I am getting tired of these bouts of wordfighting showiness and general logomachy.
When I was a young girl I once was visited by Borges. Well, not really. Borges visited the city of Madrid, where I lived, to receive a literary price and to sit for a TV interview, and a bookseller friend of my parents knew an editor who knew a publisher who snuck me into the TV studio. So it was I that visited him, kind of. We met in the middle, Borges and I. And there we were.
You can’t see me, because I was standing in the next room, watching on a monitor and rehearsing my lines.
Borges was frail, almost transparent, and extremely patient with the embarrassing garrulousness of the interviewer. I swear 80% of the airtime was taken by the archly encomiastic and baroque questions of the Spaniard, and only 20% by the plain answers of the Argentinian. Today, on tape or on DVD or on your browser (I have repeatedly cringed at all three versions), this looks ridiculous. Live, standing there in the dark behind the cameras, it was fucking mortifying. It was like the scene in Annie Hall just before the point Woody Allen schools a fool by producing Marshal McLuhan from out of the frame, but without the ability to produce Borges, because he was there, under the floodlights, too polite to get up and bitchslap the pretentious git that the interviewer was. That would have been both awesome and only fair.
Ah, but that was not all the mortification to be had that night. You see, a fourteen-year-old’s life is a constant aleph of angst. From that endless source of eye-rolling at the locus of your clueless parents (especially when they make vain stabs at hipness) to, well, everything else. Especially yourself.
After the interview, in the green room (which was actually painted a light beige), I approached the Master with my copy of Ficciones in its Alianza Editorial edition. Borges praised the cover (He made a joke! At me!), scribbled a signature on the front page, and took in stride my attempts at wowing him with my twenty-dollar puns (calambures de dos mil pesetas, in the coin of the time). I held his hand, and promptly had to run to use the loo. It was *that* exciting.
When I came back, however, mortification sat on me. Borges was telling our bookseller friend how much he disliked puns and wordplay. I didn’t know what was worse: that he could have forgotten mine, just five minutes earlier, or that he could have disliked them and was now slagging me off. I felt it was all about me, me, me! … when of course it wasn’t. He was, however, talking about the newest generation of Spanish and South American authors that tried to imitate his style without delving into substance. To this day I am proud that I managed to say goodbye without making a scene, kissing his hand like I kissed my grandfather’s, and receiving in exchange a soft caress on my cheek.
I can’t help but think that people who quote and reference Borges using clever wordplay are just waiting to be schooled, Annie-Hall style, by Zombie Borges. I have written for a kit from Haiti, and the loas have written back. They are on Ebay now. Armed with a digital ouija connected to my laptop for feedback, I am working hard at raising Borges.
He will come at you, all luminous as if made of vellum and fed by a spotlight, and be polite and gentle at you until you die of guilt and shame.