Jorge Luis Borges, the Maker
The original literary geek.
As a long time fan of comic books, fantastical situations, and trips into the unknown, the work of Argentine literary master Jorge Luis Borges should become everyone's obsession. Why, you ask? In many ways, his work left not only an indelible mark on the literary world but also on the wider world of arts and entertainment as well. The work of director Christopher Nolan with films such as Inception, Memento, and The Prestige resemble some of the best Borges stories such as "The Garden of Forking Paths" and "The Aleph". His works are full of duplicity and metaphysical mysteries as much as they are filled with the symbols that he was obsessed with, namely mirrors, infinite libraries, and planes of existence that may or may not exist. Take into account as well the time Borges was born (1899) and you begin to see just how amazingly futuristic they were in depicting the world we are living in today. Perhaps one of the reasons Borges had such a far-reaching vision of things material and immaterial is the fact he was such a bibliophile. He famously said that " I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library". He spent thousands of hours in those hallowed places when he became head of the National Public Library in Buenos Aires in 1955, writing many of his immortal stories during this period.
But the real question is why Borges continues to be relevant in a world so drawn to other media outside of the printed word. Simply put, in the world as we see it today, with people like Donald Trump spouting about 'fake news', it is easy to see how stories about illusions and labyrinths fit right in the paradigm. If anything we should be questioners of reality in the same spirit as Borges was, if not more.
Hollywood too could learn something from the pages of Borges. For one, that storytelling does not need to be formulaic and repetitive, and two, the imagination need not be stifled by studio execs and producers who are looking for the next blockbuster. In saying that, geek culture is a much closer friend to the spirit of Borges than most. Borges himself was attracted to characters such as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the science fiction of H.G. Wells, and other types of genre fiction that most high literary types would turn their noses up at given the chance. Regardless, he found a way to meld what was considered "low culture" with larger metaphysical concepts. Some people go so far to say he predicted the Internet in his story "The Aleph" and "The Library of Babel", each a polished gem of literary intrigue that perhaps even Sherlock Holmes would dig. One can easily imagine a Borges story where Mr. Holmes becomes the focus of an adventure where the only mystery to be solved is the proof of one's own existence. That is perhaps the essence of what Borges was and why he should be read by a new generation of readers: to approach reality with a detective's curiosity.
It seems the more time goes on, the more his work becomes relevant, perhaps because in our wired world we are beginning to traverse those worlds he spoke of in his stories. If he were alive today, what would he make of A.I or self-driving cars? Would he be surprised, or would he be disappointed in our collective distancing from the beauty of books and literature? Hard to say since he became practically blind in his fifties, seeing the world through the lens of an unbridled imagination that has not been seen since. In the words of Roberto Bolano, Chilean novelist and avid admirer of the master: Read Borges more.
About the author
I'm a writer of non-traditional narratives, whether it be experimental non-fiction, short stories, or even music and the occasional little film. Obsessive about reading and all the weirdness the world has to offer.