"Bilo je to kao da se u razgovor umiješao neki složeniji sugovornik."
In the 1934 version - which I have at hand - the novel sinks into allegory: Al-Mu'tasim is the emblem of God, and the punctual itinerary of the hero is in some manner the forward progress of the soul in its mystic ascent.
PISCI UBIJAJU (PISCE)
Ja vas jednostavno volim.
Evo, sitnim sivim slovima komentara objasnit ću zašto.
Danas sam sebi poklonio sliku: govorio sam vam o njoj, vidjet ćete je niže, u postu posvećenom Lovri Artukoviću. Potom sam posjetio majku, ručali smo, vratio sam se kući, skuhao sam čaj, sjeo uz PC, i krenuo se baviti britanskim i/ili pruskim plemstvom; put me je od kuće Wettin i Saxe-Coburg and Gotha odveo do svetice Hildegarde od Bingena i genija Johna von Neumanna; putem sam prošao kroz All Souls College (fasciniran sam fotografijom fellowa George Curzona, 1st Marquess Curzon of Kedleston!) i posjetio Der Gottesfreund vom Oberland, a kako i zašto, duga je to priča - duga cijelo jedno popodne, u ne tako razbludno vrijeme čaja u listopadu.
I, onda, vratim se na Vaseljenu, a tu, vidim - pravo slavlje!
Na trenutak sam osjetio da imam ono što me je ponukalo da satima proučavam rodoslovlja iščezlog Svetog Rimskog Carstva i elite koleđa koji jednom u stotinu godina na čelu procesije slave - patka! Očito, postoj taj Inner Temple.
To me istovremeno smiruje, ali i onespokojava.
NEMANJA 06.10.2007. 20:22
• U zbirci "Evakuacija - Izbor suvremene priče autora iz BiH" Karimu Zaimoviću objavljena je priča "Bez naslova" u kojoj opisuje vlastitu smrt kada granata ulijeće u studio Radio Zida gdje glavni junak priče, Karim Zaimović, upravo emitira fake 'humoristični' program. Priča je napisana u februaru 1994. Zaimović je poginuo izlazeći iz studija Radio Zida, nakon što je emitirao još jedan u nizu fake 'humorističnih' programa, godinu dana kasnije. Bilo mu je 24 godine. Okrutna igra taj bingo. Eto, i Tobermorey naletio na svog riđeg Big Tom from the Rectory snajperista.
A slona u Drezdenu razumijem u potpunosti.
Virtuela 06.10.2007. 23:58
• Nemanja, tvoj poslednji komentar, od 20.22h vrlo je misteriozan - govorish o buducnosti kao da je proshlost, o brnuto, i mnogo vishe uznemiravujuce - o proshlosti kao buducnosti.
dakle, odaj pojedinosti o aristrokaciji i njenim forografijama.
zao pogled u nevinom svetu 07.10.2007. 00:47
• Ako povjerujem u tezu da zbivanja u sadašnjosti utječu na prošlost, HH Munro - da ga nije ubio njemački snajperist - uopće ne bi bio HH Munro, barem ne u cjelosti.
A kako se osjećao snajperist koji ga je ubio? Svjedočanstva iz WW1 uglavnom govore o strahu, a manje o krivnji - što je i logično ako se sjetimo užasa rovovskog ratovanja i činjenice da su neprijatelji fizički bili udaljeni jedan od drugog.
Ipak, moguće je zamisliti plaćenog ubojicu koji luta europskim ratištima i ubija dobre pisce kako bi otvorio put dominaciji elektronskih medija u 20. stoljeću. Nije samo Saki ubijen. Ubio je i Ruperta Brookea. Tu je i Fran Galović. S. Sassoona pretvorio je u paničara. Apollinaire mu je pobjegao, ali ne zadugo...
pametni zub 07.10.2007. 11:58
• Da, Borges kvari ljude. Mogli smo do prvog nalaza stići i tezom o potpunosti atributa neke osobe: činjenica da će ga ubiti snajperist, Sakija jednako određuje kao i ona da je autor 'Tobermorya', ili da ni mrtav ne trpi sufražetkinje.
Kad smo već cinični, ne moramo dalje tražiti snajperista: evo nam Wittgensteina! Cijeli njegov ratni put od broda do howitzer regimente samo je cover Digitalne urote koja je nakanila premrežiti cijeli svijet! Wittgensteinova konverzija očio ipak ima manje veze s Tolstojem, a više s grizodušjem: izvješća o strahu su točna (recimo zapisi Viktora Tauska o paranoji u rovovima WWI; zanimljivo štivo, to tim više jer je Tausk našijenac, a opet iznimno značajna osoba u povijesti psihoanalize), ali ona vrijede za istraumatizirane, već prilično načete i oboljele veterane; dobronamjernik bi morao ipak pretpostaviti da rafinirana duša poput Wittensteina proživljava grozan konflikt dužnosti (višestruke: spram domovine, spram znanosti, spram čovječanstva) i nezatomljene solidarnosti s istim tim ljudima kao ljudima, kao kolegama s druge strane nišana, kao građanima svijeta kao domovine! Wittgenstein se - moramo to pretpostaviti, pobogu, emancipirajmo se od te svoje distanciranosti spram svega ljudskog, suviše ljudskog - povremeno ipak pitao o tome što radi, tjeskobio se, i odatle, in ultima linea, njegovo pozno oduševljenje Kierkegardom, za kojega je mislio da je svetac: Ludwiga je obuzeo strah i drhtanje pred logikom i grijesima!
Cijela ta tradicija od Fregea, Peana i Schrödera, preko Boolea i Russella pa do Wittgensteina, bila mi je odavno sumnjiva i moram priznati da sam sa svoje strane poduzeo sve u praćenju njihove daljnje aktivnosti. Primjetio sam da je nakon Wittgensteinove sedme, zaključne teze - svojevrsnog Prohibicijskog zakona: ...o tome valja šutjeti! - nastala živa ilegalna produkcija filozofema u intelektualnom podzemlju obje obale Atlantika!
Konačno, sve ovo već smo Vertebrata i ja jednom diskutirali:
(...) Podsjetilo me ovo na prizor iz Wittgensteinovog djetinstva. Taj je baš bio alergičan na neukus i nesrazmjer, ali doslovno, jednom je prilikom kao dječak ( na nekom domjenku što ga je njegova besramno bogata obitelj održava u svom dvorcu skromnog naziva "Das Haus" u Allegasse str.) nakon što se prenerazio izgledom tetkinog kičastog kompletića uzeo škare i abschneidirao nepotrebne gumbove nakon čega su i ostali primjetili skladniji izgled tete od malog Ludwiga! vertebrata 22.02.2007. 11:33
(...) E, Vertebrate, ne bi ga ni ja bolje uočio, da znaš!
Ovo sa škarama kasnije je odredilo malog Ludwiga kao vrtlara i strizibubu: iskušavajući krajnje konzekvence svoje prohibicijske sedme teze - u krugovima filozofijske mafije poznate kao Zakon Omerte - štucao je i aschneidirao list po list, kao kakav zen-budist!
Čudi me da nije zaklao koje groficu ili barem bedinericu.
Nije zaklao groficu - to je moja agramerska podsvijest - ali je kokao pisce!
NEMANJA 07.10.2007. 13:31
Htio sam vam se javiti noćas oko 1.30, u kasan sat, ćuk il' netopir, ali sam odustao, misleći da možda već spite, a onda opet, nisam htio da izjutra pomislite da ste sve to možda samo sanjali.
Idemo in medias res...
Knjige ubijaju. To je klasičan postmoderni topos: oksimoronski topos u smislu postmoderne koja je, kao već-uvijek-dogođena, klasična: hoću reći, bilo je toga i prije, i u vrijeme kad Aleksandar predbacuje Aristotelu da profanira filozofiju zapisujući je, a Klement Aleksandrijski savjetuje:"Najrazborijtije je ne pisati, nego učiti i proučavati živom riječju, jer napisano ostaje" (Stromatesis) - "Sve napisati u knjigu znači staviti mač u ruke djetetu", poentira Klement, tjerajući vodu na moj mlin. Znanje je moć, reklo bi prosvjetiteljstvo dva milenija kasnije, unatoč slutnji da će moderni cinizam tu moć vrlo brzo pervertirati: moć je znanje, ali, to više nije naša neposredna tema, barem prividno nije. Knjige dakle ubijaju, kako u predgovoru Milorada Pavića, tako i po biblioteci Umberta Eca; Pavić će još dodati: "Za druge ne znam, mene su moje knjige zaista ubile!"
Bilo je toga i prije, te svijesti o tome da knjige ubijaju, ali nije bilo svijesti o toj svijesti, rekao bi samosvjestan duh današnjice.
Knjige ubijaju, nema sumnje ni zbora: recimo "Kapital" ili "Komunistički manifest": u ime toga Slova i u tom Duhu pobijeni su milijuni ljudi, baš kao i u Ime "Moje borbe"; sve me je i strah spomenuti Knjigu koja je knjige, ili onu koja nije čak niti to, nego je i više od knjige: jedan od božjih atributa, k tome časni!
Knjige svakako ubijaju!
Marx je, kako primjećuje Žarko Puhovski, silno patio jer je znao da je njegova 11. teza neispunjen, i možda neostvariv desiderat: cijeli Marxov teoretski opus ima jednu jedinu ambiciju koja je podbacila, i zato je (moguće i zato) revolucija izostala - jer Marxov je tekst samo još jedan od i među tekstvima, iako je imao silnu i revolucionarnu ambiciju da bude pretekst revolucije, onu ezoteričnu i bitnu i osobnu Karlovu ambiciju dakle, da bude tekst koji izlazi iz teksta: da izađe u kontekst! Trebalo je ne samo protumačiti, nego revolucionarizirati stvarnost, uostalom i tako da Duh uskrsne iz Slova, da se oslobodi iz Knjige kao iz boce (Goethe Hegelu; Hajam, Jerofejev...) ili da - i tu dolazimo u srce tame! - bude prizvan (mantičkim) činom čitanja Knjige kao magijskog teksta zaziva!
Bojao sam se to kazati, ali i Borges tvrdi da knjige ubijaju, a onda je tome zaista tako: moja je dakle ideja, s kojom se kolege kao što vidite konzilijarno bespogovorno slažu, da se napiše Knjiga koju bi se čitalo sa strahom da se u aktu čitanja ne oslobode Sile, moguće neki Strašni Duh, koje bi se mogle okrenuti i protiv Čitatelja.
Jasno, nismo mi blesavi, znamo mi da je čitanje zapravo rekreacija teksta, čin suptiliniji i smireniji od pisanja, koje je - upravo zato nismo blesavi, kažem, jer to vrlo dobro kao postmoderni znamo - uvijek unaprijed uračunalo ta svoja palimpsestična čitanja/pre-pisivanja: ovdje to znači da je i Pisar (ha, da anticipiram: rezignirana, melankolična spodoba koja je tek jedan od (Infer)notara Duha, zapisničara njegova diktanda koji je Povijest Književnosti), morao za Djelo/Knjigu platiti glavom. Glava, to je valjda ono glavno, ono bitno nas samih kao bića, pa bi to mogla biti duša, naša srž, kad bi je imali i ako je imamo. Možda je ovo pad iz postmodernog u moderno ili čak predmoderno stanje, a možda je povratak srednovijekovnoj kulturi i njenim temama postmoderan motiv kat egzohen, vrag će ga znati, isti onaj Vrag koji nam upravo faustovski kuca na vrata: jedini bi spas mogao biti da smo, s Hegelom, nekako u pravu glede onakovrsno koncipirane slobode, slobode od sebe sama, kao gubitka svoje vlastitosti, navlastite biti: ljubavi, što je ipak teško ne samo za vjerovati, nego i za preživjeti!
Eto, to je moja ovonoćna ideja, možda mora, moja nokturalna hereza (nokturalna, kao bića mraka, hereza, jer je iskrena): Knjiga koju u tom mom NACRTU ROMANA autor piše, Knjiga je koja inducira pojavu nekakvoga Duha! To je moguće sada svakako shvatiti, u rasponu od revolucije pa da zazivanja duha (možda Karla Marxa), ako i Gajo i Cipra nisu i jedan i drugi u pravu i u krivu, pa filozofija (ni)je i jedno i drugo: i jakobinski klub, ali i spiritistička seansa. Da ne otežavam situaciju koja, vidimo, ionako nije nimalo laka: treba napisati tekst koji ima s jedne strane ambiciju izaći u kontekst (svjesno želi biti predmet kulta, revolucionarni manifest, knjiga gatalica itd.: burevjesnik!), dok s druge, jasno, ima i nužnu, uljuđenu i distingviranu svijest o uzaludnosti svoje ambicije - tu svijest najbolje demonstrira samim činom ispisivanja (teksta), jer, baš zato jer ništa drugo nije moguće i jer se stvari ne daju i neće promijeniti, nužno je - ili je barem još jedino moguće - cijelu tu Stvar - zapisati! Pisanje, kao jedini preostali čin civiliziranoga čovjeka! Kao da je Faraon, nakon što mu je Bog napravio sve što je Starozavjetnom dobrom i dragom Bogu bilo na rapsolaganju u svoj njegovoj zluradoj sesildemilovskoj maštovitosti, rezigniran, s pomišlju: "Ha, a kaj sam više mogel napravit', ta, napravil sam sve kaj je bilo u mojoj ljudskoj, pače faraonskoj moći!", moći faraona kao kulturnoga čovjeka sukobljena s jednim vrlo neotesanim i nekulturnim, seljačkim Bogom, kao da takav Faraon, kažem, post festum, kad su svi događajima o kojima će u toj njegovoj ispovijedi biti riječi već odavno prošlost, pa čak možda i ono prošlo (na kraju povijesti, da budemo otvoreni!), taj i takav faraon usred svoje hardboiled i vrlo noir ispovijedi počinje pisati o tome kaj se je to zapravo dogodilo, da za cijelu jednu povijest ostane zapisano - možda da s tim zapisom ta povijest i započne! - kojeg je Boga od njega, kao Vladara ljudi jedne stare, rafinirane i možda već dekadentne civilizacije, taj Bog osobno i osobito htio!
Eto, to bi ja štel!
I mislim da bum to i napravil.
Je li to bogohulno?
O POGUBNOSTI ČITANJA: DEUS ABSCONDITUS
Pomislio sam na tren da imam izvrsnu ideju: roman o kojem sam govorio varirao bi arhetipsku temu potrage jednog čovjeka za drugim, do njegove srži, do srca tame. Traženi infinitezimalno izmiče a traženje postaje aporetsko hodočašće (koje, kao aporetsko, ako smo razumni ne može ni započeti). Do središta priče, do traženoga, nemoguće je dospjeti: u tome je – u njegovoj načelnoj nedostupnosti (ne znam, ne mogu znati, nagađam) - sva njegova moć. Priča se - ipak! -paradoksalno lako može ispričati pojmovima građanskog svijeta: do traženog se pokušava doći stalnim pronalaženjem 'posrednika': da bi se stiglo od A do Z, nužno je prethodno stići u M, etc: kafkijanska aporetika Kozmosa kao Biroa barem jednom radi za nas: vrlina je Administracije da, na naš užas (i štetu), djeluje! Nevolja je samo u tome da je priča, točnije njen nacrt, već prepričan/a:
Osnovni se sadržaj već nazire: to je nezasitno traganje za jednom dušom tragom tananih odraza koje je ona ostavila u drugim dušama: odraz je isprva tanan trag smiješaka ili riječi; na kraju se promeće u raznolike i sve veće blistavosti razuma, mašte i dobra. Kako ispitanici izbližega upoznaju Almutasima, tako raste i njegova božanstvenost, ali je jasno da su posrijedi puka zrcala. Ovdje se može primijeniti matematički tehnicizam: zasićeni Bahadurov roman sve je veća progresija kojoj je krajnja međa predosjećani „čovjek kojemu je ime Almutasim“.
The Approach to al-Mu'tasim
Jorge Luis Borges
Philip Guedalla writes that the novel The Approach to Al-Mu'tasim by the Bombay lawyer Mir Bahadur Ali "is a rather uncomfortable combination of those allegorical poems of Islam which rarely fail to interest their translator and of those detective novels which inevitably surpass John H. Watson and refine the horror of human life found in the most irreproachable boarding houses of Brighton." Previously, Mr. Cecil Roberts had spoken harshly of Bahadur's book, condemning "the double, improbable, tutelage of Wilkie Collins and of Farid ud-din Attar, the illustrious twelfth-century Persian": a tranquil enough observation, which Guedalla repeats without notable emendation but in a choleric tone of voice. Essentially, both critics are in agreement: both indicate the detective story mechanism of the novel and its mystic undercurrent. This hybridization may cause us to imagine some likeness with Chesterton; we will soon see that there is no such thing.
The editio princeps of The Approach to Al-Mu'tasim appeared in Bombay toward the end of 1932. The paper used was almost the quality of newsprint; the cover proclaimed to the buyer that the book was the first detective novel written by a native of Bombay City. Within a few months the public bought up four printings of a thousand copies each. The Bombay Quarterly Review, the Bombay Gazette, the Calcutta Review, the Hindustan Review (of Allahabad), and the Calcutta Englishman distributed their eulogies. Thereupon Bahadur issued an illustrated edition of the book, which he now titled The Conversation with the Man Called Al-Mu'tasim and handsomely subtitled A Game with Shifting Mirrors. This is the edition which has just been reproduced and issued in London by Victor Gollancz, with a prologue by Dorothy L. Sayers, and the omission - perhaps merciful - of the illustrations. I have it in front of me. The first edition, which I suspect is far superior, I have never succeeded in finding. I am authorized in this last judgment by an appendix which summarizes the fundamental difference between the primitive version of 1932 and the 1934 edition. Before examining the book - and arguing its merits - it would be well for me to indicate rapidly the general course of the work.
Its visible protagonist - we never learn his name - is a law student in Bombay. He disbelieves, blasphemously so, in the Islamic faith of his fathers. But at nightfall on the tenth night of the lunar month of Muharram, he finds himself in the center of a civil tumult between Moslems and Hindus. The night is filled with drums and invocations: the great paper canopies of the Moslem procession force their way among the adverse multitude. A brick flung by a Hindu comes flying from a rooftop; someone sinks a dagger into another's belly; someone - Moslem? Hindu? - is killed and is stamped underfoot. Three thousand men battle: cane against revolver, obscenity against imprecation, God the Indivisible against the Gods. Aghast, the freethinking student joins the fray. With desperate hands he kills (or thinks he kills) a Hindu. The Sirkar police - mounted, deafening-hooved, half asleep - intervene with their impartial lashes. Almost beneath the hooves of the horses, the student takes flight; he makes for the farthest outskirts of town. He crosses two sets of railroad tracks, or the same tracks twice. He scales the wall of an entangled garden, at the back of which rises a circular tower. "A lean and evil mob of mooncolored hounds" breaks out from behind the black rosebushes. Fiercely beset, he takes refuge in the tower. He climbs an iron ladder - some of the rungs are missing - and, once on the roof, where there is a blackish well in the center, encounters a squalid man squatting by the light of the moon and urinating noisily. This man confides in him that his profession is to rob gold teeth from the whiteshrouded cadavers which the Parsees leave in this tower. He talks of other equally vile matters and mentions that fourteen nights have passed since he last purified himself with buffalo dung. He speaks with manifest hatred of certain horse thieves in Gujarat, "eaters of dogs and lizards, men as unclean as the two of us." The sky begins to grow light: the air is filled with the low flight of fat vultures. Exhausted, the student falls asleep. When he awakes, the sun is high in the sky and the robber has disappeared. Also missing are a couple of Trichinopoly cigars and some silver rupees. In the face of the menaces foreshadowed by the previous night, the student resolves to lose himself in the depths of India. He meditates on how he has shown himself capable of killing an idolater, but not of knowing for certain whether a Moslem is more justified in his beliefs than a Hindu. He can not get the name of Gujarat out of his mind, nor that of a certain malka-sansi (a woman of the robber caste) of Palanpur, the preferred target of curses and object of hatred for the despoiler of cadavers. He reasons that the rancor of a man so minutely vile is worthy of special eulogy. He resolves - with little hope - to look for the malka-sansi. After brief prayer, he sets forth on the long voyage with assured languor. Thus concludes the second chapter of the work.
It is impossible to trace the vicissitudes of the nineteen remaining chapters. There is a dizzy pullulation of dramatis personae, not to speak of a biography which seems to exhaust the movements of the human spirit (ranging from infamy to mathematical speculation) or of a peregrination which encompasses the vast geography of Hindustan. The story which begins in Bombay continues in the lowlands of Palanpur, lingers an afternoon and a night at the stone gates of Bikaner, narrates the death of a blind astrologer in a Benares sewer, conspires in the multiform palace of Katmandu, prays and fornicates - amid the pestilential stench of Calcutta - in the Machua Bazaar, watches the days be born in the sea from an office in Madras, watches the afternoons die in the sea from a balcony in the state of Travancore, hestitates and kills at Indapur and closes its orbit of leagues and years in Bombay itself, a few paces away from the garden of the mooncolored hounds.
The plot is as follows: a man, the incredulous and fugitive student whom we already know, falls among people of the vilest class and adjusts himself to them, in a kind of contest of infamy. All at once - with the miraculous consternation of Robinson Crusoe faced with the human footprint in the sand - he perceives some mitigation in this infamy: a tenderness, an exaltation, a silence in one of the abhorrent men. "It was as if a more complex interlocutor had joined the dialogue." He knows that the vile man conversing with him is incapable of this momentaneous decorum; from this fact he concludes that the other, for the moment, is the reflection of a friend, or of the friend of a friend. Rethinking the problem he arrives at a mysterious conviction: some place in the world there is a man from whom this clarity emanates; some place in the world there is a man who is this clarity. The student resolves to dedicate his life to finding him.
The general argument is thus glimpsed: the insatiable search for a soul through the subtle reflections which this soul has left in others; in the beginning, the faint trace of a smile or of a word; in the end, diverse and increasing splendors of reason, of the imagination and of good. In the measure that the men questioned have known Al-Mu'tasim more intimately, in that measure is their divine portion the greater - though it is always clear that they are mere mirrors. Mathematical technicality is applicable: Bahadur's burdened novel is an ascending progression, whose final end is the presentiment of a "man called Al-Mu'tasim." The immediate antecedent of Al-Mu'tasim is a supremely happy and courteous Persian bookseller. The predecessor of this bookseller is a saint . . .
After many years the student arrives at a gallery "at the rear of which there is a door hung with a cheap and copiously beaded mat curtain; from behind it there emanates a great radiance." The student claps his hands once, twice, and asks for Al-Mu'tasim. A man's voice - the incredible voice of Al-Mu'tasim - urges him to come in. The student draws back the curtain and steps forward. The novel ends.
Unless I am deceived, the successful execution of such an argument imposes two obligations upon the writer: one, the various invention of prophetic traits; the other, the obligation of seeing to it that the hero prefigured by these traits be no mere convention or phantom. Bahadur satisfies the former; I do not know to what degree he satisfies the second. In other words: the extraordinary and unseen Al-Mu'tasim should give us the impression of a real character, not that of a jumble of insipid superlatives. In the 1932 version, the supernatural notes are scarce: "the man named Al-Mu'tasim" is to some degree a symbol, but he does not lack idiosyncratic personal features. Unfortunately, this literary good conduct did not last long. In the 1934 version - which I have at hand - the novel sinks into allegory: Al-Mu'tasim is the emblem of God, and the punctual itinerary of the hero is in some manner the forward progress of the soul in its mystic ascent. Grievous details abound: a Negro Jew from Cochin speaking of Al-Mu'tasim says that his skin is dark; a Christian describes him standing atop a tower with his arms outspread; a Red lama remembers him seated "like that image of yak lard which I modeled and adored in the monastery at Tashilhumpo." These declarations are all meant to insinuate a unitary God who accommodates Himself to human diversities. To my mind, the idea is not very stimulating. I will not say the same of this other one: of the conjecture that the Almighty is also in search of Someone, and that Someone in search of some superior Someone (or merely indispensable or equal Someone), and thus on to the end - or better, the endlessness - of Time, or on and on in some cyclical form. Al-Mu'tasim (the name is the same as that of the eighth Abbasside, who was victor in eight battles, engendered eight male and eight female children, left behind eight thousand slaves and reigned during eight years, eight moons, and eight days) etymologically means The Seeker of Shelter. In the 1932 version, the fact that the object of the pilgrimage should be in turn a pilgrim opportunely justified the difficulty of finding him. In the 1934 version, it gives grounds to the extravagant theology I have mentioned. The points of contact between this poem and Mir Bahadur's novel are not over-numerous. In Chapter 20, certain words attributed by a Persian bookseller to Al-Mu'tasim are, perhaps, a magnification of certain others spoken by the hero. This ambiguous analogy and others like it may merely signify the identification of the searcher with the sought; they also might mean that the latter influences the former. Another chapter insinuates that Al-Mu'tasim is the "Hindu" whom the student believe he has killed. Mir Bahadur Ali is, as we have seen, incapable of evading the most vulgar of art's temptations: that of being a genius.
After rereading, I am apprehensive lest I have not sufficiently underlined the book's virtues. It contains some very civilized expressions: for example, a certain argument in the nineteenth chapter in which one feels a presentiment that one of the antagonists is a friend of Al-Mu'tasim when he will not refute the sophisms of his opponent "so as not to be right in a triumphal fashion."
* * *
That a present-day book should derive from an ancient one is clearly honorable: especially since no one (as Dr. Johnson says) likes to be indebted to his contemporaries. The repeated, but insignificant, contacts of Joyce's Ulysses with the Homeric Odyssey continue to enjoy - I shall never know why - the harebrained admiration of the critics. The coincidence in Bahadur's novel with Farid ud-din Attar's venerated Colloquy of the Birds are rewarded with the no less mysterious applause of London, and even of Allahabad and Calcutta. Other derivations for Bahadur's novel are not wanting. One inquisitor has enumerated certain analogies in the novel's first scene with elements from Kipling's story On the City Wall. Bahadur has admitted the connection, but has alleged that it would be most abnormal if two paintings depicting the tenth night of Muharram did not coincide in some way. Eliot, with greater justice, recalls the seventy cantos of the incomplete allegory The Faerie Queen, where the heroine, Gloriana, does not appear a single time - as previously pointed out in a censure by Richard William Church (Spenser, 1879). With all humility, I wish to mention a distant, and possible, predecessor: the Jerusalem Kabbalist Isaac Luria, who in the sixteenth century proclaimed that the soul of an ancestor or that of a master might enter the soul of an unfortunate to comfort or instruct him. Ibbur is the name for this type of metempsychosis.<1>
<1> I have referred, in the course of this note, to the Mantiq ut-Tair (Colloquy of the Birds) by the Persian mystic Farid ud-din Abu Talib Mehammed ibn-Ibrahim Attar, who was assassinated by the soldiers of Tului, Genghis Khan's son, when Nishapur was sacked. Perhaps it will not prove idle to summarize the poem. The faraway king of the birds, the Simurg, drops an exquisite feather in the middle of China; weary of their ancient anarchy, the birds determine to find it. They know that their king's name means "Thirty Birds"; they know that his royal palace stands on the Kaf, the circular mountain which surrounds the earth. They undertake the almost infinite adventure. They fly over seven valleys, or seven seas; the next-to-the-last one is called Vertigo; the last, Annihilation. Many of the pilgrims desert; others perish. Thirty of them, purified by their labors, set foot upon the Mountain of the Simurg. At last they contemplate it: they perceive that they are the Simurg, and that the Simurg is each one of them and all of them. (The Enneads of Plotinus, too, declare - V, 8, 4 - a paradisiacal extension of the principle of identity: "Everything in the intelligible heaven is everywhere. Anything is all things. The sun is all the stars, and each star is all stars and the sun.") The Mantiq ut-Tair has been translated into French by Garcin de Tassy, into English by Edward Fitzgerald. For purposes of this note I have consulted the tenth volume of Burton's The Thousand and One Nights and the monograph titled The Persian Mystics: Attar (1932) by Margaret Smith.
JORGE LUIS BORGES AND THE EUROPEAN VISITORS
by Ricardo Nirenberg
Jorge Luis Borges' first "metaphysical" fiction, "Approach to Al-Mu`tasim" (1935) names several European intellectuals for reasons which, I hope to show, can be detected.
Before long-distance air travel, back in the 1920s and 30s, London and Paris were fifteen, twenty times more distant from the Pampas than today. This made for a correspondingly higher mythic potential energy, which meant that the cultivated classes on both sides of the Atlantic, and on both sides of the Equator, believed that on the opposite side was to be found the cure for le mal du sičcle, the elixir against existential ennui. From the Argentine shore, only the wealthy could afford the trip to Europe, and the ostentatious Pampćan lord carrying a milch cow with him all the way to Paris for his dairy requirements was an often-envied laughing-stock. To him the word “rastaquoučre”, or simply “rasta”, was regularly applied. Europe, conversely, sent her intellectuals to the Far South-southwest, paid to lecture on culture by either side or by both.
The Europeans expected a beneficial dose of noble savagery from the natives; the Buenos Aires educated public expected to hear the dernier cri of civilization & refinement: whether, for example, it was fashionable to trust reason or rather intuition, to think oneself primitive or advanced, to believe in life after death or to believe in nothing. By 1931, Guillermo de Torre (the man of letters who was J. L. Borges’ brother-in-law) wrote in the journal Sur, “Buenos Aires is a great importer of lecturers.” And so it was. Take 1929 for example: in that year, Hermann Graf von Keyserling, the Estonian aristocrat, and Benjamin Fondane a.k.a. Fundoianu, the Romanian Jew, spoke at the same hall, probably facing the same bejeweled, blue-stocking ladies and the same slick-haired, tight-gartered gentlemen. Both dissertators, so different in almost every respect, edified their audience with impassioned denunciations of discursive intellect.
In the period between the two world wars, nuance was unappreciated and too often taken for betrayal. All middle ground had disappeared, sunk like Plato’s Atlantis, and had been replaced by the abyss. Philosophically, reason was either exalted as the supreme good or denigrated as the nethermost evil; politically, one had to choose, willy-nilly (so it was urged), between two opposed tyrannical loyalties, Communism and Fascism. In such a climate of unconnected isles, essentiality and authenticity became the ruling virtues: the enemies were the amphibious, the cosmopolitan, the nomad, the lukewarm, and above all, the land-less capital. Argentina was no exception: there, nationalism meant to rid the country of British economic and French cultural influences, and go back to the “essence” of Argentinity, whatever that might have meant. A pretty subjective affair in any case, often meaning simply that the patrón, issued from Spanish conquistadors, should absolutely lord over the vast, bastard peonage.
All his life Borges refused to surrender to those either/ors. He was derided by Argentine nationalists as a buffoon at the pay of foreign capital, and called by the worst insult in their vocabulary: cipayo (a word curiously derived from Anglo-Indian sepoy, through French cipaye). On the other hand the left treated him so unfairly that, six years after Borges’ death in Geneva, Édouard Roditi, in an article published in Andrei Codrescu’s Exquisite Corpse, placed the Argentine writer in a short list of fascistic Denker und Dichter, together with Heidegger, Céline, Pound, Eliade and Gertrude Stein. By almost everyone else Borges was, for a long time, pegged as a bookish writer, disconnected from life.
“El acercamiento a Almotásim” (The Approach to Al-Mu’tasim), of 1935, is the earliest of Borges’ metaphysical fictions, and as such it is especially remarkable. It interests us not because it is among his best—no one, I think, would rate it close to “El Aleph” or “El Zahir”—but because here we see the writer coming to terms, in a highly self-conscious way, with his new invention. I mean the invention of a new literary genre, something that happens very rarely in literary and art history, and which is roughly equivalent to the invention of a new human feeling. New genres are often conceived just like sexed creatures, by the coming together of two genres already mature, two mature genres which furthermore are traditionally perceived as opposite and incompatible, the one being “high” and the other “low.” So Plautus, to cover himself from Rome’s pedantic critics, had the highest authority on these matters, the god Mercury himself, tell the public in the Prologue of Amphitryon that the play to come, with gods as well as slaves in it—can you imagine?—would be “a mixture of both” (tragedy and comedy) and that therefore it would be called “tragi-comedy.” And so, too, with the first modern novel, Cervantes’ Don Quixote. This latter is a fusion of the chivalry romance, derived from the medieval and late-antique tales of adventure, and the peculiarly Spanish “low” genre called the picaresque. All through the first part of Don Quixote the author was so unsure of the success of his bold innovation that he intercalated stories in the Italianate and pastoral styles to keep up the readers’ interest, to keep away the critics’ ire, and to show that he, Cervantes, was able to compose a “normal” tale. Of course, I do not mean to imply that later instances of a genre will go on exhibiting for everyone to see—that is, so naked and so filled with anxiety—the mixed features characteristic of the first attempt. No, the textual anxiety accompanies the awareness of the new, and it can take many forms: endistancing or setting masks between the author and the work, as in the First Part of Don Quixote, or in Eliot’s Wasteland, for example; or a willful confusion of reality levels—the mixing of real and fictitious characters and situations, for instance; the introduction into the work of self-reference and its aporias, and so on.
Borges was no less self-conscious and no less anxious about what would come out of his Al-Mu’tasim; surely he was aware that what he had there was a first attempt at a new genre. The genetic fusion (or hybridization, as Borges himself calls it) in this case, is this: a philosophical or theological theme (in the occurrence, the theme of the hidden Imam in the Ismaelian tradition) is combined with the genre of detective fiction, murder mystery or roman policier, itself a child of newspaper crime reportage and scientific report or mathematical treatise. Borges had been thinking about these matters rigorously. In July of the same year of Al-Mu’tasim, 1935, the journal Sur published Borges’ first essay on the subject of detective fiction, “Los laberintos policiales y Chesterton” (The Detection Labyrinths and Chesterton); in it Borges gave a very strict set of rules defining the genre and declared that Poe’s “The Mystery of Marie Rogęt” (1842) was its first specimen. That in itself was a provocation, for that place of pioneering honor is usually reserved for Poe’s earlier story, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” But Borges was probably of the opinion (surely right) that the earlier story violates one of the genre key requirements, namely that the solution to the crime should not invoke facts or data not available to the reader beforehand. Let us note about Poe, briefly and parenthetically, that “The Mystery of Marie Rogęt”—though surprisingly not “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”—exhibits all the signs of textual anxiety attending the awareness of the new, as is most noticeable in Poe’s footnotes: here, as usual, Borges may have been right in spite of the appearances.
Finally I come to the original purpose of this article, which is to disclose the peculiar form textual anxiety takes in “The Approach to Al-Mu’tasim.” In the first place, Borges attributes the authorship of the novel about the search for the hidden Imam to the Bombay lawyer Mir Bahadur Ali, just as Cervantes had attributed most of the First Part of Don Quixote to Cide Hamete Benengeli. Then, before he starts narrating the plot, he has a couple of critics condemn, in implacable and summary fashion, the “hybrid” nature of the text, its being a “rather uncomfortable combination” of Islamic allegory and detective fiction, i.e., precisely the feature that gives the piece its originality. Neither of those two writerly tricks is new or in itself remarkable. What is remarkable, however, is the identity of those critics. Philip Guedalla, whose name begins Borges’ story, was a real person (b. 1889, d. 1944) who visited Argentina in at least three occasions: in August and September of 1931, in September of 1934, and lastly in November 1939. The first visit promptly resulted in a book, Argentine Tango (London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1932), glib and clever yet vulgar and clearly inessential. The second visit, apparently, won for the British writer the honor of playing a prominent role in Borges’ first metaphysical story—I say apparently because it can scarcely be doubted that Borges and Guedalla met, but I have not been able to find, so far, any account of their meeting or acquaintance.
Borges’ other self-inflicted critic is Cecil Roberts, born in 1892. Guedalla (says Borges) only repeats Roberts’ criticism of the Bombay lawyer’s novel “in a more choleric dialect.” For the rest (he adds), both critics agree entirely. This fictitious agreement is a reflection of the real agreement and mutual admiration between those two British writers. I have extracted the following information from the third volume of Cecil Roberts’ memoirs (The Bright Twenties: being the third book of an autobiography, 1920-1929, London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1970; pages 121-3). In 1921, aged 32, Philip Guedalla had been already caricatured by Max Beerbohm, which amounts to saying that he had arrived. His career
“had begun at Rugby with notable contributions to the school magazine. At Balliol College he took two Firsts and became President of the Oxford Union. His bons-mots were famous. Before he left Oxford he published two books of verse … Guedalla was a brilliant public speaker … I was captivated by his technique. He was forceful, witty and well-informed. In subsequent years it was sometimes my fate to find myself speaking at the same functions. He was always formidable, in complete command of his audience. Because of my admiration I treasured a compliment he paid me on one occasion. I liked to recall it against visitations of doubt and despondency. He came up to me after he had been overwhelmingly excellent and congratulated me on my own contribution, saying: ‘I never know whether I prefer to precede you or to follow you—you’re such a high jumper.’ It was generous coming from a master. In a few years he was well-established as a biographer. Some critics accused him of being a disciple of Lytton Strachey, who then led the field, but ‘he was more conscientious and scholarly’ as the Dictionary of National Biography observed. Wellington, his last biographical work, sets the standard of quality. His death in 1944, aged fifty-five, took from the public scene a brilliant figure.”
Besides being excellent public speakers, both members of the Liberal Party, Roberts and Guedalla were assiduous, sought-after travelers: the former interviewed President Coolidge and later President Roosevelt in the White House; the latter visited the Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires and talked about military strategy with the de facto President, General Uriburu. Such were the men Borges chose as fake critics of Mir Bahadur Ali’s bogus novel: brilliant, facile with tongue and pen, recognized importers of European culture into the New World—Guedalla concentrating on the South, Roberts on the North.
In the absence of credible documents, the question as to why did Borges choose such personalities as reprovers is completely open to conjecture. Mine follows. Once the writer had decided that his bogus novel was to belong to the realm of British letters, it naturally followed that the critics had to be British, prestigious, full of Oxonian self-assurance, and ready at reproval, since lauding critiques belong to the commercial advertisement or blurb, a genre too dismally low to mix with anything, unless it be with clear irony. But I think there is something besides, or rather behind, all that: an experience which must have been specially frustrating, given Borges personality. No one in Argentina was so conversant with European literature, and certainly no one had as firm preferences and dislikes, totally unaffected by fashion or the dictates of European visitors: for instance, Borges placed Kipling’s Kim near the top of modern novels, but thought poorly of Joyce’s Ulysses. I imagine that often his literary opinions were patronizingly dismissed by some distinguished visitor, with whom all the other guests at tea or dinner party would naturally have tended to agree, to Borges’ chagrin. Singling Guedalla as his critic, I suspect, was a way of venting felt frustrations, a kind of revenge; adding Roberts was prudent, since the two English writers were so closely related, and readers would not be able to conclude that Borges picked his critics exclusively from among his acquaintances.
All this, as I have said, is mere conjecture; a slightly later occurrence reinforces its likelihood. In April 1939, the French magazine Mesures (5th year, number 2, pages 115-122) published a translation of “El acercamiento a Almotásim”. The translation was done by Borges’ friend Néstor Ibarra and carried the title, “L’Approche du caché”; in it there is a new footnote, added by Borges no doubt, which reads as follows:
“En France, le livre [de Mir Bahadour Ali] semble ętre passé inaperçu. Toutefois, Benjamin Fondane le mentionne dans Europe, et le définit en ces termes : ‘De la diversité, du brio, un agencement ponctuel, un art précis et ingénieux qui sait décevoir autant que combler, le sens inné de l’étrange ; partout du talent, voire par moments une force qui ressemble ŕ du génie. Bref : zéro.’” (In France Mir Bahadour Ali’s book appears to have been unnoticed. Benjamin Fondane, however, mentions it in the journal Europe, and defines it thus: ‘Variety, brio, an impeccable arrangement, a precise, ingenious technique ready to fulfill as well as to disappoint, an innate feeling for what’s strange or exotic; talent everywhere, and often a force akin to genius. In short: zero.)
This footnote appears, too, in the Pléďade edition of Borges’ Complete Works (vol. I, page 1536, note 1). Benjamin Fondane, I have already recalled, gave talks in Buenos Aires in 1929: they, or part of them, can be found in the magazine Europe, 76th year, number 827, March 1998, pages 110-120, under the unlikely ambitious title, “Un nouveau visage de Dieu” (God’s New Face). Dostoyevsky and Shestov can be said to be the heroes of those talks, and no doubt the two Russian writers appeared prominently in the conversation of the Romanian/French poet and philosopher when he visited Buenos Aires for the second time in 1936, shortly before Borges penned the above-quoted footnote. In published interviews (see for example Emir Rodríguez Monegal in Revista Iberoamericana, vol. 36, number 70, 1970, pages 65-76), Borges has told of his disappointment on re-reading Dostoyevsky’s novels as an adult; he has also told of his dislike for “pathetic philosophies.” It is unlikely, therefore, that he held any sympathy for Fondane’s favorite subjects or for Fondane lui-męme. I imagine a dinner table at Victoria Ocampo’s house: someone mentions Valéry, a poet much admired among the cénacle Sur, and the irrepressible Romanian forcefully expresses his verdict: Valéry is not a poet; he’s merely a clown—or something roughly equivalent. Whence Borges’ dagger-pointed vignette, “Bref : zéro”.
Paul Bénichou has put it excellently, at the end of his article, “Le Monde et l’esprit chez Jorge Luis Borges” in Les Lettres nouvelles, November 1954: “… que l’Suvre de Borges n’est peut-ętre qu’un retournement de son éxperience, que son humour combat en secret une amertume, que sa sagesse a été conquise sur le tourment de son esprit, et qu’elle consiste, au fond, ŕ prévenir par le rire un inutile désespoir.” (… that Borges’ work is perhaps but a reversal of his experience, that his humor secretly combats some bitterness, that his wisdom has been built on spiritual torment: the wisdom to keep useless desperation at bay by means of laughter.)
What I have been trying to say about “The Approach to Al-Mu’tasim” and the European distinguished visitors is but an instance, a rather minuscule one, of Bénichou’s general principle.