They are many: poets, theologians, philosophers, pundits, almost anyone who is precisely, persistently devoted to elaborate error—for instance, to the history of what could not possibly have a history: eternity, hell, angels. “I tend to return eternally to the Eternal Return.” Borges is very fond of this style of joke, and his book Historia de la eternidad (1936) not only extends the title of a single essay to the whole book but contains discreet, repeated recurrences to the idea of eternity itself even when it is not the ostensible subject. The last sentence of the book recalls the words of a man about to be executed at the stake: “I will burn, but this is a mere event. We shall continue our discussion in eternity” (Historia, 158; SNF, 91).
Borges never forgets that an error is an error; he is not the solipsist or the relativist he is so often taken to be. He speaks easily and skeptically (in 1932) of “the recent relativist scare” (Historia, 17; SNF, 124), and of Chaplin’s City Lights he says that “its lack of reality is comparable only to its equally exasperating lack of unreality” (D, 77; SNF, 144). We, like Chaplin, need to do better in both directions. In another essay Borges invites us to imagine the “possible victory” of the Gnostics over the Christians. If this had occurred, the “bizarre and confused stories” he has been telling would be “coherent, majestic, and ordinary” (D, 66; SNF, 68). Borges’s sense of reality and our relation to it can sound positively Lacanian. Lacan says that the real is what sticks to us, not what we represent to ourselves truly or falsely. Borges says that reality is what we find in the system of mirrors that never leaves us: “Reality is like that image of ours that arises in all the mirrors, a simulacrum that exists for us, that comes with us, gesticulates and goes, but that we shall always run into as soon as we seek it.”
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