The following incidents occurred during the summer that I spent reading Jorge Luis Borges. After a few of his other books I opened “The History of Infamy.” It is my habit to first scan the contents of every book I read. Regarding ‘Infamy” I noticed that there was a story with the title “A Double for Mohammed” which I was eager to read. Knowing the tricks that Borges can play, I wondered how he would handle such a delicate subject.
Later that summer I also read “Borges Non-fictions” and was equally eager to get to the essay on “Biathanatos.” The original book by Donne discusses the delicate subject of suicide. This was equally interesting due to Donne’s departure from Catholicism and his polemics regarding that religion. Again, I wondered how Borges would handle the subject material and Donne as well.
I was equally disappointed in both instances. This was not due to Borges, but due to previous book borrowers. You see, sans gene, he/she/or they had ripped out (in the case of Borges “Infamy”) and cut out (in the instance of his “Non-Fictions”)the pages that I was most interested in. “A Double for Mohammed” and “Biathanatos” were both hijacked; apparently by religious bigots.
What is quite interesting is that these books were borrowed from the Binghamton University Library (Bartle). The lending period was very liberal and the borrowers were, most likely, either students or professors. This raised the question “Why?”
Both sets of pilfered pages could be thought of as having religion at their roots. However, anyone knowing (or wishing to know) Borges would soon realize that he does not attack religion. In his quest for understanding the human arts, his erudite being covered millions of pages; in a variety of styles and languages. He found “Mohammed” and “Biathanatos” both interesting subjects and he wished to enlighten us with his view of these writings (or at least a reading of the story itself; as in the case of “Mohammed”).
In the case of “Mohammed” it seems as though a short excerpt from “Vera Christiana Religio” by Emmanuel Swedenborg, 1771, would be enough.
“Enough of what?” you may be asking.
“Enough to know tht Borges was about to play with our minds again.
Enough, also, to know he did not write it himself and in fact had no commentary on it (peculair, as Borges seemed to make commentary on most anything that he had read). This would lead one to believe that Borges found this short excerpt so interesting that there was nothing he could, or should, add to it.
It is interesting that Swedenborg would be so “Christian” that he had to find a place in heaven for Mohammed. The purported reason for this was to have someone watch over the Muslims in the Christian heaven; an oxymoron in itself. Further, Swedenborg decided to tell everyone that the Christian heaven did not really contain a decent double for Mohammed so they decided to use a Christian who had been converted to Islam. The fallacy of this decision was exposed when the double started speaking of the son of God.
He was replaced.
The second half of Swedenborg’s essay is to point out that some Muslims have used Mohammed as a strident God who was soon deposed. But Swedenborg quickly states that this Mohammed was used to “rule like God.” (and replaced by the real Mohammed who said “I am your Mohammed” and therefore not “I am your God.”
Swedenborg seems to be writing between the lines and, presumably, this is what caught Borges attention. Borges likes the play on time and the abstraction of twisting two religions around each other and around themselves at the same instant. Nothing would have made Jorge Luis Borges more amused than these fractured musings of Swedenborg.
If Swedenborg was poking fun at the attitude of Christians (who believed that only Christians can be in heaven) and their conceits, then there is no need for Muslims to be offended by this Christian concept of a double for Mohammed. Likewise Swedenborg says that the second instance of Mohammed “ruling like God” makes him rule like the Christian God. The between-the-lines inference here seems to be that Swedenborg is saying that the Christian God may be a fearful god. So what Borges saw in this story is no more than a clever author making abstractions that would force the readers mind to do flips upon itself; a Borges vanity (if one ever existed).
Now we move on to the “Biathanatos” written by John Donne in the 1600’s. The book’s crux is sin and the concept of suicide. Once again Borges is intrigued by the thoughts of Donne regarding suicide. Although Donne appears to write on the subject, Borges, once again, sees something in between the lines.
What Borges sees (or pretends to see) is a question.
“Is there a sin committed when religious people commit suicide?”
Borges hears this question applied to Sampson and his “type of Christ”; did Sampson commit the sin of suicide or the sin of murder (not much different) or was there no sin committed under the circumstances?
Likewise, did Christ commit suicide? How could Christ commit a sin? Carrying the idea further Borges asks the reader to consider what the philosopher Philip Mainlander was thinking when he suggested that we are fragments of God. Mainlander offered a God who destroyed himself at the beginning of time. He farther purports that we are carrying out God’s mission (bit by bit).
All of this conjecture brings us back to the question of “Why did someone (or more accurately, some-two) rip both of these stories from the pages of Borges?”
There could only be two reasons.
The first is that they were religious bigots who did not understand what Borges was doing when he included Swedenborg and Donne in his books. Therefore the tearing of the books was little more than censure; quite a sick motive for someone in an establishment of learning.
The second reason, I am deeply hoping, is the motive of expediency. The expediency was the need for some student(s) who was assigned to read Borges, did not finish the readings before the book was recalled; therefore the solution was to simply remove the pages from the books and read them at a later date; without embarrassment.
© Copyright – Waldo Tomosky