Book Review: Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges

If Borges had been born at the end instead of the beginning of the 20th century, we might never have been blessed with his wonderful stories as he would have become a software developer instead. At least he seems deeply fascinated by topics like recursion, logic and infinity. Some of his essays could have been straight out of a Douglas Hofstadter book.

Or maybe he would have written some stories, but not published them in literature magazines, but just over on /r/rational. Of course, the people there are more interested in millennial pop culture like Pokemon and Harry Potter and would not get all of his erudite references to those important works of literature. And they also seem to prefer huge works having more than a million words and not Borges preferred format of just a handful of pages per story. But thematically there are a lot of similarities: Both are quite brainy, often very metafictional and more often than not concerned with questions of identity and metaphysics.

This comparison occurred to me first when reading “The Library of Babel”, a short story about an infinite library in which every possible book exists. The gigantic, artificial world reminded me of Sivad’s Question. And then there is also an infinite library in /r/rational favourite Worth the Candle.

Two other stories I particulary enjoyed were “Tlön, Uqbar,Orbis Tertius” and “An Examination of the Work of Herbert Quain”.

But the one thing affecting me the most was this passage from the essay “A New Refutation of Time”:

Let us consider a life in whose course there is an abundance of repetitions: mine, for example. I never pass in front of the Recoleta without remembering that my father, my grandparents and great-grandparents are buried there, just as I shall be some day; then I remember that I have remembered the same thing an untold number of times already;

Borges, Jorge Luis. Labyrinths (New Directions Paperbook) (S.223). New Directions. Kindle-Version.

I also have to think about my own death every day; it’s my bedtime routine. But much worse: Every time after I shower and need to dry off I remember a certain reddit post where a user complained about his roommate who did not shake off the water first before using the towel, so his towel was always very wet. This has happened at least weekly for 7 years now. It sounds absurd, and it is, and I’m always angry that I cannot use my after shower time for more productive thoughts.

But anyway, how did I like this collection all things considered? It was pretty good, but it’s one of those books where I’m sure I would have enjoyed it much more if I had read more of the referenced literature instead of wasting away my time reading stupid reddit posts…

4/5 though

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