Thursday, May 19, 2011

Other Reliable Connections

So I have decided to read Borges in a number of different formats. I borrowed the physical book from the BYU library, and then I also read the short stories online on different websites. What I like about the websites (like this one, for instance) is that they often have supplemental material. Sometimes there are links to footnotes; in one case, the website offers an illustration of a complicated description that Borges gives in "The Library of Babel." The illustration really helped me understand what Borges was talking about.

These are great tools, but I have found that my library book has been just as good a source of supplemental material as these websites. How? you may ask. Ah, this physical book has something which these websites does not: the scribbled annotations of a previous reader(s). Once in class, Dr. Burton said, "Are you one of these? Who leaves traces of your literary gleanings?" meaning, Do you scribble in the margins of your books? Well, someone who used this book before me definitely did leave traces of his literary gleanings. And they are fascinating.

Sometimes, these marginalia seam quite meaningless. For instance, next to a passage about language structure, Mysterious Reader wrote: "eskimo [sic] show indian [sic] lenses." The best I can figure out is that while he was reading Borges, M.R. was also trying unsuccessfully to write love poetry, or perhaps he was making a list of things he wanted to do at a fairground. This is interesting, but not exactly pertinent.

Then there are his/her sometimes profound commentaries. Borges writes, "How could one do other than submit to Tlon, to the minute and vast evidence of an orderly planet?" (17). And M.R. writes in the margin: "Men want 'Tlon's' reductive order rather than submit to the less obvious order of God." Oooh....I'm not sure I agree with M.R.'s analysis, and I think it's interesting to consider that her/her statement may be a projection of his/her insecurities, but nonetheless, it's interesting! And it's a human connection with the work.

Here's another example. "The Lottery in Babylon" is a short story about a world in which every "chance" occurrence is actually planned out and executed by a secretive group of destiny-controlling men (remind you of The Adjustment Bureau?). On the top of the first page of the chapter, M.R. wrote, "Symbol is drawing, labyrinth is drawing, no escape, infinite scope that governs time & space, chances, risk." What does this mean? I could probably postulate for hours! It's food for thought, and it's good food for thought.

I love to scrutinize the handwriting in margins and try to figure out if all of these "traces of literary gleanings" are written by the same people or several different people. I can't quite figure it out, but in my heart of hearts, I would like to believe that many individuals have taken the role of Mysterious Reader, glancing at each others' notes, thinking about each others' thoughts, and creating a compendium of knowledge, of sorts. Who is to say that this margin-scribbling is a less sophisticated or less valid forum of discussion than an online chat group? I think that for the rest of my life, I am going to write in library books.

1 comment:

  1. I have had the exact same experience with the library book that I checked out! I love reading marginalia. For me, half the fun of it is trying to see this other person's thought process because it could take me down a path I would never reach on my own. I'll definitely reference you in my upcoming blog post. I especially love your writing here.