Borges - Everything And Nothing (Summary)

This is a fascinating short story by Borges. The complete story is below (in italics). It is about a man who has no true self but only emptiness within him ("There was no one in him"). He is like a dream that was dreamt by no one. Ultimately he finds satisfaction as an actor where he plays 'somebody' so that others would not discover his nobodiness. In his countless plays, he played such an endless array of characters that he seemed to exhaust all possible destinies of man. He had died innumerable deaths and loved so much and endured so much that 'he had all men inside of him' and yet he had 'no one inside of him'. He had achieved the fundamental unity of existing, dreaming and acting. For twenty years he revelled in this theatre. One day realizing the terror of being no one, he retires and settle down in his native village. When he dies, he finds himself in presence of God and asks God that he just wanted to be himself. To which the God replied, that neither am I anyone. I have dreamed the world as you dreamed your work, my Shakespeare. One of the forms in dream are you who like me are many and yet no one. You are everything and nothing.

Borges touches on his familiar themes about God, the meaning of life and living and unity and multiplicity of existences or time. The last conversation between and actor and God is opaque in its interpretation and meaning. The idea that 'one man is all men' has been repeated multiple times in Borges's stories. Here the actor is no one and he is all men. He is unable to have a singular identity, a constant and an unchanging Self. He created multiple identities to give his life an identity. He was never meant to be anyone. He via his acts affects, empathises and simulates other people. Anything human is what he can be and he can feel and choose to be any other human. He identifies with all men. He is nothing in particular and yet everything, like a infinite space that is infinitely full and yet indefinitely empty. He feels and experiences situations and circumstances similarly as men who came before him felt and faced. His actions have been acted before. His pain and joys have been felt before. Whatever we do has a likeness to what has already happened to someone else. His destiny is no different from the destiny of all men. What happens to him will happen to all the men for they share the collective experience and a collective destiny. He is nothing that has already not happened or going to happen. Same is to God which is this constant idea, a constance presence in all the forms that one sees. The forms are all His many dreams, his many creations and like Man, He is many and yet He is no one. He is a dream of forms he dreamt. Without the creation he dreamt, He is nothing. He is all things and He is none.
There was no one in him: behind his face (which even through the bad paintings of those times resembles no other) and his words, which were copious, fantastic and stormy, there was only a bit of coldness, a dream dreamt by no one. At first he thought that all people were like him, but the astonishment of a friend to whom he had begun to speak of this emptiness showed him his error and made him feel always that an individual should not differ in outward appearance.Once he thought that in books he would find a cure for his ill and thus he learned the small Latin and less Greek a contemporary would speak of; later he considered that what he sought might well be found in an element rite of humanity, and let himself be initiated by Anne Hathaway one long June afternoon. At the age of twenty-odd years he went to London. Instinctively he had already become proficient in the habit of simulating that he was someone, so that others would not discover his condition as no one; in London he found the profession to which he was predestined, that of the actor, who on a stage plays at being another before a gathering of people who play at taking him for that other person. His histrionic tasks brought him a singular satisfaction, perhaps the first he had ever known; but once the last verse had been acclaimed and the last dead man withdrawn from the stage, the hated flavor of unreality returned to him. He ceased to be Ferrex or Tamerlane and became no one again. Thus hounded, he took to imagining other heroes and other tragic fables. And so, while his flesh fulfilled its destiny as flesh in the taverns and brothels of London, the soul that inhabited him was Caesar, who disregards the augur's admonition, and Juliet, who abhors the lark, and Macbeth, who converses on the plain with the witches who are also Fates. No one has ever been so many men as this man, who like the Egyptian Proteus could exhaust all the guises of reality. At times he would leave a confession hidden away in some corner of his work, certain that it would not be deciphered; Richard affirms that in his person he plays the part of many and lago claims with curious words "I am not what I am," The fundamental identity of existing, dreaming and acting inspired famous passages of his.  
For twenty years he persisted in that controlled hallucination, but one morning he was suddenly gripped by the tedium and the terror of being so many kings who die by the sword and so many suffering lovers who converge, diverge and melodiously expire. That very day he arranged to sell his theater. Within a week he had returned to his native village, where he recovered the trees and rivers of his childhood and did not relate them to the others his muse had celebrated, illustrious with mythological allusions and Latin terms. He had to be someone; he was a retired impresario who had made his fortune and concerned himself with loans, lawsuits and petty usury. It was in this character that he dictated the arid will and testament known to us, from which he deliberately excluded all traces of pathos or literature. His friends from London would visit his retreat and for them he would take up again his role as poet.  
History adds that before or after dying he found himself in the presence of God and told Him: "I who have been so many men in vain want to be one and myself." The voice of the Lord answered from a whirlwind: "Neither am I anyone; I have dreamt the world as you dreamt your work, my Shakespeare, and among the forms in my dream are you, who like myself are many and no one." -- By Jorge Luis Borges (Translated by James E. Irby)

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