A short story
by Jorge Luis Borges
"Writing is nothing but a guided dream." -Borges
I was given this story by an Argentine
friend of mine who shall remain nameless, owing to the profundity
of the text that will follow. Surely any admission as to a proprietor
of an original text
of this intellectual value
would be circumspect and could only serve to endanger
said proprietor, who in this case is a friend of mine. "My lips are sealed
," I told him. And then I was given this great gift, this true gift. I give it to you, now that he has died.
The story was written by the Argentine poet
and philosopher Jorge Luis Borges
in the year 1921. Borges was quite young at the time, and it was still many years before he would publish any of his famous apocryphal fiction
. He was, of course, writing at the time. The text in question, though, was rejected by Borges' editors and punished by his admirers until even Borges forgot that the text existed, its life sustained only by the admiration and textual care provided to it by my friend. That I reprint it here is only a sign of my admiration for the great Borges. The text is, written by a hand so young, just as his detractors
claim. It is not typical Borges. The language is not beautiful, the transitions are not as rivers, the words, even the ideas and concepts at play (though they prefigure Borges' later texts such as "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius
"); in short, this text is not profound as are most Borges works. Nonetheless it is remarkable.
We were quite young when all this happened.
Yes, I am still quite young, even now.
We were vagabond, illegal, our very existence
was a crime and a profanation
against life, being, blossoming, nearly everything beautiful. Still, neither God, nor Satan, nor our own mothers' smited us. In short, we felt sublime and unstoppable. Our mysteries, in our minds, wreaked a sort of intellectual havoc
. We were playing with the reality that defined the universe. We were metaphysical
tinkerers, technicians of the soul, physicians of history
, pharmacists of an archive
that was believed in with total and true breath. Our falsifications
were endless. They were also undeniably immoral, bordering perhaps on evil. Even so, they were divine. At least we thought so. All believing in God
, we felt that the absence of any holy sanctions against the movements of our hands, the works of our days, revealed the sanctity of our project. Nightly we prayed to the Mother
. We took our soup. And we slept. Our dreams were nightmarish
. I felt fear, even awake, of my dreams.
The group of us were all employed at the library
. Some library or another. Eventually it came to be all libraries. For each library is connected to all others through an intricate web of spiralling cardfiles
and systems of request and fulfillment
. Any minor altercation in a library, perhaps in a remote district in the middle of the northern swamps, would eventually infiltrate even the largest libraries in Buenos Aries
, Rio de Janiero
, even Berlin
. And so, as we falsified and corrupted, wrought havoc upon records and systems of reference, we felt that we should indeed bring the whole world down.
Many of us were employed in the production of hither-to unheard of books that nonetheless dated back centuries
, in one case even two millenia
, into the past. Others wrote criticism
on these works. We invented journals in which we wrote our essays. We invented conferences
in which these journals had been discussed. We even invented disciplines
, though always remote and rare, in which these conferences were prized and cherished. Others of us were employed in the typesetting
of these books. For a great time this was my expertise, and I would sew nightly in my bedroom to fend off demons, daily in the recesses of our building to fend off the shelving of the books which nobody read.
Slowly we placed our histories
upon the shelves. We routed them to foreign countries
where we invented requests for their loan. They often came back with no record of ever having been borrowed. In many cases, however, the apocryphal loan was reified and some old man in Norway
, or a young candidate at the University of Bogota
had scribbled some notes in the margin. We later found references
to these works. Our many scribes wrote refutations of them, even under false names. Others of us were employed in the study of these arts, many tried for the doctoral degrees at one of the many institutions in our land. A good friend of mine
while studying in Buenos Aires. I shall never forget him. His name I cannot whisper, for it might indeed reveal the horror of your life. He is, in fact, quite a famous historian in his field. His field is cherished and honored in our country, it is a national treasure
, some have written. Yet, its reality is entirely a construction of our hands. Is said construction, though, still not a worship of God? I ask of you that you meditate on this.
Many of us still write. As for me, I no longer do. I have gone blind
in my left hand. And so I only write with my right what my left cannot see. It is a horrible condition. I ask the maid or my wife or one of my many children to read my the pages of the latest journal or one of our apocryphal newspapers
. It is quite easy: all of our newspapers are apocryphal. Nothing has happened
for at least a decade. Everything you have read is merely
a fictional construct.
Still, if everything is fictional, is not everything also, in that case, historically accurate? If our whole lives are spent in dreaming, we cannot yearn to awaken: for desire itself is a product of the collective hallucination. Continue, then, with your lives. Be satisfied, still. Enjoy your dinners, make your prayers, we shall watch over you and protect. Goodnight.