the aleph, continued

Tuesday, September 14th, 2004

In class today, Contemporary Fiction, I called everyone a fiction. As soon as this happens, all kinds of crazy things can “pullulate.” Especially in the context of Borges.

But there’s a point to this. We know that hitting a chair with our knee hurts and thus the chair is “real” and so are we. “We” feel pain. Better, “I” feel pain. Part of the problem comes from the definition of “fiction” and its numerous meanins from Old English across to Latin. To feign, to shape, to invent, a thing invented via the imagination. In a way Borges deals with the notion of fiction in terms of identity: who is the “I” in I? As this quintessential, oft quoted bit from Borges and I illustrates: “It’s Borges, the other one, that things happen to. I walk through Buenos Aires and I pause . . . news of Borges reaches me by mail, or I see his name on a list of academics or in some biographical dictionary”; and another: “I shall endure in Borges, not in myself . . .”

In a way, there are multiple Borges’ because he’s in the network. The man and Borges’ work; his body is in the ground, but “Borges” continues to “pullulate.” It’s a valid question: who is Spinning? We read “Spinning” and shape the symbols there into an image that is imprecise. Spinning, like Borges, is a kind of fiction, then. Spinning isn’t the kind of fiction that is a short story though, which refers to a form of fiction.

In class we debate “readings.” One student will read Borges and interprete the text differently than I will: the question isn’t why, but how? This is a Barthian given. The “true” meaning of “The Garden of Forking Paths” can’t therefore be fixed (see also Plato, Cratylus), but the more logical and agreeable reading (text) can be argued into existence. In Other Inquisitions, Borges writes:

Shelley expressed the opinion that all the poems of the past, present and future were episodes or fragments of a single infinite poem, written by all the poets on earth.

In a way, such a crazy idea speaks to Barthes’ idea about plurality and connotation. Barthe’s writes:

This I’ which approaches the text is already itself a plurality of other texts.

And more Borges on a similar tac in “Martin Fierro”:

. . . one man’s dream is part of all men’s memory.

I know what a car is thus when the writer speaks of a car I don’t need to pause and look it up: the car is in the network, as is the scroll bar. In the film “Tenth” the narrative fixes on 9/11 as a turning point, the video of the planes crashing into the Trade Center towers also in the network.

“I” is alphabetical, not a living body. “I” therefore is a fiction.

Porter Goss claims that he’ll give the administration “objective” intelligence. And I’m a Pug.

3 responses to “the aleph, continued”

  1. gibb says:

    Just lost myself in the darkness this morning, and had to depend upon what I knew or learned about me to guess that I was there. Reading this post of yours makes me sit and think some more, and I need to digest its implication. Between your thoughts and my own wanderings, I also tried to comprehend a time when I had no hands, no feet, no brain at all; was but a single cell, an egg fertilized by a sperm. No doubt about it, we cannot take anything for granted to be what we assume it is, and that involves “readings” as well.

  2. James says:

    Can an artist take for granted what is and isn’t in the network? And if we’re all a fiction, what does that say about the mimesis of existence?

  3. Harold says:


    Yes, as a fiction writer you know what it takes to control a sustained image and a dramatic narrative. It’s difficult, but the surprise comes when someone sees something in what you’ve done that “you” didn’t intend. The dragon frightens.


    The answer to your question is another question: can one be “outside” of cultural influence? A Borgesian response would be: we can’t really see all the combinations; we are incomplete, therefore, in knowledge, which needs a reference to Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” But note that fiction in this sense doesn’t mean that we aren’t “real.” But there are days when you say, “Gee, do I really sound like that when I talk?”