Friday, July 15, 2011

I have dreamed geometry

   Descartes     by Jorge Luis Borges

   I am the only man on earth, but perhaps there is neither earth nor man.
   Perhaps a god is deceiving me.
   Perhaps a god has sentenced me to time, that lasting illusion.
   I dream the moon and I dream my eyes perceiving the moon.
   I have dreamed the morning and evening of the first day.
   I have dreamed Carthage and the legions that laid waste to Carthage.
   I have dreamded Lucan.
   I have dreamed the hills of Golgotha and the Roman crosses.
   I have dreamed geometry.
   I have dreamed point, line, plane, and volume.
   I have dreamed yellow, blue, and red.
   I have dreamed my sickly childhood.
   I have dreamed maps and kingdoms, and that grief at dawn.
   I have dreamed inconceivable sorrows.
   I have dreamed my sword.
   I have dreamed Elizabeth of Bohemia.
   I have dreamed doubt and certainty.
   I have dreamed the whole of yesterday.
   Perhaps there was no yesterday, perhaps I was never born.
   I may be dreaming of having dreamed.
   I feel a twinge of cold, a twinge of fear.
   Over the Danube, it is night.
   I shall go on dreaming of Descartes and of the faith of his fathers.

The above translation from the original Spanish was made by Alastair Reid.  An audio track of the poem also is available.  I found the poem in the bilingual collection Jorge Luis Borges:  Selected Poems (Penguin, 1999)  An audio track of the poem also is available.

Poet and fiction writer Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) is a writer whose work I much admire.  He was born in Argentina; as a young man his eyesight began to fade and by the late 1950s, he had become completely blind.  About his blindness, he wrote:

     No one should read self-pity or reproach
     Into this statement of the majesty
     Of God; who with such splendid irony,
     Granted me books and blindness at one touch.

Borges often drew on mathematical ideas and imagery.  Consider for example, this opening paragraph from his short story, The Library of Babel:

The Library of Babel     by Jorge Luis Borges

            By this art you may contemplate the variations of the 23 letters...
                                The Anatomy of Melancholy, part 2, sect. II, mem. IV

The universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries, with vast air shafts between, surrounded by very low railings. From any of the hexagons one can see, interminably, the upper and lower floors. The distribution of the galleries is invariable. Twenty shelves, five long shelves per side, cover all the sides except two; their height, which is the distance from floor to ceiling, scarcely exceeds that of a normal bookcase. One of the free sides leads to a narrow hallway which opens onto another gallery, identical to the first and to all the rest. To the left and right of the hallway there are two very small closets. In the first, one may sleep standing up; in the other, satisfy one's fecal necessities. Also through here passes a spiral stairway, which sinks abysmally and soars upwards to remote distances. In the hallway there is a mirror which faithfully duplicates all appearances. Men usually infer from this mirror that the Library is not infinite (if it were, why this illusory duplication?); I prefer to dream that its polished surfaces represent and promise the infinite ... Light is provided by some spherical fruit which bear the name of lamps. There are two, transversally placed, in each hexagon. The light they emit is insufficient, incessant.

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