Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Nietzsche, Borges, Garcia Marquez on the Art of Memory and Forgetting

Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Nietzsche, Borges, Garcia Marquez on the Art of Memory and Forgetting

Article excerpt

The narrator of Borges's tale "Funes the Memorious" quotes in the opening paragraph a strange interpretation of Funes as a precursor to the Nietzschean Superman: "a vernacular and rustic Zarathustra." (1) Nothing could be further from the Superman, or from Zarathustra, than the paralytic Funes doomed to die young of congestion although the loose form in which Nietzschean ideas circulated in the early twentieth century makes it hard to judge the possibly intended significance behind such a reference. One possibility is that it is a piece of authorial coat-trailing through which Borges secretly both acknowledges and obfuscates the true source of the tale. For a quite different text, Nietzsche's early essay "On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life," makes use of a thought experiment which strikingly encompasses all the key elements of Borges's philosophical fantasy. Indeed, it is surely too close to the tale for comfort unless it is a Borgesian treble-bluff, a game in which the reader is to appreciate the directness of the steal:

   Imagine the extremest possible example of a man who did not possess
   the power of forgetting at all and who was thus condemned to see
   everywhere a state of becoming: such a man would no longer believe
   in his own being, would no longer believe in himself, would see
   everything flowing asunder in moving points and would lose himself
   in this stream of becoming: like a true pupil of Heraclitus, he
   would in the end hardly dare to raise a finger. Forgetting is
   essential to action of any kind, just as not only light but
   darkness too is essential for the life of everything organic. A man
   who wanted to feel historically through and through would be like
   one forcibly deprived of sleep, or an animal that had to live only
   by rumination and ever repeated rumination. Thus it is possible to
   live almost without memory, and to live happily moreover, as the
   animal demonstrates; but it is altogether impossible to live at all
   without forgetting. Or, to express my theme even more simply: there
   is a degree of sleeplessness, of rumination, of the historical
   sense, which is harmful and ultimately fatal to the living thing,
   whether this living thing be a man or a people or a culture.
   (Nietzsche's italics) (2)

Borges's narrative redisposes the elements here: while Funes, for example, is ostensibly paralysed by his accident, the reader can readily see in this the symbol of his inner condition as spelt out by Nietzsche. The literally inconceivable weight of experiential specificity would be crushing, and it is difficult to see how Funes, with his incapacity for general ideas, could even speak. At a purely pragmatic level Funes's symbolically intrinsic paralysis has to appear with an apparent externality in order to allow the character to be mobilized within the narrative.

The most crucial connection, however, lies in the linking of memory and insomnia. When in common parlance we defer a decision by saying that "we will sleep on it" the expression may be taken as merely a dead metaphor indicating a delay. But if psychic activity continues significantly during sleep, as may be obscurely evidenced by dreaming, then sleep may play a greater and more active part in the process of decision than the consciousness is able to recognize or control. In this connection it is noteworthy that Borges and his narrator build the story in stages which act as analytic layers spelling out the significance of his condition. Even before acquiring his extraordinary memory, he was locally famous as the "chronometrical" Funes, able to give the exact time at any moment. Already, he seems to lack a human sense of time, and in a way that is pregnantly suggestive for the function of the narrative in which he appears. For if one were to ask: "Can a clock tell the time?" the question would have two answers corresponding to the different meanings of "tell. …

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