You mentioned that Palermo, the part of Buenos Aires where you were brought up, had been a violent place full of bohemians and bandits. There they had two names for the knife, ‘the blade’ and ‘the slicer’. The two names described the same object, but ‘the blade’ was the thing itself, and ‘the slicer’ described its function. ‘The blade’ could fit in the hand even of a sickly child shut up in his father’s library, ‘the blade’ could be any of the superannuated daggers and swords belonging to his warrior grandfather or great-grandfather and displayed on the walls of his house, but ‘the slicer’, the knife in the hand slicing back and forth, in and out, existed only in his imagination, in a fascinating world of rapid settlings of accounts and duels over honor, an insult or a woman, in dark street where you never went, where no writer went, except in the literature he wrote.

‘I’ve always felt that in order to be a great writer, one should have the experience of life at sea, which is why Conrad and Melville and, in a way, Stevenson, who ended his days in the South Seas, were better than all of us, Vogelstein. At sea, a writer flees from the minor demons and faces only the definitive ones. A character in Conrad says that he has a horror of ports because, in port, ships rot and men go to the devil. He meant the devils of domesticity and incoherence, the small devils of terra firma. But I think that having experience of “the slicer” would give a writer the same sensation as going to sea, of spectacularly breaking the bounds of his own passivity and of his remoteness from the fundamental matters of the world.’

‘You mean that if the writer were to stab someone three times, he could allege that he was merely doing so in order to improve his style.’

‘Something like that. Soaking up experience and atmosphere.’

‘It’s said that the artist Turner used to have himself lashed to the ship’s mast during storms at sea so that he could make sure he was getting the colours and details of his painted vortices right.’

‘And it worked. But neither you nor I will ever experience “the slicer”, Vogelstein. We are condemned to “the blade”, to the knife purely as theory. Even if we used “the slicer” against someone, we would still be ourselves, watching, analyzing the scene, and, therefore, inevitably, holding “the blade” in our hand. I don’t think I could kill anyone, apart from my own characters. And I don’t think I would feel comfortable at sea either. There aren’t any libraries at sea. The sea replaces the library.’

Luis Fernando Verissimo, Borges & the Eternal Orangutan (one of the best books I’ve read in a long time)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.