Saturday, May 14, 2011

Exercise at Writing a Real Post Again (Because I am Powerless to Give Up Producing Superfluous Content, Even Though Most of the Professional Thinkers of the World Are Begging People Like Me to do This Above All Else)

I was listening to the podcast (needless to say, I have been tempted by the idea of doing that sort of thing here; however I don't have the technical equipment for it at the moment) on Gil Roth's site about the recently deceased Argentinian (Argentine?) writer Sabato, of whom I had never heard. He quoted some commentary in which this author was contrasted favorably with Borges on the grounds of being more engaged with political and economic reality. I don't know much about Borges either, but his name calls up for me numerous associations, nearly all of which up to now have signified to me a nearly perfect realization of life and talent such as tens of millions aspire to in the course of a century and I don't know how many actually attain--ten thousand? twenty thousand? A couple hundred? I don't think I had ever heard a criticism of him before that struck me as possessing such an air of surety, that was not obviously defensive and arising from a position of weakness. Ambitious but obscure professors, second and third rank critics, and such others as constitute the lower ranks of the artistic wing of the official intelligentsia generally come across in their writing and conversation as unhappy people. Life and other people are largely disappointing to them, the conversation and artistic efforts of most others, especially their contemporaries, bore them to point of inducing misanthropy, and they find their own little better. Their positions in society are providing them but a fraction of the pleasure and satisfaction they desire. All the excitement and success and progress is taking place in other fields of which they have no understanding and consequently no standing or ability by which to help consecrate and celebrate the triumphs. These are the people who, certainly in this country, largely idolized Borges, or what he represented. He, or the idea of him, satisfied them. He figured out how to do that most difficult and concretely desired of artistic tasks, come up with something new and clever and thrilling in a familiar and prestigious medium. He escaped, or gave the appearance of having escaped, the mediocre, unfulfilled mental life mired in trivialities that is the fate of nearly everyone in advanced societies, writers and musicians and professors included.

My primary image of Borges's life as Realized Other is from the account Paul Theroux made of visiting him in Buenos Aires in, I think, 1978. I went through a period there for a while where about once a year I would read one of Theroux travel books, where he makes his way along some interesting itinerary using mainly public transport, staying in slightly rundown hotels, and so on. Usually in the course of these journeys, around once or twice per book, he will drop in on some famous writer who lives along his path, usually the big name (in the West) associated with his country's literature--we get to meet Mahfouz in Cairo, Pomuk in Istanbul, Murakami in Tokyo, etc--but sometimes the person visited is an English-speaking expat whose decades living in exotic locales far from New York and London (which they hate) have made them kind of difficult to effectively communicate with--Paul Bowles in Tangiers and the aged and nearly senile Arthur C Clarke in Sri Lanka, where he lived for many many years and found far preferable to England, are the two examples of this type of interview which stand out. Anyway, on the South American trip, after several months of crossing through the tropics and poor cities and sparsely populated and perhaps even poorer mountainous regions of South America, he arrives in Buenos Aires, a famously Parisian-like city practically at the end of the earth, and goes to visit Borges, who was even at that time aged, blind, and not really a creature of the familiar world.

Borges lived, if I remember correctly, in an apartment, but one of those large ones, with a suite of rooms, very comfortable and in its decoration and visible air of culture a refuge from banal life. I cannot remember if he had any wife or not at the time, though there was an old housekeeper. (One of the fatal mistakes most aspiring smart people make that contributes to their unhappiness when they turn out to be not so smart as they imagined themselves is that they take it for granted that some other poor schmoe or schmoes, whether a spouse or a servant, are going to take care of all their housework for them so they can be left alone to live brilliantly). He kept asking Theroux to read to him--Theroux speaks Spanish pretty well, from what I gather. I think there were cats. Nothing else that the Great Man said really stands out so much as the atmosphere of transcendence over ordinary experience which emanated from his presence.

The type of mind needed to produce this effect of serenity--by which I refer really to a fuller self-possession and control over the material and substance of one's thoughts--and transport from most of the peculiar banalities of modern life seems to be passing out of existence altogether. Though the internet age magnifies these trends even more, it really affects everyone who has grown up since television and perhaps popular music became ubiquitous, which at this point includes pretty much everyone in the western world at least. When I was at school I would go to the houses of some of the older professors and it was like going to a foreign country as far as the depth of immersion in certain attitudes of thought, living, etc. The houses of the younger professors, which at that time (20 years ago) included anybody under age 50-55 or so, even where the person involved was quite intellectually brilliant, nonetheless had the same tone about them as anyone else's house did, as if the higher orders of civilization in which they were certified experts and had devoted years and years of study to had yet been taken up too late in life and not been able to penetrate and influence every minor ritual and action of their existences, their dress, their manners, etc, which is the impression that Borges and various of these other genius writers and scholars of the early 20th century give me...

Gave that one five days. Having a busy week. On to the next post now...

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