memory, complete knowledge, the creation of a personal, imaginary
world, the nurturing of a virtual life, and living the double life of
the real and the virtual; these, the trajectory of the virtual age,
are the central themes in the short stories of the Argentinian
writer, Jorge Luis Borges. Borges wrote in the first half of the
twentieth century. He was a literary prodigy, works of his published
while he was still a child. And, perhaps because he knew that he
faced the specter of blindness in mid-life due to a genetic
condition, Borges read voraciously and developed a command of
literature, mathematics and history in his early years.
- We are creating and inhabiting our own virtual world. It most immediately appears in computer games and avatars, but it also appears with a bit more subtlety through our on-line image. Our Facebook selves are not our real selves, and our Facebook friends are not really our friends. Like the sultry-voiced grandmother as a phone sex worker, as we extend further out past a small circle of real friends we are to a greater and greater extent who we wish to be or who we think others want us to be in a virtual world. (My eight year-old daughter is a twelve year-old French girl in Poptropica).
- We are moving toward a world where there is perfect memory and unlimited knowledge. Knowledge of the world and our history through Wikipedia, of where we are and what we are doing through social networks. If something is put into the cloud, it might well be there forever. And when we inhabit our virtual selves we capture all of our history, because all that is virtual begins in the noosphere.
I will start with two short stories where Borges creates virtual worlds, where man inhabits a world of dreams and disquieting fantasy.
The Circular Ruin
Borges and I
The Library of Babel
Funes the Memorious
He knew the forms of the clouds in the southern sky on the morning of April 30,1882, and he could compare them in his memory with the veins in the marbled binding of a book he had seen only once, or with the feathers of spray lifted by an oar on the Rio Negro on the eve of the Battle of Quebracho. Nor were those memories simple—every visual image was linked to muscular sensations, thermal sensations, and so on.
No one has ever felt the heat and pressure of a reality as inexhaustible as that which battered Ireneo, day and night, in his poor South American hinterland. It was hard for him to sleep. To sleep is to take one's mind from the world; Funes, lying on his back on his cot, in the dimness of his room, could picture every crack in the wall, every molding of the precise houses that surrounded him.
Those on Tlon do not reason about reality because they do not live in the real world. In contrast, Ireneo Funes cannot reason because he is too bound up in reality; he is in incapable of breaking away from the onslaught of facts in order to think abstractly. Funes says to his interviewer, "My memory, sir, is like a garbage heap." His story is about the need to be able to forget, the paralyzing effect of perfect memory.