The Aleph

I have been slowly going through Borges’ Collected Fictions for quite some while now (in fact, almost a year), and I’m, finally—or perhaps sadly—more than halfway through. There was one story that I read today that left a great impression on me, more than some of his more famous stories (Garden of Forking Paths, Lottery of Babylon, Library of Babel, etc.). It is The Aleph. 

What is the Aleph? Aleph is the first letter of the “Semitic abjads” (Wikapedia). It represents the oneness of God, of the godhead over the earth and the sky. It is the symbol for the transfinite numbers, where each part is as great as the whole. It is a single point in which all other points are present. In contrast with the nunc-stans (here-stand; an existence above the temporal) it is the his-stans, the point wherein everything gathers. 

This is an extremely interesting idea, reminding me, also, of Blake’s famous lines: 

“To see the world in a grain of sand, 

And a heaven in a wild flower. 

To hold immortality in the palm of your hand, 

And eternity in an hour.” 

In the story, a terrible (and obnoxious) poet invited the protagonist to see the Aleph in the poet’s basement. Some interesting observations: 

  1. Words could not describe his experience 
  2. The temporally-sequancial structure of text couldn’t reproduce the simultaneity of the experience of the Aleph
  3. Before the experience he was terrified that he was going to be murdered by the poet if he does not witness the Aleph—figuring that it would disappoint the poet so much
  4. After the experience he was afraid that nothing will feel novel to him, that life would be uninteresting. (Luckily forgetfulness kicked in after sleep.) 


(P1&2) The Aleph seems to be the Freudian “Thing” or the Lacanian “Object (a)” (object small a), a protrusion of reality upon the symbolic (the realm of language)—which is why it cannot be captured by words, both in terms of its content, but, most interestingly, in the temporal structure of representation. We always experience things in time; we can only pay attention to a single place at once. At least, this is how we are trained to experience in reading an essay or a novel, or when watching a movie (one frame at a time). But there does seem to be another faculty of perception that is beyond attention towards a specific thing, it is what one can call gestalt, a perception of the whole. We normally perceive our room, even before we enter it, as a whole—only when we have a vague sense of the room can we enter it. But also we can perceive being as a whole (at least, I am willing to stipulate that it is the case) in what I think can be symbolized as listening: Listening to a calling from Being (what we mean when we say, rather superficially, “follow your calling!”), like the Emily Dickinson line—“As all the heavens were a bell/ And Being but an ear…”. It is perhaps the feeling in Psychedelic experiences, or in Buddhist meditations. But also how one feel as an infant all the time, when one has not been integrated into the Symbolic, when the Big Other has not been introduced into one’s life, when one is not yet a Dasein with an understanding of being who can voluntarily pay attention to different things, but an infant listening to the call of being, the call of the chair for me to interact with it, the call of the breast for me to suck… That may perhaps be the experience of the Aleph, the infinite in one point is just reality unfiltered by language/culture/custom/Other/Universal/Categories (however one wishes to call it). 

This reminds me of the Platonic doctrine of all knowledge is recollection, elaborated by Augustine in Book X of the Confessions (which I’ve just been reading this morning), where he (Augustine) says that God must be in his memory, because everything related to God is found there, but he could not locate God anywhere, not in sensory memory, not in techne, not in Mathematical abstractions. Maybe the God within our memory is that singular point of the infinite, the his-stans, the Aleph. 

(P4)But the encountering with the Aleph is properly traumatic. It is that Žižekian moment of the fulfillment of fantasy, when everything is given to oneself and one loses the object of desire just as it is obtained. And, since we more just simply want to desire rather than want what we desire, the fulfillment of fantasy, the moment of the clarity of vision wherein we move from the symbolic to an encounter with the Real as such, can only be adequately described as a nightmare. 

(P3) This encounter, further is fraught with danger. This danger is the danger when one shares something intimate with another person: the danger that what means everything to oneself is ordinary, uninteresting, to the other. (Hence the protagonist punishing the poet at the end by pretending to be not impressed by the Aleph.) The abject that evokes fascination, even, fixation, is the object poking out of the Master Signifier, the signifier that organizes one’s symbolic universe. When we point our signifier out to another, our obsession with some thing, we are leaving ourselves exposed. 

Sorry, I don’t think I am making any sense. I don’t even understand the paragraph above. Nevertheless, Aleph is fascinating. Hope you found it interesting. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s