On our second day of class, Amelia Barili from UC’s Department of Spanish and Portuguese, spoke to the connection between Borges and Bush, elaborating in an interesting way by following some of the links in “The Garden of Forking Paths.” On first read of Forking Paths by Borges and Bush’s classic essay As We May Think it’s clear that both men are thinking about a post-war world: Bush in concrete terms about things that need to be invented (things that resemble fax machines, digital cameras, etc.); Borges in a more abstract way about ethics and identity. What I did not know about Borges is that he was a pacifist, which makes thinking about the assassin in Forking Paths all the more interesting.
Our discussion of Borges focused on the way in which we could easily imagine reading Forking Paths like a hypertext story (or maybe it is a hypertext story?) following links to peel away the layers if we wanted to know more about Liddell Hart or Scheherazade, for example. After class I spoke with Amelia for a bit about how I’m using Twitter and other Web 2.0 tools in my class, which led to me mentioning an encounter I had with Borges when I was an undergraduate, which I’ve written about here in a tiny piece of creative nonfiction: Borges in the SUB.
I also wanted to mention the doodle Google made to honor Borges and his imagination on his birthday this year in class but forgot to.
On the Friday after class I was meeting with students in my intermediate writing class, a hybrid course offered in the classroom one day and online one day. The class has been reading Born Digital by Palfrey and Gasser, and writing a Digital Literacy essay. They have the choice of writing a narrative or a more traditional academic essay, or some blend of the two. Talking with them about their drafts, especially on the topic of identity, has been truly fascinating. Most have commented on the fact that they feel very much in control of this subject matter. One student commented that as she read Born Digital and excerpts from Hanging Out, Messing Around, Geeking Out, she felt as though she were “checking their research” against her own experience. In other words, she feels she has some authority when it comes to the topic of digital natives. From this authority, I believe, comes authenticity, and so these student writers are feeling a lot of “power” as another put it in writing this first essay.
One student, who is majoring in Portuguese, writes about being inspired by the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935)–who wrote with three different alter egos–to use different online identities in her posts when she was in high school. I was fascinated by her story (and thrilled to be introduced to Pessoa–what is more exciting than learning from our students!). This led me to mention Borges, who she hadn’t heard of, so I handed her a copy of The Garden of Forking Paths.
So here’s the thing: all of us have these layers, these links, in our lives and experience. Some people, like Borges, are far better than most of us at arranging them into meaningful texts. If we become more aware (hyperaware?) our lives become at once, I think, more concrete and more surreal, and without a doubt, richer.