live that from the inside. Beuys said there was knowledge and knowing it. Two things. He knew he was not, not knowing and knowing of not knowing being one of the hallmarks of a student, a hallmark of a good one if not of all students. The story by Jorge Luis Borges told him of who he was: not through its narrative but through his reading of it. The story moved him and made him different from the time before he read it. Beuys would have approved. He read more Borges stories, and he knew he would never forget the one story apart from all the stories. He was glad he read it.

He thought of a story by Jorge Luis Borges, when he was an old man.

He thought of a story by Borges that he had read as a young man, a story that had moved him, that had marked him and made him what he had become in part. A part of himself apart. As an artist he thought of having been an art student, of not having been what he was now. Not on the journey, but the journey itself. He thought of that time when Borges had been a writer and not a dead writer, though he felt that as a writer Borges was still very much a writer. He thought of himself and what he had been when he was on his journey to being the journey itself. Glad. Was he that still? There was a question, but he was not the question.

He reread a story by Jorge Luis Borges.

The same story yet again. The words came forward to him in the same way and he recognised many of the phrases. The course of the narrative was somewhat familiar to to him in the way there is a family resemblance amongst relatives without any two looking the same. The same features on different faces. He wondered at the story as it took him to different places than before, yet with the same or similar gestures of language. He followed the narrative with the same curiosity as when he was a boy, but he found the story taking him to a different place. Something had changed.

Borges had changed, not him. He had conquered the elusive quality of the illusion, the allusion, the task on which he had always set himself. This achievement hinged on the reading of only one of Borges’ many readers. What could be possible for literature when this phenomenon was iterated across the full readership of the great writer? An outwardly expanding gyre of consciousness.

He was an old man who had once or twice read a story by Jorge Luis Borges, maybe more than twice, if he was forced to confess. Why not?

He had reread the story many times and each time the story was different. It had “come on” in the words of the uncomprehending encourager of literary adventures. A voice totally out of place in admiration of such a master. A voice out of place with itself.

He concluded that he thought he had read a story by Jorge Luis Borges, once, he could no longer be sure.  But that the story he had actually read was the better of the two. There might be more. He wondered if it would be the same tomorrow. He would try again. Be again. If not the same. Maybe more.