Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Stephen and I Think There Are Some Interesting Comparisons To Be Made Here

The other one, the one called Borges, is the one things happen to. I walk through the streets of Buenos Aires and stop for a moment, perhaps mechanically now, to look at the arch of an entrance hall and the grillwork on the gate. I know of Borges from the mail and see his name on a list of professors or in a biographical dictionary. I like hourglasses, maps, eighteenth-century typography, the taste of coffee and the prose of Stevenson; he shares these preferences, but in a vain way that turns them into the attributes of an actor. It would be an exaggeration to say that ours is a hostile relationship; I live, let myself go on living, so that Borges may contrive his literature, and this literature justifies me. It is no effort for me to confess that he has achieved some valid pages, but those pages cannot save me, perhaps because what is good belongs to no one, not even to him, but rather to the language and to tradition. Besides, I am destined to perish, definitively, and only some instant of myself can survive in him. Little by little, I am giving over everything to him, though I am quite aware of his perverse custom of falsifying and magnifying things. Spinoza knew that all things long to persist in their being; the stone eternally wants to be a stone and the tiger a tiger. I shall remain in Borges, not in myself (if it is true that I am someone), but I recognize myself less in his books than in many others or in the laborious strumming of a guitar. Years ago I tried to free myself from him and went from the mythologies of the suburbs to the games with time and infinity, but those games belong to Borges now and I shall have to imagine other things. Thus my life is a flight and I lose everything and everything belongs to oblivion, or to him.

I do not know which of us has written this page.

-- Jorge Louis Borges, "Borges and I", trans. James E. Irby

I love to speak with Leonard
He's a sportsman and a shepherd
He's a lazy bastard
Living in a suit

But he does say what I tell him
Even though it isn't welcome
He just doesn't have the freedom
To refuse

He will speak these words of wisdom
Like a sage, a man of vision
Though he knows he's really nothing
But the brief elaboration of a tube

Going home without my sorrow
Going home sometime tomorrow
Going home to where it's better than before

Going home without my burden
Going home behind the curtain
Going home without the costume that I wore

He wants to write a love song
An anthem of forgiving
A manual for living with defeat

A cry above the suffering
A sacrifice recovering
But that isn't what I need him to complete

I want to make him certain
That he doesn't have a burden
That he doesn't need a vision
That he only has permission
To do my instant bidding
Which is to say what I have told him
To repeat...

-- Leonard Cohen, "Going Home"

Leonard Cohen's new album, Old Ideas -- of which "Going Home" is the first song -- is absolutely fabulous, by the way. As of this writing the entire thing is still available for streaming at the link. Give it a listen. In addition to his characteristically fabulous lyrics and music, you also get to hear his voice continues its extraordinary plunge towards auditory absolute zero, a musical zero degrees Kelvin, the lowest possible tone in the universe.

As for "Borges and I", in trying to find a copy of the text to put here, I came across this interesting critique of Andrew Hurley's translation by Antonios Sarhanis.* Sarhanis's own translation is here, along with the original Spanish. The version I linked to (chosen more out of familiarity than out of considered preference, I must admit), plus the original Spanish and two others (but neither the Hurley nor the Sarhanis) is from this page here.

* Via Sarhanis, this blog post sets out some of the background about the existence of Hurley's translations -- claims that were certainly new to me. More here. Sarhanis, meanwhile, has translated a number of other Borges stories too.

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