Enguídanos, mi sendero de versos (Spanish Edition)
Swedenborg, Emanuel, Influence. Mysticism in literature. All parts of this publication are protected by copyright. Any utilisation outside the strict limits of the copyright law, without the permission of the publisher, is forbidden and liable to prosecution. This applies in particular to reproductions, translations, microfilming, and storage and processing in electronic retrieval systems. It is a John Calder edition, which I have never seen for sale elsewhere, with a cover illustration of zany zigzag arrows dancing through a labyrinth towards two expressionless eyes.
I thank and blame Miss McWilliams for pushing me down the rabbit hole into the Borges Wonderland, from which I have never returned. If we should meet again, I will happily and gratefully return her book. Thanks to Sophia Wellbeloved for her investigation into possible BorgesGurdjieff connections. Additional thanks to Cameron for the use of his artwork for the cover image.
Introduction Every time I read something, that something is changed. And every time I write something, that something is being changed all the time by every reader. Every new experience enriches the book. A writer who wrote only the things he intended would be a very poor writer.
Table of Contents
A writer should write with a certain innocence. If not, what he does is not all his own poetry. But I think the writers should choose a better subject. How is the reader to judge this?
I have been reading and encouraging others to read Borges for twenty years, and have taught his works, especially the poetry, at university level for a decade. Things are unhinged. Why is the course not for the fainthearted? To this day I still feel the same vertiginous thrill at contemplating the one-sided disc.
What could possibly be on the other side? What is a mystical text? Was Borges a mystic? What is a mystic? Can there be a mystical reading of a non-mystical text, and vice-versa? Whilst his interest in religious philosophies and practices such as the Kabbalah and Buddhism has been explored in some excellent books and articles, his relationship to specific mystical writers and texts has received far less attention, and for the most part appears only as oblique and generally unexplored references. This is unsurprising for three reasons that I can identify. Firstly, there is no easily delineated school of mystical writers; the traditions are characterized by heterogeneity.
The scholarship of mysticism reveals countless attempts, pioneered by William Inge and William James, to define mysticism according to key characteristics.
There is consequently no consensus. Secondly, Borges himself described mystics and mystical texts with a confusing blend of philosophical scepticism, literary awe, metaphysical perplexity and personal fondness. Thirdly, and importantly, it would appear that Borges scholarship, tied as it is to the Academy, treats the shape-shifting and ill-defined landscape of mysticism and mystical texts with reservation. Mysticism, and the many cognate aspects of anomalous human experience generally appraised under the titles of parapsychology, paraphenomena or the occult, appear to defy such a methodology.
This aspect is explored in detail in Chapter Two. Borges is, of course, ideal fodder for academic discourse. His works are studied to illustrate characteristics of modernism and postmodernism, magical realism however obliquely , Argentine and Latin American literature, and even postcolonialism see Warnes What, though, is lost?
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You might as well talk of compulsory love or compulsory happiness. Reading need not be a purely intellectual exercise.
To argue, however, that there is a more numinous aspect to Borges is problematic, owing to the radical scepticism and spiritual agnosticism that characterize his extensive works. He concludes that Borges was consequently a mystic. However, when the tales are read in their entirety, it is apparent that they are carefully constructed fictions, revealing a radically more sceptical, philosophical and literary quality than the brief isolated passages, and may even be considered parodies of mystical texts. Is there a parallel between his use of philosophy for aesthetic purposes and his use of mysticism?
Whilst admiring the aesthetics, he was nevertheless sceptical about the very nature of philosophy and its pretence to eternal truths. What I have done is exploit, or explore — a more noble word — the literary possibilities of philosophy. In general, seeing that I have used diverse metaphysical and theological systems for literary objectives, readers have believed that I have professed those systems, when really all that I have done has been employ them for those ends, nothing more.
I never attempt to do that.
I suppose that is allowable, no? It is an agnostic position in its fullest sense. This world is so strange that anything may happen, or may not happen. Being an agnostic makes me live in a larger, a more fantastic kind of world, almost uncanny. Firstly, numerous texts conclude with a bathetic absence of revelation. Why not be Gnostics today and agnostics tomorrow?
I have not chosen them. They were given me. I stick to them because I find that they are the right symbols for my state of mind. They are not, at least to me, literary devices or tricks. The philosophically-orientated mind seeks to understand a mystery whilst knowing it to be essentially mysterious. To think that a man can find it is absurd. We can live without understanding what the world is or who we are.
The important things are the ethical instinct and the intellectual instinct, are they not? The intellectual instinct is the one that makes us search while knowing that we are never going to find the answer. This uselessness, however, need not be the cause of despair, but the perpetual epistemological challenge that maintains our intellectual drive. In religious and theological matters, this of course implies not placing faith in a particular doctrine. Reason, intellect and cynicism have trumped the passion for existence and sense of awe at the mysteries of 16 Introduction nature. In this Gulliver-esque tale the future is full of old, tired, people, free of earthly trappings but having found no illumination concerning the riddle of existence.
The Borges-like narrator and his Borges-like host have abandoned themselves to despondent cynicism, dulled by governments and politics, dulled by nations and peoples, dulled by language and history; indeed the old man sees it as hubris to attempt to gather meaning from existence. Life gives everything to everyone, but most men are unaware of it.
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My voice is tired and my fingers weak, but listen to me. Whilst on the one hand this is a polarity of despair and joy, it is a dialectic that can be perceived at many further levels: reason and intuition, intellect and emotion, empiricism and esotericism, the revealed and the occult, fact and fiction, reality and fantasy.
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In this and other respects their projects have far more in common than has hitherto been acknowledged. That is to say that his concerns were not merely epistemological but ontological also. This view is a piece of gross carelessness of which even professional people are guilty. Jung a mystic? I have no intention of suggesting that Borges was a shaman or guru, terms which have a stricter definition than mystic, though equally problematic.
However, the parallel drawn with Jung here is helpful in illustrating a perplexing dialogue between polarities present in Borges. My argument is that there is a limit to the capacity of a reader to explore such texts to the extent that Borges did if, ultimately, one is not predisposed towards them.
Borges, as I explore in this book, investigated mysticism in particular with a series of questions and arguments that reveals a level of deep personal investment. The brief passage from Russell that Borges and Bioy included comes from an essay in which Russell systematically lambasts all manner of woolly-brained thinking that he detected in religious, spiritual and superstitious texts and practices throughout the ages and across the cultures. Their comments on the Nazis and the Third Reich are equally scornful. Despite their intellectual kinship, the same cannot be said for Borges, whose tolerance would permit him greater warmth to such matters.
Would not this be true of us? We the undivided divinity that operates within us have dreamed the world.