Borges, Maynard, Funes, Harper’s and Depp

Long time followers will be aware of my love of the writing of Jorge Luis Borges. A couple of this week’s news stories have a Borgesian flavour to them. Or rather, they give rise to old themes that Borges articulates very well. #

The first of these is ‘The Letter’ – an open letter signed by prominent writers and academics published in Harper’s Magazine, bemoaning the rise of cancel culture. It seems to have divided Twitter, with many people criticising the generic text based upon those who signed it. #

The salient Borges text is ‘Pierre Maynard, author of the Quixote’. It’s an eight page story, about a man who sets out to write Don Quixote, word for word, despite never having read Cervantes. #

The story is a commentary on how an author’s biography is often used as a guide to interpreting a work. It’s not clear from the story whether Borges is ridiculing the idea that an author’s experiences matter to the interpretation. He asks the question, and the reader decides. #

Reading the Harper’s letter and the commentary about how it (apparently) drips with entitlement and condescension, it’s clear that many (most) people think that the meaning cannot be divorced from the context of its signatories. #

I wonder how we would read it if it had been signed by exclusively international writers — the kind that routinely show up on The @PEN international case list and bulletins. #


The other event that has prompted thoughts of Jorge Luis Borges is the Johnny Depp defamation trial against The Sun. Earlier, I posted this tweet. #

What a strange experience to relive a period of time in one’s life…

This time, the story is ‘Funes the Memorious’ (or, ‘Funes, His Memory’ or ‘Funes the Memoryful’ depending on the translation). It’s a seven page story. #

The story concerns one Ireneo Funes who suffers a horse-riding accident. He is paralysed, but gifted with an infallible memory. He can recall the shapes of a cloud he once saw, or entire books of Latin. #

He can recall an entire day in his life in exquisite detail… only it takes him an entire day to recount it. He gives unique names to the numbers up to and beyond twenty-four thousand … #

It seems to me that Johnny Depp and Amber Heard are now trapped in a Funes-like state of near-perfect memory. Their text messages and emails are read out in court, and they comment, analyse, explain each one. #

Later, I understand, they will hear recordings made of long conversations and interactions, and they will be re-lived too, the memory as long as the event itself.

This magic made possible by modern technology. We’re all wearing a wire, all the time, if we wish. #

I think also of ‘The Entire History of You’ S1, Ep.3 of Black Mirror where people can replay (or delete) recordings of any moment in their life. The tech changes the way humans interact with each other. And perfect memory is a curse. #

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