A Bull, a Rose, a Tempest
With love from Mexico
Hey everyone! I'm relaxing on the Riviera Maya this week and won't be back until Tuesday 25th.
To make the wait more bearable, here's a short reflection I wrote during the flight on the deliberate choices we make when we write and the inestimable value of the stories that fill our lives.
I was reading Borges' Fictions the other day, in particular the tale by the name "The Circular Ruins." One passage made me look up from the book and focus my sight on my thoughts, not in a sort of unwanted distraction, but because it broke my imagination:
"That twilight, he dreamed of the statue. He dreamed it alive, trembling: it was not an atrocious bastard of a tiger and a foal, but at once those two vehement creatures and also a bull, a rose, a tempest."
One question filled my mind: "Why." Why those words and not others? Why his choices and how did he make them? What was he thinking when such beautiful, evocative, and abstract sentences occurred to him?
And suddenly I wished above everything else that I could ask him. Ask him to reveal to me the mind behind the words. The story behind them. Because that's what suddenly was meaningful; that he, and no one else, had thought those thoughts and written those words.
Why the tiger and the foal? Why the bull? Why the rose or the tempest? Why not anything else that could, maybe equally well (although obviously not) fulfill the work of his seemingly arbitrary choices?
And then I realized I could never ask any AI, present or future, these questions. And it's not like I can ask Borges (or I could was he still among us), but even the idea of trying to find something—anything—behind the artificially generated tokens of a language model, appears to me, right now, tremendously absurd.
Borges's final output, what we can see printed on the page, isn't there by a mere process of statistical fitness. It's there because someone with desires and hopes, fears and anxieties, a vast past, an eternal future, and a thoughtful and decidedly conscious present, put it there.
We won't get another Borges. Like we won't get another Hemingway, Austen, or Dostoevsky. But remember, the next time you pick up a book: whatever you find on the page comes with a story attached that we can't obviate. A story that defines irremediably the otherwise hollow black lines on the white pages.
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Dear Alberto, this is beautiful. And it relates to a thought that arose here the other day: Language is a social practice. It's not a record that can be stored. One word means a world to me, not much to others. How evocative! A labyrinth of thoughts, feelings, images arises.
A simple word can comprise secrets and open that window into an emotional landscape. Like epic songs of our favourite singers. Whatever touches us evokes memories inside and our own relation. So we are relating to the world, to ourselves, to others. Reading your text today, I think of Rilke and his poems (about roses, about statues, about tempests: "Love Poems to God").
under so many
– – – – –
“You are not surprised at the force of the storm—
you have seen it growing.
The trees flee. Their flight
sets the boulevards streaming. And you know:
he whom they flee is the one
you move toward. All your senses
sing him, as you stand at the window.
The weeks stood still in summer.
The trees’ blood rose. Now you feel
it wants to sink back
into the source of everything. You thought
you could trust that power
when you plucked the fruit:
now it becomes a riddle again
and you again a stranger.
Summer was like your house: you know
where each thing stood.
Now you must go out into your heart
as onto a vast plain. Now
the immense loneliness begins.
The days go numb, the wind
sucks the world from your senses like withered leaves.
Through the empty branches the sky remains.
It is what you have.
Be earth now, and evensong.
Be the ground lying under that sky.
Be modest now, like a thing
ripened until it is real,
so that he who began it all
can feel you when he reaches for you.
- Onto a Vast Plain”
– – – – –
We did not know his outrageous head,
in which the eyeballs ripened. But
his torso still glows like a candelabra,
in which his vision, but dimmed..,
...holds and shines. Else could not the prow
of the breast dazzle thee, and in the quiet turning
of the loins a smile could not go
To that centre which bore the begetting.
Otherwise this stone would stand disfigured and short
beneath the shoulders' transparent lintel
and would not flicker like the skins of predators;
and would not burst forth from all its edges
like a star: for there is no place
that seeth thee not. You must change your life.
– – – – –
None of these explains the mystery of Borges' magic line. However, there is this deep web of symbols. They don't mean much without us humans picking them up, loading them with meaning.
I have a very precise idea of what Borges might have meant. An image, so to speak, an emotion.
I don't know if it was his. This tension of not-knowing keeps the beauty preserved, intangible.
Enjoy Mexico :)
May you be inspired
Thank you for the reminder we all need that art is not reducible to data.