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Borges and B runo Schulz on th e

In fin ite Book o f th e K ab b alah


Kaitdo Pre^
Hunter College-CUNY

2206'39'N 7837'40'W
4 l 021'32'N 25'57.9'E
40 44' 54.36' N, 73 59' 8.36' W

. ..simetras en el tiempo (3 de septiembre,


tercer mes del ao), simetras en el espacio
(3 lugares)... un destino por descifrar

Hypertextuality may be a new term, a product of the Internet, but the reality of it
goes back thousands of years. Religious and literary texts always established wittingly
or unwittingly transversal connections with other texts within and outside of their own
cultures and traditions. And fortunately for us, the by now exhausted literary concept of
influence has given way to the notion of confluence: the ways in which texts flow into each
other in a process of mutual enrichment. The aim of this article, then, is to present the
philosophical confluence of some of the ideas of the Argentine writer, Jorge Luis Borges
(1899-1986) and the Polish writer, Bruno Schulz (1892-1942). Certainly I am not the
first to connect them in a general way with respect to their interests in metaphysics and
mysticism. Susan Sontag did so when she referred to Yugoslavian writer, Danilo Kis
acknowledge affinities with both writers (Kis xi, 267). But no one until now has offered
a detailed exposition of their ideas, and the impact these ideas had on their work. For
the scholar of Hispanic letters, an introduction to Borges is unnecessary. However, the
same cannot be said of Bruno Schulz, whose work was relatively unknown in the Spanish
language until the publication of his Obra completa (1993).1

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Schulz was born at the end of the nineteenth century in the sleepy town ofDrohobycz
in the region of Galicia a region which changed hands several times throughout its
history: first Polish, then German and Russian, and today Ukrainian. Like Galicia, whose
identity kept shifting with changes in geopolitical power, Schulzs identity seems to have
been quite as liquid, as he, along with other Galicians, had to adjust to the whims of
political power. Born into a Jewish family of textile merchants, Schulz was fascinated by
Jewish (mystical) culture; he wrote in Polish, knew German, and had no knowledge of
Yiddish. He studied architecture, and earned his living as a high school teacher of arts
and crafts. In terms of his writing, his complete works include two works of prose fiction,
The Street o f Crocodiles [La calle de los cocodrilos] and Sanatorium Under the Sign o f the
Hourglass [Sanatorio bajo la Clepsidra\, and some brief essays and letters. His life came to
a terribly tragic end one day in 1942 when a Gestapo officer executed him in the street,
for the simple reason of being a Jew: in the wrong place, at the wrong time, almost in a
manner that recalls Borges brjula pointing to a death foretold in a book that needs to
be deciphered. And that is not surprising, since both writers conceived of the world as a
union of materiality (the body: mortality) and spirit (the Word: eternity), and both writers
had profound interests in the the Kabbalah.
Yo afirmo que la Biblioteca es interminable, declares the narrator of Borges La
biblioteca de Babel (1989 I 465). While humans, as interpreters-librarians, are imperfect
mortal beings, the library itself is eternal. La Biblioteca existe ab aeterno... No me parece
inverosmil que en algn anaquel del universo haya un libro total... writes Borges (466,
469 emphasis in the original). And when Joseph, the protagonist of Bruno Schulzs
Sanatorium Under the Sign o f the Hourglass is given a book by his Father, he reproaches
his father for trying to fool him with a reproduction of The Book. You must know,
Father, I cried, you must. Dont pretend, dont quibble. This book has given you away.
Why do you give me that fake copy, that reproduction, a clumsy falsification? W hat have
you done with The Book? (1978 3). The son wants to know what the Father has done
with The Book, because the book he has been given the Bible is not The Book. This
book belongs in no ordinary library, but rather in The Library. La biblioteca described by
Borges. The Book is transcendental beyond materiality, and beyond us.
And the book to which both Borges and Schulz are referring is the book of the Zohar,
one of the many texts that make up what is called the Kabbalah in Judaic mysticism. In
fact, if Schulz was primarily a literary Kabbalist that is to say, someone who was more
interested in the literary than in the religious aspect of the Word per se as I have argued
in Bruno Schulz: Literary Kabbalist of the Holocaust (2002) so indeed was Borges, as
Edna Aizenberg has pointed out in Borges: el tejedor del Alephy otros ensayos (1997).2 For
while Borges once said in an interview that the Kabbalah had been for him what Virgil
had been for Dante, he also stated in his 1931 essay, Una vindicacin de la cbala that he
was not so much interested in the doctrine of the Kabbalah as he was in its hermeneutical
and cryptographic possibilities (1989 I 299).3 Moreover, for both writers the world held
mysteries whose answers were not to be revealed in historical events. And the meaning
of human life could only be found in the folds of mythology, and not in political action.
Interestingly, in spite of their prima facie apolitical worldviews, their understanding of the

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Word and infinity, served to mirror the dangerous and fragmented social reality of their
time.4
The Jew is a book in God, wrote Edmond Jabes in The Book O f Resemblances (80),
but perhaps, more accurately, it could be said that the human, the Other, our brother, our
sister is a book in God. It is my hope, then, that this article will shed some light on a very
interesting aspect of Borges that is illuminated through a comparison with Schulz, and
vice-versa. After all, the word Zohar means splendor, brilliance, and light.
The Rabbinical Exegetical Tradition: M idrash and the Zohar
The term Midrash refers to a tradition of biblical exegesis, which had its apotheosis from
70 C.E. to 220 and from 220 to 400 C.E. (Introduction Hartman and Budick ix). James
L. Kugel explains it this way:

M idrash.. .is a kind of recherch interpreting of Scripture which finds


expression in all manner of contexts. Beyond such a broad (...) general
pronouncement, there are perhaps two other points about midrash which ought
to find their way into any introductory overview. The first is that midrashs
precise focus is most often what one might call surface irregularities in the
text: a good deal of the time, it is concerned with (in the broadest sense)
[philological] problems. The missing N verse in Psalm 45, is a theologically
troublesome pronouncement of the prophet Amos [about the fate of Israel],
or indeed, simply a perceived contradiction between passages.. .The second
fundamental point, still more basic, is that the midrash is an exegesis of biblical
verses, not of books. The basic unit of the Bible, for the midrashist, is the verse:
this is what he seeks to expound...( 92, 93, emphasis in the original)5
This second aspect of midrash describes the form of many of the texts of the
Kabbalah, beginning with the Zohar. Daniel Chanan Matt writes:
Midrash ba-Neelam is the earliest stratum of the Zohar. It is a commentary on
parts of the Torah and the Book of Ruth. We also possess Midrashba-Neelam
on the beginning of Lamentations and the beginning of Midrash ba-Neelam
on Song of Songs. The style of these passages reveals that Moses de Len is still
under the influence of philosophy. (8)
And this Moses de Len referred to here was the putative author of the Sefer Ha-Zohar or
Book of Splendor.6A Spanish Jew from Guadalajara, Spain, Moses de Len produced the
main corpus of the Zohar between the years 1280 and 1286. A textual body composed of
verse fragments lacking any rational cohesiveness the Zohar both comments on the Torah
and interweaves disparate verses from the Torah to create a mystical vision of the Devine.
The Zohar was to serve as a path to religious enlightenment: by unifying the various
aspects of God through focused awareness and visualization (Matt 37). To accomplish
this, the Zohar presents the ten Sefirot a symbolic schema of the manifestations of God.

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Such a mystical journey is symbolized through the Tree of God and the human body, at the
end of which there is ones encounter with En-Sofi or divine revelation. Scholem explains:
[T]he En-Sof is not only the hidden Root of all Roots, it is also the sap of the
tree; every branch representing an attribute, exists not by itself but by virtue of
En-Sof, the hidden God. And this tree of God is also, as it were, the skeleton of
the universe; it grows throughout the whole of creation and spreads its branches
through all its ramifications. All mundane and created things exist only because
something of the power of the Sefiroth lives and acts in them. (1995 214-215)
But the great gaping mystery of existence necessitates the tireless and dedicated detective
(read exegetical) work of someone like Borges Erik Lonnrot of La muerte y la brjula,
who attempts to solve the murder of three Jewish men, the first of which begins with the
stabbing of Talmudic, scholar Dr. Marcelo Yarmolinsky in Hotel du Nord. After each
killing, the murderer leaves the following notes: La primera letra del Nombre ha sido
articulada; La segunda letra del Nombre ha sido articulada; La ltima de las letras del Nombre
ha sido articulada! (1989 I 500, 501, 502, emphasis in the original).7And while inspector
Treviranus suspects that there is a logical explanation for the murder, since Yarmolinsky
was known for possessing a valuable collection of sapphires, Lonnrot believes that the
explanation resides elsewhere. He aqu un rabino muerto, says Lonnrot. Yo prefiero
una explicacin puramente rabnica... (500). And thus he removes from the scene of the
crime a number of books authored by Yarmolinky himself among them: Vindicacin
de la cbala-, un Examen de la filosofa de Robert Flood, una traduccin literal del Sepher
Yezirah, 8 una Biografa del Baal Shem, una Historia de la secta de los Hasidim, etc. (500).9
It is not coincidental that the murder of Yarmolinsky occurs in a hotel called Hotel
du Nord, north being one of the four cardinal points of the compass. Los tres lugares,
en efecto, eran equidistantes. Simetras en el tiempo (3 de diciembre, 3 de enero, 3 de
febrero); simetra en el espacio tam bin.. .Sinti, de pronto, que estaba por descifrar el
misterio. Un comps y una brjula completaron esa intuicin (503). And so Lonnrot
kabbalistically deduces that a fourth murder (that is to complete the compass) will take
place at a villa, lined with eucalyptus trees, on Triste-le-Roy. Like the symmetries of the
murders, the house is made of its own useless symmetries, we are told: ...a una Diana
glacial en un nicho lbrego corresponda en un segundo nicho otra Diana: un balcn se
reflejaba en otro balcn; dobles escalinatas se abran en doble balaustrada (504). Here
Lonnrot comes face to face with the murderer, Red Scharlach, who has planned the series
of murders from the very beginning, because all along the one person who could complete
the missing letter of the Name is none other than Lonnrot himself, who must now die.
La ltima de las letras del Nombre ha sido articulada (507). And the name, of course,
is the Name of G_D. Un prodigio en el Norte, otros en el Este y en Oeste, reclaman
un cuarto prodigio en el Sur; el Tetragrmaton el Nombre de dios, JH V H consta de
cuatro letras (507).
The God who names the beings who name, and who live by naming this God of
Creation, made of language, expressed through language, is the labyrinth(s), at the end

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of which there is the elusive mystery of life and death; a topic which brings us to Borgess
story, El milagro secreto.10 For the protagonist here is Jaromir Hladik, a Czech, Jewish
writer, author of an unfinished tragedy entitled Los enemigos, de una Vindicacin de la
eternidad, and a study on the indirect Judaic influences in the work of Jacob Boehme.
When the Nazis march into Prague, Hladik is immediately arrested and put in prison
where he awaits execution. In prison he attempts in every conceivable way to anticipate his
own death, and in the darkness of his prison cell he dreams of being in the Clementinum,
the national library of the Czech Republic:
Un bibliotecario de gafas negras le pregunt: Qu busca? Hladk le replic:
Busco a Dios. El bibliotecario le dijo: Dios est en una de las letras de una de las
pginas de los cuatrocientos mil tomos del Clementinum. Mis padres y los padres de
mis padres han buscado esa letra: yo me he quedado ciego buscndola. Se quit las
gafas y Hladk vio los ojos, que estaban muertos. (511, emphasis in the original)
Is it any wonder, then, that Myrna Solotorevsky locates Borges within the midrash
tradition? Solotorovsky writes:
Midrash uses the parable to clarify a previous context which is partially
unknown yet fully existent...Like Midrash, Borgess works are marked by
symbols with a high degree of semantic stability. Many of them, reinforced by
the syntagmatic context in which they appear, stem in obvious ways from an
idea of collective memory, for example, the labyrinth as symbol of infinity and
chaos, the library as symbol of the universe, the mirror as that which multiplies
and reveals the universe, the fire as demiurge, and the aleph, the Kabbalistic
symbol which is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet and spiritual root of all
the other letters, as including in its essence all of the alphabet and thus all the
other elements of human discourse. (262)
Clearly, midrash as a style of thought, of looking at the world, a Weltanschauung whose
aim is the symbolic representation of the coincidence of matter and spirit, of the particular
and the universal, makes use of the linguistic fragment (verse, sentence, story) to illustrate
the irreducibility of existence to any one privileged point of view. While the Absolute is
readable its Meaning is undecipherable. To that end the literary style of both Borges and
Schulz point to such labyrinthine, infinity of readings, and to their shared conception of
literature vis-a-vis The Book.11
The Kabbalistic Traits o f Schulz and Borges

... [T]he author contents himself-and discontents the reader with vague
references to ancient writings or mystical tracts dealing with the same topic. Thus
the story o f the real sources, which he is so careful to obscure, is one o f the main
prerequisites for a correct appreciation o f the historical and doctrinal significance o f
the Zohar. The task is made all the more intricate and amusing because the author

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not only fails to indicate his real sources but supplies fantastic references to non
existent ones. The whole book book isfu ll o f fictitious quotations and other bogus
references to imaginary writings...
The above quotation could very well be a description of any one of Borges short
stories; instead it is Scholems description of Moses de Leons Zohar (1995 173-174). In
violation of all syllogistic laws, the Zohar proceeds by way of the fragment; for the monadic
fragment reflects the whole. Such a notion of the relation between language, myth, and
reality was certainly not lost on Schulz. In fact, in his 1936 essay, The Mythologizing of
Reality, Schulz wrote: The essence of reality is Meaning or Sense. W hat lacks sense is, for
us, not reality. Every fragment of reality lives by virtue of partaking in a universal Sense.
The old cosmogonists expressed this by the statement Tn the Beginning was the Word
(1990 115).
One may very well begin with either a dainty womans foot, or with a book of
stamps. In either case, it is the fragment (a word) that, like a mirror, reflects the elusive
whole. Suddenly Rudolph, his mouth still full of cracknel, produced from his pocket a
stamp album and spread it before me, writes Schulz in Sanatorium Under the Sign o f the
Hourglass. He continues:
I realized in a flash why that spring had until then been so empty and dull.
Not knowing why, it had been introverted and silent retreating, melting into
space, into an empty azure without meaning or definition a questioning empty
shell for the admission of an unknown content.. .That spring was holding
itself ready: deserted and roomy, it was simply awaiting a revelation. Who
could foresee that this would emerge ready, fully armed, and dazzling from
Rudolphs stamp album? (1978 31-32, emphasis added)
W hat Rudolphs stamp album makes patently clear is that the Spring season is as
much a text or a myth, as is a nation (represented through a stamp). And so the story
Spring, from Sanatorium, begins thus:
This is the story of a certain spring that was more real, more dazzling and
brighter than any other spring, a spring that took its text seriously: an inspired
script, written in the festive red of sealing wax and of calendar print, the red of
colored pencils and of enthusiasm, the amaranth of happy telegrams from far
away... (24)
Moreover, says Schulz, Spring is a text which may be read, or entered like a
Deleuzean map, from any direction; or as Schulz so beautifully puts it:
The text can be read forward or backward, lose its sense and find it again in
many versions, in a thousand alternatives. Because the text of spring is marked
by hints, ellipses, lines dotted on an empty azure, and because the gaps between
the syllables are filled by frivolous guesses and surmises of birds, my story, like

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that text, will follow many different tracks and will be punctuated by springlike
dashes, sighs, and dots. (25, emphasis added)
In like manner, nation and history are also reduced to disjointed micro-narratives
where the history of Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria turns out to be nothing other
than the story of Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria. 12W hat attraction, dear reader, has
a postage stamp for you? W hat do you make of the profile of Emperor Franz Joseph with
his bald patch crowned by a laurel crown? asks the narrator of Spring. Is it a symbol
of ordinariness, or is it the ultimate within the bounds of possibility, the guarantee of
unpassable frontiers within which the world is enclosed once and for all? (33). And then,
addressing Franz Joseph directly, the narrator reflects: How greatly diminished you have
become, Franz Joseph, and your gospel of prose! I looked for you in vain. At last I found
you. You were among the crowd, but how small, unimportant, and gray (35). For, in
essence, Franz Joseph is a mere symbol in the prose of the world: prosaic and flat, like a
postage stamp. (The analogical equivalent of Franz Joseph in Borges is the defunct Beatriz
Viterbo of El aleph whose reality for Borges, the narrator, is based on photographs of
her).13 Rudolphs deceptive, pocket-size stamp album is, in all actuality, Gods fervent
tirade...against Franz Joseph and his state of prose...the book of truth and splendor
(34).14 But this shimmering truth that burns bright in the sky is not the truth of scientia,
but of mythology or what is the same, of the infinity of language (Schulz 1990 115).
In May the days were pink like Egyptian stamps, writes Schulz (1978 47), in a reversal
of logic where the days in May are likened to Egyptian stamps, instead of the color of
Egyptian stamps likened to the color of the days in May. Schulz goes on:
In the market square brightness shone and undulated. O n the sky billows of
summery clouds volcanic, sharply outlined folded under chinks of light
[Barbados, Labrador, Trinidad], and everything was running with redness, as if
seen through ruby glasses, or the color of blood rushing to the head.. .Then the
scenery changed in the sky: in massed clouds three simultaneous pink eclipses
occurred, shiny lava began to smolder, outlining luminously the fierce contours
of clouds [Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica] and the center of the world receded, its glaring
colors became deeper.. .With the stamp album in my hand, I was studying the
spring. Was it not a great commentary on the times, the grammar of its days
and nights? The main thing was not to forget, like Alexander the Great, that
no Mexico is final, that it is a point of passage which the world will cross, that
beyond each Mexico there opens another, even brighter one, a Mexico of super
colors and hyper aromas... (47)
The way in which Schulz describes the vibrating, undulating brightness of the world,
glaring and frightening, almost painfully difficult to behold, is also the same way that
Borges describes the Aleph:
En la parte inferior del escaln, hacia la derecha, vi una pequea esfera
tornasolada, de casi intolerablefulgor. Al principio la cre giratoria; luego

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comprend que ese movimiento era una ilusin producida por los vertiginosos
espectculos que encerraba. El dimetro del Aleph sera de dos o tres
centmetros, pero el espacio csmico estaba ah, sin disminucin de tamao.
Cada cosa...era infinitas cosas.... (El aleph 1989 I 625, emphasis added)
And interestingly in Borges (as in Schulz), the Aleph is both a cosmic place of emanation,
and a Hebrew letter15 that in its graphic form divides the worlds above and below through
the dynamic of its central line (Drucker 146):16
X
It is a sign, says Drucker, which is charged with life, the dynamism of coming into
being, and in this respect Aleph functions as a microcosm of all the aspects of the alphabet
(146). In short, all the letters are the Letter, and the floating, shimmering fragments are
subsumed in a vision of totality:
... [V]i la circulacin de mi oscura sangre, vi el engranaje del amor y la
modificacin de la muerte, vi el Aleph desde todos los puntos, vi en el Aleph
la tierra, y en la tierra otra vez el Aleph y en el Aleph la tierra, vi mi cara y
mis visceras, vi tu cara, y sent vrtigo y llor, porque mis ojos haban visto
ese objeto secreto y conjetural, cuyo nombre usurpan los hombres, pero que
ningn hombre ha mirado: el inconcebible universo. Sent infinita veneracin,
infinita lstima. (1989 I 626)
This is the Borges of the text (like the Fran Joseph I of Schulzs stamp album), to which
his interlocutor, Carlos Argentino Daneri responds, Qu observatorio formidable, che
Borges! (626). Borges s kabbalistic vision, is doubtlessly, the vision of Borges, the
writer who must report what he has seen through Language the only metaphysical
instrument available to him. Arribo ahora, al inefable centro de mi relato; empieza, aqu,
mi desesperacin de escritor, declares Borges in El aleph: Todo lenguaje es un alfabeto
de smbolos cuyo ejercicio presupone un pasado que los interlocutores comparten: cmo
transmitir a los otros el infinito Aleph...? Lo que vieron mis ojos fue simultneo: lo que
transcribir, sucesivo, porque el lenguaje lo es(624, 625).
If the reader of Borges finds little or no difference between his essays and his
ficciones, it is because for Borges, as it was for Schulz, language is not so much logical as it
is analogical, and inasmuch as it attempts to capture some aspect of reality that is clearly
outside of phenomena or logic (A is A), language falsifies the world. It invents the world
and creates myths. Schulz writes:
Not one scrap of an idea of ours does not originate in myth, isnt transformed,
mutilated, denatured mythology. The most fundamental function of the spirit
is inventing fables, creating tales. The driving force of human knowledge is the
conviction that at the end of its researches the sense of the world, the meaning

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of life, will be found. It seeks out sense at the very top of its scaffoldings and
artificial stackings of level upon level. (1978 116).
And Carter Wheelock, for whom Borges was a mythmaker, states that: The manner
in which Borges makes language more appropriate to some unnamed entity than to the
ostensible subject of the narrative comprises the primary form of m ythmaking... (66).
Little or nothing bears any reality outside of language and myth for Borges. That is
why when Borges writes on the fate of the Argentine writer in El escritor argentino y la
tradicin, his final recommendation is that the Argentine writer think of himself or herself
as a myth, una mscara (1989 I 274) in the grand totality of Western civilization. Myth
is simulation, and simulation is all there is.
Nearly heretics, neither Schulz nor Borges can be said to have been deeply religious
individuals; what they found of interest in the Kabbalah was the way in which these
sacred texts reflected back unto the page the slipperiness of language and its irreducibility
to the mere instrumental rationality of communication. Schulz cannot be viewed as a
kabbalist, or in any way a follower of the Kabbalah, states Bozena Shallcross. He was
an intellectual and a writer who ingeniously retextualized kabbalistic myths in his second
collection of short stories, Sanatorium Under the Sign o f the Hourglass (272). And Saul
Sosnowky makes a similar point about Borges, when he argues:
While the Kabbalist risks his immortality with each linguistic transformation,
Borges only entertains multiple variables whose basic purpose is to rejoice in
the creative act that begins and ends with the the writing of fiction. While
the Kabbalist seeks an elusive opening in the mysterious lines of the Sacred
Language, Borges reduces theology and metaphysics to a game. (1973 383)
But later Sosnowsky writes:
In spite of these radical differences, the Kabbalist, and the poet meet at the focal
point of their search: language... [T]he purpose of both the Kabbalist and the
poet is to elucidate and pronounce his word, to create his world, to conjure up
his magical formula and thus expand his human consciousness. (384, emphasis
in the original)
Again, this is the literary aim of both Borges and Schulz. W hat is above and what is
below, of the earth and the heavens, is Language. And here a philosophical essay such as
Walter Benjamins O n Language as Such and on the Language of Man can help us to
understand the Schulzian-Borgesean notion of the infinity of language and The Book.
The Infinite Book
Borges, fortunately for him as for us, died of a ripe old age in 1986; Bruno Schulz, on the
other hand, was not so fortunate. Schulz was murdered by a Gestapo officer in his native
town of Drohobycz in 1942, on a day that came to be known as Black Thursday: when

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the Jews of the town were rounded up and many of them summarily killed in the streets.
Schulz published two books in his lifetime, The Street o f Crocodiles (variously translated as
Cinnamon Shops), and Sanatorium Under the Sign o f the Hourglass (discussed throughout
in this article); but he is also supposed to have written a third book, entitled The Messiah,
which lost after the war, has never been found. The fact that this third book has been lost
to us and that it bears such a title, perhaps underscores, by its very absence, the Kabbalistic
thought that Language simultaneously reflects both eternity and the messianic time to
come. Walter Benjamin, who enjoyed a friendship with Scholem, writes in On Language
as Such and on the Language of Man:
.. .the language of a mental entity is directly that which is communicable in
it. W hat is communicable of a mental entity, in this it communicates itself.
Which signifies: all language communicates itself. Or more precisely: all
language communicates itself in itself; it is in the purest sense of the medium
of the communication. Mediation, which is the immediacy of all mental
communication, is the fundamental problem of linguistic theory, and if one
chooses to call this immediacy magic, then the primary problem of language
is its magic. At the same time, the notion of the magic of language points to
something else: its infiniteness. This is conditional on its immediacy. For just
because nothing is communicated through language, what is communicated in
language cannot be externally limited or measured, and therefore all language
contains its own incommensurable, uniquely constituted infinity. (1978 316
317, emphasis in the original)
Moreover, what differentiates humans from other creatures, inasmuch as other creatures
can also be said to possess (communicative) language, is that humans live by naming. [I]n
naming the mental being o f man communicates itself to God.. .Man alone has a language that
is complete both in its universality and its intensiveness says Benjamin (318, 319, emphasis
in the original). And furthermore he states:
Man is the namer, by this we recognize that through him pure language speaks.
All nature insofar as it communicates itself, communicates itself in language,
and so finally in man. Hence he is the lord of nature, and gives names to
things. Only through the linguistic being of things can he gain knowledge of
them from within himself in name. Gods creation is completed when things
receive their names from man, whom in name language alone speaks. (319)
After all, what is the Kabbalah, if not the human attempt at reconstituting the fragments
of a blissful reality before Babel, before Language became languages through naming?
Lurianic Kabbalah situates the unity of the world in the figure of the first namer, Adam
Kadmon: the first configuration of the divine light (Scholem 1995 265). Gods light
distributed throughout Creation, is preserved in six separate bowls or vessels, representing
the Sefiroth, or multiple manifestations of God.17 The wholeness mythically represented
in these vessels, comes to an unfortunate end, however, when the vessels are shattered and

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the once constituted cosmos suffers disintegration and dispersion. Not coincidentally, Isaac
Luria (1534-1572), was born in the exile community of Safed in Galilee, a mere forty
years after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. For Luria, the world had undergone a
Historical and Spiritual transformation from creation to destruction, that only prayer and
meditation could restore ( Tikkun). To that end:
The historical process and its innermost soul, the religious act of the Jew,
prepare the way for the final restitution of all the scattered and exiled lights and
sparks. The Jew who is in close contact with the divine light through the Torah,
the fulfillment of the commandments, and through prayer, has it in his power
to accelerate or to hinder this process. Every act of man is related to this final
task which God has set for His creatures. (Scholem 1995 274)
Scholem continues:
It follows from this that for Luria the appearance of the Messiah is nothing but
the consummation of the continuous process of Restoration, of Tikkun.. .The
world of Tikkun is therefore the world of Messianic action. The coming of
the Messiah means that this world of Tikkun has received its final shape. (274,
emphasis in the original)
Whether Schulz ever finished his book, The Messiah, or simply planned to write it but never
did, its deferral and its absence signals for us the way he viewed the historical moment in
which he lived. The Nazis march into Poland, and particularly into his native town of
Drohobycz, in the then province of Galicia (today the Ukraine) had to have been for him
the first sign that the reconstituted vessels had been shattered once again. All throughout
Sanatorium one gets the feeling that looming on the horizon is some awful catastrophe and
that The Book and the people of The Book will be its victims (Prez 19). Or as Shallcross
has said: The devastation of The Book corresponds to the breaking of the vessels that
in kabbalistic rhetoric signified cosmic catastrophe (277). And yet, Schulzs faith in The
Book, in the power of the word to reconstruct the world remains unshakeable to the bitter
the end. Like a mouse, I thought, W hat do I care about hunger? If worst comes to
worst, I can gnaw wood or nibble paper, says the Samsa-like narrator of Loneliness
in Sanatorium. The poorest animal, a gray church mouse at the tail end of the Book of
Creation, I can exist on nothing (1978 172). It is on nothing also, or more accurately,
nothing but memories and visions that Borges Aztec priest, Tzinacn, lives on: in a prison
where he is tortured by the cruel sixteenth century Spanish conquistador, and governor of
Guatemala, Pedro de Alvarado (1485-1541), and his men. Tzinacn reflects:
Una noche sent que me acercaba a un recuerdo preciso; antes de ver el mar,
el viajero siente una agitacin en la sangre. Horas despus, empec a avistar el
recuerdo; era una de las tradiciones del dios. ste, previendo que en el fin de
los tiempos ocurriran muchas desventuras y ruinas, escribi el primer da de
la Creacin una sentencia mgica apta para conjurar esos males. La escribi de

VOLUME 31, NUMBER 2

51

manera que llegara a las ms apartadas generaciones y que no la tocara el azar.


Nadie sabe a que punto la escribi ni con qu caracteres, pero nos consta que
perdura, secreta, y que la leer un elegido. Consider que estbamos, como
siempre, en el fin de los tiempos y que mi destino de ltimo sacerdote del dios
me dara acceso al privilegio de intuir esa escritura. (1989 I La escritura del
dios 596-597)
Tzinacns memory is one of past apocalyptic times, and the only way to escape the
portentous apocalypse is by deciphering the gods secret script; for only Language, and
particularly, The Book can redeem, enlighten, and liberate.18 When Walter Benjamin
compiled what was to become his most comprehensive work, The Arcades Project (1999),
his unstated intention was to create a (modern) model of the universe: composed in
Midrash fashion of hundreds of notes and quotations.19In that sense, The Arcades Project is
a labyrinth because it is a book and it is book because it is a labyrinth. Clearly, this equally
applies to Bruno Schulz and to Jorge Luis Borges. Made by language, or as Benjamin
would put it, in language, there is no Schulz or Borges outside The Book, outside the
word. In an attempt to give order to chaos vis-a-vis Language, every writer participates in
a process of Tikkun, whether he or she is a Kabbalist or not; but moreover, in an attempt
to create meaning and sense, every writer is a mythmaker whose work is a monadic book
that reflects the infinite Book that eludes us all.

Conclusion
As with any other hypertext (and what text is not a hypertext, kabbalistically speaking?), the
reader is free to begin here or at any other point in the article and re/member. Si un eterno
viajero.. .atravesara [la biblioteca] en cualquier direccin, comprobara al cabo de los siglos
que los mismos volmenes se repiten en el mismo orden (que repetido, sera un orden: el
Orden) (1989 I La biblioteca de Babel 471) And this is what I have attempted to do
here as well. That is to say, to establish some important transversal connections between
two writers who, like the books in Borges Library, are distinct and yet related: as each in
their own way reflect the human need to understand an incomprehensible totality. They
lived in times of great affliction, through WWI and WWII, and experienced what Jos
Marti called la vallas rotas of modernity. In order to make sense of this fragmentation,
they turned to the interpretative tradition of the midrash and to the Kabbalah, for
hermeneutical and philosophical reasons. If the world seemed senseless, if human behavior
in its most extreme negative form was impossible to grasp, then perhaps language was the
key. Perhaps the dual nature of language, material and transcendental at once, could offer
some glimmer of hope. The final words that conclude the above cited passage are: Mi
soledad se alegra con esa elegante esperanza (371). For both Schulz and Borges, there
were books and then The Book, human history and eternal History, and through the latter
one could somehow make oneself understand the inherent contradictions of the human
condition. In sum, it is precisely this that this article has attempted to communicate about
them the crux of their confluences.

52

CONFLUENCIA, SPRING 2016

Notes
'See Works Cited. For an analysis o f Bruno Schulzs life and work (pictorial and literary) in Spanish consult
the exhibition catalogue, edited by Juan Miguel Hernndez Len, Bruno Schulz: E l pas tenebroso (Madrid:
Crculo de Bellas Artes 2007).
2 Lo qu e... hace [Borges] es adoptar.. .las tcnicas de los kabalistas espaoles para incorporar, a la vez que
actualizar, la tradicin. Esta tcnica consiste en la interpretacin irreverente de los textos consagrados, es
decir, en la lectura y rescritura revisionistas de las obras cannicas, writes Aizenberg (94). In short, Borges
makes a literary use o f the Kabbalah.
3See Sal Sosnowskis Borges y la cdbabla: la bsqueda del verbo (1976 18-19), and particularly The G ods
Script A Kabbalistic Quest wherein Sosnowski writes that although language is the unifying factor for
both the Kabbalist and the writer, the mystic aims at the integration into a Divine (i.e., non-human) realm;
the poet looks for new manifestations to entertain a homo ludens while time encroaches upon the solitude
and emptiness of a life devoid of a priori meaning (1973 384).
4Borges and Schulz wrote some o f their work almost at the same time: in the late 30s and early 40s.
5The notion of different exegetical versions of the same passage or text is frequently found in Borges. Take
for instance, Pierre Menard, autor del Quijote (1989 I Ficciones 449) or from the same volume, Tres
versiones de Judas, where Borges fictional biblical scholar, Nils Runeberg, proposes that Judas betrayed
Christ in order to force him to declare his divinity y a encender una vasta vindicacin contra el yugo de
Roma (515). Interestingly, a similar idea has been proposed lately by Zizk in his book, The Puppet and the
Dwarf, wherein Zizk proposes that Judas betrayal is what launched Christianity as an ethical force against
the Roman Empire (143).
6W ith respect to the unresolved question of Moses de Len authorship of the Sefer Ha-Zohar, or the Zohar
it can at least be said that by some o f his contemporaries, Moses de Leon was already described as the
author o f the Zohar. That much at any rate we know from the much-discussed testimony of the Kabbalist,
Isaac ben Samuel of Acre, one o f the two documents o f the period, apart from Moses de Leons own writings,
in which we find him mentioned (Scholem 1995 190).
7Once when asked by Ronald Christ: Have you tried to make your own stories Kabbalistic? Borges
responded: Yes, sometimes I have, giving as one of his sources for the Kabbalah Scholems book, Major
Trends in Jewish Mysticism (Borges and Ronald Christ 1967 161). And Scholem, who for his part recognized
the Argentine writers considerable poder imaginativo (cited in Aizenberg 114), also underscored the
secular aspect of Borges interest in Jewish mysticism.
8Schoiem has said of the Sefer Yezirah (or The Book of Creation) that it is a book small in size but enormous
in influence... (1974 23). Less than two thousand words even in its longer version allied to its obscure
and at the same time laconic and enigmatic style, as well as its terminology, the Sefer Yezirah has no
parallel in other works on related topics (23). And Alazraki describes it thus: The Book o f Creation is a
brief treatise on cosmologic and cosmogonic matters. It was written between the third and sixth centuries
and represents, with the Book Bahir (twelfth century), the embryo out o f which the bulk o f the Kabbalah
grew and developed. Its chief subjects are the elements of the world, which are sought in the ten elementary
and primordial numbers Sefiroth and in the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Together these
represent the mysterious forces whose convergence has produced the various combinations observable
throughout the whole of creation; they are the thirty-two secret paths o f wisdom, through which God has
created all that exists (15). For more on this text see Scholems Kabbalah (1974 21-30).
9Vindicacin de la cabala is a reference to his own essay, Una vindicacin de la cbala already cited here
(1989 I 209-212). As to the other titles mentioned above, Jaime Alazraki writes: [T]he History o f the
Hasidic Sect and the Biography o f Baal Shem, attributed to Yarmolinsky, are slightly modified versions of two
works by M artin Buber: The Origin and Meaning o f Hasidism and The Legend o f Baal Shem... [and] A Study
o f the Philosophy o f Robert Flood, although not directly concerned with the Kabbalah, is not foreign to its
doctrine. Several o f Floods (15741637) postulates are close to those o f the Kabbalah (16).
10Runeberg comprendi que no era llegada la hora. Sinti que estaban convergiendo sobre l antiguas
maldiciones divinas: record a Elias y a Moiss, que en la montaa se taparon la cara para no ver a Dios; a
Isaas, que se aterr cuando sus ojos vieron a Aquel cuya gloria llena la tierra; a Sal, cuyos ojos quedaron
ciegos en el camino de Damasco; al rabino Simen ben Aza, que vio el Paraso y muri; al famoso hechicero
Juan de Viterbo, que enloqueci cuando pudo ver la Trinidad; a los Midrashim, que abominan de los impos
que pronuncian el Shem Hamephorash, el Secreto Nombre de Dios, writes Borges in Tres versiones de
Judas (1989 I 517).

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53

11 Al armonizar la especulacin con los smbolos, al descifrar el Libro, y al presentar su bsqueda religiosa en
forma de textos apcrifos y glosas revisionistas a textos sagrados, el misticismo judo tena mucho que ofrecer
al Borges escritor, writes Edna Aizenberg in Borges: el tejedor del Aleph, etc. (81)
12Sven Spieker notes: The disjointed, nonlinear quality of Schulzs narratives too, is an effect of the authors
treatment of time. Like the German Geschichte, the Polish term historia highlights the connection between
history and narrative or story. Any representation of extra time can be successful only if narrative coherence
is suspended... (286). The same, of course, applies 1) to the Spanish concept of historia, and 2) to Borges
historia de la eternidad. In El tiempo circular Borges argues: Marco Aurelio afirma la analoga, no la
identidad, de los muchos destinos individuales. Afirma que cualquier lapso un siglo, un ao, una sola
noche, tal vez el inasible presente contiene ntegramente la historia. En su forma esa conjetura es de fcil
refutacin: un sabor difiere de otro sabor, diez minutos de dolor fsico no equivalen a diez minutos de
lgebra. Aplicada a grandes perodos, a los setenta aos de edad que el Libro de los Salmos nos adjudica,
la conjetura es verosmil o tolerable. Se reduce a afirmar que el nmero de percepciones, de emociones, de
pensamientos, de vicisitudes humanas es limitado, y que antes de la muerte lo agotaremos. Repite Marco
Aurelio: Quien ha mirado lo presente ha mirado todas las cosas: las que ocurrieron en el insondable pasado,
las que ocurrirn en el provenir (Reflexiones, libro sexto, 37). En tiempos de auge la conjetura de que la
existencia del hombre es una cantidad constante, invariable, puede entristecer o irritar: en tiempos que
declinan (como stos), es la promesa de que ningn oprobio, ninguna calamidad, ningn dictador podr
empobrecernos (1989 I 395-396).
13Borges Beatriz is analogically Dantes Beatrice. .. .Borges adores Beatriz as series of photographs flat
two-dimensional images of an ideal. If she were present as a flesh and blood reality she would be like the
Aleph, all perspectives at once in three dimensions; she would be false by virtue of being too true, writes
Carter Wheelock (35). And yet the question surpasses the traditional one of reality versus imagination. For
far more important than this is their recognition of the materiality of spirit. In Borges such a notion is to be
found in what can only be called a kind of biblio fetish, whereas in the more sensual Schulz of The Street of
Crocodiles and The Booke o f Idolatry (drawings and etchings), such a spiritual materialism is to be found in his
foot fetishism. My father never tired of glorifying this extraordinary element matter, declares the narrator
of The Street o f Crocodiles. There is no dead matter, he taught us, lifelessness is only a guise which behind
hide unknown forms of life. The range of these forms is infinite and their shades and nuances limitless...In
one word, father concluded, we wish to create man a second time in the shape and semblance of a tailors
dummy.. .Adelas outstretched slipper trembled slightly and shone like a serpents tongue. My father rose
slowly, still looking down, took a step forward like an automaton, and fell to his knees (1977 62): to
worship Adelas feet. Much like Isaac Luria, who did not differentiate between organic and inorganic life,
but insisted that souls were present everywhere and that intercourse with them was possible (Scholem 1995
255), Schulz believed in the spirit and life of materiality.
14The reference to the small size of the album yet the infinity of its meaning is probably a reference to the
brief but influential cosmogonic book, the Sefer Yezirah, or Book of Creation mentioned by Borges in both
La muerte y la brjula (19891 500) and in Del culto de los libros (1989 II 93). The Sefer Yezirah is also
at times translated as The Book of Formation. At that time, the world was totally encompassed by Franz
Joseph I. On all the horizons there loomed this omnipresent and inevitable profile, shutting the world off,
like a prison. And just when we had given up hope and bitterly resigned ourselves inwardly to the uniformity
of the world the powerful guarantor whose narrow immutability was Franz Joseph I then suddenly Oh
God, unaware of the importance of it, you allowed me to cast a look on its glimmering colors, on the pages
that shed their treasures, one after another, ever more glaring and more frightening... [Wjhat a Copernican
deed, what flux of all categories and concepts! Oh God, so there were uncounted varieties of existence, so
your world was indeed vast and infinite! (1978 33, emphasis added).
I5The creation of the letters themselves is described at the outset of the second chapter of the Sefir Yetzirah
where it states that God first engraved then carved, permuted, weighed, and finally transformed them,
writes Johanna Drucker in The Alphabetic Labyrinth: The Letters in History and Imagination (144).
16 Para la Cbala, esa letra significa el En Soph, la ilimitada y pura divinidad; tambin se dijo que tiene la
forma de un hombre que seala el cielo y la tierra, para indicar que el mundo inferior es el espejo y es el
mapa del superior... (Borges 1989 I 627).

54

C O N F L U E N C IA , SPRING 2 0 1 6

'^According to Scholem, the imagery o f second century C.E., Gnostic mystic, Basilides, may have had an
indirect impact on Lurias own cosmology. Influenced by Zoroastrianism, Basilides believed that the universe
was guided by the principles o f Light and Darkness. Furthermore, Basilides believed that the divine essence,
the sweetest smelling unguent, was contained in a bowl to be emptied with the greatest possible care
(1995 264). I mention this as one more example of Borges encyclopedic knowledge of the Judeo-Christian
mystical tradition; for Borges makes reference to Basilides first in an essay of 1931 dedicated to the story of
this controversial personage, entitled Una vindicacin del falso Basilides (1989 I Discusin 213-216), and
later (1942) in La biblioteca de Babel (1989 I Ficciones 469).
18 Cualquiera sea la meta que promueve la bsqueda, el lenguaje ofrece las claves para desentraar el secreto
universal porque el universo fue creado por medio del lenguaje (Sosnowski 1976 73).
19Benjamins theological/Marxist critique o f modernity stems from a critique of social fragmentation the
origin of which is capitalism. This critique o f modernity is also to be found, albeit in a different form, in
Borges and Schulz equally.

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Iberoamericana, 1997. Print.
Alazraki, Jaime. Borges and the Kabbalah: A nd other essays on his fiction and poetry. Cambridge: Cambridge
UP, 1988. Print.
Benjamin, Walter. Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings. Trans. Edmund Jephcott. New
York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978. Print.
----------. The Arcades Project. Ed. RolfTiedemann. Trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin.
Cambridge: The Belknap P, 1999. Print.
Borges, Jorge Luis and Ronald Christ. Interview, The Paris Review 40 (Spring 1967): 116-164. Print.
----------. Obras Completas: 19231949. Vol. I. Ed. Carlos V. Frias. Buenos Aires: Emec Editores, 1989.
Print.
----------. Obra Completas: 19521972. Vol. II. Ed. Carlos V. Frias. Buenos Aires: Emec Editores, 1989.
Print.
Drucker, Johanna. The Alphabetic Labyrinth: The Letters in History and Imagination. New York: Thames and
Hudson, 1995- Print.
Hartman, Geofrey H. and Sanford Budick. Eds. Intro, Midrash and Literature. New Haven: Yale UP, 1986.
Print.
Hernndez Len, Juan Miguel. Ed. Bruno Schulz: El pas tenebroso. Madrid: Crculo de Bellas Artes. 2007.
Print
Jabs, Edmond. The Book ofRessemblances. Trans. Rosemarie Waldrop. Middletown: Wesleyan UP, 1990.
Print.
Kis, Danilo. Homos Poeticus: Essays and Interviews. Ed. Intro. Susan Sontag. New York: Farrar, Straus &
Giroux, 1995. Prints.
Kugel, James L. Two Introductions to Midrash. Midrash and Literature. Eds. Hartman, Geofrey H., and
Sanford Budick. New Haven: Yale U P, 1986. 77-103. Print.
Matt, Daniel Chanan. Trans. Intro. Zohar: The Book o f Enlightenment. Preface. Arthur Green. New York:
Paulist P, 1983. Print.
Prez, Rolando. Bruno Schulz: Literary Kabbalist o f the Holocaust. New York: H unter College of the City
University of New York, 2002. Print.
Scholem, Gershom. Kabbalah. New York: Dorset Press, 1974. Print.
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Schulz, Bruno. The Street o f Crocodiles. Trans. Celina Wieniewska. Intro. Jerzy Ficowski. Trans. Michael
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----------. The Booke o f Idolatry. Ed. Intro. Jerzy Ficowski. Trans. Bogna Piotrowska. Warsaw: Interpress, 1988.
Print.

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----------. Letters and Drawings o f Bruno Schulz: with Selected Prose. Ed. Jerzy Ficowski. Trans. Walter Arndt.
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