I’m glad this story was merely a single page because I had to read it several times to fully understand it. How can something so brief manage to be so complex, powerful and true? The more I analyzed it the more I understood what Borges was trying to say and I’m glad because what he wrote rang true for me.
This week’s lecture on Setting and Atmosphere says: “Does “Borges and I” have a setting? In a traditional manner, no, but it does project a sort of “outer envelope” that surrounds the text, an atmosphere of thought. The setting might be somewhat invisible, but not non-existent. Perhaps it is what thinking might look like, a kind of dream space. And there are objects and details for the reader to zoom in on: “the arch of an entry,” “the portal of a church,” “the clumsy plucking of a guitar” (Borges 277). If not the mind, maybe time itself is the setting of this very short piece, or a human soul.”
This made a great deal of sense to me. The setting is in the author’s head and his subconscious mind. It exists but not in the same way a city exists. It exists in his mind.
“Borges and I” describes a kind of internal struggle that the author feels between his private and public selves, between what he writes and who he is, between his thoughts and how he expresses them. It’s a way of putting into words what we cannot actually see, hear or touch. How does one describe something that exists only in the mind?
He says: “It would be an exaggeration to consider our relationship hostile. I live, I agree to go on living, so that Borges may fashion his literature; that literature justifies me.” It seemed to me almost as though the author is admitting he’s depressed. He defines himself by his writing and so much so that he would cease to exist without it. It’s not just how he defines himself but it’s also what he lives for. That’s profound.
It’s beyond deep and, yet, I bet every writer can relate to this feeling on some level.
This story made me think of my own story. Not just the stories I write but also the one I’m living. I’d been writing full time for two years when my daughter was born. She wasn’t home a week and I was pitching one novel and writing another. Postpartum depression set in and even thought I fought it and denied it, on some level I knew it was there. Still, to his day, I’m unsure if the depression was entirely a result of childbirth and the lack of sleep that comes with it or the onslaught of rejections that come hand in hand with pitching a first manuscript. It was probably a combination but I knew I had to embrace my feelings in order to get through it. Family and friends urged me to take a break from writing but I knew I couldn’t stop writing because it would have been like killing the part of me that made me who I am.
Writing isn’t just a profession or a hobby, it’s an existence. It’s not just what we are—it’s who we are. We are defined by the words we put on paper as if we gave birth to them.
Borges writes: “Little by little I am surrendering everything to him, although I am well aware of his perverse habit of falsifying and exaggerating.” This brought me right back to Prose and what she says about “good liars.” In a way, writers of fiction are liars in that we are making up stories and telling them in such a way that the make-believe becomes believable. Good writers are able to pull this off much like “good liars” are able to seem genuine.