Monday, 1 December 2014

With Borges by Alberto Manguel.

And he was, the young Manguel, between 1964 and 1968, with Borges in Borges' apartment in Buenos Aires, taking books off the shelves, reading out loud from Stevenson, Kipling, Henry James or Chesterton, to blind Borges, wizard of the infinite. These were the books towards which Borges felt his way and in which, sometimes, he left folded money where it might or might not be found again.

How is it to read about Borges going to the cinema to see, to hear, West Side Story for the nth time, to meditate on Maria as Beatrice, as Juliet, as Lesbia, as Laura? To hear his views on the tango (entered a decline in 1910 and has not emerged, despite or because of the efforts of Astor Piazzolla); to know how his mother spoke of him and his (also blind) father ?
She meant to say: J'ai été la main de mon mari; maintenant, je suis la main de mon fils. ('I used to be the hand of my husband, now I'm the hand of my son') but, opening the diphthong in 'main' as Spanish-speaking people tend to so, she said instead: J'ai été l'amant de mon mari; maintenant, je suis l'amant de mon fils' ( 'I used to be my husband's lover, now I'm the lover of my son'). Those who knew her possessiveness were not surprised.
Do I want to imagine the wizard of the infinite wrestling into a long white nightshirt, then closing his eyes and reciting out loud the 'Our Father' in English? Yes and no. Easier to see him run his fingers over the spines of books as if they were a relief map. To know he loved yellow (of tigers, of roses). The colour of sunlight. The last thing he imagined he saw after he went blind.

Fictions came into my hands when I was about twenty-two, in a portentous Calder paperback. I read the first story and paused. He wrote to be translated, in a high, clear tone, with dizzy twists and cheerful abysses. I kept the next story the way as a child I kept halva in the cupboard, happy to know whenever I was ready I could whirl into the next fiction and genially lose my bearings, take another bite of halva, or not. That was the era of the next (door), the next, the very next, when I began to understand it was better, in general, not to understand, to have tried and pensively failed then given up altogether and become more cheerful.

Borges, Manguel tells us, was haunted by two nightmares: the labyrinth, the house with no doors and a monster in the middle, and the mirror, which one day would reflect back a face that was not his own or worse, no face at all. Near the end of his life, in Geneva, he asked Marguerite Yourcenar to find the apartment his family had once occupied when he was an adolescent and describe it to him, which she did. The only thing she omitted to tell him was that as soon as you entered the apartment a gigantic gilded mirror reflected the visitor from head to foot.

If you are blind the mirror does not reflect your face.

That you know of.

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