The Borges Machine

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Following Raymond Lull’s plans and sketches, he devised a crude mechanism which would produce texts similar to that of his favorite and most hated writer, Jorge Luis Borges.

He began by carefully feeding pages from El Aleph to the machine; at first, the only results were worthless scribbles and something just below glossolalia. But he kept trying, he would spend days and days adjusting the wheels and choosing the best pages from Borges’ books (he owned his complete works, from stories to screenplays to prologues to film criticism to love letters), until some hesitant experiments came out. A short sketch brimming with naivette about a young man being initiated in the “art” of knife-fighting; a long rambling (but polite) diatribe against Latin American surrealists. The machine was learning.

He was pleased and a little scared when the machine started writing stories that Borges had come up with but never wrote (the plot he summarized “as a gift to his readers” about a society where young men conspire to murder the elderly, the gospel according to Judas, a narrative poem about Plato meeting Socrates in Heaven and being assured that his Forms do not exist, only the individuals). One afternoon, he chose some non-Borges books and fed them to the circular artifact; it produced a translation of Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince. He was startled; that translation was Borges’ first literary work.

His creation was obviously learning quickly; he felt as if he was standing before a lifeless reincarnation of the nemesis he owed everything to. He questioned his lack of faith, and briefly considered the idea of both the immortality of the soul and demonic possession.

Then, the inevitable (or at least, what he considered inevitable as soon as he saw it) happened: the machine, one night and without prompting, slowly spewed forth a manuscript of Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote. He held the pages—still warm—in his hands and came to the conclusion that the machine was mocking him. He ran back to his bedroom and spent all night filled with horror. He remembered Borges’ own poem, The Golem, about a rabbi who gives life to a creature made of clay, and with compassion and pity he voices his regret at having made this poor abomination, this new symbol in the infinite series of cause and effect and sorrow and pain.

When he finally went to his studio he saw that the machine had something new for him. Pages and pages: monotone descriptions of a place where there are no lights, where the narrator can only hear the laments of those around him, and the chains around his arms and legs, constantly tugged at by other men who are bound together, blind and suffering “until the day of reckoning comes, if it ever does.”

He wouldn’t accept what this implied. That very day he dismantled the machine.

 

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