Monday, December 05, 2011

Aleph Borges: A Season in Review

If you don't get the title reference, turn to page 274, then come back. This post will still be here, as it exists in all points in time and space.

Oh God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself king of athletes in space.
                Hamlet, II:2, as paraphrased by Jordan Kovacs

That same chilly morning that Ricardo Rodríguez was fired, after an imperious confrontation with his athletic director in which he only for one instant stooped to sentimentality and fear, I noticed a new advertisement for some smartphone or another had been posted on the billboards of Interstate 8; the fact deeply grieved me, for I realized that the vast unceasing universe was already growing away, and that this change was but the first in an infinite series.

One month later I had left San Diego de Alcalá for good and while setting up my office in Schembechler Hall, I was greeted by my predecessor, one Calvino Argentino Magi, who now holds some sort of subordinate position on a stravenue in the outskirts to the north of Sonora. Calvino Argentino is a substantial, black-haired man of refined features. His football activity was constant, passionate, and versatile, but in Ann Arbor it was ultimately insignificant.

On February 8, 2011, I took the liberty of enriching him with an offer of a bottle of Bell’s Winter White Ale. Calvino Argentino tasted it, pronounced it “interesting,” and, after a few snifters, launched into a poem on which he had been working for many years called the Augural Canto, Prologurial Canto, or simply Prologue-Canto.

I begged him to read me a passage, even if only a brief one. He open a desk drawer (one of the drawers which I had not yet cleaned), took out a tall stack of tablet paper stamped with the letterhead of the Bentley Historical Library, and read with ringing self-satisfaction:

There is no life - no life without its hunger;
Each restless heart beats so imperfectly;
But when you come and I am filled with wonder,
Sometimes, I think I glimpse eternity.

“A stanza interesting from every point of view,” he said. “The first line wins the kudos of the humanitarian who wishes to fight hunger in San Francisco. The second moves from Mott to Mattison (implicit homage to George Mychaliska), not without revitalizing a technique whose lineage may be traced to Diane Warren. The third - baroque? decadent? The fourth, unabashedly gnostic, tells of a secret few men other than I have seen.” Calvino Argentino read me many other stanzas and about midnight, I took my leave.

Two Sundays later, Magi phoned me for what I believe was the first and only time in his or my life. He was very upset; at first I didn’t recognize his voice. Dejectedly and angrily he stammered out that the now unstoppable pair Brandon and Madej, under the pretext of buildling a basketball practice facility next to Crisler Arena, were going to destroy part of the Transportation Services building. He said that if Brandon and Madej persisted in their absurd plans, then Bernstein, his attorney, would sue them ipso facto for damages, and force them to part with a good hundred thousand for their trouble.

Bernstein’s name impressed me; his law firm, frequently advertised on television, is one of proverbial tenaciousness. I inquired whether Bernstein had already taken the case. Magi said he’d be speaking with him that afternoon, and in that flat impersonal voice we drop into when we wish to confide something very private, he said he had to keep the building because in one corner of its cellar there was an Aleph. He explained that an Aleph is one of the points in space that contain all points.

“The Aleph?” I repeated.

“Yes, the place where, without admixture or confusion, all the places of the world, seen from every angle, co-exist. I revealed my discovery to no one, but I did return!”

I tried to think. “I’ll be right over. I want to see it.”

I hung up before he could tell me not to come. On Keech Avenue, a passer-by asked me to wait - Magi was in the cellar of the Transportation Building. He came by shortly afterwards.

“We’ll duck down right into the cellar. I must forewarn you: you’ll lie on the tile floor and fix your eyes on the 132nd tile on the pertinent wall. I’ll reascend the stairs, close the door, and you’ll be alone. Some cockroach will spy on you -- easy enough to do! Within a few minutes, you will see the Aleph.”

I come now to the ineffable center of my tale; it is here that a blogger’s hopelessness begins. How can one transmit to others the infinite Aleph, which my timorous memory can scarcely contain? In that unbounded moment, I saw millions of delightful and terrible acts; none amazed me so much as the fact that all occupies the same point, without superposition and without transparency. What my eyes saw was simultaneous; what I shall write is successive, because language is successive. Something of it, though, I will capture.

The Aleph was probably two or three centimeters in diameter, but universal space was inside it, with no diminution in size. Each thing was infinite things, because I could clearly see it from every point in the cosmos. I saw Fielding Yost run from Depot Street down State Street to campus, saw Bill Martin, María Sue Coleman, and Ricardo Rodríguez meeting in an office in Toledo, saw Brandon Herron score and not score two touchdowns as lightning crashed across a blood-red sky, saw Louis Elbel scratching words and notes as rapidly as possible on a train leaving Chicago, saw a weightlifting room being torn apart and rebuilt, saw Theo Reddick outrun the Michigan secondary and instantaneously knew that Roy Roundtree would make it right, saw Dave DeTarr lead his team in perfect harmony at White Stocking Park, saw Shawn Crable’s helmet collide with Troy Smith’s, saw Mike Hart in unfamiliar green on the visitor’s sideline and knew he would someday return, saw a jug left abandoned in the University of Minnesota Armory, saw Ricardo Rodríguez sell Roundtree a vial of snake oil, saw my former protegés from San Diego de Alcalá fight bravely and Ryan Van Bergen fight more bravely still, saw Fritz Crisler’s Mad Magicians take the field at Yankee Stadium against Army and later, when I returned to my quarters, I recorded all the plays I could recall, saw what we can only describe as “The Horror,” saw Vincent Smith run, throw, and catch a touchdown in the same game, saw the earth from Apollo 15, a pale blue dot hovering in space, saw a desperate coach diagramming a play on the wall of the visiting coaches’ office in Notre Dame, saw Greg Mattison repair a stunned defense at halftime in Ryan Field, saw the door to Bump Elliott’s office close again and again, saw Greg Robinson at Mudpuddles in Kerrytown, purchasing a stuffed beaver, saw the vertebrae in Denard Robinson’s neck slowly twist back into place, saw the eddies and swirling currents above Spartan Stadium and I - foolish Borges! - thought in my vanity that I could teach young Robinson and young Gardner to see what I had seen, saw 10 athletic directors cast 6 votes for Ohio over Michigan, saw Nick Sheridan play an impossible and amazing game on the Metrodome carpet, saw a game ball delivered from the heavens by a man in a jet pack, saw Charles Woodson reach heavenward and pluck the football from the sky above the sideline, saw a stack of CARA forms lying unattended in an overstuffed file in Brad Ladabie’s office, saw Junior Hemingway make a touchdown catch in Iowa City and I knew simultaneously that he did not, saw a synapse fire in the brain of a PRMC staffer and the filming of “Space, bitches, space,” saw a cockroach call Michael Rosenberg on a cellular phone and the vile smile on Michael Rosenberg’s face as he wrote down what he heard, saw J.T. Floyd spend an entire game no more than five feet from Michael Jenkins, saw Lloyd Carr held aloft by a jubilant team while Tim Tebow sat alone, saw three overtimes and one unlikely miraculous final stop, saw four F-16s fly overhead and Brandin Hawthorne fly into Brett Maher, saw a record of 8-0 at home, saw professors grading Tate Forcier’s exams and wondering how it was possible, saw the look of sheer terror on Will Hagerup’s face, saw 11 tired, jubilant men fall from victory formation as a football-shaped grenade hit the ground, saw the Aleph from everywhere at once, saw the earth in the Aleph, and the Aleph once more in the earth and the earth in the Aleph, saw my face, saw your face, felt dizzy, and wept with joy.

I had a sense of infinite veneration, infinite pity, infinite redemption, infinite pride.

Calvino Argentino’s shoes occupied the highest step. In the sudden half-light, I managed to get to my feet.

“Tremendous...Yes, quite...tremendous,” I stammered.

Out in the street, on the steps of Michigan Stadium, all the faces seemed familiar. I feared there was nothing that had the power to surprise or astonish me anymore, I feared that I would never again be without a sense of déjà vu. Fortunately, after a few sleepless nights, some silly fellow tried to argue to me that the BCS made sense, and I was surprised and astonished that anyone could believe such a thing.

Postscript. Ten months after ground was broken on the new basketball practice facility and after Calvino Argentino Magi had settled in Arizona, there is one observation I wish to add with regard to the nature of the Aleph. Incredible as it may seem, I believe that there is (or was) another Aleph; I believe that the Aleph of the Transportation Services Building was a false Aleph.

Let me state my reasons. What I saw related to Michigan football and only Michigan football. I did never see what Mike McQueary saw nor did I ever hear what Laurie Fine heard. Had I seen all that was good and all that was evil, I would have tried to stop the evil, even if the Aleph had told me it was inevitable. Also, I did not see that Seth at MGoBlog would make a “Funes, His Memory” reference last week or I would have written this sooner.

Does the true Aleph exist, within the heart of a stone? Did I see it when I saw all things, and then forget it? One morning during practice, as I watched J.B. Fitzgerald practice from the coaches’ box above, the truth of the Aleph came to me: it is located on Frogstar World B, guarded by a man named Gargravarr, goes by the name “Total Perspective Vortex,” and has only been seen by two humans, Arthur Philip Dent and Tricia Macmillan.

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