Logos Multilingual Portal

9. From text to initial image: the psychology of artistic creation. Notes on the unconscious process that takes the author from vision to linguistic realization


b) The dream of Lao-Tse

One day, the Chinese poet Lao-Tse dreamed of a butterfly. On awakening he discovered he was Lao-Tse, but also wondered how the butterfly could have dreamed of being Lao-Tse.
Escher’s lithographs define the world as a play of palindromes: those words that say the same thing when read backwards. In music, palindromes are an obvious technique. And yet our instinct is to solve the Rubik cube by grouping colours by sides, and not by heterogeneous contrasts. A translator’s first duty is to stop his own logical-analytical functions, in order to enter the mirror perspectives, spiral staircases, and the maze of consciousness from where every literary work worthy of the name is connoted.

We shall examine Borges’s poem, La Luna: "Hay tanta soledad en ese oro / La luna de las noches no es la luna / Que vio el primer Adàn. Los largos siglos / De la vigilia humana la han colmado / De antiguo llanto. Mìrala. Es tu espejo".

The play between eternity and time is typical of Borges. In this case, however, it resolves in an entirely new paradox between awareness and perception. "La luna" (the moon) is the archetype of universal eternity. Adam is the archetype of human eternity. Why then do the two identities not coincide? The problem is perception, the human "vigilia" (watch), which is "antiguo llanto": awareness of indisputable death. Lastly, the moon is not the image of eternity, but rather the mirror of death. Failure to perceive this paradoxical point of view when translating the poem can have unhappy results. The Spanish word "soledad" has a particular aura: it means "abandonment" and "desolation", rather than "solitudine". "Oro" (gold), in an anti-Reformist and baroque culture like the Spanish, indicates ‘the sacred’, as a phenomenal projection of the collective imagination. "The first Adam" is the man left to his own solitude in the face of death: the gnostic counter-text linked to this creation where man acts without a Redeemer delivering him from the nightmare of time will become clear to those who, following our discourse, have observed the ‘sapiential’ nature tied to every poetic writing. At this point, "mìrala" opens uncontrollable rifts of meaning: the world of legend and that of human time proceeded in parallel, by analogy; now, putting them in contact reveals nightmare scenarios, due to the "repetition of the senselessness" that such a heremeneutic short-circuit produces in the reader. But before the latter, it must firstly act on the translator.

The poem leads to the heart of Borges’s poetic expression: if the worlds lock themselves inside each other vertically, like castles with the god creators running up and down their stairways like gnomes, who plays chess in the world below, and whose is the pawn on the countless chessboards above? Who are they that think they are God, but are creatures of a higher god?
The chess metaphor is not chosen at random. In The Royal Game Stefan Szweig presents a player who always wins because he manages to draw in his mind a ‘panorama’ of the chessboard immediately following the real one. In his mind he anticipates what will be planned on the chessboard. In him the logic-analytical function has become pure aesthetic perception. Therefore, although a winner in the game, in life he must necessarily sink into the abyss of senselessness.