Erase Their Eyes, Ensure Their Devotion

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Shortly after he was nominated directorship of the National Library of Argentina, irony stole away his eyes. Failing eyesight had been passed down to him by his father.

Pastor de Montmollin, preceding Jorge Luis Borges’ funeral, commented during an ecumenical ceremony, that “Jorge Luis Borges was a man who had unceasingly searched for the right word, the term that could sum up the whole, the final meaning of things.” He explained, however, that no man can reach that word through his own efforts and in trying, becomes lost in a labyrinth. “It is not man who discovers the word, it is the Word that comes to him.” From the church, Jorge Luis Borges received forgiveness for his sins. And being agnostic, erasing his eyes only ensured his devotion.

During the last years of his life, Jorge Luis Borges, no longer able to write himself, gave public speeches on his thoughts and toured as extensively as he could. He would often have friends read to him, and he learned braille for those times when he wanted to be alone with a cherished piece. His mother took care of him, and before she passed, she worried about leaving her blind son behind. For reasons only she knew, until now.

Among his belongings, which had been withheld from the public for a considerable duration of the early 20th century, due to particular individuals having certain beliefs about the legacy of his work, were what was confirmed to be his mother’s transcription of her sons final story. It was thought understandable that it had not been received by us sooner, as Jorge Luis Borges was adamant that his fiction have nothing to do with the politics of the day.  

The title of this final work was put in the form of a question, Would Children Born Under a Solid Sky Scream? Much like his early meta-fiction, all the usual was expected from it by experts. The involvement of well-thought out historical fictionalizations of famous people and places, and the whimsical element that tied it together was, as anticipated by literary critics, fantastical and philosophically profound; in a post-modern sense, particular to that time in which Jorge Luis Borges wrote his fiction, some went as far as to say that this newly recovered work ensured his unquestioning ranking among the founders of that school of thought.

As mentioned by Pastor de Montmollin, Jorge Luis Borges was chiefly preoccupied with the Word and in no other piece of his fiction was it so explored as in this one. The Word here was, of course, Being.

The narratologists explained the plot of the story as more of a thought experiment than anything else, which made two core assumption: 1) that the two great philosophers of ancient Greece, Xenophanes and Parmenides, had lived at the same point in time and visited the same places in their travels; and 2) that they had shared one another’s company, if only for an hour, and had a secret discourse, that never happened, concerning the meaning of Being; a topic on which they both had spent their lives learning about and teaching on.

It has never been proven that either of these two things are true, it is just as likely that they are untrue, but for the sake of the story there are an equal amount of scholars that believe them to be accurate, as much as their are who consider it inaccurate. So, as is his characteristic style, Jorge Luis Borges finds a place to open a window into the unknown and so he takes in a deep breathe from its mystery.

What makes this story – only recently translated out of Argentinian – so fascinating is the description of these two strange men of thought in history. It is as though it had really happened, something phenomenally real about the way in which Jorge Luis Borges was able to see them as they were in that ephemeral moment together. One even finds oneself in defence of its realism, its historicity. Questioning, not whether it could have happened in just this exact a way, but instead, whether it could have possibly happened in any other way. For an instant, the world does not change, art does.

Those that have read the story often go on to say that they cannot help having understood the same philosophical fragments, the incomplete poetry of Xenophanes and Parmenides – which has been in the western canon for millennia (thanks to all the philosophers that passed it down orally and in their own later writings) – as something altogether new. That the missing pieces, which have been so silently passed over in the authorship of the modern worlds interpretation of them, if nowhere else in the universe, were in Jorge Luis Borges final story.

Consensus around what should be regarded as the main premise involves the question of chance encounter or, as coined by its most popular reading, encounterment. In other words, If these two philosophers had encountered one another, when would this mean for us?

The story itself is told unlike any other Socratic dialogue, although it is centered around a discussion concerning their ideas, it is nothing like the Plato and Aristotle’s depiction of the sophists. Something had gone rogue, it seemed uncontrolled and even hostile, but not for the reason of being untrue, rather, they were too fully in truth.

One theory suggests that Xenophanes was teacher to Parmenides, and the student Parmenides was the founder of the Pre-Socratic school of philosophy to come; the former an old travelling teacher and the latter a flourishing youth. In this story, however, their relationship could not have possibly lasted for more than an hour in time.

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Parmenides is still holding an orb that had been passed around the class, his hands dwelled on it. The shadow of time has not moved over the face of a sundial directly behind his back since he arrived at the site of this ahistorical happening. As the rest of the pupils head back towards a now vanished city, (during the early part of the 5th century BCE, in the Magna Graecia, the Greek-speaking regions of southern Italy), Parmenides remains.

Earlier, they had all been gathered around the sphere. It had been used as a meditative prop to stimulate the discussion on space. Xenophanes, as if supported by the plinth of a marble bust in his likeness, waits until the last of the others leave. He looks tense, like a drawn bow. Parmenides has said some outrageous things this day. The two are presently waiting to rejoin the topic, to regain an upper hand over its madness. No one would hear what they were about to say and only they would understand what happened in that ahistorical moment that escaped us all.

“…True reality?” said Xenophanes.

“Yes. Being appears as highest in blind being, and because all being depends on confinement of the essence, being is indiscernible. Eternal power negates, confines, retracts into its essence. The oldest being to do this is the One. Surely, you will agree with this much at least. The Ones negating power is its only manifest aspect. First potency, within itself, is a truer aspect of the essence. Night is the first essence in the process of development. The first blind life has no truth in beginning or ending, the blind essence that only contends with itself.”

“There cannot be a genesis or a destruction according to this school of yours,” Xenophanes repeats himself where the conversation ended earlier, but this time, he goes farther with his counter argument, having thought it through.

“The flaw, Parmenides, is the crack in this solid cosmology. Everything is One, continuous, timeless, unchanging, equal at all limits from its center, a spherical space. What is and being-in-what-is are united in one cement slab. The crack is the path to truth. He who passes makes an exception in passing, that thought and being are the same. But thought is caused by the senses, and the sense of sight has always been the most privileged organ of knowledge.

“Parmenides, what you really state is that the senses are flawed by time, not space. This means that the crack originated at the sense of and spidered out by way of these senses through which the sense of made itself known to itself. The senseless, then, is where the divine unity is too hard, too solid. Flawless indifference.”

(Parmenides is incited by something in Xenophanes retort and, with the orb in both hands and the dance of time frozen as long as they do not look upon it, he says something that was never said in the original timeline, something that changes because of Jorge Luis Borges, because of the future where he wrote this final piece of fiction.)

“The spherically senseless solid soul of space is an inversion of sky space to solid space. What is maddening to you is that the two states coexist in one another and are of the same nature. In other words, passing through a wall without contracting any of its features, if a being is in the clearing of truth, is possible.

“Imagine that your body was vacant, that its outline was equally encompassed by a solid mass of stone. You are engulfed because you are a gap in the stone. You are both in the stone and outside the stone, in full contact with the stone and out of contact with the stone – on all sides of your being there, you are with the stone. We will call this a soul space.

“In the soul space, you are held in tension, like a drawn bow, your being is an arrow-being drawn true and directed towards something meaningful. In this ecstatic state, you can see all sides of your being from the inside, you are everywhere it leads to. If there happens to be more of this soul space, you will see no more than what you saw before, which is nothing but the edges of the solid space you are there in.

“If you scream under the solid sky, your sound may crack the stone, and the tension of your being – held in equal distance from all sides, even though infinitesimally unequal – will spread the course of the crack toward the surface realm. When the crack reaches the curve of the sphere whatever was outside the sphere will enter into its centre, which is you. The air and pressure that enters will grow minerals in the cracks of the featureless stone, and those minerals will make heat and even more minerals will form in you. Heat turns liquid and liquid gas and gas life and life consciousness and consciousness unconsciousness and again, the cycle continues – as you yourself claim, Xenophanes, in your belief that we are water-rooted.”

(The existence of these new events bring more to the event than there was before. There is a devil behind them, it is the antichrist. Jorge Luis Borges wants us to understand that by turning away from time in favour of space a wrinkle is created that allows the devil to dance behind our back. This leads to a powerful realization, that the apocalypse is cumulative, gradual, always already happening, that the antichrist is a time traveler who, in altering the timeline, creates chaos at a distance, chaos for the future. If for God time is always complete, than the only way for the devil to sabotage Gods absolutely completed space is to create alternative versions of the original events. That way, blasphemies would occur: like sons being peers to their fathers or christ’s resurrection.)

Xenophanes responds with an analogy to childbirth.

“Do you not see the error, Parmenides? When senselessness cracks the stone sky of sense, does it not let in the unequal, the outer thing, the thing that had no being until it reached you through your senses, which always begins as a senseless scream, the first infantile sound of a human being after leaving the cave through the original tunnel of the mothers birth canal, which begins as the a gap in the stone. The outside does not reach out to us, we reach into it.”

(Invisible daemons are all around them now, rejoicing in the ignorance of humankind. Their smell, their flames and smoke, the unity of an acrid, fire – and – brimstone essence, that only a sick person can see. Somewhere in time, if you viewed it from another dimension, the wormhole of its linear tube would show that the daemons had already won, they had made time incomplete and successful brought doubt into God’s design. Time was made after space, space is much older and is riddled with passages that time could not have sealed forever. And just as surely as time moves over space, space moves over time.)  

“Now, Xenophanes, you believe this One thing that we all are can be nothing like us. If it were somehow responsible for us, it would be supremely different from us. As you say, everything that reaches itself projects the face of the One onto the one. This supreme entity does not intervene because it has already given the knowledge of the One in this way, as everything looks onto itself as the only likeness.

The Gap in the stone only is through the stone, that forms around it’s being there and is therefore more than and less than One. I ask you, Would children born under a solid sky scream? A scream escapes the tension of being in the cave, of being there with the One, and so being wordless an infantile. Only when something is confronted with something they can’t name, do they scream. The scream is the first attempt to describe the tension that one feels when confronted by a Wholly Other sky. It is symbolic that sound can break glass, glass is an transparent solid that is formed under tension, when its delicate shape shatters it becomes less solid than air in places where the tension is greatest and those are the places where the sky is most solid with sound.

“Monism heaps more of the same onto itself until it makes a difference that no individual unit could make. One sphere is nothing, all spheres are everything. The children don’t scream because they are without a mouth, featureless are those born under a solid sky. They move only where the space opens up to them, they are forever a cave dweller, a golem to be molded. The core of nothing makes something out of it.

“Everything is solid because everything is joined!”

Jorge Luis Borges ends his narrative with the philosophers looking up at the sundial and then turn to the last farewell rays of the sunken sun. It is the same as it was when they began their superfluous talk. No time was lost, no time was gained. The witchy hour moves forward and the daemons have left. Each departs, taking with them the unusual space they opened up in the fabric of time.

Some criticized the work as the result of the superstitious air Jorge Luis Borges held in the late years of his life. Others saw it as engendered with the second sight that is only given to those who have given their eyes to hear the devil’s whispers louder.

Jorge Luis Borges mother wrote an aside to her sons late great work, and has fallen into the greatest of controversies because of her remarks.

“After each session, I would look up from my writing of the story and my son’s face would show the same signs of someone listening to something, though there was nothing to listen to but the silence between his words. In those moments I feared I was seeing what he was hearing, a sort of devil whispering darkness into his ear. As I wrote I could hear it speak first and my son speak second. When I later asked him how he found the words to tell his story, he would say, ‘What I once searched for was not the Word. When is Where the Word is. It now finds me and I listen.’”

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