Thursday, April 7, 2011

Borges, Dreamtigers

This is a dream, a pure diversion of my will, and since I have unlimited power, I am going to bring forth a tiger.”(294) This is what Borges’ conscious mind thinks. So he loved tigers? And he wants to envision the perfect tiger? Well his unconscious mind, me, is telling him “No.” I am not about to let him see that tiger. But what he does not know is that he doesn’t have unlimited power. I do. I control his dreams, whether he likes it or not.1 It amuses me to see him so fervently try to achieve that ultimately beautiful tiger he so desires, when in the end, I will not let him have it.2 His dreams are always about this “perfect tiger” and if I give him that he will no longer have anything to dream. If I give him that tiger he may lose the one thing keeping him alive: imagination. No matter how frustrated he becomes or how persistent he may be in his efforts to attain this image, I will hold strong.

He analyzes all other people and figures out why they can or cannot achieve the goal they have set for themselves, but he fails to ever analyze himself in the same manner.3 If he had done that he would realize that in the end he has no real control over what he dreams. It is a common thought amongst people that your dreams stem from your thoughts or actions during the day; with that said Borges could attempt all he wanted to constantly think about and look at tigers in order to create an impetus for his dreams, but ultimately it is I who will decide how far into that dream he will fall. As in The Circular Ruins the man isn’t able to find the student and eventually son he desires at first because he could not truly connect with the pupil because of a lack of personal attention; “One day the man emerged from sleep as though from a viscous desert, looked up at the hollow light of the evening (which for a moment he confused with the light of dawn), and realized that he had not dreamed” (97-98). The man couldn’t actually see the pupil as he so desired in his sleep, because his sleep was not ideal. My job here is to ensure Borges’ sleep is not ideal in order to prevent his dreaming of the perfect tiger. As soon as I give him the opportunity for ideal sleep he will take over my abilities and, because he won’t need me anymore, he will die.4 I will continue to let his dreams come closer and closer to seeing the anticipated image, but his dream will fall short, just short enough of that goal that he will continue to pursue it each and every night. It will not be until he is ready to let go of the temporal world that I will give him the satisfying image of the perfect tiger.

“The tiger does appear, but it is all dried up, or it’s flimsy-looking, or it has impure vagaries of shape or an unacceptable size, or it’s altogether too ephemeral, or it looks more like a dog or a bird than like a tiger” (294). This is the prime example of what I aim for in letting him get so close to his idyllic tiger. It is these comments of his that ensure my success. What he also doesn’t realize is that although I have the main control, it is his own abilities that inhibit his dreams. His own analyzing of those who have vivid dreams, such as those blind or deaf, should be a clear connection to the limits of his dreams. The man in The Circular Ruins is able to achieve the perfect son and student because he himself has been dreamed by another, therefore he hadn’t had the experiences to fully inhibit him from what he so desired: “With relief, with humiliation, with terror, he realized that he, too, was but appearance, that another man was dreaming him” (100). It has been interpreted that he believed those people with impairments can dream so vividly because of their lack of personal experience. Their dreams give them what their body cannot. Borges has already had the luxury of staring at, and analyzing probably hundreds of tigers in his childhood.5 It is only now that I, his own unconscious mind, am taking that away from him even though it is the only thing he desires to dream. As his blindness progresses I will allow him to gradually see more of this tiger, and more often it will have less imperfections, until finally he sees the ultimate tiger which will mark the end of his quest; the end of his life.

1What in the world is this guy talking about? He thinks he has ultimate control over everything Borges dreams? What, does he think he’s God or something? Well I’ll tell you what, he’s not. Unless there’s something I’m missing here he’s just a regular old Ego, thinking he’s more dominant than me, the Id. What he doesn’t realize is that I’m the one controlling what he controls of Borges. As similar to how the gods have control over Odysseus in Homer’s The Odyssey I have control over Borges, and Ego for that matter. One example of the acknowledgment of this power is present in the Odyssey “This is the work of Athena, driver of the spoils, who makes me just as she wishes—for she has the power—sometimes like a beggar and sometimes like a young man who clothes his form in lovely raiment. Easy it is for the gods who hold the broad heavens either to glorify a mortal man or to abase him” (Odyssey 16.207-12 from Segal 199). Although here Odysseus knows that the gods control him, Borges has no idea that I purposefully am keeping him from seeing this tiger. It’s funny to see Ego talk about himself like he’s the “all-powerful” one making all the decisions. I may not be God either but I sure have a lot more say when it comes to how much of this tiger Borges gets to see every night. Then again, it’s not Ego’s fault. He doesn’t even know I exist. So how can I expect him to give me the credit? The real story here is that God controls all of us. I have a large part in controlling Ego after God, and Ego has a part in controlling Borges after the two of us. Just because Ego (or Borges for that matter) isn’t aware of this hierarchy doesn’t mean I can’t take advantage of him, right?

2Ego is doing exactly what Homer did in the Odyssey. He is using Borges’ self-consciousness to his advantage in order to prevent Borges from his ultimate goal of the perfect tiger. Just by doing a little research I found that Charles Segal can explain Homer’s intentions pretty well: “I am especially concerned with two devices by which Homer achieves his moral effect: the juxtaposing of gods of different levels of moral sensitivity (such as Zeus and Poseidon) and the bracketing of the less moral, more “primitive” divine behavior in a well-demarcated section of the poem, the fabulous realm between Troy and Ithaca in books 5-13” (196). So the similarity here is that Ego (the more sensitive “god”) is doing everything in his power to stop Borges from seeing this tiger, much like Poseidon does the same to stop Odysseus from returning to Ithaca.

3I realized that if Borges had taken the time to analyze himself and his desires he would find that he’s a lot like Odysseus in more ways than one. Both are on a quest for something that they seemingly cannot have (without going to extreme measures and facing many obstacles first, at least) and are being controlled by beings that they cannot see or have influence upon (for Borges those beings are myself and Ego, and for Odysseus they are the multiple gods that he encounters on his journey). One aspect in which they compare and contrast is one that Segal mentions about Odysseus, “…the theology, too, is intimately bound up with the shifting experience and widening understanding of the hero. Odysseus has “seen and come to know the mind of many men” (1.4), but he has also seen and come to know many forms of the mind of gods” (197). The shifting experience for Borges is definitely based upon his diminishing vision and the fact that he no longer visits the tigers at the zoo like he did as a child. Also, he spent much of his work, if not a majority, on analyzing people and the many aspects of the person and could tell you more about them than they would even know themselves.

4Here, Ego is telling you that he’s concerned for Borges’ survival. In wanting to see this tiger Borges is really asking for his own death, even though he isn’t fully aware of this. That is what Ego and I are here for: to make sure that he doesn’t overstep his role as human and walk right in to the trap that would ultimately lead to his death. What’s really going on here is that I’m afraid to not exist. I’m not worried one bit about Borges and whether or not he gets to see his beloved tiger, I’m only keeping him alive in order to save my own peril. I’m not ready to die, are you? So can you really blame me for keeping this tiger from him? Ego is right in saying that once Borges sees the tiger death will be at his door, but I just am not letting him know that it’s truly for my benefit, rather than Borges’.

5Segal tell us, “On the human level the superimposition of Odysseus’ past on the present shows us how a moral consciousness is shaped over the course of a lifetime of suffering and witnessing divinity’s workings among mortals” (197). Although Borges isn’t dealing with divine beings in his dreams, he is dealing with Ego and I, who are essentially similar to those divine beings within the Odyssey. Segal states how Odysseus’ past shapes his present and future, which is exactly what Ego is getting at with Borges here. Because he took so much time to look at the tigers when he was young it is easier for us to withhold that joy from him at the point in his life. If Borges had never seen a tiger and then all of a sudden at this point in his life he wanted to dream the perfect tiger, I might have let him. But that is not the case. He’s seen hundreds of tigers and therefore, I will hold out, with Ego as my accomplice, until I feel he is ready to pass on. The potential for the dream of a perfect tiger will keep Borges occupied until then.

Works Cited

Borges, Jorge L. Collected Fictions. New York: Penguin, 1998. Print.

Segal, Charles. Singers, Heroes, and Gods in the Odyssey. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell UP, 1994. Print.


  1. I think this story is very Borges. You bring in some interesting ideas, having the id control the ego who thinks it is controlling Borges's dreams. I like the circular feeling of the explained control. No matter who thinks they have control, someone else is higher. I'm not quite sure what the id is doing looking things up because I would imagine it would only be concerned with Borges, not the surrounding world. Is there a specific reason you decided to use research to make your point? If you decide to work on this again, I would attempt to explain the idea of the id and ego instead of talking about Odysseus. Not all readers will be familiar with how they function.

  2. I absolutely loved this, with no second thoughts or ambiguity. I thought the initial version was clever and well-executed, and I wanted to see you revise it. I think I may have given you some advice which pushed you vaguely in some of the directions you took here - but the skill of the execution was all you. The detailed thoughts about Borges death-wish are great; the commentary of Id upon the commentary of Ego is funny and good (although the Id being what it is, it seems a little strange for it to be coherent), and although you maybe spend too much time (or have slightly too little explanation) for your inclusion of Odysseus, that works pretty well too - we just need to work a litlte too hard to understand what you're doing with it.

    This is a really interesting example of how much it's possible to do with a very short but dense piece; I hope I'll remember to make use of this when I teach Borges in the future.