Borges and Western Philosophy
Chapter 7: Borges and Levinas Face to Face: Writing and the Riddle of Subjectivity
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Borges and Levinas Face to Face: Writing and the Riddle of Subjectivity
I do not know which of us has written this page. (Borges, 1974b, 51)
One fine day, Hermann Sörgel receives the complete memory of William Shakespeare. A scholar who has devoted his life to studying the bard’s works, the professor understands that he has been given a priceless treasure. With the key to understanding the poet’s consciousness in his hand, he will be able to perfectly interpret all his writings. Gradually, Shakespeare’s memories are absorbed into his mind. He is surprised to realize, however, that possession of the bard’s memory has only given him access to a “chaos of vague possibilities.” At this point, he begins to grasp that he still cannot decipher the enigma of Shakespeare’s luminous oeuvre, the poet’s memory only revealing the “circumstances of the man Shakespeare. Clearly, these circumstances do not constitute the uniqueness of the poet.” To his dismay, he also gradually finds that Shakespeare’s memory is infiltrating his own and that he must now bear the burden of two memories intertwined with one another. Personal identity being based on memory, he fears lest he will lose his sanity. In his alarm, he seeks to resume being Hermann Sörgel. Finally, he conveys Shakespeare’s memory to another person via an anonymous telephone call (CF, 513).
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