Borges and the blogosphere

Over at Books, Inq, Frank Wilson quotes Bryan Appleyard on how blogging has altered his identity:

"In any net interaction we can pretend to be somebody else. Interactivity is now spreading through all media. The ontological transformation involved is seldom noted. Interactivity extends the self and offers alternatives. I, for example, recently started a weblog, thinking it was just another form of writing. It isn't, it is a performance in which the performer is constantly in flux, modifying himself with each response. I have begun to feel that Bryan Appleyard the blogger is not I."

I'm not impressed that this is a feature of internet use at all. It's an aspect of Appleyard's earlier writing, too, he just didn't notice it. I find this is one of those claims for the internet that is really an observation first made about literature in general: Appleyard is borrowing wholesale, consciously or not, from a very literary source, and one that's at least 40 years old, probably older. "Borges and I" appeared in Labyrinths, a collection from 1962. It must have appeared in Spanish much earlier but I've been unable to track down when (see James Woodall's biography of Borges and his "Note on the Texts Used" for the massive problems with Borges' published editions).

"Borges and I" is one of Jorges Luis Borges' most famous short essays (it's only 300 words long and was put in the section called "Parables" in Labyrinths). In it, Borges posits two people named "Borges" ("The other one, the one called Borges, is the one things happen to") -- one is the writer created by his writings, and the other is this Borges, the personal one, the "real" one.

Borges being Borges, he playfully confuses things ("I like hourglasses, maps, eighteenth-century typography" -- a good trick when you're blind). But then, the two have a complicated connection, one with certain tensions: "It would be an exaggeration to say that ours is a hostile relationship; I live, let myself go on living, so that Borges may contrive his literature, and this literature justifies me."

Utlimately, it's even a tragic relationship -- contra Appleyard's typical shining internet optimism. It's a trap -- the writer and his writing, even human consciousness or self-awareness itself -- they're just another one of Borges' impenetrable labyrinths: "Years ago I tried to free myself from him and went from the mythologies of the suburbs to the games with time and infinity, but those games belong to Borges now and I shall have to imagine other things. Thus my life is a flight and I lose everything and everything belongs to oblivion, or to him.

"I do not know which of us has written this page."

I posted an earlier variant of this with Books, Inq and with Scott McLemee, whose blog Quick Study first brought this to my attention.

March 26, 2007 12:38 PM |



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