I considered calling this Confronting Borges, but I will never confront Borges. He has only confronted me.
I could not confront Borges, because his most unsettling points are ones he himself dismantles. At points, he seems to thoroughly believe in the fluidity of identity. This fluidity of identity is the only foundation of Creation, it seems, making everything that we perceive as labyrinthine as the thoughts that he explores.
His thoughts are a testament to the majestic capability of the human mind, but also its inability. Because, while he seeks to get to the very heart of reality through his language, he recognizes that he never will and that he will always continue to try. Everything that he sees is an infinite regression.
He is not only unable to perceive the heart of reality, because language is insufficient, but primarily because reality is never as labyrinthine as the possibilities which it allows us to explore through language. By confusing the labyrinths we produce in our fiction with reality, we force language to produce something it never can; a carbon-image of our reality that presents itself to us with no language of its own except the senses. So if Borges ever wished or ever wanted to thoroughly explore the labyrinth of reality, he would have to altogether stop writing and instead go out into the forest and strip naked.
By using language to thoroughly explore all possibilities, we will drive ourselves to madness. It is either the madness of the thinker or the madness of a savage. Using language as the force by which we create our own interpretations of our reality – which we do not and cannot ever own (only God can sufficiently use language to describe this reality, because He owns it. Like we are able to use our language to describe things which only we know about, so God used language to describe to us this reality which presents itself to us as foreign. He spoke Christ.) – leads us to embrace the insanity of our own position, of claiming ownership on that which we do not and cannot own, or to believe that our position is the only possible one, yet the only one which cannot be thoroughly explained by us. That conclusion is the thing which proves not only our own insanity, but our own inability.
The second madness, the one of the savage in the forest, is perhaps the one most open to conversion. For, recognizing that his perception is language-less, he feels the aching desire for any sort of language that makes any sort of sense of this reality. All of the paradoxes which he once found himself previously trapped in are satisfied in the crux of history.
The first madness, the one which furiously burrows into itself – believing that all necessary tools for making sense of reality exist inside the self – is the one most incapable of recognizing the divine Word of God. The first madness, however, is profoundly susceptible to the persuasion of the senses, which are the first understanding. They are the first understanding (some would prefer to call it the first definitions), in the same sense that God is the first Mover. All thinkers with even a little grain of understanding recognize that the idea of infinity outside of God is heresy. All language is left undefined to some extent, so that definitions are perpetually forced down to the place where language ceases to exist; the fingertips. So the senses are the first understanding.
This first madness, then, inevitably falls to that inexplicable nature of this reality which he did not create. That is, beauty. The man who thinks he can understand all through himself, through his own force of will at the pen, can never find in himself an explanation for beauty. And therefore, he can never find in himself any explanation for why he seeks to create anything at all. Because all men, no matter what machinations they create, feel that the things which they create are beautiful. But they are left aghast, whether they admit it or not, that the things which they create are beautiful at all. And so they are forced to the conclusion that their own weak frames cannot hold; that their creations are beautiful outside of them. And it is this external beauty of their own creations that leads them to continue creating. And so, where their use of language was once energized by their desire to understand through themselves, has now been replaced – and always will be – by their inability to understand how what they create is beautiful outside them. All men, therefore, especially those with the first madness, recognize that beauty interminably exists outside their own understanding.
The sane artist creates out of gratitude, knowing that the visions which capture him are given, never found.
So while I do not conflate the senses, that first understanding, with beauty, I do recognize – and I hope you will too – that beauty is the beginning of all understanding. And we experience beauty through a reality that is not our own and that uses a language we did not or ever will invent. So those who create so that they might understand reality through themselves really create so that they can experience the beauty of the reality which they cannot understand.
Humanity was, is, and will always be in dire need of the spoken word of God. Whether the argument is formed well or poorly, God is necessary as Creator because a First Cause is necessary. God is also necessary as Redeemer, because a First Understanding is necessary to make sense of the world, to set us free from our own destructive fabrications of possible labyrinths. So while God, through natural revelation, preserved a primal First Understanding in the beauty of this sensual reality, he gave us His Word as the True First Understanding.
And it is with this First Understanding, of Jesus Christ, the man who fulfills and contains all paradoxes, that I begin and end my confrontation with Borges.
I do admire, of course, Borges’ desire to place the paradoxes in himself. Of all the thinkers I have met, he does the most admirable job of making himself his own Christ figure. He recognizes that he must be a man of paradox. He sees that the Christ is a man of unreality and reality. History is as necessary as metaphysics.
So when Borges discussed, or at least pretended to discuss, the idea that Christ could have been other men – he could have been Judas – I was pleased to see that Borges, in his essay on the Refutation of Time, conversely concluded with this:
“Times is the substance I am made of. Times is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire. The world, unfortunately, is real; I, unfortunately, am Borges.” (pg. 234)
Through this, he displays a profound paradox which Christ does not contain, but only those who attempt to be him contain. In his increasingly abstract burrowing into himself through thought, he comes to a point where he recognizes that his own desire for the beauty of thinking is his destruction. He sees that he is his own destruction. And he sees that he is his own destruction, because this world is real, that the senses can not be proven in any case to be illusions, and that, come what may, he will always be Borges. This is a similar statement to the one of Descartes. This world cannot be proven to be illusion, too, because even if it was, that illusion would be our reality and, therefore, the only thing which is obviously real.
So Borges sees, therefore, that his identity cannot rest on himself as a creator, as an artist, as a thinker, as a writer. If, he sees, Borges identified himself through himself, he would destroy himself. Incurvatus in se.
Yet, Christ presents to us the solution to the artist who craves a solid foundation in identity. Only in Christ can we move and have our being. Christ is the historical Jesus, but he is also the metaphysical church. And it is in this body of Christ that we are solidly identified.
To use Old Testament terminology, we must jump into the Whirlwind of God. We cannot have any solid identity, until our identity is lost. Mystics and spiritual thinkers such as St. Paul and all of those thousands of monks who have felt similar convictions, have not only touched on this idea but proven its truth. By losing our identity, we gain our identity.
This is the ultimate question that Borges seems to be asking, at least in his Labyrinths; what is the artist’s identity?
In one place, he pokes fun at the classic writer’s temptation:
“Like all writers, he measured the achievements of others by what they had accomplished, asking of them that they measure him by what he envisaged or planned.” (pg. 90)
This is hilarious and profound.
Ovid, although through the filter of history we now perceive him more as personality than person, said, “Now stands my task accomplished, such a work as not the wrath of Jove, nor fire nor sword nor the devouring ages can destroy”.
Ovid found his identity in his creation. But how, as we know, could any man do this when all creations exists outside of someone? How can you find your identity in something outside yourself?
This is the beauty of the Divine Word, the only language God has given us to completely understand this reality. He has given us Christ, who stands set apart from us. And through Christ, He has given us His Spirit. And Christ, therefore, exists in us through the Holy Spirit and we in Him.
These mysteries have been fulfilled ever since the incarnation of Christ and have been felt ever since the beginning of time. It fulfills the dissatisfaction of the artist who creates and feels emptiness, staring at his magnum opus, realizing that what he has created is not inside him and never was. It, instead, came through him. And it stands above him, almost as a judge.
The beauty of Borges’ labyrinths is that he explores the dark edges of our reality, which include such gloominess as this. In his essay, Borges and I, he contemplates what it means for him, fundamentally, to create at all:
“Little by little, I am giving over everything to him, though I am quite aware of his perverse custom of falsifying and magnifying things (talking about himself). Spinoza knew that all things long to persist in their being; the stone eternally wants to be a stone and the tiger a tiger. I shall remain in Borges, not in myself (if it is true that I am someone), but I recognize myself less in his books than in many others or in the laborious strumming of a guitar.” (pg. 246)
In this Borges feels the longing to exist, as Christ does, both physically and metaphysically through other things. He wants, like every artist since the beginning, to transplant his very essence into things outside him. But he cannot do it, because he is not Christ. He wants to be Borges and to simultaneously not be Borges, but he sees that he is, unfortunately, Borges.
This is mimicry of Christ and not a reflection of Him. For where mimicry leaves the one to recognize that he is, unfortunately, finite, reflection recognizes that his identity never was his own. And that Borges, fortunately, was never Borges. He would only ever have been Borges if he had acknowledged the deity of the Jew from the 1st century.
Artists are the most satisfied when the language, the reflection of the Language, is not seen as the language, but merely its reflection. Only the Christian artist can see his work and say, “It is very good.” Only later, shall it be made perfect.
But this is veering into mysticism and I will leave that for those who have a tighter control on terms. For us at this moment, let us return to the idea that things are only satisfied as themselves.
I will use Plato as an illustration, because he is such an odd character to me. In his mind, he sought to do what no man had done before him on such grand a scale; organize knowledge and the human experience into a comprehensive system.
Reflecting on the nature of human ambition and curiosity, someone could say that Plato was only seen as brilliant, because he was the first to attempt something so daring. To that I say, yes, but for a different reason than the one who claims that someone could have filled his place.
I say that he is brilliant, because he is the first, not because someone could have filled his place, but because no one could or ever will. No one could ever exist in the same space as Plato and yet be Plato. Plato is the only Plato that will ever exist and no one would have ever come close to have done what he did. I do not say he is brilliant, because of his primacy, but because of his perpetual identity. Plato was brilliant, because he was Plato. Human demonstrations of skill and intelligence can and should be reduced to the very foundation of a human’s essence. There is never a cause or reason for why someone is skilled or intelligent. It is only ever because they are who they are. For this very reason, too, it is the fool who looks at something which seems to have been easy to create and says, “I could have done it”. No, he could not have and he never will. And if he thinks that creating things is so easy, he needs to get out of the damn art exhibit and into a white room with nothing but a stack of paper and a pen.
This solidity of identity is something Ovid and materialists reject; to great irony. They want and believe in their own identity, which is why they so firmly try to establish it. But it is their own worldview which establishes their identity as something in the wind, as something subject to be changed into something else for a time. This has led us to the most absurd development in all of history; transgenderism.
Reality is always more full of light than the dark tunnels of our fabrications. Reality confesses, pleads – it is on its knees – showing us that every single creation possesses a solid identity. And because it has a solid identity, from its creation to its perpetual end, it can be lost in the identity which is both solid and fluid. The identity of God is both separate from us, but permeates everything we see. He has, unlike us, transposed His identity into His creations. And so we, being once malformed chaos, gained our solid identities because we have never had an identity apart from Him.
So, the solidity of Plato, the inability for any theorizer to move his identity from the right or to the left, is part of the foundation for which I prove that the Christ had to be Jesus of Nazareth. Theologians have thoroughly proven this in other places and it seems humorous that I, a small person, feel the need to prove it once more. But Christ, in every possibility, was always Jesus of Nazareth. And Jesus of Nazareth was always Christ. No one could have ever been him, no one ever will be him in any possibility. And if anyone found themselves in his position, they would not.
Ovid has achieved, in some way, the immortality he confessed. But it is not as grand or spiritual as he suspected. Rather, it is proven in the fact that he is remembered at all. And if he were to see what that has gotten him today, I suspect that he would be disappointed. History has or never will reach the height of satisfaction in hope and ambition as it did in the life of Christ, the historical Jesus of Nazareth. Ovid, instead of becoming immortal through memory, has merely been forgotten. And this is why he is no longer remembered as what he was – a person – but instead, as a personality. He used the fogginess of history, which he well knew as a chronicler of mythology, to obscure the fact that he was no greater than any of us, that his identity was as equally in need of being lost.
Borges touches on this idea of person-to-personality in his essay, Valery as Symbol:
“…the work of both (Whitman and Valery) is less valuable as poetry than it is as the sign of an exemplary poet created by that work.” (pg. 197)
So again, we are faced with artists who see their completion and see that it stands taller than them. And rather than making them taller, it has made them smaller.
So this is why I partially can never approach Borges. I will never meet him. And the works that he is left in, Labyrinths, are merely the pieces of an image of a man who is the image of a man who never saw himself. The Borges of the books never existed, but he did exist as a creation. He never existed as a person, but as a personality.
I am merely trying to show that the personality which we might fall in love with (he is so charming) was as equally charming to the man with whom we think we are falling in love. Borges existed as apart from Borges as we do from Borges. And Borges makes use of this paradox quite frequently in his Labyrinths, Borges the personality.
This goes to prove that the sub-creations of man are only attractive and beautiful to us because they are fundamentally not human. They are not designed and ought not point to the man who created them. Instead, they ought to point to Creation, from which they are possibilities, and then the Creator. This is the destruction of the cults of personalities and it is why Bach, that blessed brother, wrote soli deo gloria on his music, because he recognized that the glory of his skill was a demonstration of the skill of God and not his own. He was skilled, because he was Bach. And he was Bach, because he did not make himself.
It would be awkward for all involved if someone began worshiping Bach. It misses the point entirely and the worshiper is left – of course! – unsatisfied.
I am tempted to worship Borges. He appears before me like an angel in a doorway. And I am left having to tell myself that I see to it that I do not do that.
Borges has tried to see reality on his own terms. His vision for it, too, is solely original in the sense that it is only compiled from the words of others. No other thinker I have encountered makes such an extensive use of references as he does. So even the personality for which we might fall in love is really the image of a thousand other faces.
The universe is not a dark labyrinth, for the very reason that we neither created it nor can we come up with the language on our own to understand it. It is, instead, a place for us to explore. And this is the Christian hope for the artist. We are free as artists – finally – to explore without the need to create something which is our salvation. All other artists have tried to produce in themselves their own salvation. The closest I can think of was Pygmalion. That is a joke. But really.
As a member of the body of Christ, I see in this universe that is free for me to explore, endless possibilities. And these possibilities are the holes in which those who make labyrinths get lost. For me, these possibilities are potential realities. To create as a creature under God is to create realities through the possibilities the Father sets before us. “Enjoy, son!”
If something seems possible, he has given us the freedom to explore it as a potential reality. We explore possibilities as realities all the time; it is called fiction. And through this definition of fiction, we see that fiction and the theories of science are part of the same universe. The different ways of exploring should not be seen as separate. By exploring these possibilities as realities, we move our possible reality into the reality of God. Fiction allows us to create things that are, in every way, real. This is the freedom of being a creature made in the image of God. And as a creature under God, we recognize that it is only real because there is such thing as reality; it is what He set up and came into for us to experience. The human experience. And when we read fiction, are we not experiencing it as an assumed reality? Much of this is determined by the skill of the artist. This ability of artists to make new creations through creating will only be perfected in the New Heavens and New Earth. How many possibilities-turned-realities will exist in an eternal environment? Only as many possibilities as God has allowed.
Borges believed in the infinite in creation – it seems – but our creations are capped in this age by our own ability. And I would argue that this is not only a good thing, but something that will be continued even in that state when we are made perfect. And I say this, because God Himself has limited his creation. God, as the Prime Artist, is limited by his own capacity, which is his nature. God is incapable of many things. Here are two;
1. He cannot create anything that He cannot control.
2. He cannot do anything outside of his nature.
So God constructed a Creation that perfectly conforms to His will in every sense of that word. And in that same sense – in His very nature – exists the possibility that man would go against his will and rebel. So too God made a world that contained this possibility. It was only man who decided to act on this possibility and, as a sub-creator, create the reality of evil in the reality of God. And he did so by playing along – by working fiction – with the Serpent. This is the source of evil, man’s freedom and God’s inclusion of possibilities that He does not willingly turn into realities, but man might.
And so, as Borges said, this world is real. But it is not unfortunate. And this statement of belief includes both the fact that there is only one universe – the very idea of a multiverse is rotten and heretical to the core – and that there is one who artists see exists above all that had a singular vision for us.
And unlike Borges, who presented the idea of us being written as frightening, I see it as a fact profoundly comforting.
I was once a possibility, but God made me a reality. I am fiction.
So when I approach writing my own fiction, I approach it reverently, because it is a holy affair. I approach it careful not to base it on my own sins of pride and self-identity, but instead on the truth that whatever I make will look up to me as I look up to God. And it will have similar questions, similar fears, and similar oddities. And I also see that, unlike God, I am not in control even of my own mouth. So how much more will the things that I create become something separate from me? I open my mouth and say something I had not intended. But there it is. I created it and it now exists.
It now exists.
I believe that in the New Heavens and the New Earth, that would truly create a purple elephant. Because of what fiction has showed us, the act of creating, I believe that in some sense I, alongside all of my brothers and sisters, would become gods. And perhaps the defining characteristic of God is control over identity. God so completely controls and knows His identity, that when He creates, he moves his identity to that Creation. And it only makes him taller.
As for I, my creations only make me small when I seek my identity in them. I am not yet capable of creating and imputing my identity on my creations. Only God will allow me that gift. For now, I can only create in a way that reflects my future creations.
Lord, I will lay up all my accomplishments, all my visions, all my thoughts, all of things I most cherish, as sacrifices to your greatness. I own nothing. I am given everything. This is the hardest thing for me to say as a prideful and false characterization of the real Caleb Warner. But Lord, I, Caleb Warner, sacrifice all of my identity that I see in my work to you. And if my work is forgotten, then I will be more pleased than if the whole world knew about it. Because if the whole world knew about my work, I might convince myself that all the beauty I sense, observe, and then record is my will for myself. It is not. It is your will for me, as a creation. You, as the Father, want me to explore this world before me. And I, as the Son, will not be more satisfied in any other pursuit. I was made to explore and find beautiful things you have hidden.
So I will do that. I will get lost in you. I offer up the realities I make as realities you allowed me to see as possibilities and things you drove me to pursue for your glory and for my pleasure.
How good and glorious is your name in all the earth! Your Creation now stands accomplished, such a work as not the pride of Ovid, nor the wrath of self-destructive generations, nor the darkness of Borges’ labyrinths, nor the cult of Whitman, nor the rantings of Dawkins, nor the sadness of Nietzsche, nor the confusion of the transgendered, nor the evil of abortion doctors, nor the squeaking of homosexuals, nor the pride of false prophets, nor height nor depth nor present nor future, nor fire nor sword, or the devouring ages can destroy. All artists shall bow before you and shout from their stomachs, “Our Father is the only artist who made a magnum opus that is satisfying!”
Lord, my righteousness is how I will wait for you to answer the Prayers of the Saints that billow up to your nose from our frail altars. I, with all the saints before, with, and after me, cry out to you, “How long, O Lord?” And I cry, because I am frequently unbelieving. I stumble, backslide, and have to confess my sins, my frequent sins, my willful sins. All my powers of body and soul are corrupt; a fountain of pollution is deep within my nature. And I pray to you not only for the sake of the world, but for my sake. How long will I feel like this battle is one that is being lost? How long am I supposed to feel like it is worth giving up? How long am I supposed to stare up at heaven and ask if you are really there, if you ever really gave me your Spirit? How long am I supposed to sit here and watch millions of your children being tortured and suffering? How long are children supposed to be starving? How long are wars suppose to rage? How long are families going to be torn apart by unfaithfulness? How long will teenagers take their own lives? How long am I supposed to fall short? How long am I supposed to see the glory you so obviously have given us and, yet so obviously have not yet fully given? How long am I supposed to suffer, to repent of my constant unfaithfulness? When will I no longer be made perfect by repentance, but instead by uninterrupted righteousness?
You have promised you will come back, so do it. Prepare the way. Make every crooked path straight and every mountain a valley. Comfort your people. Give the young men visions and the old men dreams. And give us, these artists, these writers, these creators, the means by which we can make these visions realities.
How I wish I could have met Borges in heaven. If only you had saved him, Father. It would not have been a confrontation. It would have been a hug, a kiss, and a laugh over a feast.
But I am left here for a little bit more time, blinded by gratitude.