Jorge Luis Borges (photo by Diane Arbus)
I seem to have been infected by “The Zahir” (“El Zahir”), a 1949 short story by Jorge Luis Borges. I’ve read it three times in the past week, and I keep coming back to it and thinking about it. In fact, I’m having trouble forgetting it. I’m not sure how to leave it behind, how to get it out of my mind.
Borges’s story is about a Zahir, in this case a coin, that has the power to obsess so thoroughly that over time one forgets everything except it. Borges’s story mentions other Zahirs, a tiger, an astrolabe, the bottom of a well, and a vein of marble in a column of a mosque. Everything on earth has the power to be a Zahir, but according to the myth, only one thing at a time is permitted to do so.
Borges receives the coin as change in a bar where he buys a brandy. He decides to get rid of it, spending it for another brandy in a bar he’s never been to before on a street he will not remember. The coin is gone. But it’s not. He cannot forget it. And the more he tries to forget it, the stronger it becomes.
Is this an unusual phenomenon? Apparently not. Maybe writing this brief entry will help me.