- Disquisitions on Some Reasoned Distractions of Aesthetics
First Wing of the Triptych: Thinking in the dark. Painting in the dark?
Los ojos parecían mirar muy lejos o haber quedado ciegos. (Borges 1989-96, 3: 47) [His eyes seemed to be looking very far or to have been made blind .]
At the beginning, I understood that this Symposium was proposed under a more general subject, something like "Borges and the visual arts." At first, I thought the idea was to resort to paradoxes and that the intention was to develop in that key the conciliation of opposites, a subject on which Borges has written profusely, attenuating the antagonisms between vision and blindness, books and darkness, and several other, less personal, antagonisms. It might not be an exaggeration to say that, thanks to Borges, paradoxes are no longer shocking, that contradictions and arguments have become part of a [End Page 39] logic that has assimilated them to the norms of truth, to assertions as well-reasoned as they are arguable. Is it necessary to mention once again those ironies that designed Borges's destiny, impugning the certainties of reason that sustained (the term is both excessive and overused) the ambivalence of his poetics?
This fatality was fate, sign, destiny, direction, cipher, letter, and writing, the literal "instrument" of a world in whose reproduction his mind took art and part, joining reflect and reflection, specularity and speculation in a single idea (Borges 1980).
Could God's irony really have been so magnificent in bestowing night on the writer so that he could remember, think, imagine, without noticing the shadows that leave to the shadows the "dear and beloved appearances"? (Borges 1969, 151).
In his conference "On Blindness" (1980), Borges discusses colors in detail: the colors he barely sees, those he does not see, their names, the translations that tell them apart. Even though at the end of this conference he quotes Goethe, he does not refer to his theory of colors, perhaps because Borges associated it with Hegel's dictum "all theory is grey," and with the figurative chromatic range that completes it.1 Nor does Borges allude to Hegel when he discusses the slow and long dusk in which the poet had lived since he was born, a twilight that for him does not start only at dusk: "When philosophy paints in grey its grey—Hegel said—and the owl starts to fly, when time, from grey to grey, grants the wisdom that the poet, like the wise man, requires."2
Abstracting sight, when the gaze becomes an abstraction, vision becomes inner vision, or it disappears in the depths of thought, as the English word "insight" suggests.
A deeper gaze perceives from within this interiority the intimate nature of things. "In-" meaning interiority or "in-"meaning deprivation, the prefix could denote a deep thought that confuses contemplation and reflection in a single action (or in-action), a mystical deprivation, a religious musing. "To muse" refers originally to all forms of contemplation, an attitude that involves being "absorbed in thought,"3 as if the notion got lost in the face of the ceremonies of the temple or among the works and the shadows of [End Page 40] the museum. The Latin "museum" and the Greek mouseion referred to the space devoted to the muses, but also and mainly to the place reserved for "study, the library, the museum." Borges (together with Bioy Casares) used the title Museo (2002) for their brief, witty, strange literary pieces; "Del rigor en las ciencias" is one of the briefest, most surprising and paradigmatic pieces published under that nominal, almost institutional, protection.
In spite of their relevance and their imprint "after Borges," neither paradoxes nor contradictions are new. Both in myths and on stage or in the musings that turned it into a complex, Oedipus's blindness illuminated his tragic truth: "Darkness, my light!" A multitude of examples illustrate the logical alterations that these rhetorical variations on denial underscore. An incredible or implausible truth, leaning toward philosophy, science, or art, turns the reasons of imagination into surprise, complexity into perplexity, or vice versa.
On this point I will...