But why doesn't the Gospel ever say that Christ laughed?" I asked, for no good reason. "Is Jorge right?" "Legions of scholars have wondered whether Christ laughed. The question doesn't interest me much. I believe he never laughed, because, omniscient as the son of God had to be, he knew how we Christians would behave. . . .
Chase grabbed Joey's neck and hauled him into a kiss. Oh shit. Not again. It didn't matter how many times it had been wrong, he still wanted to believe it. Wanted to believe it when he kissed a guy and everything inside said him. It had been wrong about Mark and Noah and Jorge and Tom and the whole list going right back to kissing Eduardo under the bleachers in tenth grade. Or maybe before. When he'd been three and told his mom he was going to marry his best friend Cody.
We have inhabited both the actual and the imaginary realms for a long time. But we don't live in either place the way our parents or ancestors did. Enchantment alters with age, and with the age. We know a dozen Arthurs now, all of them true. The Shire changed irrevocably even in Bilbo's lifetime. Don Quixote went riding out to Argentina and met Jorge Luis Borges there. Plus c'est la meªme chose, plus e§a change.
Ursula K. Le Guin
As Borges himself showed us in so many stories - "The Aleph", "The Garden of Forking Paths", "The Gift", "Blue Tigers", "Shakespeare's Memory" - a blessing is always a mixed blessing. As Borges noted sadly, he inherited a library, and blindness; we who study Borges inherit great sight, yet the rest of the library somehow fades. (pg 303, "What I Lost When I Translated Jorge Luis Borges")
To think, analyze and invent, he [Pierre Menard] also wrote me, "are not anomalous acts, but the normal respiration of the intelligence. To glorify the occasional fulfillment of this function, to treasure ancient thoughts of others, to remember with incredulous amazement that the doctor universal is thought, is to confess our languor or barbarism. Every man should be capable of all ideas, and I believe that in the future he will be." (Jorge Luis Borges, "Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote, 1939)
Jorge Luis Borges
Chloe, wake up. I really, really, really need to pee.' I moan and sink deeper into Jorge's arms, pulling my hand back. 'Chloe, wake up. I'm dying here. I have to pee.' Ugh, why won't that voice go away? I crack my eyes open and see Ringo by the bed prancing around doing the doggy version of a potty dance. Ringo starts prancing toward the bedroom door. 'Thank goodness. I've got to go.
Movement from Brenda grabbed Thomas's attention. He looked to see her drop the knife away from Minho and step back, absently wiping the small trace of blood there on her pants. "I really would've killed you, ya know," she said in a slightly scratchy voice. Almost husky. "Charge Jorge again and I'll sever an artery." Minho wiped at his small wound with his thumb, then looked at the bright red smear. "That's one sharp knife. Makes me like you more.
In that face, deformed by hatred of philosophy, I saw for the first time the portrait of the Antichrist, who does not come from the tribe of Judas, as his heralds have it, or from a far country. The Antichrist can be born from piety itself, from excessive love of God or of the truth, as the heretic is born from the saint and the possessed from the seer. Fear prophets, Adso, and those prepared to die for the truth, for as a rule they make many others die with them, often before them, at times instead of them. Jorge did a diabolical thing because he loved his truth so lewdly that he dared anything in order to destroy falsehood.
The more ardently I see humanity as a glorious abstract that must conform to my ideal of how the world should be, the harder it is for me to love the person on the other side of the picket line who is holding up progress. I can love the downtrodden in the abstract, but as I shivered under the bridge that night with Jorge, I realized that it's harder to love the illegal immigrant with the bottle-slashed face and the body unwashed for weeks, the workers gathering to eat day-old bread and chicken and rice out of foam containers, the crowd of thousands clamoring for bread and fish and healing, the unclean woman hoping to touch the hem of the Savior's robe.
One day or one night-between my days and nights, what difference can there be?-I dreamed that there was a grain of sand on the floor of my cell. Unconcerned, I went back to sleep; I dreamed that I woke up and there were two grains of sand. Again I slept; I dreamed that now there were three. Thus the grains of sand multiplied, little by little, until they filled the cell and I was dying beneath that hemisphere of sand. I realized that I was dreaming; with a vast effort I woke myself. But waking up was useless-I was suffocated by the countless sand. Someone said to me: You have wakened not out of sleep, but into a prior dream, and that dream lies within another, and so on, to infinity, which is the number of the grains of sand. The path that you are to take is endless, and you will die before you have truly awakened. I felt lost. The sand crushed my mouth, but I cried out: I cannot be killed by sand that I dream -nor is there any such thing as a dream within a dream. - Jorge Luis Borges, The Writing of the God
Jorge Luis Borges
Well, as Hannah Arendt famously said, there can be a banal aspect to evil. In other words, it doesn't present always. I mean, often what you're meeting is a very mediocre person. But nonetheless, you can get a sort of frisson of wickedness from them. And the best combination of those, I think, I describe him in the book, is/was General Jorge Rafael Videla of Argentina, who I met in the late 1970s when the death squad war was at its height, and his fellow citizens were disappearing off the street all the time. And he was, in some ways, extremely banal. I describe him as looking like a human toothbrush. He was a sort of starch, lean officer with a silly mustache, and a very stupid look to him, but a very fanatical glint as well. And, if I'd tell you why he's now under house arrest in Argentina, you might get a sense of the horror I felt as I was asking him questions about all this. He's in prison in Argentina for selling the children of the rape victims among the private prisoners, who he kept in a personal jail. And I don't know if I've ever met anyone who's done anything as sort of condensedly horrible as that.
At a lunchtime reception for the diplomatic corps in Washington, given the day before the inauguration of Barack Obama as president, I was approached by a good-looking man who extended his hand. 'We once met many years ago, ' he said. 'And you knew and befriended my father.' My mind emptied, as so often happens on such occasions. I had to inform him that he had the advantage of me. 'My name is Hector Timerman. I am the ambassador of Argentina.' In my above album of things that seem to make life pointful and worthwhile, and that even occasionally suggest, in Dr. King's phrase as often cited by President Obama, that there could be a long arc in the moral universe that slowly, eventually bends toward justice, this would constitute an exceptional entry. It was also something more than a nudge to my memory. There was a time when the name of Jacobo Timerman, the kidnapped and tortured editor of the newspaper La Opinion in Buenos Aires, was a talismanic one. The mere mention of it was enough to elicit moans of obscene pleasure from every fascist south of the Rio Grande: finally in Argentina there was a strict 'New Order' that would stamp hard upon the international Communist-Jewish collusion. A little later, the mention of Timerman's case was enough to derail the nomination of Ronald Reagan's first nominee as undersecretary for human rights; a man who didn't seem to have grasped the point that neo-Nazism was a problem for American values. And Timerman's memoir, Prisoner without a Name, Cell without a Number, was the book above all that clothed in living, hurting flesh the necessarily abstract idea of the desaparecido: the disappeared one or, to invest it with the more sinister and grisly past participle with which it came into the world, the one who has been 'disappeared.' In the nuances of that past participle, many, many people vanished into a void that is still unimaginable. It became one of the keywords, along with escuadrone de la muerte or 'death squads, ' of another arc, this time of radical evil, that spanned a whole subcontinent. Do you know why General Jorge Rafael Videla of Argentina was eventually sentenced? Well, do you? Because he sold the children of the tortured rape victims who were held in his private prison. I could italicize every second word in that last sentence without making it any more heart-stopping. And this subhuman character was boasted of, as a personal friend and genial host, even after he had been removed from the office he had defiled, by none other than Henry Kissinger. So there was an almost hygienic effect in meeting, in a new Washington, as an envoy of an elected government, the son of the brave man who had both survived and exposed the Videla tyranny.
He couldn't have known it, but among the original run of The History of Love, at least one copy was destined to change a life. This particular book was one of the last of the two thousand to be printed, and sat for longer than the rest in a warehouse in the outskirts of Santiago, absorbing the humidity. From there it was finally sent to a bookstore in Buenos Aires. The careless owner hardly noticed it, and for some years it languished on the shelves, acquiring a pattern of mildew across the cover. It was a slim volume, and its position on the shelf wasn't exactly prime: crowded on the left by an overweight biography of a minor actress, and on the right by the once-bestselling novel of an author that everyone had since forgotten, it hardly left its spine visible to even the most rigorous browser. When the store changed owners it fell victim to a massive clearance, and was trucked off to another warehouse, foul, dingy, crawling with daddy longlegs, where it remained in the dark and damp before finally being sent to a small secondhand bookstore not far from the home of the writer Jorge Luis Borges. The owner took her time unpacking the books she'd bought cheaply and in bulk from the warehouse. One morning, going through the boxes, she discovered the mildewed copy of The History of Love. She'd never heard of it, but the title caught her eye. She put it aside, and during a slow hour in the shop she read the opening chapter, called 'The Age of Silence.' The owner of the secondhand bookstore lowered the volume of the radio. She flipped to the back flap of the book to find out more about the author, but all it said was that Zvi Litvinoff had been born in Poland and moved to Chile in 1941, where he still lived today. There was no photograph. That day, in between helping customers, she finished the book. Before locking up the shop that evening, she placed it in the window, a little wistful about having to part with it. The next morning, the first rays of the rising sun fell across the cover of The History of Love. The first of many flies alighted on its jacket. Its mildewed pages began to dry out in the heat as the blue-gray Persian cat who lorded over the shop brushed past it to lay claim to a pool of sunlight. A few hours later, the first of many passersby gave it a cursory glance as they went by the window. The shop owner did not try to push the book on any of her customers. She knew that in the wrong hands such a book could easily be dismissed or, worse, go unread. Instead she let it sit where it was in the hope that the right reader might discover it. And that's what happened. One afternoon a tall young man saw the book in the window. He came into the shop, picked it up, read a few pages, and brought it to the register. When he spoke to the owner, she couldn't place his accent. She asked where he was from, curious about the person who was taking the book away. Israel, he told her, explaining that he'd recently finished his time in the army and was traveling around South America for a few months. The owner was about to put the book in a bag, but the young man said he didn't need one, and slipped it into his backpack. The door chimes were still tinkling as she watched him disappear, his sandals slapping against the hot, bright street. That night, shirtless in his rented room, under a fan lazily pushing around the hot air, the young man opened the book and, in a flourish he had been fine-tuning for years, signed his name: David Singer. Filled with restlessness and longing, he began to read.