Jorge Luis Borges’ writings are known for several reoccurring themes. One of the most distinctive is his matter-of-fact allusions to fictitious books – or perhaps, books that exist only in his mind.See Labyrinths: Selected Stories & Other Writings.
Jorge Luis Borges is unique, in my mind, as the author of the most compelling books never written. These unreachable, unknowable books – they are always there, at the corner of my vision, the back of my thoughts, the edges of a memory as I search for what or where I’ve read. They have, undeniably, an existence. Yet they have none of the fallibility of the written word: fire and flood can’t destroy them, the critic’s tongue can’t rend them, they are never forgotten on a shelf or at a bus stop or in a waiting room. They are potentially perfect. Instead they fill up the spaces between our fully formed thoughts and memories and that itching, compelling, dreamlike sensation that drives us to search for – to remember – words we never learned.
The urge to remember is, perhaps, the most obvious of these volumes’ seductions. Most people go through life trying to remember things. The more elusive the memory and the more tenuous the tracks, the more emotion its lack elicits. Worst of all is the uneasy sense that we have forgotten something, but can’t remember what – a memory of a memory. This negative space could be anything, and so over time we may fill it with the things we want the most – space, love, time, home, adventure, praise, power, knowledge. In fact, most of the truly important thought occurs as people try to negotiate the negative spaces in their mind. The heart of both philosophy and theology is found in this sensation of not-knowing.
I envy Borges’ books in this – to hold the power to reach into another’s heart and make that person aware of desire. These unknown volumes hold desire in its truest sense: unfulfilled (satiation is a different creature altogether), amorphous, and with an edge which defies self-preservation. The edge is the thing; you look over it and feel a familiar rush, the affirmation of life that comes, most reliably, from contemplating oblivion. Borges’ unwritten books are both the rush and the edge, life and its absence, the space you may fill with understanding: world without end.
Such lack of precision is almost impossible to carry off as a writer. As a reader, it’s as if someone gave you a box filled with Universe: utterly rare, strange, unknowable, and quite possibly a Pandora’s box, both unopenable and unclosable. Such possibility can only result from lack of precision. And yet, as with most boxes, the trick is in the frame: the image of the written word, a book, a precise image which Borges usually alludes to as a carefully-referenced detail within a larger whole. The book is the labyrinth in his perfectly-described garden of prose, the one detail left to chance.
My love for Borges springs from this: that he understands how great a delusion precision is. It offers the false promise of every sensation nailed into place, yet neither writer nor reader understand what they lose in its service until all alternate possibilities vanish. Precision is the enemy of possibility. Yet both are necessary. Writing and reading both rely on the yin-yang motion between precision and its negative space of forgetting, remembering, and dreaming.
Precision is a place to start – terra firma, the one place you can’t stay if there is to be any story at all. By crafting a space within precision for possibility to abide – by starting with precision and striving towards possibility – writer and reader become partners in understanding: to remember the things they might forget, to remember the things they didn’t know, and to dream to fill pages never written.