- The Writing of Courage
At first glance, Borges's topology—the regions, places, and locations, the multifarious scenic apparatus of the stories—is neither simple nor univocal. It is a whole world, it is the entire orb, it is the diverse times of the world, and it is also the confusion or the mixture of circumstances and times. However, in all the places described in his work, in those for which the display of exactness seems to put them right before the eyes, as well as in those that merely come into sight as background or scenery, or even in those that are only incidentally or marginally alluded, as if they were seen out of the corner of the eye, it is as if one could notice (and I don't know if this is something that happens only to me, maybe because of my scarce imagination) some kind of unreal vanishing, a blurring that owes not only to a prodigious narrative economy but to a certain maliciousness. It is a veiling like that of the oneiric geographies that we visit sometimes repeatedly, night after night, sometimes distantly: geographies that are never the same, that appear always as if they were displaced, the props modified, with different [End Page 25] places, spots, and bends, but yet their vague atmosphere having that je ne sais quoi of something at once strange and familiar, reminding us that it is always the same, unique, extensive land. Or maybe it is all to the contrary, and the impression instead owes to the narrator assuming, in a way both abusive and accurate, that the hearer or reader has a knowledge or a feeling of the place in which the story is brought about. As such, he restricts himself only to specifying it with the aid of plain names and qualifiers that heighten and at the same time worry the thing qualified. Or maybe it is both things at once, and what happens there is what all of us know should happen with good stories: that sharing the space of a story is equivalent to the impossible experience of sharing the most hidden land of dreams.
It may be due either to the sfumato or to the want of clearer signs, but in any case if you look at the topography more closely, it becomes much simpler. There are two fundamental places in it: the absolute interior—the library or the garden of early childhood, that is to say, a closed one-dimensional labyrinth of leaves and petals—and the open exterior as figured by the plain, the prairie, the pampa, the mere spatium. The first of these places is the kingdom of memory. The other is the one of courage. (I'm talking too emphatically, though truly what I'm saying has no more weight than that of the conjecture. I guess—and I'm underscoring the verb—that this dichotomy is not entirely misleading. After all, the beginning of the story entitled "Juan Muraña," in El informe de Brodie (Brodie's Report), suggests it:
Durante años he repetido que me he criado en Palermo. Se trata, ahora lo sé, de un mero alarde literario; el hecho es que me crié del otro lado de una larga verja de lanzas, en una casa con jardín y con la biblioteca de mi padre y de mis abuelos. Palermo del cuchillo y de la guitarra andaba (me aseguran) por las esquinas.(Borges 1974b, 1044)
[For years I said that I was brought up in Palermo. It was, I know now, mere literary braggadocio; the fact is, I grew up on the other side of a long fence of spear-tipped lances, in a house with a garden and my father's and grandfather's library. The Palermo of knife fights and guitars was to be found (they assure me) on the street corners.](Borges 1998, 370, translation modified) [End Page 26]
I take advantage, then, of this report, in the guise, I would not say of a proof or a guarantee, but of a provisional support for the conjecture. Two places, then, one of memory, the other of courage...