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Obsessions Renewed: Borges and His Labyrinth

Each of the sentences I write is trying to say the whole thing, over and over again. It is as though they are all views of the same object from different angles.

— Ludwig Wittgenstein

After Daedalus completed his legendary labyrinth, he hardly made it out himself. Nothing seems to come closer to the nature of the mind in relation to creation than this. Consideration for the master-builder has no place in this primordial network of dizzying turns and false doors, a darkness haunted by neuronic flashes and the thumping of the heart deep down, down where it pumps the life-sustaining blood upwards, keeping the gray matter gray. Whatever thought passes through this labyrinth is doomed to be lost, since even the thoughts that make it out alive have been altered by their narrow escapes from suppressed memories — the Minotaurs of the brain — while acquiring the sticky attributes of doubt and certainty, bringing the thought’s momentum to a near standstill. Borges knew this. He knew that every mind was a labyrinth all its own, even if it shared a style and genre with neighboring labyrinths. Borges knew this so well, he willingly articulated his labyrinth, again and again, over his lifetime. He also returned to the labyrinth’s attributes: Mirrors, encyclopedias, the tango, knife fights, Beatrice, jaguars, Alephs, dream tigers, infinite libraries…

With slow amazement he understood. In this nighttime of his mortal eyes into which he was now descending, love and danger also awaited him. Ares and Aphrodite…

— Jorge Luis Borges

Since the labyrinth of the mind is forever sealed to outsiders by the temples of the skull, one can only read those words like the writing on the jaguar, through quick glances, in the half-light of understanding. Over years of reading these transmission from the labyrinth, mirror facing mirror, under a patient obsession, Borges’s mirrors duplicate themselves, creating a beautiful infinitude, one where the dual duplications become a pampas knife fight of endless variations, a protean Beatrice, an infinite library with new releases, a thousand and one Argentinas, the multitudinous yet singular Aleph of everything at once. Borges faced his obsessions from different angles, returning to the ‘mirror’ or ‘dream tiger’ through repetition in name only, while the content always changed. To say ‘mirror’ in the same breath as ‘Borges’ is to transition from a grain of sand to the beach, a cup of water to the ocean. Even when the reader of the brief transmissions from the labyrinth reads them all, these short stories saturate, permeate the reader’s own labyrinth, through the ground of the forking paths, transmuting back into the air, forever changing the nature of this labyrinth, not in kind, but in that unmistakable feeling beyond aroma or taste.

It was his destiny to sing and to leave resounding forever in mankind’s hollow memory. These things we know, but not what he felt when he went down into his final darkness.

— Borges

Nothing comes from nothing, but many of the somethings we acquire over time forever punctuate our defining sentences with irrevocable declarations of (?,!). Borges possessed an inherent fear of mirrors, the way they reflected a reversal of truth and duplicated unnecessarily. But Borges created his own mirror through the one he never called as such, the mirror that casts an absolutely unique reflection of his labyrinth, from the paradoxically opaque page, without translucence, under the gaze of the reader. To look into the Mirror of Borges is to see an ever-changing projection, one that includes yourself and all the world you’ve perceived, the concocted ones, this one, the one that never was and the world of Borges that only you can see.

Hayden Moore

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