on the spectator

Saturday, August 21st, 2004

An interesting little tid bit for entanglement: (source)

To begin his discussion of Borges’ fiction as an alternative to mimetic realism, Fuentes commented that he had never wanted to actually meet Borges. In fact, he didn’t even want to know what Borges looked like. It seemed proper that only the work should exist, that Borges was his work, and that by reading it, one became the blind Argentine, much in the way that Borges himself once wrote: “All men who repeat one line of Shakespeare are William Shakespeare.” This provocative idea is central to the idea of the “open work,” a conception of literature that sees each book as a work forever in the process of being written. Given that each reader engages a work with a different set of preconceptions, notions, and cultural biases, the real nature of the book is inextricably bound to the creative act of reading it, and is therefore never truly a contained universe. (It was a point Mr. Fuentes would reiterate several days later in a short lecture about Italo Calvino at Cooper Union.) Borges is particularly appropriate here because he does not utilize mimetic or historical realism: his works are primarily about the workings of the mind itself. They are carefully structured to engage the reader, to make the reader into an active participant. Fuentes compared Borges to the writer of detective stories where the true mystery is the thought process of the detective himself, as if “Poirot were investigating Poirot, or as if Holmes discovered that he himself is Moriarty.”
Thematically, Borges is always concerned with the mystery of absence vs. presence, a mystery that may be resolved differently for each reader. As a chess player might say, “The moves we do not make are as important as the moves we do make.” This is indeed an apt metaphor for reading Borges, where each reader may take a different branch in a garden of forking paths. Fuentes drew upon the story “Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote” to further illustrate this point. The Don Quixote of Cervantes means something different to the Don Quixote of the later Menard, even though the text is identical: times have changed; language has changed; readers have changed. As Fuentes would restate again throughout his lecture, a book is never finished, for it belongs to the future.

2 responses to “on the spectator”

  1. john says:

    (The painter Arshile) Gorky always worked the paint, never considering his paintings to be finished because, as he states, When something is finished, it means it’s dead, doesn’t it?. Each painting, as Gorky saw it, is an organism that lives a life in the present. Lucie-Smith refers to this concept of the present as the “continous dynamic” that exists in Gorky’s paintings.

  2. Neha says:

    John, I like that quote. I also like this one:

    …”a conception of literature that sees each book as a work forever in the process of being written.”

    The entire piece also reinforces something I’ve been saying for a long long time, i.e., perception cannot be controlled once something is given away (published, displayed in an art gallery, etc). The different perceptions/POV’s are part of what make a work live forever.