segunda-feira, 27 de maio de 2013
The Baroque Conspiracy: Jorge-Luis Borges by Gregg Lambert
This is a ‘technique’ that occurs in two distinct stages: first, to create a resume of the important facts or a summary récit; second, to imagine a reality that is much more complex than that previously accounted for, and therefore to interrogate the effects of its absence from the given text. This technique also has a relation to the determination that ‘knowledge’ undergoes in its metamorphosis into literature. Thus, there is first a pastiche of the ‘library’ (of European knowledge) in its transformation into a text (into the various apocryphal texts that Borges constructs by citing them); and this transformation entails a parody of the discursive forms of knowledge and their submission to a status of ‘minor literature’. (164)
The procedures of archivization and critique that an act of reading entails, therefore, constitute the architecture of Borges’ work; the ‘library’ becomes, following the second postulate, a labyrinth. As a result of this transformation, two readers are opposed in a direct confrontation: God, the author, who sees everything at once through a giant telescope and gathers all perception into a central eye, and the reader in the labyrinth who follows a trail that may eventually lead through the labyrinth, but must also necessarily include in his or her trajectory points of impasse, detours, traps, blind alleys, wrong turns and dead ends. This is an important consideration, since ‘knowledge’
Quixote by Oleg Dozortsev
I return once more to the preface of the The History of Iniquity to clarify Borges’ use of the baroque to name a technique of his fiction, the technique of parody.
I would define the baroque as that style that deliberately exhausts (or tries to exhaust) its own possibilities, and that borders on self-caricature. In vain did Andrew Lang attempt, in the eighteen-eighties, to imitate Pope’s Odyssey, it was already a parody, and so defeated the parodist’s attempt to exaggerate its tautness. ‘Baroco’ was a term used for one of the modes of syllogistic reasoning; the eighteenth century applied it to certain abuses in seventeenth-century architecture and painting. I would venture to say that the baroque is the final stage in all art, when art flaunts and squanders its resources. The baroque is intellectual, and Bernard Shaw has said that all intellectual labour is humorous. This humour is unintentional in the works of Baitasar Gracian, but intentional, even indulged, in the works of John Donne. (165)
• The baroque is a style that exhausts its own possibilities, or at least tries to.
• It can be identified as a form of parody.
• It represents the final stage of all art, a stage of exhaustion or pure expenditure (although, one might also say pure consumption, in the sense that it uses or exhausts all its resources).
• Finally, the baroque is purely intellectual, which is to say humorous.
Repetition is a phenomenon that lacks novelty, as is known; in any case - and this has also been said - novelty is rooted only in the return, which suggests that the recognition of die quotation is especially appropriate. [...] If, for Borges, quotations reveal that authors are readers who re-write what has been written, those turnings are what found and shape his poetics. (196)
Perhaps the best exemplar of this process is the figure of Pierre Menard, whose affirmation can be read in the context of the following sentence: ‘He dedicated his scruples and his sleepless nights to repeating an already extant book in an alien tongue.’ (167) The principle that governs Menard’s process, which Borges comments on in detail, is neither translation nor copying, but rather corresponds to the creation of what Deleuze calls a ‘simulacrum’. What differentiates the simulacrum from the simple copy or the translation is a principle that returns to the Leibnizian axiom that only what differs can begin to have a resemblance. The ‘difference’ one finds in the tale of Menard is the following: ‘To compose the Quixote at the beginning of the seventeenth century was a reasonable undertaking, necessary and perhaps unavoidable; at the beginning of the twentieth, it is almost impossible.’ However, the difference that governs and determines the undertaking for Menard is defined as ‘impossible’. But, ‘impossible’ in what sense?
[...] truth, whose mother is history, rival of time, depositor)' of deeds, witness of
the past, exemplar and advisor to the present, and future’s counsellor.
[...] truth, whose mother is history', rival of time, depository of deeds, witness of
the past, exemplar and advisor to the present, and future’s counsellor. (168)
are still two memories - my own personal memory and the memory of Shakespeare which 1 partially am. Or rather, the two memories possess me. There is a place where they merge, somehow. There is a woman’s face ... I am not sure what century it belongs to. (170)
later on, the narrator explains:
De Quincy says that our brain is a palimpsest. Even' new text covers the previous one, and is in turn covered by the text that follows - but all-powerful Memory is able to exhume any impression, no matter how momentary it might have been, if given sufficient stimulus. To judge by the will he left, there had not been a single volume in Shakespeare’s house, not even the Bible, and yet everyone is familiar with die books he so often repaired to: Chaucer, Gower, Spenser, Christopher Marlowe, Holinshed’s Chronicle, Florio’s Montaigne, North’s Plutarch. I possessed, at least potentially, the memory that had been Shakespeare’s; the reading (which is to say the re-reading) of those old volumes would, then, be die stimulus I sought. (171)
P.S. (1924) - I am now a man among men. In my waking hours I am Professor Emeritus Hermann Sorgel; I putter around the card catalogue and compose erudite trivialities, but at dawn I sometimes know that the person dreaming is die other man. Every so often in the evening I am unsettled by small, fleeting memories that are perhaps authentic. (173)
Both the story of Menard and that of Herman Sorgel illustrate a certain mysterium tremendium that has become the hallmark of much of Borges’ fiction. Yet, the anxiety - over personal identity, experience, personality - in each case is haunted by die character of repetition that comes from living their whole lives in the Library. In particular, each character is haunted by an idea of originality, often a figure of genius, that outstrips the protagonist or narrator and leaves his own identity blank and barren, a copy of a copy.
In adventures such as these, I have squandered and wasted my years. It does not seem unlikely to me that there is a total book on some shell of the universe. [Borges adds the following axiom: ‘it simple suffices for such a book to be possible for it to exist’.] I pray to the unknown god that a man - just one, even though it were thousands of years ago! - may have examined and read it. If honour and wisdom and happiness are not for me, let them be for the others. Let heaven exist, though my place be in hell. Let me be outraged and annihilated, but for just one instant, in one being, let Your enormous Library be justified.
In this passage from ‘The Library of Babel’, we can detect the cry of a man of faith, even though his place is in hell. He is haunted by the possibility that there is one creature - who may have existed thousands of years ago, or who may not yet exist (although this doesn’t matter, since the library contains all possible times and it is sufficient to posit his existence for all these times, regardless of past or future with regard to the present) - who has read the book and for whom the universe is completely and perfectly known.
The key to the above mystery is Borges’ frequent use of the term ‘plot’ in order to designate both its conspiratorial and literary senses. History is narrated by Borges’ scholarly detectives as a series of plots that always lead to the murder of a God or a hero; likewise, literature can be understood as possibly the limidess number of versions of the same basic plot As Borges writes, ‘The idea that history might have copied history seems mind- boggling enough; that history should have copied literature is inconceivable .. .’ (176) In fact, ‘The Theme of the Traitor and the Hero’ is itself an ingenious variation on this theme that history copies literature, as the scholar detective discovers that the hero Kirkpatrick himself was the traitor to the revolution and his execution was staged in order to turn the traitor’s execution into an instrument of political emancipation.
And so it was that Nolan (the playwright) conceived a stage plan. [.. .1 He had no time to invent the circumstances of multiple executions from scratch, and so he plagiarized the scene from another playwright, the English enemy Will Shakespeare, reprising scenes from Macbeth and Julius Caesar. The public yet secret performance occurred over several days. The condemned man entered Dublin, argued, worked, prayed, reprehended, spoke the words of pathos - and each of those acts destined to shine forth in glory had been choreographed by Nolan. Hundreds of actors collaborated with the protagonist; the role of some was complex, the role of others a matter of moments on the stage. The things they did and said endure in Ireland’s history books and in its impassioned memory.
In Borges’ account, history is motivated by a single murder that has unfolded in coundess different versions. The conspiracy that resulted in the betrayal and murder of Caesar functions as the original plot, but there are endless variations, including the murder of Christ (in the vast plot arranged by his Father), Kirkpatrick (who, like Christ, turns out to be a willing victim), and even Abraham Lincoln (whose assassination in a theatre is already prefigured by Nolan’s version thirty years beforehand, and by the fact that Booth was an actor playing a role that had already been written for so many others before him). History unfolds, murder by murder, but in the centre of these recorded events is the lonely figure of the reader and scholar, an avatar of Borges himself, who connects these murders together into a vast and overarching design.
In Nolan’s play, the passages taken from Shakespeare are the least dramatic ones; Ryan suspected that the author interpolated them so that someone, in the future, would be able to stumble upon the truth. Ryan realized that, he too, was part of Nolan’s plot. ... After long and stubborn deliberation, he decided to silence the discovery. He published a book dedicated to the hero’s glory; that too, perhaps, had been foreseen. (178)
164. I employ this concept from the work of Deleuze and Guattari. See Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, trans. Dana Polan (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986).
165. Borges, Collected Fictions, p. 4.
166. Lisa Block de Behar, The Passion of an Endless Quotation, trans. William Egginton (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2003), pp. 2-3.
167. Jorge Luis Borges, Labyrinths (New York: New Directions, 1962), p. 44.
168. Borges, Labyrinths, p. 43.
169. Borges, Labyrinths, p. 42. Appropriately, the above passage is cited from my earlier commentary on Borges, ‘The Baroque Detective’, in The Non- Philosophy of Gilles Deleuze (London: Continuum, 2002), p. 79.
170. Borges, Collected Fictions, p. 510.
171. Borges, Collected Fictions, p. 512.
172. Borges, Collected Fictions, p. 514.
173. Borges, Collected Fictions, p. 515.
174. Borges, Collected Fictions, p. 307.
175. Borges, Collected Fictions, p. 145.
176. Borges, Collected Fictions, p. 144.
177. Borges, Collected Fictions, p. 145.
178. Borges, Collected Fictions, p. 146.
In: The Return of the Baroque in the Modern Culture. London, 2004, pp.111-119.