GENEVA, Switzerland. An Argentinian man lies upon a bed, whispering fragments of Spanish and English that read like clairvoyant riddles. His breathing is shallow and his body frail – wracked by the cancer that has devoured his insides. With a final exhalation, the man – whose influence will be felt in his language and on his art for centuries – dies. So it goes.
In truth, I do not know the final words that passed Jorge Luis Borges’ lips before they fell stiff and silent. I know even less about the vast experiences of his life. He died on June 14th, 1986, only a few months before I was born. What I know about Borges I learned mainly in the Senegalese savanna, where I spent some odd number of weeks excavating a lost civilization while burying myself in his words.
Borges never wrote a novel. He stated, quite simply, that it was beyond his means and the span of his attention. Reading his work, it does not take long to realize what he meant. A Borges novel could only have come to fruition as the culmination of a lifetime’s worth of toil and labor. Every letter that the man wrote was carefully chosen and even more carefully placed. There are no errant words in the body of his writings; each word bears meaning and moves the narrative forward with purpose. His writing manages to simultaneously be both as soul-stirring as poetry and as dense as a textbook.
But my romance with the written word did not begin with Borges; instead – long before I had read The Library of Babel or The Circular Ruins – it first took shape in the form of lyricism. As I grew and matured as a songwriter, tackling more elaborate subjects and developing a sense of self-awareness, I realized that my desire to weave narrative structures through an inherently poetic lyric form would require that I make the most out of each syllable at my disposal. It is not surprising, then, that when I began reading Borges for the first time, I felt a philosophical bond with him. Not that I am – in any way – putting myself at (or remotely near) Borges’ level. We are not equals, but rather believers in the same mythos: I feel the same sense of brotherhood with Borges that any practicing Catholic might share with the Pope.
Despite – or perhaps because of – my affinity for his work, I am wary of imitating it. It is a fine thing to admire an author, but it is folly to emulate one. So maybe it is not surprising that, for many months now, I have been attempting that which Borges denied himself: the writing of a novel. The process is long and arduous and, at this point in time, much farther from conclusion than I would have hoped. But I am not laying down my dream and will soldier on with it until it is done (though any author will tell you that no work is ever truly finished). In the meantime, however, I will admit that I miss the joy of completing a work and that this – my craving for that sense of conquest – has driven me to start this blog, where posts can move from inspiration to publication in only a few hours (and be forgotten by the reader in less than that).
In addition to his fiction, Borges was an accomplished essayist and correspondent and, because of the latter, I am inclined to believe that he would have found great merit in a tool that allows people from every walk of life to say something interesting and share it with the world. In short: I think Borges would have been a blogger himself. Its brevity and accessibility would have, I think, won him over.
But Borges is gone, and I remain, writing in a time that he never saw and maybe never imagined. I do not know where this blog will go or when it will end. Many posts will undoubtedly be frivolous, and some will be needlessly serious, there will be lists and there will be expositions, queries and conclusions, certainties and mysteries, poetry and prose. But, at this moment – here at the outset – I am not sure what will fill this space. I only know from where it will come.
In his essay A New Refutation of Time, Borges – who concludes by refuting his titular refutation – states,
“Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire. The world, unfortunately, is real; I, unfortunately, am Borges.”
Four and a half thousand miles from home, in a sweltering land, I saw a beautiful grace and truth in those lines. I found a part of myself in those words, and I tried to make them my own. In some respects, I did.
I am the river, I am the tiger, I am the fire.
I penned those words as lyrics in my notebook, one line among many, stationed amid a myriad of references – to Borges and others – but the song was never finished and the lyrics never used. It seems to me that that is how it has always been: the words are written but they are never read. I would change that, if I could. I suppose that’s all I’m trying to do now. And if this blog is to be an extension of myself, open for all to see, then it seems fitting that I should choose words that are both a part of me and a part of the outside world – the very world that Borges found so irrefutably real – as a name for this space. Inspired by (and borrowing from) a great man, I wrote these words down once. I believed them then, and I believe them now.
I am the river, I am the tiger, I am the fire. This is who I am.