I'm really enjoying the Selected Non-fictions of Borges. Even his earliest writings, which he forbid to be published while he was alive, are littered with cases of the minor epiphany dropped as an aside.
For example, in the first essay, entitled "The Nothingness of Personality", Borges argues convincingly that "there is no whole self"; the phenomenon of memory provides the illusion of the self, but under close scrutiny (which he provides via attacks from various angles), the concept falls apart. One poignant example is found in a last meeting with a friend, when they know they'll never see each other again: "...what clamored in my chest was the will to show my soul in its entirety to my friend. ...until all at once...I understood that this personality, which we appraise at sucn an incomparably exorbitant value, is nothing...beyond all the the episodic, the present, the circumstantial, we were nobody."
Borges goes on to take Whitman to task for his glorification of the personality, insinuating that it's a poor substitute for more substantial writing: "He believed he had only to enumerate the names of things in order to make their unique and surprising nature immediately palpable ...From Whitman on, many have been caught up in this same fallacy. They have said:
- I have not tormented the language in quest of unexpected intensities or verbal marvels. I have not spun out even a slight paradox capable of creating a stir... Nor did I invent a tale around which lengthy spans of attention would cluster, as many futile hours cluster in remembrance around the one hour in which there was love..."
This being the first essay in the book, it struck me that maybe Borges—an extremely prolific writer of poetry, fiction, and essays in venues from the high-minded to the Argentinian equivalent of Ladies Home Journal—was compelled to write as a living personal refutation of the thesis he presents here. He was continually writing himself into existence. (cf Borges and I.)