"Cardinal Points" litetrary journal: www.stosvet.net

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Valery Khazin


ARS LONGA AMANDI 1

" — notwithstanding investigations of archivists and textual analysis we failed to find out if the following letter was written by divine Borges himself or we had to deal with a hoax of his numerous angelic translators who had abandoned signing texts long time ago.

Besides, the expert's work was complicated by the following:
a) The manuscript was purchased by an anonymous collector over the telephone at the Sotheby's session many years ago;
b) The text was published by the Times Literary Supplement and the Penthouse with a number of groundless lacunae and inserts last January;
c) all attempts to identify an addressee of the letter failed —
"

From the Professor Snakers' final thesis at the XXIX World Congress "Borges and Slavistics"

"Dear Julia,

Before explaining my "supercilious silence" (as your letter puts it) I want to admit something that doesn't seem to compliment me.
Having woken up today with the sturdy intent to reply, I nevertheless could not find proper words for beginning. At long last I had to timorously hide behind the adjective that the boundless English language allows to use with such a blasphemous freedom addressing a clerk, a beloved one or God...
Dear Julia!
Out of your seven letters only this last one reached me yesterday, and I decided to immediately respond next morning, though I felt a kind of embarrassment until the daybreak.
You might have noticed that everything I wrote (is it worth concealing?) is more or less a crisp exposition of my own dreams or someone else's narrations which, perhaps, makes no difference. A labyrinth, a mirror and a library — here are the nightmares that have been haunting me for years, of which I spoke frankly about during one of my lectures probably attended by you.
Hence, you will not be surprised by my intent to retell, instead of the reply, the dream I had last night. I don't know what exactly it was caused by: our recent talks with Antonio Carrizo when he mentioned Hesse's poem "The Dream", my memories of your father, my feeling guilty or something else... I am not quite sure whether such violation of the epistolary rules is appropriate and whether there is any sense in it. Anyway, I hope that the premise "post hoc ergo propter hoc", not necessarily false, will serve me as an excuse. Of course, I was dreaming of a library.
Since you are acquainted with every variation of the theme including mine, you will understand that least of all I would like to flaunt a novelty. You might also hear Leticia Alvares de Toledo to have once observed that "the eternal, boundless and periodical Babylonian Library" described in my short story was somewhat redundant. To express the same idea, she explained, it would be enough to have a volume of usual size with the infinite number of infinitely thin pages just as a solid could be conceived as integrity of the infinite number of planes. And although I objected that such a book would be difficult to handle, I could not help but to draw upon Leticia's thought for my short story The Book of Sand some years later. You are, of course, aware of all this as well as of the fact that ideas, unfortunately, live much longer than people.
But as the fantastic characteristics of the above stories have nothing to do with those of my yesterday's dream, I will try, without a fear of self-reiteration, to convey its plot, if not its frightening vividness.
I dreamed I came into the dusk of a library or, better to say, slipped, in the manner of Alice, into the labyrinth of bookshelves without touching the floor. I started drifting past the rows of golden-titled, glimmering books, and to take a left or right turn as I had to grip hold of the smooth, dark shelves. My flight was neither fast, nor slow though: I could neither speed up, nor slow down in the air and glimpsed no more than three or four titles at my eyes' level. I felt dizzy. It was the library of lost literature. Unlike the Babylonian one, it contained nothing mystical, incomprehensible or measureless. There were all the collections that ever existed and lost books of every time and nation. I was flowing by the shelves where "each binding could quench the spiritual thirst", as Knecht would have put it.
While dreaming (everybody knows it) one can easily cope with an unfamiliar task. Thus it took some time to realize I could read every letter of every, even quite unknown, language.
I have always imagined Paradise being very much like a library just as many others conceive it as a Garden or a Palace, and at that moment I felt like Ali Baba who crossed the threshold of a magic cavern.
I couldn't catch my breath in the unbearable excitement. Let me just say I saw the volume comprising the complete text of the monstrous novel by Petronius and his correspondence with Seneca and Saint Paul. I saw the Encyclopedia of Varro, the lost works of Tacitus, the Babylonian Theodicy and the eight books of the Khazar Dictionary. I can remember the wine-coloured cover of the Dictionary of Middle-Earth Tongues with Tolkien's comments to his own chronicles written in those languages, the green volume with the complete decipherment of the Finnegan's Wake and the light-blue one with the Septuagint original. I'll never forget the warm velvet binding that covered the theological arguments between Jeremiah and Zarathustra written in the language of Avesta and in the Aramaic for it was one of the books I could touch... There is no need to tell I caught a glimpse of the rooms containing vast libraries — that of Alexandria and those belonged to Ashurbanipal from Nineveh, to Attalides from Pergamum and to Yaroslav, the Russian knight. In a moment I was stunned by my own reflection in the mirror on the wall for the double of mine was wearing a mask. I woke up in tears.
If I am not mistaken it was Samuel Coleridge, the best dream expert, who said that images we observe while sleeping are of no importance, but the very fact of dreaming needs to be explained.
Pondering it over, I remembered your father and our long literary chats in the evenings, in your living-room. Had he been alive, he, as a good judge of books, would have willingly participated in interpreting this bibliophilic dream and in searching for its sources. I even partially hear his ironical voice setting forth one of the missing versions.
It was not until now when I realized you were that restless little girl who would distract us with incessant asking "to play" or "to tell a story". I seemed to talk my way out with the promises bound to be broken, though. When angry, you never cried and used to call me "old Jorge", didn't you?
Now you, as a professional writer, might easily capture the fascination of the wonder I dreamed of — just imagine what a history of civilization would have appeared if all works on culture, philosophy and religions had drawn upon the sources of this library. What a new, brave world would have come to light!
Dear Julia! From your letter I learned you have been attending my lectures for years, which helped me to guess you were that famous "young critic" whose observations were so often quoted by media. Believe me; I am most grateful to you, although everything I uttered and wrote does not deserve such an attention. As for your reproaches, I have just a few words with which to reply.
I remember your father, and I argued if it was necessary to scrutinize the writer's life and epoch in order to understand his works. Your father cited then the well-known Goethe's statement and added, with some coquetry: "The time, er, any time is always out of Joyce, you know, and one has to be blind to fathom it". In due course, the astonishing irony of those words sounds more and more literal to me, and my kinship has become obvious.
Long ago, because of the progressive myopia, I became unable to distinguish faces of the audience at a distance. In 1955, having assumed the post of the library director I learned that I lost the sight of a reading and writing person: I could hardly see the titles on the bindings and backs. I should admit, however, that my case is not that tragic because this dusk has been closing without any strain year after year.
As I remember you as a child, I think I can vaguely recall and recognize your face, the face of a young woman, my student, but I feel uncertain if this face is yours. Now that I can hardly discern even those opposite to me, there are only dreams where my eyesight is perfect. As for the reality, my contact with it has been growing feebler every day, and I have been in correspondence with no one for a long time.
The lady who used to do the duties of my secretary until recently, left this house about a month ago on some, worthless of note, reasons. I am fairly sure that your six letters that probably remained in her drawer vanished with her, and I will never know what they said.
I am slowly dictating these words in English to the employed stenographer who does not speak Spanish. It comes to my mind that a correspondence seems to make sense only when you can see the sender's handwriting because, feeling his hand, you can imagine his features, capture his mood and even hear his voice somehow. Alas, your letters were meant to never serve their purpose because I would have been able only to listen to them but not to read.
I would like to end with Goethe's words on twilight: "Everything that was close moves away." In fact, when it gets dark, the surroundings somehow disappear from our sight just as the visible world has passed out of mine. Now that I am picturing you reading these lines typed by an alien with the inevitable (I'm not saying intentional) distortions, it seems to me that Goethe could have said these words not about twilight but about the life as it is. Everything moves away.
The gratitude and the diffident request would be my last words addressed to you. I wish you would remain the only reader of this dragged message which is not destined for the eyes of so-called scholars or, worse, journalists. In this respect, I completely rely upon you. I am afraid the only thing I can do to reciprocate to your sincerity is to confidentially disclose the subject of my coming up lecture. It is going to be entitled The Blindness.

Your old Jorge".

___________

1  (Lat.) The Lasting Art of Loving or, if a reader prefers, Love's Labour's Long.



NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR

I wish to express my gratitude to Pamela Jane Kibrick and Alexander Veytsman for their helpful suggestions.