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  • When Ireneo Funes looked at a glass of wine on a table,

  • he sawall the shoots, clusters, and grapes of the vine.

  • He remembered the shapes of the clouds in the south

  • at the dawn of the 30th of April of 1882,

  • and he could compare them in his recollection with the marbled grain

  • in the design of a leather-bound book which he had seen only once,

  • and with the lines in the spray which an oar raised

  • in the Rio Negro on the eve of the battle of the Quebrancho.”

  • In the short storyFunes, the Memorious,”

  • Jorge Luis Borges explores what it would be like to have a perfect memory.

  • His character not only remembers everything he has ever seen,

  • but every time he has seen it in perfect detail.

  • These details are so overwhelming

  • Funes has to spend his days in a dark room,

  • and can only sleep by imagining a part of town he has never visited.

  • According to Borges,

  • Funes’s memories even rendered him incapable of real thought,

  • becauseTo think is to forget a difference, to generalize, to abstract.

  • In the overly replete world of Funes there were nothing but details.”

  • Funeslimitless memory was just one of Borges’s many explorations of infinity.

  • Born in Argentina in 1899,

  • he admired the revolutionaries of his mother’s family

  • but took after his father’s bookish clan.

  • His body of essays, poems, and stories, or, as he called them, ficciones

  • pioneered the literary style oflo real maravilloso,”

  • known in English as Magical Realism

  • and each was just a few pages long.

  • Though Borges was not interested in writing long books,

  • he was an avid reader,

  • recruiting friends to read to him after he went blind in middle age.

  • He said his image of paradise was an infinite library,

  • an idea he brought to life inThe library of Babel.”

  • Built out of countless identical rooms,

  • each containing the same number of books of the same length,

  • the library of babel is its own universe.

  • It contains every possible variation of text,

  • so there are some profound books,

  • but also countless tomes of complete gibberish.

  • The narrator has spent his entire life

  • wandering this vast labyrinth of information

  • in a possibly futile search for meaning.

  • Labyrinths appeared over and over in Borgeswork.

  • InThe Garden of Forking Paths,”

  • as Yu Tsun winds his way through country roads,

  • he remembers a lost labyrinth built by one of his ancestors.

  • Over the course of the story,

  • he finds out the labyrinth is not a physical maze but a novel.

  • And this novel reveals that the real Garden of Forking Paths is time:

  • in every instant, there are infinite possible courses of action.

  • And as one moment follows another,

  • each possibility begets another set of divergent futures.

  • Borges laid out infinite expanses of time in his labyrinths,

  • but he also explored the idea of condensing all of time

  • into a single moment.

  • InThe God’s Script,”

  • at the very beginning of the world

  • the god writes exactly one message

  • into the spots of the jaguars,

  • who thenlove and reproduce without end,

  • in caverns, in cane fields, on islands,

  • in order that the last men might receive it.”

  • The last man turns out to be a tenacious old priest

  • who spends years memorizing and deciphering the jaguar’s spots,

  • culminating in an epiphany where he finally understands the god’s message.

  • Imprisoned deep underground,

  • he has no one to share this meaning with,

  • and it changes nothing about his circumstances,

  • but he doesn’t mind:

  • in that one moment,

  • he has experienced all the experience of everyone who has ever existed.

  • Reading Borges, you might catch a glimpse of infinity too.

When Ireneo Funes looked at a glass of wine on a table,

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Infinity according to Jorge Luis Borges - Ilan Stavans

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    林宜悉 posted on 2020/03/19
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