Book catch-up #3 The Unparalleled Borges

I read Labyrinths, a collection of short stories by Jorge Luis Borges, and I can’t overestimate how amazing these stories were. I could probably write a post about every story, but I’ll stick to a few standouts.

The Library of Babel: A library that contains not only every book ever written, but every possible arrangement of words/letters/pages that can exist. Those who wander this library search for a book (which must exist) that catalogs all the other books in the library. Though, if one were to find such a book, how would you ever know it is accurate? The narrator, who is writing his life experiences, is aware of the pointlessness of his own writing, since it must already exist somewhere in the library…

This story made me think about the reason behind writing, and the reason behind reading. Why do we feel this drive to read and write, when everything, almost by definition, has been done and done and done before…

The Secret Miracle: A writer with an unfinished drama in verse that he’s been trying to complete for years, is arrested by the gestapo and sentenced to death. Leading up to his execution, he prays and prays to God to somehow give him time to finish his book, it is the only thing he regrets, that he couldn’t finish his book. The time comes, and he is led out to the firing squad, but just before they fire, time freezes. The writer is still aware within his frozen body, and can think as normal, but everything is frozen. He takes this as God’s answer to his prayer, and begins composing the end of his story (it is in verse, so easy for him to memorize.) After a year of this, he finally completes his drama, and after choosing the perfect, final line, time starts again, and he is shot to death.

This story also made me think about the drive behind our desire to write, even when writing things that no one will ever read. What is the cause of this desire to create, even in a void?

The Zahir: The Zahir is an object that generates obsession in whoever sees it. The Zahir can be any object, or sight, in the world. In this story, it is a coin received as change by the narrator after he buys a drink. It slowly overwhelms his mind. First he begins thinking about money and coins in general, the history of various types of coins, the meaning of money, how a coin can symbolize free will since it can be changed into anything… etc etc. But soon, his thoughts narrow to that specific coin. He sees it in every dream, and soon during waking hours all he can think of is the coin. As he is writing the story, he predicts that soon his mind will be useless, and he will become a vegetable, his thoughts only directed at the coin and nothing else.

This story made me think about how anything can become an obsession or a fixation in certain people. A mind can be destroyed this way in realty, by drugs, or love, or other addictions.

The way Borges puts a magnifying glass on real human characteristics and turns them into fantastical weirdness is so great, and like no other writer I’ve yet read. I recommend to anyone! A must read.

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