When you read, you bring something of yourself to the book so that you can interpret what you’re being told according to your previous reading, your life experience and your own philosophies. With Borges, you might as well leave all that at the door.
You leave it at the door because if you think you can simply wade through his prose bearing it all, you’ll soon find yourself drowning in his vertiginous depths. The only way to survive is to float.
Borges can accomplish more characterisation and plot in a two page short story than mystifyingly popular writers like Ben Lerner can accomplish with his entire life’s output.
Imagine sitting down in a 3-Star Michelin restaurant. For dessert, you find placed before you a tiny, immaculate dish that seems to vanish into the centre of an enormous plate. Initially, you feel somewhat let down that you haven’t got more to eat. But as the first spoonful touches your lips, you taste something so intense that you know the portion size is just right.
However, as in the upper echelons of the food industry, there are occasionally dishes that seem more style than substance, more reputation than repast. Such is, dare I say it, the experience of the plebian with Borges. It’s tempting to think that he purposefully read certain obscure texts simply for the purpose of showing the world that he read (and he alone among the living in many cases) read certain obscure texts.
If you can’t give someone a verbal and accurate definition of ‘metaphysics’ before you start reading Borges, make sure you sort that out. You’ll need it.
There’s a lot here that will go over the heads of most of us, and you might want to leave this until later in life unless you’re a very widely-read 20-year-old. There’s a lot here I found difficult, but the benefit of the short story / essay format is that you’re quickly onto the next thing which may well be a delight.
He’s hard, but when he’s good, he’s amazing.