"The earth we inhabit is an error, an incompetent parody; mirrors and paternity are abominable, because they multiply and affirm it." Right now that's my favorite line in all of Borges, because it may just point the way out of Friday's concluding tangle--and let me say how fortunate Alli is to have readers like Guillermo Parra, whose timely comment brought it it to mind. The story it comes from is one of Borges's finest: "The Masked Dyer, Hakim of Merv," from his 1935 collection Historia universal de la infamia. OMG how to describe how brilliant this story is. "The Masked Dyer" is Orientalist fantasy on a rarely-achieved level, where scholarship and hallucination combine in a blaze of libidinous antiquarian fervor. Its subject matter is taken from Irish poet Thomas Moore (1779-1852), whose 1816 Lalla Rookh (itself a masterpiece of pre-Victorian Orientalism) begins with a narration of the 2nd c. A.H./8th c. A.D. uprising by a historical "Veiled Prophet of Khorasan" against the Abbasid Caliphate then struggling to maintain its hold over (modern-day) Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. "The Masked Dyer" is a retelling of this retelling, in Borges's trademark meta-scholastic style--I wish I could say more about it, but then I'd never get back to my dissertation. For more on the historical "Veiled Prophet" see Encyclopedia of Islam's article on "al-Mukanna' " (v. 7, pp. 499-500), which will lead those who are interested to relevant passages in the chronicles of al-Biruni and Ibn al-Athir. But let me proceed to the wholly invented part of Borges's story, where the Veiled One's mystic teachings are revealed:

"At the beginning of Hakim's cosmology is a spectral God, majectically lacking a name, face or origin. He is eternal and absolutely unmoving--but his image projected nine shadows which condescended to action and created and ruled over a first heaven. From that first demiurgic kingdom proceeded a second, with its own angels, potentates and thrones--and these founded yet another heaven, which was a symmetrical duplicate of the first. This third conclave was reproduced in a fourth, and that in another still lower, and so on until the 999th. It is the lord of the bottommost heaven who rules our earth--the shadow of the shadow of other shadows--and his fraction of divinity tends to zero.

"The earth we inhabit is an error, an incompetent parody; mirrors and paternity are abominable, because they multiply and affirm it. The fundamental virtue is nausea." More soon on mirrors, Foucault and nausea, where else but on The Ingredient --


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