Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Niels Hav / On his blindness
ON HIS BLINDNESS
Is it cheaper now, I wonder,
to write in ink, since Borges dictated
his labyrinthine tales in Buenos Aires?
The Homer of the Argentine considered words to be
symbols we share with others. “I believe abstract
aesthetics to be a vain illusion,” he wrote
in one of his prefaces, where he delighted in renouncing
originality. Almost without affectation. Only after going
blind did he make eye-contact with John Milton
in his Paradise Lost.
Love makes blind. But it took forty years!
Forty years of preliminary studies, imitation and outbursts
of rage when the dreamtiger escaped. Now and then he’d
consult oculists, each time a disappointment. He studied
Joyce, who must have loved Nora, though he never went
completely blind. Only when Alonso Quixano lost his
mind and called himself Don Quixote did he leave his
father’s library; and not until forty years after finding
love in Geneva did Borges go blind –
as blind as Beethoven was deaf!
He worked in the dark and polished his sentences
in memory until they sparkled from sheer metaphysics.
“If one is a poet, one is always a poet, and all the time
assailed by poetry.” Borges absorbed nourishment
from his misfortune and replaced the visible world
with sagas and Old English verse, thereby transforming
blindness into a gift: Only now did he come eye-level
with Homer, and only now was he able to see deep
into the dark, wide world and into the dizzying
moment that is eternity.
Translated from the Danish by Martin Aitken
© Niels Hav
Translation © Martin Aitken 2008