This short story by Jorge Luis Borges suggests that genius is a confluence of circumstance. Borges' story suggests that genius springs from the wells of experience, comprehension, and will, rather than from disjointed vignettes or vague recollections.
Borges also hints at notion that a summation of memory is not constrained to, or created from a single being, rather it is perhaps likened to an institutional memory that is culturally accumulated over time. That is, some component of memory flows out of humanity from the tributaries of human Zeitgeist.
Through the curiosity, introspection, and existential anguish of his protagonist, Borges' deconstructs creative inspiration in a way that distinguishes the product from the individual.
I realized that the three faculties of the human soul: memory, understanding, and will, are not some mere scholastic fiction. Shakespeare's Memory was able to reveal to me only the circumstances of the man Shakespeare. Clearly these circumstances do not constitute the uniqueness of the poet. What matters is the literature the poet produced with that frail material. ― Jorge Luis BorgesMemory is the most mundane, if not chaotically disjointed faculty. Understanding jumps up a peg in the hierarchy. Understanding is culturally imparted, but its lever is the intellect of the individual. The faculty of will is the ultimate determinant. Will distinguishes the creative individual.
Inspiration is a rare gift that flows through us like lightening. Some are able to bottle and distribute lightening, but many of us create from the raw force of will. Borges' protagonist learns that Shakespeare produced timeless, culturally resonant work though human insight and will despite the encumbrance of frail material.
- Fiction Podcast: Hisham Matar Reads Jorge Luis Borges, The New Yorker, 3 December 2012.
- The Book of Sand and Shakespeare's Memory, Jorge Luis Borges (trans. Andrew Hurley), Penguin Classics, 2007.