Monday, July 7, 2014

Borges, the finishing and not finishing a book, the bittersweet

e           There is something eminently satisfying about knowing that you have finished a novel. Long ago, when I would finish typing a book (or printing it out) I would take the stack of papers, stand it on end, and tap them into place on my desk. That solid sound meant the job was done, and there is no other single sound of my life quite as fulfilling. 

But when the idea of a novel first intrudes itself into the mind, it is filled with endless possibilities, a quantum-mechanics-plethora of plotlines and character developments. Though my characters constantly surprise me with their unfolding, yet when I clothe them with word-skins, make their hair and habits consistent, and tell them they can only do certain things, that they must do certain things, there is a feeling of other universes that never will come to be. There are songs lilting through my head when I met them, songs they will never sing. There are dreams I could have given them, but did not. The infinity of their choices of paths will never be, for I, predestination's worst deity, have hobbled them to my own constrained map.

Finishing a book reminds me of a poem by Jorge Luis Borges (from a book loaned to me by my friend Price Daw), called "The Unending Gift," that speaks of all the limitless potential of an unfinished work of art (or literature.)

It is bittersweet--no?--to finish.

"The Unending Gift" by Jorge Luis Borges

                  A painter promised us a picture.
                  Here in New England, having learned of his death, I felt once again the sadness of recognizing that we are but shapes of a dream. I thought about the man and the picture, both lost.
                  (Only the gods can make promises, for they are deathless.)
                  I thought about the place, chosen in advance, where the canvas will not hang.
                  Later, I thought: if it were there, wouldn’t it in time become one thing more–an object, another of the vanities or habits of the house? Now the picture is limitless, unending, capable of taking any form or colour and bound to none.
                  In some way, it exists. It will live and grow, like music, and will remain with me to the end. Thank you, Jorge Larco.
                  (Also men can make promises, too,
                        for in a promise there is something that does not die).

How about you? Have you felt anything similar?  


Unknown said...

As an artist and a wanna-be writer, I love quotes about the creative process. Here is one by artist Paul Gardner regarding art--but it speaks to writing in the same way you have:
"A painting is never finished--it just stops in interesting places."

Latayne C Scott said...

Thanks, Deb, for that great quote.

Sort of reminds me of the performance advice of genius songwriter/singer Keith Lancaster of Acappella: Stop singing before the audience is completely satisfied. Good advice for novelists, too.

Michelle Ule said...


Love that (melancholy) thought of all those universes that will not be.

Latayne C Scott said...

Me, too, Michelle.

Megan Sayer said...

This is really beautiful, and really sad. I definitely experienced a similar thing, the day I finished my first novel, and realised all the things I'd been dreaming about it - the small sub-plots and little threads and themes and things - that weren't in it, and it saddened me. It was complete in what it was, but it was smaller than my dream, and finite. This poem is the first time anybody has been able to put words and thoughts to the oddness of that feeling. Thank you!

Latayne C Scott said...

You are welcome, Meghan. I felt the same way when I read the poem. He understood, didn't he?