Sunday, March 30, 2008


I have loved Jorge Luis Borges since I first set eyes upon his work in Spanish class my junior year of high school. I couldn't understand him nearly as well in those days, but I still loved his stories. I am currently rereading his collected short fictions in English, as translated by Andrew Huxley and published by Penguin. One of the things I love most about Borges is that he challenges me, but without making me feel stupid or ignorant, as so many writers tend to do. Whether or not it's intentional, writers are sometimes too intellectual for their own good and it creates an aversion in the reader. But not Borges. Rather, his stories are so compelling and the context so unique, I am eager to pull out my dictionary and look up both the meaning and the subtext of his words.

I shall give you a particularly awesome example from a story called "The Cruel Redeemer Lazarus Morell." The word is alluvium. (who's definition in this case is more complete than my usual standby cites the primary definition of alluvium in two parts: (1) a deposit of sand, mud, etc., formed by flowing water, and (2) the sedimentary matter deposited thus within recent times, esp. in the valleys of large rivers. However, in a subsequent definition, #5 of 6, it states "Sand, silt, clay, gravel, or other matter deposited by flowing water, as in a riverbed, floodplain, delta, or alluvial fan. Alluvium is generally considered a young deposit in terms of geologic time." The latter part of this will be praised for its relevance and cleverness in just a moment.

Now, in the case of "The Cruel Redeemer Lazarus Morell," Borges begins the story by introducing the peoples of the Mississippi River Delta during the height of slavery. Specifically with alluvium, describing the relationship of Christianity (which is crucial to Morell's character) and the slaves: "In the early nineteenth century (the period that interests us) the vast cotton plantations on the riverbanks were worked from sunup to sundown by Negro slaves...Onto an alluvium of beastlike hopefulness and African fear there had sifted the words of the Scripture; their faith, therefore, was Christian...The Mississippi served them as a magnificent image of the solid Jordan." I cannot stress enough how much I LOVE the use of the word alluvium here. It ties together everything that he is speaking to. Literally, the Mississippi Delta probably had its own alluvium, as alluvium often collects in a delta or floodplain. Metaphorically, the youngness of alluvium "in geological times" referring to the newness of Christianity to the slaves, and their own newness in America as a country. Then symbolically, almost as though in the way that alluvium is a natural substance, and force, that cannot be contained, so religion was forced (either culturally or literally) upon the slaves. And then of course I love it purely for it's rareness and unconventionality. The word is just so multi-faceted in its use, and it's amazing.

Borges, I love you!!!! :)

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