19.06, Sunday 1 Jan 2012

There's a nice turn of phrase in Borges' short story Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius:

He and my father had entered into one of those close (the adjective is excessive) English friendships that begin by excluding confidences and very soon dispense with dialog. They used to carry out an exchange of books and newspapers and engage in taciturn chess games... I remember him in the hotel corridor, with a mathematics book in his hand, sometimes looking at the irrecoverable colors of the sky.

In the Mars trilogy, Kim Stanley Robinson has his characters also watch the colours of the sky. In one of his fictions (it might be the Mars trilogy, it might be a short story, it could be both), Robinson has theatre become a resurgent art form: irrecoverable experiences in an age of on-demand media. I can see that.

Borges approaches the uniqueness of experience from another angle in this footnote of the same story:

All men, in the vertiginous moment of coitus, are the same man. All men who repeat a line of Shakespeare are William Shakespeare.

There's something appealing about this. At birth, as tabula rasa, we are as one. A single entity, instantiated in billions of brains across time and space. And symmetry breaks and breaks again, and we become our separate selves. But this loneliness can be reversed: at certain singular moments, we exist in transcendent communion with other individuals who have taken the same journey as ourselves, and for an instant we are identical, one, the same thoughts and the same concerns, before time drags us on and we become individual once again.

But you know, exiting that moment of communion, you could have taken a different turn. You know, and that's comforting.

Follow-up posts: