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lunes, abril 21, 2008

The Aleph

Just when I was losing touch with a glorious Springtime, the sounds of the red wing blackbirds, the chorus of bullfrogs, the sun, just when the world was inexorably collapsing into a single point of focus on Borges' Zahir, I lucked into the antidote, Borges' short story from the same collection, The Aleph. The Aleph is the antidote to the Zahir.

Beatriz Viterbo, who dies and whom Borges mourns, has a cousin, Carlos Argentino Daneri, whom Borges gets to know over time. Argentino is an awful, pretentious, pedantic, boring, self aggrandizing poet. His own criticism of his poetry is overwhelmingly self indulgent; his poetry, in a word, terrible. Eventually, Argentino explains to Borges that Argentino's neighbor is trying to take over his home to expand a cafe, but that this cannot be permitted to happen because it will prevent Daneri from finishing an exhausting, pedantic, pretentious poem he's working on. The poem plans on describing every place in the world in excruciating detail. At this time he's working on the part called "Australia."

And how is Argentino getting the information for this? From an Aleph, something in the basement of the house that allows one to see the entire universe from every point of view all at once. The Aleph, it seems, shows everything and everywhere. It's infinite. It is everything.

Told this, Borges is convinced that Daneri is crazy after all, but he decides to have a look. And, of course, he observes the Aleph, and it's true, he sees the entire universe all at once. But because he wants to get even with Daneri, even though he's stunned by what he sees, Borges denies seeing anything. He says that there was nothing there to see. This, of course, leads to the demolition of the house and the loss of the Aleph.

A postscript has Daneri winning an important poetry award anyway. And Borges's research reveals that the Aleph in Daneri's former basement wasn't the only one. In the Amr mosque in Cairo there is a stone pillar that contains the entire universe. This Aleph cannot be seen, it can only be heard.

The antidote to one-pointed concentration is everything everywhere all at once.

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