“life is too impoverished not to be immortal.”
In 1928 Borges wrote a short essay titled Sentirse en muerte, Feeling in Death. He would come back to this essay over the years, incorporating it into two later essays. The first was “A History of Eternity” published in 1936. The second was “A New Refutation of Time” written in the mid-1940s. While both of these essay are long, complicated, philosophical discussions, Feeling in Death is a lovely, meditative piece that should not be overlooked.
I think that Feeling in Death must have been a very important essay to Borges for it captures his wanderings among the streets of Buenos Aires, an activity that consumed many of his nights and days before he became blind. It’s unfortunate that Feeling in Death is buried in these other essays that are seldom read. So, I’m going to take this opportunity to include here most of Feeling in Death:
“I wish to record an experience I had a few nights ago….I remember it thus: On the afternoon before that night, I was in Barracas, an area I do not customarily visit, and whose distance from the places I later passed through had already given the day a strange savor. The night had no objective whatsoever; the weather was clear, and so, after dinner, I went out to walk and remember. I did no want to establish any particular direction for my stroll; I strove for a maximum latitude of possibility so as not to fatigue my expectant mind with the obligatory foresight of a particular path. I accomplished, to the unsatisfactory degree to which it is possible, what is called strolling at random, without other conscious resolve than to pass up the avenues and broad streets in favor of chance’s more obscure invitations. Yet a kind of familiar gravitation pushed me toward neighborhoods whose name I wish always to remember, places that fill my heart with reverence. I am not alluding to my own neighborhood, the precise circumference of my childhood, but to its still mysterious outskirts; a frontier region I have possessed fully in words and very little in reality, at once adjacent and mythical. These penultimate streets are, for me, the opposite of what is familiar, its other face, almost as unknown as the buried foundations of our house or own own invisible skeleton. The walk left me at a street corner. I took in the night, in perfect, serene respite from thought. The vision before me, not at all complex to begin with, seemed further simplified by my fatigue. Its very ordinariness made it unreal. It was a street of one-story houses, and though its first meaning was poverty, its second was certainly bliss. It was the poorest and most beautiful thing. The houses faced away from the street; a fig tree merged into shadow over the blunted streetcorner, and the narrow portals — higher than the extending lines of the walls — seemed wrought of the same infinite substance as the night. The sidewalk was embanked above a street of elemental dirt, the dirt of a still unconquered America. In the distance, the road, by then a country lane, crumbled into the Maldonado River. Against the muddy, chaotic earth, a low, rose-colored wall seemed not to harbor the moonlight but to shimmer with a gleam all of its own. Tenderness could have no better name than that rose color.
“I stood there looking at this simplicity. I thought, undoubtedly aloud: ‘This is the same as it was thirty years ago.’ I imagined that date: recent enough in other countries, but already remote on this ever-chaging side of the world. Perhaps a bird was singing and I felt for it a small, bird-sized fondness; but there was probably no other sound in the dizzying silence except for the equally timeless noise of crickets. The glib thought I am in the year eighteen hundred and something ceased to be a few approximate words and deepened into reality. I felt as the dead feel, I felt myself to be an abstract observer of the world; an indefinite fear imbued with knowledge that is the greater clarity of metaphysics. No, I did not believe I had made my way upstream on the presumptive waters of Time. Rather, I suspected myself to be in possession of the reticent or absent meaning of the inconceivable word eternity. Only later did I succedd in defining this figment of my imagination.
“I write it out now: This pure representation of homogenous facts — the serenity of the night, the translucent little wall, the small-town scent of honeysuckle, the fundamental dirt — is not merely identical to what existed on that corner many years ago; it is, without superficial resemblances or repetitions, the same. when we can feel this oneness, time is a delusion which the indifference and inseparability of a moment from its apparent yesterday and from its apparent today suffice to disintegrate.”