From An Evening with Ramon Bonavena in the the Borges and Bioy Casares co-authored Chronicles of Bustos Domecq. All the sections are simpler versions of the paradoxes of literary creation and content that continued to fascinate him through his solo writings so it’s surprising that none have made it into the various Borges collections I’ve seen or have ever, that I can tell, been reprinted. This one covers an author who writes a multi-volume descriptive work on the contents of the corner of his own writing desk.
“My plan, at the beginning, did not exceed the bounds of literature, or, even worse, of realism. I wanted—there was nothing out of the ordinary about this, really—to produce a novel of the land, straightforward, with deeply human characters and the usual protest against absentee landowners. … Working my way into my subject, I came to realize that the major difficulty lay not in the characters’ names but rather was of a psychological order. How was I to put myself into my neighbor’s head? How was I to guess what others were thinking without abjuring realism? The answer was clear, but at first I could not see it. Then I considered the prospect of a novel in which the characters were domestic animals. But once again, how was I to intuit the cerebral processes of a dog, how was I to enter into a world perhaps less visual than olfactory? At a loss, I fell back on myself and thought that the one remaining possibility rested in autobiography. But even here lay the labyrinth. Who was I? Today’s self, bewildered; yesterday’s, forgotten; tomorrow’s, unpredictable? What could be more unattainable than the mind? If I am self-conscious as I write, self-consciousness creeps in, a new factor; if I surrender to free association, I surrender to chance. I don’t know whether you recall the story told, I believe by Cicero, of a woman who went to a temple to consult with an oracle and unaware of it spoke the very words of the answer she sought. Something similar happened to me here in Ezpeleta . Not so much in search of a solution but one day looking for something to do, I read over my notes. And there lay the key I was after. There, in the words limited sector. When I wrote them, I was simply using a commonplace; when I reread them, a sudden revelation dazzled me. A limited sector . . . What sector could be more limited than a corner of the deal table at which I worked? I decided then to restrict myself to one corner, to what that corner might offer. I measured with this carpenter’s rule—which you may examine at your pleasure—the leg of the aforementioned table and verified that it stood at thirty-one inches above floor level, a height I deemed adequate. To have gone on indefinitely upward would have meant to knock my head against the ceiling, then the roof, and quite soon astronomy; to have delved down would have sunk me into the basement, out onto the subtropical plain, if not into the very bowels of the globe. The chosen corner, at least, offered no lack of interesting possibilities. The copper ashtray, the blue-and-red pointed pencil, and so on, et cetera.”