BORGES, CABBALA AND "CREATIVE MISREADING"
"the always wandering meaning of all literary g meanin h whic o t g accordin , representation wanders, like human tribulations, like error, from text to text, and within the text, from figure to figure." Harold Bloom: Kabbalah and Criticism
The importance of "Borges and the Cabbala" has been well recog- nized by several critics. The two major works in this field are by Saúl Sosnowski (1976) and by Jaime Alazraki (1972). The former sees Borges's interest in the Cabbala as a means to discover the true secret of the universe and man's position within it. Alazraki reaches an opposing conclusion, suggesting that for Borges Cabbala is symbolic of "the agonizing history of mankind, played out between two stories — one imagined by God and the other fancied by man".1 In this article I shall develop Alazraki's idea of "story", focussing more specifically on Borges's use of the Cabbalistic theme of the world as an infinitely speculative text whose meaning wanders, subject to permanent displacement by renewed meanings. The Cabbalists, as Borges knew, were not bound by the idea of communicable meaning; for them the significance of a text lay mainly in its incentive to further thought: "Sé que esos libros no están escritos para ser enten- didos, están escritos para ser interpretados, son acicates para que el lector siga el pensamiento" (Borges 1980a: 16). "I, a Jew" was the title of an article Borges wrote in the magazine Megáfono (April 1934) when accused of Jewish ancestry on the
* Evelyn Fishburn: *1937, Ph. D. (London) 1978, Senior Lecturer in the Divi- sion of Spanish and Latin-American Studies (Polytechnic of North London) since 1984. Address: Department of Language and Literature, Polytechnic of North London, Prince of Wales Road, London, NW5 3LB, Great Britain. I should like to express my particular gratitude to Dr. Bernard McGuirk for his generous assistance with the shaping of my argument. I should also like to thank Dr. Daniel Eilon for his valuable comments on an early draft of this manuscript. 1 See too Alazraki (1971) and Rabi (1964).
Ibero-Amerikanisches Archiv N. F. Jg 14 H. 4 1988 n Fishbur n Evely 2 40 n i e mad s wa e challeng e Th . Acevedo e surnam y famil s hi f o s ground an ultra nationalistic periodical calles Crisol at a time, 1934, when , reply s Borges' . Argentina n i d groun g gainin e wer s ideologie t fascis t i y wh d aske " teasing f o e masterpiec a " l Monega r Emi y b d considere t no d an s Hebrew e th n i d intereste y onl e ar s inquisitor r "ou t tha s wa the Phoenicians, Numidians, Scythians, Babylonians, Huns, Vandals, Ostrogoths, Ethiopians, Illyrians, Paphlagonians, etc." and wondered why "The nights of Alexandria, Babylon, Carthage, Memphis" never e th f o s tribe e th y "onl : grandfather e singl a g engenderin n i d succeede " power t tha d ha e hav o t m see ) Jews e (th a Se k Blac s bituminou e h h muc w ho , perhaps y provocativel , said y repeatedl e H . 12) : (1978 y eventuall d an , people h Jewis e th f o r membe a g bein t no d regrette accepted the possibility that the Acevedos might have been of Jewish Portuguese descent (they were from Catalonia), if only, one feels, to put an end to a tedious discussion.
o perdid l e n e s está i s á dir e m n Quié Laberinto de ríos seculares De mi sangre. Israel,...
he wrote after the Six Day War in an uncharacteristic involvement in a topical issue (OP p. 332).2 I believe that in fact until the Falklands/ Malvinas war this is the only incident in which Borges felt stirred to m poe a n i s wherea t Bu . situation l politica a o t y poeticall d respon written after the War in the South Atlantic,3 Borges adopted an ambivalent position, in "Israel" Borges's position is for once unequiv- ocal: l inmorta r se a a obstin e s e qu e hombr n u , batalla u s a o vuelt a h a ahor e qu y , victoria a l e d z lu a violent a l a hermoso como un león al mediodía (OP p. 333).4
Borges's philosemitism is well known. It found repeated means of expression in his frequent visits to and lectures at the "Hebraica", the Jewish cultural centre in Buenos Aires; his contributions to s hi n i s character h Jewis f o n presentatio s hi n i d an l journa s it Davar, fiction. This is not to imply that he idealises Jews, as becomes imme- diately evident upon reading "Emma Zunz", to start with an obvious
, Emecé : Aires s (Bueno poética Obra o t e ar y poetr s Borges' o t s Reference 2 . 5) e not e se n fictio s hi o t s reference r (fo OP o t d abbreviate , 1977) . 1982) r Septembe h 18t Times, The n (i " Ward n Joh d an z Lópe n "Jua 3 4 The lion is the emblem of the tribe of Judah. 3 40 " Misreading e "Creativ d an a Cabbal , Borges
example. This story, published in 1949, is set in the predominantly Jewish atmosphere of the textile industry of Buenos Aires, and shows Borges's familiarity with this milieu. Edna Aizenberg, in her s thing h wit p relationshi s Borges' n o h researc d documente y excellentl Jewish (1984), "lo hebreo", as she calls it describes Borges's point- - Argen t fascis f o m antisemitis g growin e th t agains e stanc t over y edl tina. Yet, as one would expect, Borges does not allow this conviction e despicabl a s i , one r fo , Loewenthal . world l fictiona s hi e invad o t figure: hypocritical, cowardly, fraudulent, a perjurer conforming, in , money-grabbing , fat e th f o e stereotyp c antisemiti e th h wit , fact - inespera a l , anterior o añ l e , decoro n co o llorad a "Habí . Jew y miserl a buen a un o traj e l e qu , Gauss a ¡un — r muje u s e d e muert a d dote! —, pero el dinero era su verdadera pasión." And then, as if cracking open the stereotype, the more intimate particularising detail, suggestive of a possible motive for his felony: "Con íntimo bochorno se sabía menos apto para ganarlo que para conservarlo" (A p. 64; my italics).5 Clearly, Borges feels sufficiently free to be able to write negatively about Jewish characters, even at such a sensi- tive time as immediately after World War Two. Emma Zunz's is a - con r anothe n i d remarke s ha s Borge s A . presentation x comple e mor n betwee n tensio a z Zun a Emm n i s i e ther , Fierro n Marti t abou t tex e th d an , understanding d an c sympatheti , narrative e th f o tone e th actions carried out by the protagonist. Her surname, Zunz, is palin- dromic in that it can be read upside up and upside down (and accord- ing to handwriting, also from left to right and right to left). This mirror image in the name embodies the duality of the story, in which o tw s reflect , Loewenthal f o g killin s Emma' , action d outwar e on motives, or rather, one reversed motive which can be read either in one direction or its opposite.6 But the name Zunz is also an intri- h nineteent g leadin e th f o e on , Zunz o Leopold o t n allusio g guin century Jewish scholars of Hasidism. This popular religious move- - exces n a d considere s wa t wha o t n reactio a s a , Poland n i e aros t men sive adherence to the letter of the law, and which encouraged among y primaril d base e on , God o t h approac t direc e mor a s follower s it upon direct prayer and intuition. Emma's decision to become the r temo r po o "N — e Justic e Divin f o r executo d an r interprete l persona e th f o n editio é Emec , Aires s Bueno e th o t e ar n fictio s Borges' o t s Reference El A: , (1956) Ficciones F: : follows s a d abbreviate d an completas Obras Aleph (1957), /: El informe de Brodie (1970). n i ; honour s father' r he e aveng o t r orde n i l Loewentha l kil o t t ou s set a Emm d an r fathe r he g killin y symbolicall s i e sh , Loewenthal g killin n whe , event e th avenging her own, and her mother's honour. Other interpretations of Jewish s Stavan d an ) (1984 g Aizenber n i d foun e b n ca " Zunz a "Emm n i s element (1986). n Fishbur n Evely 4 40
- castiga r se a querí o n a ell , Justicia a l e d o instrument n u r se r po o sin da" and "Los labios de Emma se atareaban, como los de quien reza y pla n ca e on t Bu . light s thi n i d rea e b n ca — ) 64 . p (A " baja z vo n e n non-Euclidia a f o e nam e th s i s Gaus : indefinitely e gam s name e th geometer who belonged to the circle of Cantor, whose Mengenlehre, or Theory of Sets, is mentioned by Borges in "El aleph"; Urstein means something like "piedra elemental", "Ur" being a prefix much . regression f o s possibilitie s endles s it r fo r Bube n Marti y b d favoure s i e h ; Hasidism n o e wrot o als , philosopher h Jewis n Germa a , Buber . fénix" l de a sect a "L n i s Borge y b d quote h Jewis y b t fel s ambiguitie e th s evoke s Borge " indigno l "E n I g establishin n i , offspring r thei y b y specificall e mor d an , immigrants their position in society. The story focusses upon problems of divid- d indee d an , anywhere t immigran h Jewis e th o t t relevan , loyalties d e to any immigrant. Its protagonist, Santiago (formerly Jacobo) Fisch- bein,7 is an established bookseller, whose collection included — but not for sale — a copy of the Kabbala Denudata by Rosenroth. His life's story is told by someone else, a first person narrator sharing in some Borgesian autobiographical details such as the ownership of e episod n a o t s relate t I . Waite d an g Ginsbur s Cabbalist e th y b s work in the past when as a young man Fischbein had betrayed the trust n o e polic e th o t " "grassed d an , "guapo" l loca e th f o p friendshi d an the plan to rob the Weidemann factory. Fischbein, the outsider, a vis a vis l margina e th — s indigenou e th h wit n confrontatio n i s stand the centre. He is attracted to the colourful life of banditry and d "an e smok o t t learn e h m who m fro " men g "stron e th f o y braver other things". Yet when he is taken into their confidence and al- - fac n Weideman e th f o y robber d planne e th n i e participat o t d lowe l betraya s thi , Now . crime d intende e th f o e polic e th s inform e h , tory e th f o r owne h Jewis e th o t y loyalt f o t ac n a r eithe s a n see e b n ca factory about to be robbed or of extreme patriotic allegiance to the establishment of law and order in the country whose citizen the Jew is proud to become, to the extent that he is willing to suffer the t Ye . police g uncomprehendin l loca e th f o m opprobriu e inevitabl another reading, one of even greater abnegation, implies that he e th t tha t fel e h e becaus , love d an y loyalt f o t ou i Ferrar d betraye n bee d ha r powe s hi t tha n eve s perhap r o , power s hi g losin s wa guapo merely illusory, and needed to be constructed. The clue lies in the following sentence: "Los diarios, por supuesto, lo convirtieron en el héroe que acaso nunca fue y que yo había soñado" ( I p. 35). creating s i w Je e th n Fischbei , betrayal t abjec y seemingl s hi h Throug Ferrari, the guapo god. The initial reference to the Cabbalistic inter-
. linked y etymologicall e ar o Santiag d an o Jacob s name e Th 7 5 40 " Misreading e "Creativ d an a Cabbal , Borges l litera s les s thi o t y stor e surfac e th p u s open s narrator h bot f o s est interpretation. To the readers versed in Borges's previous works, the e th h whic n i " Judas e d s versione s "Tre f o e them e th s repeat y stor identification of Judas with God is ultimately suggested in an ex- - Fisch n progressio e Th . abasement f sel d an e sacrific f sel f o t ac e trem bein — Judas - God no longer seems far-fetched.8
Borges has referred to the Jewish people as "The People of the n betwee n confrontatio e th n i e us l origina o t t pu e attribut n a , Book" h Jewis n o s Book . brújula" a l y e muert a "L n i l crimina d an e detectiv mysticism are the instrument which traps Lönnrot, their detective reader, luring him to his death. Scharlach, the Jewish master-criminal with seemingly omnipotent powers, uses books to carry out his , opportunistically , intimated s a , First . ways l severa n i n pla y dastardl , secondly ; tomes l mystica e som n i t interes s opponent' s hi g abusin y b by relying on a reference to Spinoza, whose more geométrico (the method he adopted to explain the work of Descartes) insinuates a geometric means of investigation in Lönnrot's mind and thirdly, by deliberately misapplying the words underlined in the Philologus Hebraeograecus's 33rd Dissertation. This point is not fully appreci- ated in the otherwise exhaustive critical attention this story has re- , operation l crimina e th f o d mastermin h Jewis e th , Scharlach 9 ceived. - Lönn h wit m hi g linkin p relationshi c symbioti , unique a d create s ha rot, his hapless victim. It is based upon a completely private code devised by Scharlach to be understood only by Lönnrot in which the months are reckoned according to the solar calendar of the Christians t bu , months) r luna o int y differentl e quit d divide s i r yea h Jewis e (th . custom h Jewis e th s i s a k dus t a d en d an t star o t e mad e ar s day e th Thus, the murders are committed on the fourth day of a non-existent month, or one that exists only in the private code of Scharlach and Lönnrot. n eve d foun e b n ca m wisdo t tha e believ " Book e th f o e Peopl e •"Th in individual letters, or a combination of letters. Concomitantly, in "La muerte y la brújula", the search for truth is based upon the n i g representin n combinatio d four-lettere e th , Tetragrammaton Jewish tradition the hidden name of God, and providing Borges with a ready-made structure on which to exercise a further cynical subver- sion of systems of belief.
8 This point was completely missed by Aizenberg, Aleph Weaver (1984), who - communi h Jewis e th f o e failur e th f o n illustratio n a s a y simpl y stor s thi s see gauchos e becom , it s term e sh s a , or n populatio l loca e th h wit e integrat o t y t judíos. . (1987) brújula" la y muerte La d an s "Borge n i y full e mor t poin s thi s discus I 9 See also Gallagher (1973: chapter on "Jorge Luis Borges"), Sturrock (1977) and McGuirk( 1983). n Fishbur n Evely 6 40 f o n fictio s Borges' n i n presentatio l sentimenta , simple o n s i e Ther Jewish traits or characteristics. "Guayaquil", a brilliant piece of self- mockery and ironic exposé of a certain fashionable kind of antisemi- f o , historian e Argentin n a n betwee n confrontatio e th s concern , tism o Eduard . Dr a d an , credentials d an e lineag c patrioti e impeccabl Zimerman, a refugee from the Third Reich. The latter comes from Prague and shares with his opponent, the unnamed narrator, an - iden e Th Golem. The l nove e strang s Meyrink' v Gusta r fo n admiratio - sug y strongl s i r narrato n first-perso e th h wit s Borge f o n tificatio gested, underlined by references to his ancestors (Coronel Suárez) and by the fact that he lives in calle Chile (Borges lived in calle . Chile) n i n Marti n Sa y b n wo d an t fough e battl a f o e nam e th , Maipu But Borges is also identified with the two opponents through their n i d rea s Borge l nove t firs e th Golem, The r fo n admiratio t join German. The story's first and most immediate allusion is to the historic meeting at Guayaquil on 26-27 July 1822 between Generals San n i d shroude e ar g meetin e th f o s proceeding e Th . Bolivar d an n Marti e th f o h eac d an n know e mad y officiall n bee g havin r neve , legend . version c nationalisti s it n give y traditionall s ha d represente s countrie f o d comman p u e gav n Marti n Sa t tha s teache y histor e Argentin s Thu d an r powe s hi g sacrificin , self-abnegation f o t ac n a n i s armie s hi position in order to further the cause of South American independ- ence. It hints at Bolivar's ambition. This reading provides a sub-text to "Guayaquil", which also is concerned with self-abnegation and ambition. The rivalry has significantly been moved from the sword to the pen and exists between two historians, interpreters or, if pre- - manifesta g rivallin e th s a t ou d playe s i t I . history f o s creator , ferred , narrator e th s stand e sid e on e th n O . Will n Schopenhaueria f o s tion s i y histor e whos , country s hi n i m fir s root s hi , confidence f o l ful f belie s hi n i r falte t no s doe e H . ancestors s hi f o t tha h wit d intertwine c histori e th n o t sen e b o t e candidat y onl d an s obviou e th s i e h t tha mission. He muses, with dramatic irony, "no se trataba de un duelo". His opponent, as a refugee from the Third Reich, is history's victim as the eternal outsider. His is an anomalous presence in the exagger- atedly criollo atmosphere of the narrators's patio with its "baldosas . italics) y m ; 115 . p / ( " aljibe el y s magnolia s do las , blancas y s negra He is shorter than his host, myopic, badly dressed, showily vulgar, e th f o e becaus o als t bu , tie e ready-mad s hi f o e becaus y onl t no ostentatious features of his face, which, in the narrator's words, is s hi n i t eviden y subtl s i m antisemitis s narrator' e Th meublé. trop . judío" r deci o n r po , "hebreo : Jew a s a m hi d bran o t e reluctanc Their antagonistic relationship is emphasised by the fact that one has lived the historical moment in question, or at least can be said to be 7 40 " Misreading e "Creativ d an a Cabbal , Borges e th m fro y onl t i s know r othe e th s wherea , veins s hi n i t i g carryin n e ; trabuco e m y s texto e d o nutr e m o "Y , says e h s A . word n writte usted vive el interesante pasado" (7p. 116). Yet the two opponents s Meyrink' , read e hav h bot : libraries r thei n i s book e th y b d linke e ar . Schopenhauer f o s work e th d studie e hav h bot d an , novel c fantasti This common bond transforms their relationship, Zimerman be- f itsel e impos o t e abl r bette d an r stronge s i l Wil e whos e on e th g comin upon his rival. With infinite subtlety he persuades his opponent to resign his claim and sets off for a journey of glory; confident of his strength, he had decided upon his success before he ever presented himself at the meeting. In terms of the legend of the historical meet- ing it is easy to establish a parallel between the relationship of San Martin and Bolivar and that of the narrator and Zimerman but the confrontation must also be taken on a metaphoric level. The critique of antisemitism, begun with "the masterpiece of teasing" in Megáfo- no, is continued in this story in the tone of the narrative, which - "Borge e th f o n visio w narro d an c rhetori s pompou e th t a n fu s poke t mos n i e them g underlyin n a h wit t consisten s i s Thi . narrator " sian of the stories in the collection El informe de Brodie concerning the - immigra f o s force w ne e th y b r orde n patricia d ol e th f o t replacemen tion.1 ° In "Guayaquil", the new spirit of Argentina is represented by g somethin y clearl s i e ther r fo , way d idealise n a n i t no , Zimerman d an t vibran e mor , stronger e th s a t ye , impudence s hi n i s obnoxiou life-affirming impulse of a universal Will. Heaping paradox .upon para- dox, he, the Jew, is to Argentine culture the free, eclectic outsider capable of unfettered understanding which Borges, in "El escritor e Argentin e th f o e plac e th s a d claime d ha " tradición a l y o argentin 1 1 tradition. n Europea s vi à s vi l intellectua r o e on h wit d connecte s i s storie e thes f o h eac t tha s emerge t I h wit s storie r othe e th l al f o e tru s i e sam e th ; Cabbala f o t aspec r othe - long s Borges' n give g surprisin y hardl s i s Thi . connection h Jewis a standing interest in the subject, as evidenced in his frequent state- t Chris d Ronal y b d aske n whe , Indeed . essays d an s interview n i s ment (1967) whether he had ever tried to make his own stories cabbalistic t tha t sugges o t t no s i h Whic 2 1 had. e h , yes : simple s wa y repl s hi
101 am indebted for this insight to my friend Dr. Eduardo Ortiz, of the Depart- . London , College l Imperia t a s Mathematic f o t men 11 An essay in Discusión (1932). - Trachten a Joshu , Scholem m Gersho y b s work d rea g havin s mention s Borge 2 1 - (Sos a Encyclopaedi r majo e th n i s article s variou d an e Wait r Arthu , berg e d o "Tamañ e ar t subjec e th n o s writing n ow s hi f o e som ; 16) : 1976 i nowsk mi esperanza" (in Proa, 1926), "Vindicación de la Cabala" (in Discusión, 1932) and "La Cabala" (in Siete noches, 1980b). n Fishbur n Evely 8 40
Borges was a Cabbala scholar: his interest lay in some of its funda- mental tenets and their aesthetic possibilities. He states that he finds e th s a e incredibl s a k boo a e writ o t d condescende d Go t tha a ide e th e th o t d attracte s i t bu , man a e becom o t d condescende e h t tha a ide d approache s Borge . 129) : (1980b r forme e th f o s implication y literar the Cabbala with the same irreverence and originality of mind which he applied to other systems of thought yet it is evident from his e challeng e subversiv e th o t d attracte y particularl s wa e h t tha k wor presented by a sacred book, perfect in every detail, each and every letter divinely inspired and therefore the source of infinite specula- f o r o l casua d considere e b n ca t tex d sacre a n i g nothin e Sinc . tion secondary importance, meanings have to be found within the bound- aries of the text, through metaphoric interpretations. According to Cabbala, the Hebrew Scriptures, said to be the eternal and thus un- changeable work of God, can be opened to myriad interpretations. - permuta f o s mean y b d reache e ar g meanin f o s level t differen e Thes tions based on the combination of letters and their numerical equiva- h bot s serve r characte w Hebre h eac t tha t ou d pointe e b d shoul t I . lent - cryptogra o t y particularl f itsel s lend s thu d an r numbe d an r lette s a phical substitutions. (The replacement of one order by another either n o d base s calculation r o t alphabe e th n i n positio ' letters e th h throug numerical equivalences.) In Siete noches, Borges gives as a contrast the example of the opening of Don Quijote, where anyone reaching f o s letter e th f o s permutation e th m fro s conclusion e interpretativ t ou y totall d considere e b d woul " Mancha a l e d r luga n u n "E n i la de of his mind. Yet this is precisely the basic method of Cabbalistic exegesis. - exten y b , and , receive o t , cabbal w Hebre e th m fro , Cabbala e Th sion, received tradition, is the general term applied in Judeo-Christi- n upo d base e experienc d an e knowledg s religiou f o y bod a o t y anit - ap f o s mean a e provid o t s seek h whic s exegesi l scriptura c esoteri proaching God directly, that is, without any mediating agent. Ac- cording to Gershom Scholem, "it is the tradition of things divine, the sum of Jewish mysticism" (1965: 1). As a method of mystical and poetical exposition of the Scriptures, Cabbala presents a pantheistic approach to the universe, believing in the hidden existence of god- liness behind and within every material object. Thus, in Cabbalistic thought, the visible world is likened to a veil, or curtain, which can t direc e mor a l revea o t , interpretations c esoteri f o s mean y b d lifte e b vision of the true mysteries of God and his creation. This non-realist a t bu s i e visibl g anythin h whic o t g accordin , universe e th f o w vie - appre t symbolis l al f o t hear e th t a s i , else g somethin r fo r metapho o s t Wha 3 1 secular. r o s religiou r whethe , universe e th f o s hension fascinated Borges was the very strict discipline and the confines 9 40 " Misreading e "Creativ d an a Cabbal , Borges
within which Cabbala operated its hermeneutic possibilities or, to use a favoured metaphor of paradox, "su álgebra y fuego".14 This is d explaine s A . experiences l mystica r othe m fro s differ a Cabbal e wher by the critic Harold Bloom, it is more a mode of intellectual specula- s i gnosis for t ques s It . 47) : (1975 d Go h wit n unio f o y wa a n tha n tio centered upon an interpretative study of the Book, a critique which demanded innovative speculations to be undertaken within an ap- pearance of strict adherence to tradition. s thi s emphasize tradition, received , Cabbala f o y etymolog e Th - negligi t almos s i t elemen l persona e th , Scholem o t g Accordin . point s Thi " God. o t y wa n ow s hi f o k spea t Cabbalis a d di y rarel y "Ver : ble is not to imply that the individual was insignificant or irrelevant, but d prescribe e th n withi n i t fi o t y individualit s hi t adap o t d ha e h t tha s wa e experienc l mystica r inne y An . tradition g bindin a f o s parameter expressed as speculation upon new layers of traditional religion. Scholem points out that there are two basic questions facing a mystic within a system of divine revelation and acceptance of sacred books. e th n i d anticipate d an d reflecte e experienc s hi d fin o t w ho s i e On o int d worl e th f o w vie s hi g brin o t w ho , other e th d an , texts d sacre . 32) : (1965 n traditio n ow s hi y b d accepte w vie e th h wit y harmon This double pull between the individual and the general, is a conflict often exploited in the presentation of Borges's characters. It repeats the perennial clash between Nominalism and Idealism in which his fiction is located. a , amorphous y essentiall s i , Scholem s say , experience l mystica e Th A . form e intelligibl o int d translate e b o t s ha h whic s chao g bewilderin - ennumera g lon e th n i d foun e b n ca t attemp s thi f o e exampl t salien tion of disparate glimpses of the universe envisaged in the "aleph" in - uni e unfathomabl n a f o n intuitio s thi t Ye . name t tha f o y stor e th verse set off against man's vain attempt to understand it is not con- fined to any one story but is a constant preoccupation in Borges's fiction. Aspects of Cabbala which have most clearly found an echo in h wit y primaril d connecte s storie n i d foun e b o t e ar , fiction s Borges' d an " Babel e d a bibliotec a "L , dios" l de a escritur a "L s a h suc writing, "El inmortal". Writing is connected to the mystical experience in that the moment the mystic tries to clarify his experience by reflec- - communi o t s attempt e h n whe y especiall d an , it e formulat d an n tio
13 The symbolist movement of the late 19th century is an obvious example of such visionary inspiration and urge to transcend reality. Baudelaire, Verlaine, m drea r thei d pursue y the t bu , reality y everyda e evad o t t sough l al , Mallarmé . way c individualisti , personal y comparativel a n i , freedom n certai h wit ; 188) . p (OP " 30 , XXV o "Mate n i d an ) 19 . (p F n i d use s i " fuego y a "álgebr 4 1 see too Historia de la eternidad (1963: 152). n Fishbur n Evely 0 41
- conven f o k framewor a e impos t mus y necessaril e h , others o t t i e cat tional symbols and ideas upon it. If he tries to communicate his experience he is bound to do so in a language, in images and con- o t g awakenin m Gole e th e lik , him e befor d create e wer t tha , cepts consciousness "aprisionado en esta red sonara / de Antes, Después, f o g feelin s Thi . 201) . p OP , Golem" l ("E " ... , Ahora , Mientras , Ayer l "e : Dios" l de a escritur a "L m fro e lin a n i d repeate s i n frustratio , Tzinacán , story s thi n I . 120) . p (A " símbolos s su e repit o n s éxtasi the Mayan magician, echoes sentiments which are steeped in Cabbal- istic symbolism.15 He recalls that in the beginning of Creation God wrote a magic sentence which would survive the vicissitudes of time m wisdo s it m who o t e on n chose a y b d deciphere e b y eventuall d an would be revealed. This idea accords with a Cabbalistic interpretation m Ada g beginnin e th n i t tha s hold h whic m Ada f o n formatio e th f o knew the secret name of God, indeed Adam was God (a theory based upon the numerical permutations of the letters of Adam and the Tetragrammaton) and thus had knowledge of the secrets of the s i n ma d an , Fall e th f o e tim e th t a t los s wa e knowledg s Thi . Universe searching ever since to recover its memory (Scholem 1965: 161 f.). " treasure n "hidde e th s a d interprete e b n ca e knowledg t secre s Thi which Tzinacán is tenaciously keeping from his oppressors. A clue linking Tzinacán and Adam is the fact that Tzinacán, like Adam, e nam s hi s a , (Adam . dust e th m fro c magi t withou f himsel t lif t canno e h h whic o t , dust r o , earth d re m fro d forme s wa , Hebrew n i s implie returned.) Tzinacán's search for a memory of a primordial meaning is - "Urgi : secret t los e th r fo h searc t Cabbalis e th f o e suggestiv y similarl , tiempo l e o mod n algú e d r pobla e d , algo r hace e d d fatalida a l r po o d o debeland i fu í As . .. . sabía e qu o l o tod , sombra i m n e , recordar e quis los años, así fui entrando en posesión de lo que ya era mío" , implies e titl s it s a , dios" l de a escritur a "L . italics) y m ; 116 . p (A touches upon one of the fundamental concerns of Cabbala, namely, the primordial importance of language in the creation of the world and the belief that the universe is a cryptic text whose meaning may be elucidated through mystical exegesis. This accords with Tzinacán's belief that the jaguar's spots, black marks on a yellow background, are the bearers of a secret message. They place an order, a pattern, a configuration upon a meaningless background, much like letters do on a blank page. The transition from the spots to letters is deftly n orde l e r aprende a s año s largo é "Dediqu s say n Tzinacá : out d carrie c Azte d an a May o t s owe y stor e th t wha y den o t k see t no s doe t argumen y M 5 1 mythology: Tzinacán was the name of a Quiche cacique mentioned by Bernal e th m fro s passage h wit s accord d worl e th f o s origin e th f o n visio e whos z Día Popol Vuh's or Libro del Común's account of Creation (see Alvarez 1984). 1 41 " Misreading e "Creativ d an a Cabbal , Borges
y la configuración de las manchas. Cada ciega jornada me concedía e qu s forma s negra s la e ment a l n e r fija e pud í as y z lu e d e instant n u tachaban el pelaje amarillo. Algunas incluían puntos; otras formaban e s , anulares , otras ; piernas s la e d r interio a car a l n e s transversale s raya palabra" misma una o sonido mismo el eran Acaso . repetían (A p. 118; my italics). Everything is text, God's text manifesting itself in the infinite text of the universe. Eventually, Tzinacán finds the meaning of the universe in the configuration of the spots of the a r fo s locu l unusua r rathe s thi : his o t t nex l cel e th n i g pacin r jagua mystical revelation illustrates the Pantheistic concept underlying g bein g everythin d an e everywher g bein s a d go s see h whic m Cabbalis part of god. By placing the secret of Revelation in such a seemingly t Cabbalis f o e perspectiv e th m (fro g settin c exoti o als t bu l trivia e absolut e th g emphasizin e b y arguabl y ma s Borge ) is t tha , centres validity of these views, and their universal applicability, regardless of - inter n a , hand r othe e th n O . limitations l contextua r o l geographica pretation based upon the tone of the narrator, and one that I would favour, is that Borges may be humorously illustrating its absurdities: l e i V ! sentir e d o r imagina e d a l e qu r mayo , entender e d a dich h ¡O " - proce s infinito i V . .. o univers l de s designio s íntimo s lo i v y o univers sos que formaban una sola felicidad y, entendiéndolo todo, alcancé también a entender la escritura del tigre. Es una fórmula de catorce - todo r se a par a alt z vo n e a decirl a bastarí e m y . .. s casuale s palabra poderoso" (A p. 120). When Tzinacán has his vision of ecstasy, he shares the negative fate of Revelation with other Borgesian charac- e Nam e th f o h pat e th d followe o wh , Lönnrot o t g referrin m a I . ters and met his death; Hladik, whose secret miracle did not save him from the Prussian punctuality of the firing squad; Funes, who was weighed down and paralysed by his keenness of vision; Runeberg, who lost his mind, and "Borges", the narrator of "El aleph", whose ecstatic vision of the Universe had no corrective effect upon the petty vindictiveness of his reaction. This negative portrayal of Reve- lation should not be taken simply as a sign of Borges's "ludic" inter- e th o t e clos , paradoxically , is t bu s system f o g mockin e th n i t es teachings of Cabbala. Fearing the danger of heresy from any untu- tored meddling with the realm of the obscure, the rabbis tradition- ally adopted a reticent attitude towards mystical aspirations to the 6 1 unhealthy. y morall e b o t n speculatio h suc g believin f o t exten d an w La l Ora f o n (Compilatio d Talmu e th n i d tol s i e tal y cautionar s famou A 6 1 Commentaries) of four sages who entered the Garden (of Knowledge) of whom one, Ben Azai, died, one perverted the young (harmed a tender s allude o wh s Borge o t r familia s wa y stor e Th . reason s hi t los e on d an ) plant y o Paraís l e o vi e "qu , Azai n Be g mentionin , Judas" e d s versione s "Tre n i t i o t murió". n Fishbur n Evely 2 41 n pedestria y eminentl n (a s syllable n fourtee r fo h searc s Tzinacán' number but also twice the mystic seven) believed to contain the - lan f o e importanc c cosmogoni e th t highligh e Univers e th f o t secre guage in Judeo-Christian tradition. It is based upon the basic trope that God spoke in order to create the world, so making language precede the act of creation: "And God said, 'Let there be light'; and e th o t d accorde e pre-eminenc l traditiona e th t Ye " light. s wa e ther spoken over the written in Western thought is subverted in Cabbala by a belief in a primordial text, a "writing before writing" out of n i e voic n moder a d foun s ha h whic d an d emerge n creatio h whic empreinte), ou durable (institution " "trace e th f o y theor s Derrida' where he argues the primacy of writing over spoken and graphic . f.) 2 6 : (1976 n expressio Cosmogonic speculations regarding the role of language are a of Book The , literally Yezirah, Sepher e th f o t aspec l fundamenta Creation. Borges discusses this work in "Del culto de los libros"17 a l y e muert a "L n i , Yarmolinsky h bot t tha d recalle e b l wil t i d an brújula", and Hladik, in "El milagro secreto", had worked on a trans- - be m fro g datin , text e speculativ s Thi Yezirah. Sepher e th f o n latio tween the 3rd and 6th centuries, seeks to explain the act of creation e infinit s it m fro e univers e th f o n transitio e th g involvin s proces a s a t tha s change e th h wit d concerne s i t I . manifestation e finit s it o t e stat took place in the Deity as it existed in pre-creation — that is, as En Soph, or ineffable and unfathomable Endless Being — to a more e negativ e Th . creation f o y stor l biblica e th n i e presenc d personalize emphasis of En, Hebrew for "nothing" and Soph, "end", seeks to - unknow s wa n creatio e befor d existe e h s a d Go t tha a ide e th y conve - exist s hi s expres o t y abilit s man' d beyon y la t i t tha o s n ma o t e abl ence. Any name would imply a limitation and would therefore be an impossibility. It is in this sense that the negative connotation of En s boundarie y an e plac o t l refusa a s a : understood e b d shoul h Sop upon the designation of God. This aspect of Cabbalistic thought - reso n kee s find h whic , agnosticism l mystica l essentia n a s suggest nance in Borges's stories. Repeatedly Borges subverts any belief in a certainty, exposing the partiality of man-made limitations upon every explanation of the Universe, whether philosophical, theologi- cal, or mystical. His consideration of these three schools of thought d nee o t n know l wel o to s i " fantástica a literatur a "l f o s branche s a any further comment. Furthermore, the rejection of any possibility of closure found in all Borges's fiction is a statement about the ultimate unknowableness of reality which has much in common with the concept of the En Soph. But the fundamental aspect of the
17 Essay in Otras Inquisiciones (1960). 3 41 " Misreading e "Creativ d an a Cabbal , Borges
Sepher Yezirah which can be seen to have inspired Borges is the n writte e th f o t enactmen e th s a e univers e th s explain t tha n notio word (that is, reality as a reflection of a pre-existent text and not the other way round). In the Sepher Yezirah, Creation is related as a process involving the combination of ten divine emanations. (This is f o d Go o t h Sop En m fro n evolutio s a e abov d expresse s proces e th Creation. It is a theory of influences which owes much to gnosticism and neo-Platonism.) There are ten stages of emanation in the trans- formation of an Endless Being to a Creator of a finite world which in the Sepher Yezirah are expressed as primordial numbers and are . alphabet w Hebre e th f o s letter o tw y twent e th h wit d combine h throug " wisdom f o s path t secre o "thirty-tw e th m for y the r Togethe which everything that is and will be exists. Thus the Sepher Yezirah explains the creation as the result of the combination of thirty two letters and/or numbers. Borges has illustrated the idea of a primordial text in "La biblioteca de Babel" where there are a number of refer- e th e equat o wh " "others e thos , instance r Fo . concepts e thes o t s ence Universe with the Library can be interpreted as Cabbalists: "El uni- verso (que otros llaman la Biblioteca)." Similarly, the fundamental l al h whic o t g accordin " genio e d o bibliotecari n "u y b d discovere a ide o tw y twent e th f o t consis , character n i t differen r howeve , books e th o N . reference c Cabbalisti a s a n take e b n ca t alphabe e th f o s letter o t s point o tw y twent r numbe e th t bu , mentioned s i t alphabe c specifi e on o t y narrowl o to n dow t poin s thi e ti o t t no , However . Hebrew context alone, it is made to accord with the twenty five letters y b * 1 Melancholy of Anatomy The m fro h epigrap e th n i d mentione means of a period, a comma and a space. The "gran libro circular de s a y ecstas r thei n i s mystic e som y b n see ) 86 . p F ( " continuo o lom synonymous with God, can be taken as a direct reference to the o t s i h whic e lif h Jewis f o s aspect l al g regulatin w la c Mosai e th , Torah d en h eac t a d scrolle t parchmen s continuou n o n handwritte y da s thi and wound from one scroll to another in an ever-repeated cycle. "La biblioteca de Babel" is particularly rich in Cabbalistic allu- sions. Apart from those already mentioned, one could point out "la escalera espiral que se abisma y se eleva hacia lo remoto" (F p. 85) as f o e tal l biblica e Th . Babel f o r Towe e th o t n allusio d veile o to t no a God's punishment for man's presumption in trying to reach heaven has been interpreted as a warning against the dangers of seeking esoteric knowledge. Knowledge is equated with power, and know- ledge of the Name with the magical power of creation. In its inter- pretation as a metaphor of man's perennially doomed attempts to
18 "By this art you may contemplate the variation of the 23 letters..." (The . IV) . mem , II . sect , 2 . part Melancholy, of Anatomy n Fishbur n Evely 4 41 l Babe f o r Towe e th f o y stor e th , universe e th f o e knowledg n gai . fiction s Borges' n i s theme l fundamenta e th f o e on s a s stand f o e appearanc e th s duplicate y faithfull h whic r mirro y hallwa e Th y theor c Cabbalisti r anothe s introduce , staircase l spira r o , Tower s thi based upon the duality of creation. It is a concept expounded in the Zohar, the basic book of Jewish mysticism, to which Borges alludes s i n creatio f o s proces e th h whic o t g accordin 9 1 occasions, l severa n o explained as having taken place on two planes: one above, concern- ing the emergence of the Creator from En Soph, and one below, concerning the creation of the world out of chaos. The speculation is based upon the first letter of Genesis which is not, as might have been expected, aleph, the opening letter of the Hebrew alphabet, but - de e Th . two s i t equivalen l numerica e whos r lette d secon e th beth, t pas l al r registe s shelve s it t tha d an l tota s i y Librar e th t tha n ductio d an l tota e th n i f belie h Jewis h wit s accord e knowledg l potentia d an - them r conside s Jew e th y wh n reaso a , Torah e th f o m wisdo l eterna selves as the "People of the Book", and which is alluded to in Bor- ges's story as "la superstición del Hombre del Libro". It is stated that one of the possible combinations of this total wisdom may be encompassed in the letters dhcmrlchtdj. This absurd configuration humorously underlines the principle of the unlimited plasticity of , say o t n o s goe " biblioteca a "L f o r narrato e th s A . word e divin e th e d y s ternura e d a llen é est o n e qu a sílab a un r articula e pued e "Nadi temores; que no sea en alguno de esos lenguajes el nombre poderoso n i f belie n commo a s repeat n quotatio s Thi . 94) . p (F " dios n u e d speculative Cabbalistic literature concerning different levels of esoter- icism, which holds that every permutation of letters can be a name of God, so that ultimately the whole of the Torah, and by extension all writing, can be reduced to names of God. But these are inexpressible: - allu c periphrasti a r eithe s i y Deit e th o t e referenc y ever , Judaism n i sion, such as the Tetragrammaton, or the Shem Hamephorash (the pre-eminent name), or a metonymic reference to a divine attribute, such as mercy, compassion, might, radiance. These "contiguous signi- a n o t caugh s a e ar , momentarily r registe c linguisti e chang o t , fiers" - non-contigu a f o h searc n i t displacemen d an e slippag l eterna f o n chai e th d an , Library e th e b e univers e th h Thoug . God e unfathomabl , ous d reache e b r neve n ca s thi , God f o e nam e th e hid s letter s it f o l Babe in its plenitude since in its eternal form it is En Soph, a text unknow- - un y equall s i n fictio s Borges' n i y Realit . mind n huma e th o t e abl knowable. Borges chose the Aleph as the title not only of one of his most . housed s i t i h whic n i n collectio e th f o o als t bu , stories e memorabl
19 In "El aleph" and in "An Autobiographical Essay". 5 41 " Misreading e "Creativ d an a Cabbal , Borges
As mentioned, this is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, un- x laryn e th y b n take n positio e th n tha e mor o n g representin , sounded when a word begins with a vowel. It is considered by Cabbalists as the spiritual root of all the other letters, the source of all articulate sound, and thus the source of all discourse.2 ° The Aleph is a most s i e ther t ye , universe e th g reflectin m microcos a r fo r metapho g fittin s i h whic , nothing" d an g "Everythin n a , plenitude s thi n i d voi a reminiscent of the duality found in all of Borges's writing, in which any attempt at meaning is immediately deconstructed by its counter- argument. - inter y eternall f o e practic ' Cabbalists e th o t s refer , Bloom d Harol preting and thus re-writing a basic text or archtext as "creative mis- reading", setting this as an example for all imaginative reading.21 I n i s theme c Cabbalisti f o s analysi d selecte s thi e conclud o t e lik d shoul a , inmortal" l "E f o " misreading e "creativ a h wit n fictio s Borges' story whose subject matter makes it an obvious choice. "El inmor- tal" concerns a narrative text, a cento, which is symbolic of literature n wove t tex s previou f o s extract t differen f o p u e mad s i t i t tha n i around re-enactments of the Odyssey and other tales of eternal s writing r othe f o , intratextual e som , quotations f o l ful s i t I . quests by Borges such as "Princess Lucinge", a reference to a character mentioned in "Tlön"; others, intertextual, to wide-ranging allusions from Ecclesiastes to Shaw and others, unsaid, glaring from the empty spaces of suggestion, such as the absent presence of Swift's immortal Struldbruggs. An important clue to the significance of intertextuality , Cordovero" m Nahu r docto l de a plum a tenacísim a "l n i d foun e b n ca the commentator of this enigmatic text. This choice of name is significant: Moses Cordovero was one of the most original exponents of Cabbala as a theory of influences, seeing every existing thing as endlessly correlated with the whole of creation. He was unique n contradictio e th n explai o t g seekin n i a Cabbal f o s master e th g amon s a n manifestatio y worldl e activ s it d an y Deit l eterna , static a n betwee a dialectical interplay between different images of God's presence. Such a "theory of influence" underpins, in a lay setting, the theme of "El inmortal" which deals with the same yet changing manifesta- r narrato e th t tha t fac e Th 2 2 text. s hi d an r autho l eterna n a f o s tion
. (1976) y Lev e se n fictio s Borges' n i h Alep e th f o n discussio r fulle a r Fo 0 2 21 On this point, see Bloom (1975: 62 - 73) and chapter entitled "The Necessity . 126) - 5 9 : (1975 " Misreading f o e th f o w vie n i , text h arc s a y Odysse e th f o e choic e th n i y iron e som s i e Ther 2 2 - exam n a s a y Odysse e th s mention s Borge , cabala" a "L y essa s hi n i t tha t fac f o s pretention e th e hav t no s doe , however , which t tex l classica a f o e pl e (se e Bibl e th s a h suc t tex d sacre a o t d attribute e ar t tha n perfectio d detaile 1980b: 125- 129). n Fishbur n Evely 6 41
of the text should be called Joseph Cartaphilus adds meaning to this h whic y b e nam e th s wa s Cartaphilu . (mis)interpretation c Cabbalisti e th f o d legen l mediaeva e on n i n know s wa a Arimathe f o h Josep Wandering Jew, according to which he taunted Christ on the way to the Cross and was condemned to roam the earth until the Second Coming. The figure of the Wandering Jew, here recalled, was itself y man f o n inspiratio e th e becam d an , legends s variou f o t subjec e th works of literature. - Wander e th f o d an s Odysseu f o t tha , inmortal" l "E n i s quest e Th ing Jew, both mirror and reinforce each other as an illustration of l al f o g meanin g wanderin s alway e "th s call m Bloo t wha r o , literature literary representations" (1975: 82), Borges has said something simi- lar more simply: "Quizá la historia universal es la historia de la diversa entonación de algunas metáforas" and "Tengo pocas ideas, . disfrazo" s la o per
A variety of "things Jewish" that have had an effect upon Borges's creative imagination have been examined here. Some are allusions to - meta s a h suc s theme r large o t r refe s other , characters o t r o s name l specia a d fin h whic n traditio h Jewis n i d roote e univers e th f o s phor c Cabbalisti y b d tinge e ar , however , All . stories s Borges' n i e resonanc overtones. It is clear that Borges was deeply inspired by the Cabbal- ists' particular method of understanding the universe, an exegesis at once rigorous yet inspired, "álgebra y fuego". What I hope has emerged equally clearly is that Borges has been a most able disciple- judging by the original and resourceful way to which he put his e challeng c Cabbalisti e th o t , course f o , refer I . practice o int g learnin presented by his own work. Borges, Cabbala and "Creative Misreading" 417
- borgea a obr a l n e s cabalística s influencia s la a examin o artícul l E na. Partiendo de un primer análisis de la presentación de personajes - co s la s cuale s lo n e , "porteños" s cuento s lo e d s alguno n e s judío s camino r po e aventurars a r lecto l a n invita s cabalística s nexione r establece a intent o artícul l e , esotérica e índol e d s interpretativo cuáles son los aspectos de la cabala de mayor inspiración en la obra borgeana. Considera la fascinación de Borges por los métodos especu- lativos propios de la hermenéutica cabalística según los cuales el y s regla s la a e ateners e deb , éxtasis e d o moment l e n e n au , místico preceptos más estrictos de la tradición judía. Esta mezcla o juxtaposi- ción de lo riguroso con lo intuitivo es lo que Borges llamaría, en otro contexto, el "álgebra y fuego" de la vida. Para los cabalistas el cami- no (cuya meta es inalcanzable) que llevaría a una gnosis mística está centrado en un estudio interpretativo del cifrado "libro de Dios". e qu d intertextualida a l e d e bas a l a serí s exegesi a est , autora a l n Segú s la e sobr s teoría s la o Siguiend . Borges e d a obr a l e d o larg o l a a d e s influencias literarias del crítico norteamericano Harold Bloom, traza en la obra borgeana el tema de un texto eterno e inalcanzable, metá- o significad e d y e cambiant e siempr a escritur e d , universo l de a for inagotable. Pero lo que es búsqueda seria para los cabalistas, está r escrito l de " "subversiva a obr a l n e o escepticism y a ironí n co o vist argentino.
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