"It was at this point that the stranger said, 'Look at the illustration closely. You'll never see it again.'"
The shift of time and its passage are lost easily in the drifting dunes of the desert. "He told me his book was called the Book of Sand, because neither the book nor the sand has any beginning or end." The interactions with Borges' Book of Sand are part of a constant dance of awareness where perception and understanding lack any clear destination, but become part of a continuous process of change. Images in the mysterious object exist as part of a fragmented framework where divisons of time cease to be of relevance, and infinite possibilities for perception lie bound within a finite material object.
"If space is infinite, we may be at any point in space. If time is infinite, we may be at any point in time."
Written in 1975 by the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges, The Book of Sand (El Libro de Arena*) represents Borges' style of outlining an unusual concept in a unique way. The work centers around a book that a salesman is attempting to trade to the narrator in exchange for a rare bible that the narrator owns. The book is of a mysterious nature in that once the reader opens it to a given page, and then attempts to find the same page again, he cannot. Rather than create a novel around his idea, he makes a piece that is only a few short pages in length; it gives the reader a hint, a whisper of an indication of the ancient object and the individuals that have interacted with it and become entranced by it in its history. Indeed, Borges touches on this fact by stating simply, "There was no doubt that it had passed through many hands." The language of the book is unknown to the characters, and those who had owned it previously could not rightly discern it, either. The narrator quickly grows obsessed with attempting to understand the book, and to pin down patterns in page numbers and the illustrations that it contains. Eventually, the narrator develops a hatred for it and for himself for becoming so trapped by it, and seeks to rid himself of it.
"I thought of fire, but I feared the burning of an infinite book might likewise prove infinite and suffocate the planet with smoke."
Having lost his vision in the late 1950s, Borges resigned himself to dictating his work after memorizing it, greatly altering his writing style. He became more straightforward and direct in his message, a quality which enhances The Book of Sand, giving it a clarity which makes the conceptual structure of the piece much more immediately striking.
*Thanks SharQ. =)
All excerpts from The Book of Sand, Jorge Luis Borges, © 1975, English translation Norman Thomas Di Giovanni, © 1977.