Nanjing with Borges

A specific dream from my childhood still returns to haunt me from time to time, although never with the intensity of that first encounter. I believe it is right to call it an encounter because I’m sure, on that day, I met something real, either physically or conceptually.

I was half asleep on a sofa in my grandparents house in Alexandria, Scotland. Tessa, our large black Doberman dog could have been laying next to me. I cannot remember for sure but it wouldn’t have been uncommon.

Whatever I was dreaming about, if I was at all, gradually faded revealing another layer of experience. It is in this realm where I became aware of the phenomena that has been with me to this day. Strangely, only now, as I ride on the Nanjing subway some 30 years later, has the significance of that experience entered my conscience awareness. And perhaps I owe a nod to Borges, whose words may have helped to decrypt those old fragmented memories.

The object felt heavy and overbearing, too big for my current physical scale. I wanted to inspect it, but when I looked around the vast, empty horizon I was forced to seek on smaller and smaller scales. There, looking into my hands while curled up on the sofa, I believe I found it. Not on my hand or between the fingers but within one of the the tiniest of lines amung the uncountable faint lines that crisscross the skin. Not that I could give any detailed description of its visual characteristics, since it seemed surrounded by an impenetrable haze.

How could this thing, smaller that my visual perception would allow, at the same time loom over me with such mighty weight and almost infinite extension?

It was heavier and larger than I dared to imagine but as small and light that it could be lost in my own hands. It would be wrong to begin trying to identify it by listing those things that are lighter than it and those that are heavier than it, to thus arrive at some constrained possibilities. It was not heavy in relation to some things and lighter in relations to others. It was both lighter and heavier in relation to itself.

The dream was not pleasant. There was a nightmarish aspect that lay in my endless oscillation between the two states of experiencing the object as either large and massive or small and light. Yet I am sure that it was not the one who was changing.

I woke in a cold sweat.

Many years later I learned that all matter is composed of infitesimal vibrating loops of energy. This may or may not be related.

Post-applications poetry

I’m slowly recovering from the onslaught  of application season (I may post about that later especially on the subject of applying for Korean research grants). So I thought its a good time to post something on this new website thingy, as I recently moved from dokuwiki to wordpress, which I’m finding much easier to manage although a little inflexible.

After the Bob Dylan Nobel prize, I got thinking of those who may also have won the award in their lifetimes. I don’t consider myself to be especially well read however I know what I like. Here is a poem by the late Jorges Luis Borges called The Other Tiger of which there are several translations, this one I am particularly fond of…

A tiger comes to mind. The twilight here
Exalts the vast and busy Library
And seems to set the bookshelves back in gloom;
Innocent, ruthless, bloodstained, sleek
It wanders through its forest and its day
Printing a track along the muddy banks
Of sluggish streams whose names it does not know
(In its world there are no names or past
Or time to come, only the vivid now)
And makes its way across wild distances
Sniffing the braided labyrinth of smells
And in the wind picking the smell of dawn
And tantalizing scent of grazing deer;
Among the bamboo’s slanting stripes I glimpse
The tiger’s stripes and sense the bony frame
Under the splendid, quivering cover of skin.
Curving oceans and the planet’s wastes keep us
Apart in vain; from here in a house far off
In South America I dream of you,
Track you, O tiger of the Ganges’ banks.

It strikes me now as evening fills my soul
That the tiger addressed in my poem
Is a shadowy beast, a tiger of symbols
And scraps picked up at random out of books,
A string of labored tropes that have no life,
And not the fated tiger, the deadly jewel
That under sun or stars or changing moon
Goes on in Bengal or Sumatra fulfilling
Its rounds of love and indolence and death.
To the tiger of symbols I hold opposed
The one that’s real, the one whose blood runs hot
As it cuts down a herd of buffaloes,
And that today, this August third, nineteen
Fifty-nine, throws its shadow on the grass;
But by the act of giving it a name,
By trying to fix the limits of its world,
It becomes a fiction not a living beast,
Not a tiger out roaming the wilds of earth.

We’ll hunt for a third tiger now, but like
The others this one too will be a form
Of what I dream, a structure of words, and not
The flesh and one tiger that beyond all myths
Paces the earth. I know these things quite well,
Yet nonetheless some force keeps driving me
In this vague, unreasonable, and ancient quest,
And I go on pursuing through the hours
Another tiger, the beast not found in verse.

Borges would have been a worthy recipient of such a literary prize, whether he would have considered such an award as important, is another matter.