a set of dead symbols … the resurrection of the word … Jorge Luis Borges

Unknown-5“I think Emerson wrote somewhere that a library is a kind of magic cavern that is filled with dead men. And those dead men can be reborn, can be brought back to life when you open their pages.

“…Bishop Berkeley … I remember that he wrote that the taste of the apple is neither the apple itself  – the apple cannot taste itself – nor the mouth of the eater. It requires a contact between them. The same thing happens to a book or a collection of books, a library. For what is a book in itself? A book is a physical object in a world of physical objects.  It is a set of dead symbols. And the the right reader comes along, and the words – or rather the poetry behind the words, for the words themselves are mere symbols – spring to life and we have a resurrection of the word.” Jorge Luis Borges(1899-1986), Argentine poet, writer, translator, critic, This Craft of Verse


4 thoughts on “a set of dead symbols … the resurrection of the word … Jorge Luis Borges

  1. magic cavern that is filled with dead men. And those dead men can be reborn, can be brought back to life when you open their pages.

    No, they stay dead. White male authors of the classics are shunned on most campuses and my experience in schools reveals today’s English majors have studied no grammar and studied every kind of alternative literature imaginable. They are not qualified to teach 10th grade world fiction, 11th grade American lit, or 12th grade English lit. This is not to say literature of other cultures is not of quality or importance, but the PC of inclusion and created the exclusion of the literary foundations of Western civilization.


    1. I agree with you, Carl, to the degree that I have any explosure to the academic world, which is practically nil. Each fall, I do watch with interest the high school reading tables at the local bookstore. These reflect the required reading lists of our local schools.

      Borges died in 1986. This is from The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures by Borges, which were delivered at Harvard in 1967/68, I believe. We have to consider the context of time when reading his opinion and suggestions and apparently such were still welcome at some hallowed halls of learning during the tag-end of the ’60s and into the ’70s.

      As near as I can tell, for me and for you and many others – young and old – these men ARE reborn despite any changing fashion. I understand your frustration and ire, but some people must be reading Borges and the thoughts of those literary giants that he consumed because their works continue to be reprinted and sold and are also accessed in public domain form through various digital venues, including university websites. Copies of their books at the library are often well loved, judging by worn appearance.

      Having graduated from the Brooklyn Public Library – a very democratic institution that honors the hunger of the socially and financially disadvantaged (even brown females) – I know that each of us has a choice about what we feed our intellect and we don’t need PC or other trends or the learning institutions to dictate the depth and breadth of our reading. We do, however, have easy access – and often free access – to quality material at bookstores, libraries and online and that material does not exclude either those works that are the foundation of Western Civilization or the newer alternative lit. If those works engage me as they generally do, PC or not, you are likely to see reference to them here now and again.

      I would submit that serious scholars – formally educated or auto didacts – find their way to quality and the rest of the folks just miss out. Too bad for them . . . and for us, since they often influence young minds, social policy and public opinion without a solid base of literature, history and philosophy from which to work. It world appear that education is too often for the sake of future task-masters and not for the sake of the soul or the intellect. Some things just don’t change.

      Thanks for your visit and your impassioned and informed comment, Carl. Appreciated.


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