April 18th, 2008

Minotaur

Fake Out in Buenos Aires

I just recently finished reading the Collected Fictions of Jorge Luis Borges. I'd had this book for some time, but while short stories are more convenient for reading than novels in some respects, the self-contained nature of the pieces also makes it easier to put the collection down and forget about it for a while. I'd actually first heard of Borges in that ubiquitous volume of my childhood, The Dictionary of Imaginary Places. Because of its nature, it limited its scope to Borges' stories that took place in more or less specific fictional places, like the Circular Ruins and the Library of Babylon. My high school library had a copy of Borges' Book of Imaginary Beings, a compilation of descriptions of various fantastic creatures, which I checked out several times. It wasn't until I was in college that I bought the Collected Fictions, though. Borges writes about a variety of topics, including his native Argentina, retellings of old stories, and reviews of books that never existed. My personal favorites, however, tend to be those in which he deals with the concept of infinity, and of people's reactions to impossible objects and ideas. Some of the ones I particularly liked are:

The Circular Ruins - This was one of the first Borges stories I ever read. I believe it was actually in a literary collection that I had to buy for college, and I read it primarily because I remembered it from The Dictionary of Imaginary Places. I liked the story enough that incorporated some of its basic ideas about dreaming a human being into existence into an Oz story that I wrote, albeit without the twist ending.

The Library of Babel - This one describes an infinite library in which no two books are exactly the same, meaning that all possible books exist somewhere in it, but can most likely never be found.

The Immortal - About the effects that immortality might have on people. One line in it that I particularly like is: "I have noticed that in spite of religion, the conviction as to one's own immortality is extraordinarily rare. Jews, Christians, and Muslims all profess belief in immortality, but the veneration paid to the first century of life is proof that they truly believe only in those hundred years, for they destine all the rest, throughout eternity, to rewarding or punishing what one did when alive.

The Aleph - A bad poet in Buenos Aires has an object in his basement that contains all points in the universe.

Dreamtigers - A short piece about the author's childhood obsession with tigers, which comes into play in several other stories.

On Exactitude in Science - I mention this really short one primarily because I wonder if its idea of a map the same size as the land that it's mapping was an inspiration for John Linnell's song "Arkansas." Perhaps not, but I do see some definite similarities between Borges' writing and some They Might Be Giants lyrics.

The Other - The author has a conversation with a version of himself from the future (or the past, depending on your perspective). Borges would reuse this same motif in "August 25, 1983," at a time when he felt his own death was imminent, but I like the earlier story better.

The Book of Sand - A story about a book of infinite length, which drives its owners mad.

Blue Tigers - This one incorporates Borges' interest in tigers into a piece about stones that don't follow the laws of mathematics.
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Suspending your rights for the duration of the permanent war

There's a new They Might Be Giants podcast up, and it includes the band's cover of the song "There's A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow." They play this song at the Carousel of Progress in Disney World, but that was one of the attractions bethje and I didn't see while there. Also in the podcast are demo versions of "Unrelated Thing" and "What Bothers The Spaceman." And while I have the I Palindrome I EP, I haven't listened to it in some time, so it was nice to hear "Siftin'" again. I think the most interesting part of this podcast, however, was the brief song about the NSA.

Speaking of music, while shoe shopping at Kohl's last night, they played Frank Black's "Sunday Sunny Mill Valley Groove Day" over the intercom, which was unexpected and very cool. Since I've long since become resigned to listening primarily to musicians who don't get much radio play, it's always exciting to hear an exception. I did end up buying some new slip-on shoes. The weird thing is that the ones that fit the best were a size 9.5, even though I usually wear a size 10.5. Why can't the sizes be consistent? That's really pretty typical, though. I mean, there are other clothes measured in inches where the sizes aren't consistent, so I suppose it's only to be expected with the more nebulously defined shoe sizes.

And finally, to get political for a brief moment, I think the problem with criticizing Obama over his association with Reverend Wright and that terrorist dude whose name I can't remember is that I hardly think that kind of thing is unique to him. I'm sure that, if people were willing to dig deeply enough (and they probably will before November), they'd find that EVERY political candidate has occasionally had lunch with, been in the church choir with, or lived next door to someone of dubious moral character. Shouldn't we be evaluating the candidates on their own beliefs and actions, rather than those of casual acquaintances?