lunes, 15 de octubre de 2012

Siete noches

Siete noches (Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2007)
by Jorge Luis Borges
Argentina, 1980

Between June 1st and August 3rd of the Argentinean Literature of Doom year of 1977, the then 78-year old Jorge Luis Borges delivered a series of seven talks on "La Divina Comedia" ["The Divine Comedy"], "La pesadilla" ["Nightmares"], "Las mil y una noches" ["The Thousand and One Nights"], "El budismo" ["Buddhism"], "La poesía" ["Poetry"], "La cábala" ["The Kabbalah"], and "La ceguera" ["Blindness"] at the 1700-seat teatro Coliseo in Buenos Aires' upscale Retiro district.  Although there were apparently more than a few dull moments on the noches dedicated to Buddhism and the Kabbalah, I won't gripe about that too much here since Borges was in undeniably fine form on all the non-opiate of the masses evenings in question.  His lecture on "Nightmares" is a good case in point and a good introduction to his presentation methodology in general.  After opening with a thought-provoking contrast between whether the waking memories of our dreams are, as Sir Thomas Browne believed, just a poor substitute for "la espléndida realidad" ["splendid reality"] or whether our dreams are instead, as Borges himself believed, like "una obra de ficción" ["a work of fiction"] that only improves with our retelling of it (36), the man of the hour mentions several examples of dreams in literature before turning to the etymology of the word "pesadilla" ["nightmare"] in various languages both ancient and modern.  A fascinating linguistic detour.  Confessing to his own recurring nightmares about labyrinths and mirrors (the former of which he partially attributes to the terrifying sight of a steel engraving of the labyrinth of Crete in a French book from his childhood), Borges then links the autobiographical with his interest in the treatment of nightmares in literature with the following arresting statement: "Llego a la conclusión, ignoro si es científico, de que los sueños son la actividad estética más antigua" ["I arrive at the conclusion, not knowing if it is scientific or not, that dreams are our most ancient aesthetic activity"] (47).  Throughout, Borges always seems to channel that extraordinary but very down to earth Comp Lit professor who clearly enjoys bonding with his students over the joys of text(s).  Thomas de Quincey, for example, is gently razzed for having "una admirable memoria inventiva" ["an admirable inventive memory"] in the talk about The Thousand and One Nights.  "Cada palabra es una obra poética" ["Each word is a poetic piece of work"] we are assured in the lecture on poetry (104).  No doom and maybe not the best Borges book for me to be writing about late at night considering I still have Ficciones to finish at some point but a satisfying souvenir all the same.

Borges at the Coliseo

Llegamos ahora a la palabra más sabia y ambigua, el nombre inglés de la pesadilla: the nightmare, que significa para nosotros "la yegua de la noche".  Shakespeare la entendió así.  Hay un verso suyo que dice I met the nightmare, "me encontré con la yegua de la noche".  Se ve que la concibe como una yegua.  Hay otro poema que ya dice deliberadamente the nightmare and her nine foals, "la pesadilla y sus nueve potrillos", donde la ve como una yegua tambien.
*
We now arrive at the most sensible and ambiguous word, the English name for la pesadilla: the nightmare, which means "the mare of the night" to us.  Shakespeare understood it in that way.  There is a verse of his which says, "I met the nightmare."  One sees that he conceives of it as a mare.  There is another poem which deliberately says "the nightmare and her nine foals," where he also sees it as a mare.
(Siete noches, 42)

Obviously anticipating the future release of the ALoD syllabus, Borges fan Rise of in lieu of a field guide reviewed the English translation of Seven Nights as part of his January 2010 Reading Diary.  A quick summary of César Aira's Ghosts, apparently submitted for extra credit, can be found at the same spot by clairvoyant and non-clairvoyant readers alike.


12 comentarios:

  1. HiRichard, this sounds interesting. I think I'm going to reread Borges' Labyrinths for the MONTHS OF DOOM. I haven't read him in two decades I'd say, although I did reread many stories before then. I also have some new pieces to read. Argentinian literature is not popular in the local charity shops but I'll also keep my eyes open there.
    Labyrinths play a part in your current cover star (Kafka on the Shore), which I finished recently.

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    1. Séamus, sometimes Borges' nonfiction is even more stimulating than his fiction to me. In any event, glad to hear you're thinking about rereading Labyrinths as a potential Doom choice as it's such a super collection (I could have guessed your odds on finding used copies of Argentinean literature over there, but good luck anyway). P.S. I already skimmed your Murakami post, but I'm saving a serious read of it until after I finish Kafka. Enjoying the book for its page-turning qualities but finding it a little lightweight so far.

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  2. I love Borges' lectures. Be sure to check out his other book of lectures, Borges Oral.

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    1. Jeremy, ditto, my friend! I did actually read Borges oral last year, but I decided not to link to that review in my post.

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  3. These lectures do sound good. I should know, since I have read them, but I do not, because that was a long time ago. I probably did not understand a fifth of the references. This is how we learn.

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    1. Tom, I'm sure these lectures would hold up fine should you find time to reread them. In fact, the last talk on "Blindness" is one I first read several years ago--rereading it was like meeting up with an old friend. Somebody should reissue that one as a standalone pamphlet or something.

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  4. I have this at home and haven't read it yet. I have to correct that.

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    1. Miguel, you are certain to savor these talks once you sit down with them. No doubt about that!

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  5. His "Nightmares" is one that most stuck to me. It's playful at one instant and spooky the next!

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    1. Rise, about the only thing missing from the "Nightmares" lecture is a Gérard de Nerval reference. I liked "Blindness" more for its autobio details, but the "spooky" lecture is like a model of how to deliver the educational goods to an audience.

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  6. De los otros libros de ensayos que he leído del autor ("Historia de la Eternidad" y "Discusión") mi favorito es este, no solo por su gran profundidad y sus temas interesantes sino también porque, a diferencia de los otros, tiene un lenguaje muy sencillo (eran conferencias).

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    1. Pollo, gracias por tu comentario y favor de perdonar la demora en responderte. No he leído los otros libros de Borges que mencionas, pero estoy de acuerdo contigo que el lenguage sencillo en éste es una de las cosas que se destaca en su favor. ¡Saludos!

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