The Blind Old Man of the Stories

April 28, 2010 § Leave a comment

The Book of Sand and Shakespeare’s Memory (Borges, Jorge Luis)

Any review consists of words employed in the description of other words, a tiresome exercise in futility and in the unnecessary proliferation of things in the universe, that Borges would surely deplore. Instead, to do full justice to Borges, to pay him the tribute he is truly owed, if it were only within my power to do so, I would utter a word, a single magical word, that would summarize everything he has written and meant to the world.

The Librarian of Infinite Knowledge (Photograph of Trinity College Library, Dublin, courtesy

That ineffable word would then encapsulate the entire history of human thought, several dead languages, some maps of strange faraway lands, the austere contemplation of labyrinths,  of memory and of approaching death (which are all the same thing), a few contentious systems of theology, a handful of arguments, the universe of magical objects, and of sweaty knife-fights in a certain street of a half-familiar city. It would include everything ever written by Homer and Dante, and Shakespeare, and Cervantes, and Poe and Chesterton, and De Quincey and Swedenborg. It may include the Upanishads, or the Upanishads may include it. Perhaps this is the word in the fruitless search of which the Kabbalists and alchemists of yore squandered entire lives, the one word in exactly one of the infinite books in an interminable series of rows and columns of the Library of Man that encompasses all the other words, the word that is impossible to find except by a blind librarian walking alone in the darkness of the night.

Borges is Borges. There are pages on the internet that can introduce him better. I will merely note that this was his last great collection of stories, and if you like these, you will find it worthwhile to buy his Collected Fictions, his Selected Non-Fictions and his Poetry, to read them, and to return to them every few years thereafter. If you read nothing else, ever again, you will do just fine.


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