I first read Ficciones in a class on postmodern fiction while I was studying abroad in Florence during college. My professor was a sassy middle-aged British woman who wore heavy eyeliner and dyed her hair a thick chocolate brown. She was such a character, would host after-hours class discussions at one of the few Irish pubs in the city center, where she would simultaneously give you critical feedback on your last paper and later tell you about how she left her life in London because she fell in love with an Italian, hopped on the back of his motorcycle, and never looked back on the UK. What a fucking dream, right? I can picture the orangey sunset now…
Needless to say, this professor was one of those baddasses you don’t forget about. And the reading list she assigned us in that class left such an impression of me that it has become my “re-reading” list for years now. The stories in Ficciones are ones that I think back on, still intrigued by their puzzling mystery and cliff-hanger endings. Haunting as they may be, they made me fall in love with Borges and his mastery of writing.
Recently, I discovered that Susan Sontag was deeply in love with his writing. As a former English major, I felt so ignorant to not already know this little fun fact (I always felt stupid for not knowing such details about the inner lives of my favorite writers). In an attempt to not get any dumber than I already have and stay fresh on my literary game, I make an effort to regularly read the amazing website and brain-child of Maria Popova, Brain Pickings, in which she once reviewed Where the Stress Falls: Essays by Susan Sontag.
In this article, Popova writes on Sontag’s deep reverence for Borges as a writer, a human, and a true master. Among her many “soul-stirring meditations” on him, she observes,
“The serenity and the transcendence of self that you found are to me exemplary. You showed that it is not necessary to be unhappy, even while one is clear-eyed and undeluded about how terrible everything is. Somewhere you said that a writer — delicately you added: all persons — must think that whatever happens to him or her is a resource. (You were speaking of your blindness.)”
I can’t tell you how uncanny the timing of my reading of this essay was: the stresses at work had been getting to me, chipping away at my motivation bit by bit, like they never had before. One weekend, I was so especially miserable about it that I, for the first time EVER, actually hated my job SO MUCH that I wanted to quit. Quit!!!!!!! I’m not a quitter!!! It was bad, real bad.
But then of course I stumbled upon this article and felt so silly and deeply moved by the wisdom within it. Inspired by Popopva inspired by Sontag inspired by Borges, I began to rethink my attitude toward work. I began to see my daily unhappiness toward it as “resource” of motivation to perhaps begin thinking about broadening my professional horizon. Having always loved my job, I’ve never wanted to leave it, and thus, never before this recent misery considered any change at all. Not to equate Borges’ blindness with my amateur agony about work, but, I began to see it as a sign that perhaps I’m more ready for a change than I had ever thought I was. Sontag’s admiration for and observance of Borges’ wise approach to life’s unexpected misfortunes helped me begin to consider the prospect of applying to new jobs as opportunities for personal and professional growth.
Life really does work in the most interesting ways. I’d never thought that something I read as a nineteen year-old in Florence would somehow remain so alive and relevant to me as a working twenty-five year-old young professional. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t fascinated by even the littlest ways in which these types of strands in life continue to not only unfold themselves, but also have such wise and empowering impacts…