Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Borges and Cervantes on the dead end of the archive

Borges repeats Cervantes, not word for word, but by formalizing a philological problem of archiving, cataloguing, and reconstructing already present n Don Quixote. Compare and contrast the following passages from Don Quixote and from Ficciones:

That very night, the housekeep set fire to, and consumed, not only all the books that were in the yard, but also every one she could find in the house: and no doubt many were burned, which deserved to have been kept as perpetual archives. But this, their destiny, and the laziness of the inquisitors would not allow. . . .


But the misfortune is, that in this very critical instant, the author of the history has left this battle in suspense, excusing himself, that he could find no other account of Don Quixote’s exploits, but what has already been related. True it is, that the second author of this work, could not believe that such a curious history was consigned to oblivion; nor, that there could be such a scarcity of curious virtuosi in la Mancha, but that some papers relating to this famous knight should be found in their archives or cabinets: and therefore, possessed of his onion, he did not despair of finding the conclusion of this delightful history, which indeed he very providentially lighted upon, in the manner which will be related in the second book. (95-96)

From Part I, Book IV

When the innkeeper took up the portmanteau with the books, in order to carry them away, “Stay, said the curate, until I examine these papers which are written in a fair character.” The landlord accordingly pulled out a manuscript, consisting of eight sheets of papers, in large letter, The novel of the Impertinent Curiosity.. . . if I like the novel, you shall give me leave to transcribe it.” . . . Cardenio having taken up the manuscript, and begun to read . . . intreated him [the curate] to read it aloud, that the whole company might hear it. . . “Well then, said he, listen with attention, for the novel begins in this manner.” (334; 335)

But, the author of this history, although he inquired with the utmost curiosity and diligence, concerning the actions of Don Quixote, in his third sally, could never find any satisfactory and authentic account of them; only, fame hath preserved some memoirs in la Mancha. . . but, with regard to his death and burial, he could obtain no information, and must have remained entirely ignorant of that event, had he not luckily met with an old physician, who had in his custody a leaden box, which he said he found under the foundation of an ancient hermitage that was repairing. This box contained some skins of parchment, on which were written in Gothic characters, and Castilian verse, many of our knight’s exploits. . . All that could be read and fairly copied, are those which are here inserted by the faithful author of this new and surprising history, who, in recompense for the immense trouble he has undergone in his inquiries, and in examining the archives of La Mancha, that he might publish it with more certainty, desires the reader to favour him with the same credit which intelligent persons give to those books of chivalry that pass so currently in the world. . . . The verses which were written in the first skin of parchment found in the leaden box, were these: (535-536)

These were all the verses which could be read; the rest being worm-eaten were delivered to an academician, that he might attempt to unravel their meaning, by conjecture. This task, we understand, he has performed with infinite pains and study, intending t publish them to the world, in expectation of the third sally of Don Quixote

END of the FIRST PART (539)

From Juan Luis Borges, “Pierre Meynard, Author of Don Quixote,” Ficciones

I have said that Menard’s visible lifework is easily enumerated. Having carefully examined his private archive, I have been able to verify that it consists of the following” (45)

I don’t know if I would add a fourth, which coincides very well with the divine modesty of Pierre Menard: his resigned or ironic habit of propounding ideas, which were the strict reverse of those he preferred. 53

He dedicated his conscience and nightly studies to the repetition of a pre-existing book in a foreign tongue. The number of rough drafts kept on increasing; he tenaciously made corrections and tore up thousands of manuscript pages.* He did not them to be examined, and he took great care that they would not survive him. It is in vain that I have tried to reconstruct them I have thought that it is legitimate to consider the “final” Don Quixote as a kind of palimpsest, in which should appear traces—tenuous but not undecipherable—of the “previous” handwriting of our friend. Unfortunately, only a second Pierre Menard, inverting the work of the former, could exhume and resuscitate these Troys. . .

*I remember his square ruled notebooks, the black streaks where he had crossed out words, his peculiar typographical symbols and his insect-like handwriting. In the late afternoon he liked to go for walks on the outskirts

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