Borges: Memory and blindness.

1920. Water-lilies. Claude Monet

A very small point in which the whole universe -and every visible thing in it- is simultaneously observable without superposition or transparency; an Aleph, as Borges calls it in his short tale[1] ¿What can the vision of the innumerable mean for an observer that can not possibly contain it?

Beatriz Viterbo dies in a morning of February, 1929. Borges -the character-, who showed her devotion without the fortune of retribution, decides to visit her house on Garay Street, April the 30th of the same year, with the excuse of paying his respects to her father and to Carlos Daneri -her first cousin- on the day of her birthday  and the secret intention of being somehow close to her without suffering humiliation or rejection.

The first place described to us is the cluttered drawing room where the many photographs of Beatriz are displayed: “Beatriz Viterbo in profile and in full colour; Beatriz wearing a mask, during the Carnival of 1921; Beatriz at her First Communion; Beatriz on the day of her wedding to Roberto Alessandri; Beatriz soon after her divorce, at a luncheon at the Turf Club; Beatriz at a seaside resort in Quilmes with Delia San Marco Porcel and Carlos Argentino; Beatriz with the Pekingese lapdog given her by Villegas Haedo; Beatriz, front and three-quarter views, smiling, hand on her chin…”[2] The world will move on and forget her; meanwhile, Borges will keep her intact in his memory.

The one day visit turns into an annual visit. Borges importunes Daneri with his presence and Daneri does the same for Borges with his poetry. He tells Borges about his project to versify the entire world; he reads some of his verses about Veracruz, Belgrano, Brighton and many other places where he has never been; then he praises his own work. They detest each other in silence but they are useful to each other: Borges wants to immortalize Beatriz and Daneri thinks he can use Borges as intermediary to get his work published. The imminent demolition of his house in Garay Street convinces Daneri to tell Borges about the existence of the Aleph. After giving him a drink Daneri walks him to the basement and leaves him down there alone; it’s then that Borges thinks he has been poisoned. Just as Beatriz’ death lets him tell us about all those different versions of her, the idea of his imminent death serves as preamble to the vision of the Aleph. In that small sphere, no more than three centimeters wide, he sees everything existent. He has witnessed a marvel but he’s also part of the world and at last he understands  that he’s condemned to forget too; forget not only the infinite that the Aleph is, also Beatriz who even if finite seems innumerable as well.

In On the soul[3] Aristotle explains the impossibility of separating body and soul. If what’s essential to a thing is separated from it, the thing no longer is what it is, save the name; an eye that doesn’t see is not an eye. Equally, the eroded memory of Beatriz -that Borges desperately attempts to preserve- will soon be Beatriz by name only; it increasingly resembles an oldman’s eye whose sight is slowly stolen by the widening cataracts.

____________________
1 BORGES, Jorge Luis; El Aleph (pp. 330-344). In: Cuentos Completos. 1a ed. – México: Lumen, 2011. ISBN: 978-607-310-528-6
2 Ibid. – p. 331
3 ARISTOTLE; Book II. In: On the soul (online). Consulted: 9 June 2013.
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