While waiting around last night for the changing of the year, I decided to try out Borges, beginning with "The Immortal," which agguss recommended to me ages ago. I can see that Borges will very probably be going down on my favorite authors list. I'm not sure how to comment on him, however; his writing is so succinct and complete, there's nothing I could possibly add to it, and if I tried to quote all the most interesting lines in "The Immortal" I suppose I'd wind up quoting half of the story. But mainly I suppose I'd just have to quote the entire paragraph which begins, "There is nothing very remarkable about being immortal," which discusses how obvious it is that Christians, Muslims, and Jews do not really believe in immortality, and which shows how an immortal man deserves everything that befalls him, both good and evil -- something I've been thinking about for a long time, actually. "Over an infinitely long span of time, all things happen to all men." And: "Like Cornelius Agrippa, I am god, hero, philosopher, demon, and world -- which is a long-winded way of saying that I am not."
This very idea is one of the reasons I've always considered the possibility of eternal life, in some celestial afterworld, preposterous: in an infinite timeframe, all events lose their significance, and all the multitude of spirits might as well be one spirit, or indeed nothing at all. At times I've thought the only conceivable relationship between an omniscient god and the mass of humanity would be that such a god was literally every man: that to be immortal would be, almost by definition, to be every man. There seems no sense in the existence of more than one immortal; it's enough for just one man to be every man, is it not? But anyway, even this idea is absurd, since after all Solomon was right three thousand years ago, that there was nothing new under the sun: so why should anyone, immortal or otherwise, have to keep living the various lives of men over and over, the same lives, the same stories?
It is, as Borges says, the mortality of men that gives them significance and makes them sympathetic: "their ghostliness is touching; any act they perform may be their last; there is no face that is not on the verge of blurring and fading away like the faces in a dream. Everything in the world of mortals has the value of the irrecoverable and contingent." He really captured here the essence of the beauty and the necessity of mortality, and undoubtedly did it better than I ever will, although it's one of the topics I've always been most interested in expressing.
I'm also a bit over 600 pages into War and Peace now, and rather amused that Nikolei only really fell in love with Sonya after seeing her in boys' clothes and mustaches, and Sonya only really opened up to Nikolei after seeing him in a crinoline dress. Nineteenth century cross-dressing FTW! -- definitely not something I was expecting from this book. ;) But now I'm rather worried that horrible things are going to start happening to Prince Andrei at any moment (again), since it's far too early in the book for Tolstoy to simply marry him off happily to Natasha. Which is unfortunate, since Andrei/Natasha is almost the first heterosexual, fictional relationship I've ever really liked. Though I suppose I'll only like them all the more after horrible things happen to them. Such is the way of literature.
And those appear to be my beginning-of-the-year thoughts. New year, same pointless ramblings!