I discovered Borges' "the Other" fairly recently, when my Parisian
e-mail friend, Nicolas, fellow member of an Internet Retinitis Pigmentosa
forum, recommended it to me. That Borges had lost his sight by degrees,
I was aware, but I had never before come across any reference to
this in his fiction. The "Love In Vain" lyrics, by comparison, I
have known for years, whether as keened eerily by Robert Johnson
himself on scratchy old recordings in that unearthly voice of his
or delivered in an English parody of a blues drawl by Mick Jagger,
helplessly as the world dissolves into a chaos of bright ghosts
and dark vacancies is not, for me, so gentle an experience, does
not call up the bucolic images of my Midwest childhood memory of
suburban summers that the Borges quotation suggests. It does not
recall for me fireflies pricking the gathering July dark with their
tiny, airborne strobe-flashes, or ice cubes clinking in tall glasses,
or muted talk and television sounds filtering outdoors through screens.
My immediate response to the sanguine reassurance of the Borges
passage was disbelieving, disdainful, to the point of rage, and
the rage was quickly followed by depression.
soon after, in a grieving moment, "Love In Vain" came into my mind,
the very sorrow of the song, the unapologetic, unqualified bereavement
of it, making much more sense to me and, in the way that music can
do, bestowing catharsis and consolation, all at once. And then I
thought of this image, also involving a train, that seemed to say
how I felt, myself.
am the only passenger on a subway car that is plunging
headlong into a tunnel I know to be endless. I can smell
the fetid odor of old stone and sparking metal, hear the
clatter and shriek of wheels on tracks. The tunnel's particulars--tiles,
distance markers, call boxes--fade out with ferocious
speed, and the tunnel itself becomes just a backward-rushing
its concrete embrace more sensed than seen.
A vacuum in the belly, a racing in the heart. Now the light inside
the car itself starts to flicker. I feel an urge to jump up and
rush to the rearmost door of the train, to look backward out its
thick glass window. But I know if I do that, what I will see. A
shrinking point of light holding my last sight of the last station,
with its posters, its turnstiles, its few midnight travelers strung
out along the platfform like the isolated figures of Edward Hopper's
paintings. And the point of light will compress itself relentlessly
around that tableau, crush it down to an atom of recollection, to
the visual equivalent of an amputee's phantom limb.
So instead, I stay planted in my seat, rocking gently down the line
to darkness, just trying to think of a good tune to whistle to myself
when I get there.
to this paragraph read by Joel's screen reader)
passage trans. J. Deutsch