Each Rereading of a Book is Unique Because We Have Changed

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“Emerson said that a library is a magic chamber in which there are many enchanted spirits. They wake when we call them. When the book lies unopened, it is literally, geometrically, a volume, a thing among things. When we open it, when the book surrenders itself to its reader, the aesthetic event occurs. And even for the same reader the same book changes, for the change; we are the river of Heraclitus, who said that the man of yesterday is not the man of today, who will not be the man of tomorrow. We change incessantly, and each reading of a book, each rereading, each memory of that rereading, reinvents the text. The text too is the changing river of Heraclitus.”

From Seven Nights, a collection of seven lectures, that Argentine poet, short-story writer, and literary critic Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) delivered in Buenos Aires between June and August 1977. During the lecture series, Borges shared his profound and thought-provoking insights on Dante’s The Divine Comedy, nightmares, Buddhism, The Thousand and One Nights, poetry, The Kabbalah, and blindness. Borges’s father was a lawyer and aspiring writer who owned an incredible library of more than 1,000 books. Borges was home schooled up to the age of 11 and enjoyed exploring the treasures in his father’s library. By the age of 12 he had read most of Shakespeare’s works. Reflecting upon his education, Borges said, “If I were asked to name the chief event in my life, I should say my father’s library.” Borges was very near-sighted all his life. Sadly by the age of 29, Borges began losing his eyesight due to cataracts. Operations help extend his eyesight, but it deteriorated gradually over the years. Twenty years later he had lost vision in one eye and the other eye was barely functional. When he was 55 he fell during a walk that caused retinal detachment in his good eye. After an operation, Borges could see a little, but soon he was completely blind. In his thirties, Borges began his career as a public lecturer, and since he was losing his eyesight, he would write his lectures and commit them to memory. Alastair Reid notes, “Yet the obligation to memorize his material did Borges a great service, for, as his blindness encroached, he was at the same time memorizing a considerable private library of reference and quotation. Asked a question now, he will pause, as though riffling through bookshelves in his head, and come up with a verse from one of his essential texts, and idiosyncratic collection familiar to his readers.”

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For further reading: Seven Nights by Jorge Luis Borges

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