Borges : Funes, His Memory (Summary)

"Funes, His Memory" tells the story of a frictional Borges who meets a boy named Funes in Fray Bentos who he recalls as a one with a taciturn face, Indian features and an extraordinary remoteness. His recollections of him (on which this story is) are based on in all three interactions with Funes. In the first chance meeting, he asks him what time it is and Funes instantly replies the exact time without a blink. Funes is mentioned as someone who always knows what time it was, like a clock. Some years later Borges returns to Fray Bentos. It is revealed to him that Funes got crippled in a tragic horse riding accident. Borges meanwhile has started studying Latin and brought with himself some Latin books & dictionary. News of  this reaches Funes and he sends across a note asking if he could borrow some of the books and a dictionary as he wants to learn Latin. Borges in conceit as to if  Latin could really be mastered using just a dictionary sends across the most difficult book to remove any of Funes misconceptions.
Some days later, Borges receives a telegram and has to go back to Buenos Aires. Before leaving he recalls that Funes has some of his books and visits him to collect them. At his home, he is led to his room, which is in total darkness. Funes is heard speaking loudly, clear and perfect Latin, reciting a chapter of the book that Borges gave. The subject of the chapter was memory. In conversation with Borges, Funes lists the cases of extraordinary memory cited in the book and says he was amazed that such cases were thought to be amazing. Funes explains since the accident his memory has been so rich, so clear and so complete that he does not seem to take notice of his immobility. He for example can remember the shape of the clouds on a particular afternoon, or every leaf that he sees on a tree. "Nor were those memories simple — every visual image was linked to muscular sensations, thermal sensations, and so on. He was able to reconstruct every dream, every daydream he had ever had. Two or three times he had reconstructed an entire day; he had never once erred or faltered, but each reconstruction had itself taken an entire day." They talk into the night. Funes recalls that he once invented a numbering system where a different word had a particular numeric figure attached to it like 'leaf' for 99 and 'aah' for 203. Borges argued that is exact opposite of what number system was meant to accomplish(ie. bring order), but Funes somehow seem incapable of understanding. Funes also contemplates a language where he catalogs all mental images of his perception at any given time. Such a catalog would be total sum of his memory and a complete language to represent those memories in space and time. A book perceived today would be a different from one perceived tomorrow in this catalog and hence would have a different name. Both these projects though idiotic and meaningless, tell Borges about the fascinating and dizzying world that Funes lives in. A grandeur of endless possibilities. A simpler perceptive and sensory overload where order is sacrificed for detail. In-spite of such detail, Funes was incapable of general, platonic ideas. His world was not of abstraction, but of endless and mind numbing and yet perceptible details. "His own face in the mirror, his own hands, surprised him every time he saw them. Funes could continually perceive the quiet advances of corruption, of tooth decay, of weariness. He saw — he noticed — the progress of death, of humidity. He was the solitary, lucid spectator of a multiform, momentaneous, and almost unbearably precise world." Such detail made Funes restless and unable to sleep at night. To sleep is to take one’s mind from the workings of the world. But for him, laying on a cot, he can picture every crack, every crevice in the wall of his house. "He had effortlessly learned English, French, Portuguese, Latin. I suspect, nevertheless, that he was not very good at thinking. To think is to ignore (or forget) differences, to generalize, to abstract. In the teeming world of Funes there was nothing but particulars — and they were virtually immediate particulars." They talked the whole night. In the morning light, Borges saw his face, Funes all of nineteen years looks as monumental as bronze, as old as the Egypt's pyramids. "I was struck by the thought that every word I spoke, every expression of my face or motion of my hand would endure in his implacable memory; I was rendered clumsy by the fear of making pointless gestures." We are told that Funes did couple of years later of pulmonary congestion. End.

In the Funes fascinating world, there are only absolutes realities. There is this moment wrapped around the arrow of time, each of these moment having a set of unique and permanent mental images. Funes is able to perceive all this countless moments in extreme detail. Funes is incapable of generalizing or detail suppression. The details that he perceive in fact blur the subject's identity by focusing greatly on it. All is consumed by this detail. Funes forgets nothing, in his mind there is the sum total of all his perception that he has comes across. In his languages, there is the sum total of all his thoughts. Yet, he is unable of thinking, of reason for he is mired in particulars. He is the pinnacle of human mind and yet he is crippled by the absolute nature of his knowledge. He can not think, categorize, organize, abstract and logically differentiate anything. For him, any thing at any two different moments are two different thing. In fact, there is no general model of anything. Each thought as such is a unique model. We have created this world view because we can not remember or perceive all of it. I can not perceive if today is as hot as yesterday, so to help me I have create a model called the temperature scale to measure the hotness of the day. Funes has no such shortcomings. For him, these memories are his past, present and future. He has a perfect and total memory, but no imagination to create these generalizations and abstracts. For him all thoughts and events are equidistant, he will be unable to order them and act on them. He would not see a pattern in the world, he would not see a pattern in himself. He would not be able to hide thoughts or enhance thoughts but live his thoughts over and over again with nothing to imagine. A perfect prisoner to himself. We through imperfect memories, images and imagination we create an identity for ourselves. For Funes there will be no Self, but only a train of thoughts as same as the reality he lived.

No comments:

Post a Comment