Monthly Archives: June 2012
From a very young age, I have been fascinated by the relationship between language and vision, and in particular in how the two seem to overlap and compensate for each other but never quite to meet. This began as an interest in how writers tried to approximate vision in language, and later, in how they failed and yet succeeded in spite of that failure.
In college, a friend (James Robb, to whom I am forever indebted) gave me a copy of Jorge Luis Borges’s Ficciones to read. I remember sitting in the library reading one of Borges’s stories and being utterly ruined for all other fiction, and possibly for reality itself. I switched my language studies from Italian to Spanish and incorporated Borges’s work into my master’s thesis along with the work of painters René Magritte and Remedios Varo and the theories of Michel Foucault. I later went on to get a doctorate in Spanish and wrote my dissertation on Borges’s writing in relation to the mise-en-abyme (box-within-a-box) structure, but I never felt that academic writing was ever going to properly express the epiphany that I experienced when I first read Borges, so I decided to play with the idea in visual media.
My Borges-related screen prints were inspired primarily by a single passage from Borges’s short story “The Aleph,” recounts Borges’s encounter of a magical object, the Aleph, “a small iridescent sphere [in Spanish “esfera tornasolada”]” that allows him to see all things in the universe simultaneously. His unachievable task as a writer is to try to recount what he sees there, and although he admits that such an enumeration is impossible in such a limited, linear medium—“What my eyes beheld was simultaneous, but what I shall now write down will be successive, because language is successive”—he manages to approximate and express the experience through playful verbal craftsmanship:
[e]ach thing was […] infinite things, since I distinctly saw it from every angle of the universe [….] I saw the teeming sea […] I saw daybreak and nightfall […] I saw the multitudes of America [….] I saw a silvery cobweb in the center of a black pyramid […] I saw a splintered labyrinth (it was London) […] I saw close up, unending eyes watching themselves in me as in a mirror […] I saw all the mirrors on earth and none of them reflected me […] I saw the circulation of love and the modification of death; I saw the Aleph from every point and angle, and in the Aleph I saw the earth and in the earth the Aleph and in the Aleph the earth; I saw my own face and my own bowels; I saw your face; and I felt dizzy and wept, for my eyes had seen that secret and conjectured object whose name is common to all men but which no man has looked up—the unimaginable universe. (Borges: A Reader, 161)
There’s so much more to Borges, so I hope that anyone interested in these prints will be curious enough to read him (he wrote only short stories, essays, and poetry; if you do, start with Ficciones). He may not be particularly well known in this country, but he is everywhere in our culture if you look closely, and you will be seeing much more of him in the future.