“Borges and I,” by Simon Black

“Borges and I,” by Simon Black

Photo by Sasha • Stories on Unsplash

It was quite astonishing to read in the online journal Palimpest the other day a complete reinterpretation of Borges’ most famous story. The literary world has been stunned by the publication of such a bold and deliberate piece of provocation. Whatever the permanent effect on literature that Simon Black’s “‘Borges and I’ by Simon Black” might have, it must be admitted at this work presents a challenge to all our contemporary notions of authorship — not to mention copyright law, and that he should be congratulated with a literary prize of some kind.

Of course, there are those who would dispute this claim. Some have said that Black merely copied “Borges and I” and put his name on it. Others have pointed out that Borges himself already accomplished such a piece of literary mischief with his own famous work, “Pierre Menard, Author of The Quixote.” In this ultra-ist, surrealist piece of absurdity, Borges wrote about a supposed author Menard who merely copied word for word Don Quixote and somehow created a more interesting piece of literature than Cervantes himself. First Borges gives us Cervantes’ line, “Truth, whose mother is history, rival of time, repository of riches, witness of the past…” He then gives us Menard’s supposed revision. “Menard, on the other hand writes, ‘Truth, whose mother is history, rival of time, repository of riches, witness of the past..’”

On the other hand!

The humor that is contained in that simple introductory phrase; there is no other hand! The two lines are identical, of course. But then comes one of Borges’ most Borgesian lines. “The contrast in styles is equally striking.” How can there be a contrast in styles if the two paragraphs are exactly the same?

Of course, the answer is in authorship. When authored by Menard, the language is archaic, ancient Castillian. But when authored by Cervantes, the language is the Spanish of his time, with complete naturalness.

But Simon Black’s “Borges and I” takes this irony of authorship to a whole new level. Consider Borges’ famous opening line: “The other one, the one called Borges, is the one things happen to.”

On the other hand, take a look at Black’s opening. “The other one, the one called Borges, is the one things happen to.”

This is more than a mere contrast of styles. In Black’s line, there is far more complexity and interest. First, the co-opting of Borges’ literary identity is beyond brazen. It is almost the equivalent of a semiotic kidnapping. Black has appropriated Borges’ literary, creative self, and left him with just this shell of a man wandering through Buenos Aires, walking “through the streets of Buenos Aires and stopping for a moment, perhaps mechanically now, to look at the arch of an entrance hall and the grillwork on the gate.” Meanwhile, the literary Borges, now stolen by Black, engages himself in these kinds of activities: “Years ago I went from the mythologies of the suburbs to the games with time and infinity, but those games belong to Borges now and I shall have to imagine other things. Thus my life is a flight and I lose everything and everything belongs to oblivion, or to him.”

He then ends his piece with the coup de grace:

“I do not know which of us has written this page.”

Which of us has written this page! Borges is stumped. He is not sure whether he, Borges the man, has written this page, or if Borges the writer has written it. But we the readers are in on the great secret. Simon Black is the one who wrote this page! There is no Borges. There is only Simon Black. In fact, following this logic, there are two Simon Blacks. There is the Simon Black who lives in Los Angeles and wanders through the streets. And then there is the Simon Black who wrote this tremendous piece, “‘Borges and I’ by Simon Black.”

I do not know which of them wrote that page.

Or this page — the one I am writing now. Because my name is also Simon Black. I am the critic who is reviewing this piece of prose called “’Borges and I’ by Simon Black.” I know it’s bad taste to review your own work. But here it’s quite Borgesian, don’t you think? There are, then, three Simon Blacks. Two Borgeses. And Five Characters in Search of an Author.

“‘Borges and I’ by Simon Black.” Reviewed by Simon Black. And, as he prepares it for publication, proofread by Simon Black. And now, as you read this final sentence, completed by you, dear reader.

But who are you exactly? I don’t know. I feel like I’m lost in a labyrinth, don’t you?

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