Friday, September 5, 2014

Jorge Luis Borges and Other Influences

Last night while looking for A Yellow Rose by Borges, I bumped into this stimulating passage, the opening to Bruce Lord's essay Some Lovecraftian Thoughts On Borges’ “There Are More Things”

I had read many of Jorge Luis Borges’ short stories several years before discovering Lovecraft, let alone studying the latter seriously, and so the idea of Borges owing any debt to or admitting any influence from HPL was new and somewhat shocking to me when I first encountered it. While reading "Dreams In The Witch House" for the first time, however, I found it to be quite Borgesian (I didn't have any problem with taking such an anachronistic view of the relationship, as Borges has based entire stories around such errors). The story of an increasingly alienated and detached academic who becomes lost in his field of study and ends up transcending the known laws of the universe reminded me of the hapless people caught in "The Library Of Babel." In a similar vein, both authors used the technique of referring to fictional literary and scientific sources as well as legitimate ones (often combining the two in lists of books or thinkers) in order to better facilitate their stories’ fantastic elements.

The occasion for seeking out a story by Borges was my art opening tonight at Benchmark Tattoo here in Duluth. The title of the show is Influences, one of them being the stories of J. L. Borges.

This passage explains one of the devices by which Borges' stories become magical. You read and don't have a certainty about what is real and what is not. It's a device I've used, to greater or lesser effect, in some of the stories included in my collection of six titled Unremembered Histories, especially Two Acts That Changed The World, and The Empty Space.

This isn't why I sought out A Yellow Rose however. Rather, it's the notion at this very brief story's end that when we create art or books or anything, we're just adding more things to the world and not necessarily adding more meaning or value to it.

For forty years or more I've commented that it is the people we meet and the books we read that most influence us. I've said it so frequently and for so long that I have not really questioned it. But this morning I am thinking otherwise. Some people aren't readers but they watch movies and listen to music, both of which are highly influential.

As I prepared my show I realized that my ancestors have been a major influence. I've taken inspiration from being descended from men like the pioneer Daniel Boone as well as the heroic Rob Roy McGregor. And the belief that I have made more sensitive to the plight of our native peoples by the native blood that my brother and I believe is in our veins.

Andre Gide has noted that places influence us as well, and this is certainly true. Not only the places we go (I've lived a year each in Mexico and Puerto Rico) but also the places we have lived. (In my case, Cleveland, New Jersey, Minneapolis and Duluth.)

But there's still great power in the books we read. And actually, when you read a book you're meeting a person anyways, for books are written by people, and in point of fact you may very well get to know that person better through his or her writings than through any number of hours in social concourse.

The art opening tonight is at 1831 East 8th Street, in the new building across the street from Sara's Table, just east of Chester Bowl on Skyline Drive. Hope to see you there... I'll have copies of my book on hand. And from what I hear Kyle and Dane really make it a welcoming event worthy of your time.

Who have been your influences? And more importantly, who are you influencing? Regarding the latter, make it be good.

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