Thursday, May 7, 2009

Mirrors and time and stuff

My poetry study group's theme last night was "mirrors", and we had some interesting poems that examined that motif. Does a mirror give an exact replica (as Plath says) or a distorted view? What does the mirror's reversal mean to how we interpret its information? What are some mirrors that aren't glass (like Hamlet's use of the play to "catch a king," mirroring Claudius's crime, or a photograph in "the day's mirror" -- the newspaper-- of a lynching forcing the viewer into the "shoes" of the hanged man)?

Anyway, it's a fascinating motif. Dottie brought a poem by Jorge Luis Borges, who many might remember as a creator of puzzles in prose, always examining paradoxes and presenting conundrums (and the one who said, memorably, "Every story benefits from a mystery"). Dottie translated it herself (she is a Spanish teacher), and we discussed how the long poem explored most of the thematic issues presented by mirrors. Dottie had this to say about Borges' fascination with "contingency" and its connection to time, and the refutation of that by story (and image, I think):

"The real world is one of contingency in which everything depends on space and time existing in a logical order, but within books, space and time are not contingent. So we see a lot of contemporary authors playing with time and space. The reader has to supply the logic in order to understand what's going on, so you have a reader who participates in the re-creation of the story. In Borges' story El Aleph, he describes a device that the narrator witnesses which allows him to perceive the universe all at once --all of time and space in one global concept, but then you realize that the narrator is outside of the universe looking at it from a separate point of view and describing it from a different point in time, so it can't be everything in the universe."

Not sure what it means, but "Aleph" is, of course, the first letter in the Semitic alphabets. So the device for seeing beyond time and space is language?



Serena said...

This sounds like a fascinating discussion, though I'm not familiar with Borges' work. I really liked this short piece about your mirrors discussion...I think mirrors are only as true as the viewer perceives them to be.

Anonymous said...

It really is a good question-- is a mirror "true" or is it "false"? Borges makes a point of the reversal-- left is right-- nature of mirrors.

Anyway, I love motifs, and I can see mirrors and reflections as a good motif for any novel where there's an issue with identity, like the heroine not sure who she really is.