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Posts Tagged ‘Jorge Luis Borges’

Jorge Luis Borges on the task of art, working while dreaming, and the rewards of solitude:

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FlapperHouseCoverSmall

Next Spring I will launch a publication called FLAPPERHOUSE. I’d like to tell you about it, though I’m not really the type to write mission statements or manifestos. So I’ll say this instead:

Dorothy Parker, Jorge Luis Borges, and HP Lovecraft walk into a speakeasy. Louis Armstrong sings “St. James Infirmary Blues” over a rusty phonograph. Behind the bar, Salvador Dalí pours absinthe into a hubcap full of peanut butter and raw macaroni, and he stirs the mixture with the antler of a live moose.

“Four martinis, Sally,” says Parker. “Plus whatever the boys want.”

Borges excuses himself to the basement in search of the restroom. He must’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere because before long he’s lost himself in an infinite labyrinth full of shelves with mirror-spined books. He starts to imagine what stories these books contain, and how he might review them.

Back upstairs, Josephine Baker dances in sensual ecstasy on Fritz Lang’s table while he peeks at her sideways through his monocle and pretends he’s not aroused. René Magritte paints himself painting them both through a castle’s window. Apples hover before their faces.

The ghost of Franz Kafka’s in a corner, leaning sharply against the wall.  Lovecraft spots him and approaches, timid yet determined, as if helpless to confront his most horrifying fear. “What’s it like?” Lovecraft asks, referring to death. Kafka’s ghost replies only with facial expressions: First with what seems like laughter, then a grimace like he might cry instead, and finally he shakes his head to say no, I really shouldn’t tell you, no. Lovecraft sits and stares at the floor for a while.

We are neither living nor dead!” shouts TS Eliot, raising a glass of gin. “And we know nothing, looking into the heart of light, the silence!

Parker’s sipping her second drink when she finally notices the ants crawling from the stem of her martini glass and onto her hand. Fucking Dalí, she thinks, as she swats and squashes as many bugs as she can. Kafka’s ghost can hear their screams.

She holds her cameraphone in front of her face: bemused, rankled, heartsick, yet almost drunk enough to be tickled by it all. Once she’s got enough good madness framed in the background, she sips, clicks a picture, and posts it to Instagram, caption, “Just another night at the Flapperhouse… #thirsty”

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In the final scene of last night’s season finale of Breaking Bad, Hank Schrader apparently experienced an epiphany on the toilet after opening a copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves Of Grass.  Of course, this was far from the only historic moment involving toilets and literature:

October 31, 1517:

Martin Luther nails his 95 Theses to the door of Wittenberg’s All Saints Church. Scholars attest that Luther’s acute constipation caused him to spend many hours on the toilet, where he researched and wrote the text that started the Protestant Reformation.

December 11, 1747

In a letter to his son, Lord Chesterfield discusses the virtues of reading in the necessary-house:

I knew a gentleman who was so good a manager of his time that he would not even lose that small portion of it which the calls of nature obliged him to pass in the necessary-house; but gradually went through all the Latin poets in those moments. He bought, for example, a common edition of Horace, of which he tore off gradually a couple of pages, carried them with him to that necessary place, read them first, and then sent them down as a sacrifice to Cloacina: this was so much time fairly gained, and I recommend you to follow his example…. Books of science and of a grave sort must be read with continuity; but there are very many, and even very useful ones, which may be read with advantage by snatches and unconnectedly: such are all the good Latin poets, except Virgil in his Æneid, and such are most of the modern poets, in which you will find many pieces worth reading that will not take up above seven or eight minutes.

March 8, 1857:

Joseph Gayetty is the first to market toilet paper, sold for 50 cents per 500 sheets. In a press release, the product is dubbed “Gayetty’s Medicated Paper for the Water-Closet,” and is said to be purer and safer than more commonly used printing papers, which contain “fearful poisons” like Oil of Vitriol and Oxalic Acid. Newspapers and other printed materials, however, continue to be the t.p. of choice in America because they’re cheaper, more readily available, and more fun to read than Gayetty’s papers, which only feature the inventor’s name.

September 30, 1890:

Sears publishes its first catalog, which soon becomes rural America’s preferred toilet reading material/toilet paper.

September 23, 1930:

Sears publishes its catalog on less-absorbent glossy paper, and receives a number of complaint letters from rural America.  The Old Farmer’s Almanac, with its more absorbent texture and hole punched in the corner for easy outhouse hanging, remains a popular alternative.

circa 1936:

In Black Spring, Henry Miller extols the glory of toilet reading:

O the wonderful recesses of the toilet! To them I owe my knowledge of Boccaccio, of Rabelais, of Petronius, of The Golden Ass.  All my good reading, you might say, was done on the toilet.  At the worst, Ulysses, or a detective story.  There are passages in Ulysses which can be read only in the toilet- if one wants to extract the full flavor of their content.  And this is not to denigrate the talent of the author.  This is simply to move him a little closer to the good company of Abelard, Petrarch, Rabelais, Villon, Boccaccio- all the fine, lusty genuine spirits who recognized dung for dung and angels for angels.

February 23, 1940:

Celebrated Argentine author/reviewer of non-existent books Jorge Luis Borges imagines reading Pierre Menard’s Quixote while pretending to poop.

August 16, 1977:

Elvis Presley falls off his toilet and dies in Memphis. Rumor has it that at the time of his death, he was reading a copy of Tom Robbins’ Another Roadside Attraction, smeared with fried banana-and-peanut butter fingerprints.

circa 1994:

Pulp Fiction‘s Vincent Vega (John Travolta) reads Peter O’Donnell’s Modesty Blaise while on a coffee shop toilet, and fails to hear Pumpkin (Tim Roth) and Honey Bunny (Amanda Plummer) loudly committing an armed robbery. Later, in the last moments of Vince’s life (but earlier, in the middle of the movie), Vince is so captivated by Modesty Blaise while using Butch Coolidge’s toilet that he apparently fails to hear Butch (Bruce Willis) enter the apartment, retrieve the gold watch from the bedroom, prepare a Pop Tart and pick up the assault rifle that was left on the counter. (Though the theory that Vince may have been expecting Marsellus Wallace [Ving Rhames] and therefore thought nothing of Butch’s noisemaking is a widely accepted hypothesis among internet geeks.)

April 16, 1998:

George Costanza (Jason Alexander) is forced to buy a book on French Impressionist art which he brought into a bookstore bathroom.  Subsequent attempts to sell the tainted book prove futile.

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My favorite favorite Jorge Luis Borges stories are the ones in A Universal History Of Infamy.  I love the way Borges plays fast and loose with historical events and cites completely fabricated sources like they’re factual, which is always cool unless you’re doing it for some kind of evil propaganda-like purposes.  I also love how Borges takes stories that could very well be novels and condenses them into a few pages.  They’re more like film treatments than short stories, but they’re still a lot of fun to read.  Every time I steal one of those aforementioned techniques for my own stories, I make sure to say a little prayer of gratitude to Senor Borges.

I can’t seem to find anything from Infamy online, so here’s “The Library Of Babel,” which is still really great, in case you hadn’t heard already.  It’s a heady meditation on language, God, infinity, and some other stuff too, all in under 3,000 words:

The universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries, with vast air shafts between, surrounded by very low railings. From any of the hexagons one can see, interminably, the upper and lower floors. The distribution of the galleries is invariable. Twenty shelves, five long shelves per side, cover all the sides except two; their height, which is the distance from floor to ceiling, scarcely exceeds that of a normal bookcase. One of the free sides leads to a narrow hallway which opens onto another gallery, identical to the first and to all the rest. To the left and right of the hallway there are two very small closets. In the first, one may sleep standing up; in the other, satisfy one’s fecal necessities. Also through here passes a spiral stairway, which sinks abysmally and soars upwards to remote distances. In the hallway there is a mirror which faithfully duplicates all appearances. Men usually infer from this mirror that the Library is not infinite (if it were, why this illusory duplication?); I prefer to dream that its polished surfaces represent and promise the infinite … Light is provided by some spherical fruit which bear the name of lamps. There are two, transversally placed, in each hexagon. The light they emit is insufficient, incessant.

Read all of “The Library Of Babel”

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