Borges 1943

Wilde attributes this joke to Carlyle: a biography of Michelangelo that would make no mention of the works of Michelangelo. So complex is reality, and so fragmentary and simplified is history, that an omniscient observer could write an indefinite, almost infinite, number of biographies of a man, each emphazising different facts; we would have to read many of them before we realized that the protagonist was the same. Let us greatly simplifiy, and imagine that life consist of 13 000 facts. One of the hypothetical biographies would record the series 11, 22, 33 …; another the series 9, 13, 17, 21 …; another the series 3, 12, 21, 30, 39… A history of a man’s dreams is not inconceivable; another of all the organs of his body; another, on the mistakes he made, anotherof all the moments when he thought about the Pyramids; another, of his dealings with the night and with the dawn. The above may seem merely fanciful, but unfortunately it is not. No one today resigns himself to writing the literary biography of an author or the military biography of a soldier, everyone prefers the geneological biography, the economic biography, the psychiatric biography, the surgical biography, the typographical biography. One life of Poe consists of seven hundred octavo pages; the author fascinated by changes of residence, barely manages one parenthesis for the Malestrom or the cosmogony of ‘Eureka’.


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