Mandala, a symbol of enduring mystery (Rubin Museum of Art)

A few months ago New Directions came out with a reissue of Jorge Luis Borges’ Seven Nights. Based on a lecture series Borges delivered in Buenos Aires in 1977, the book is full of the themes that will feel familiar to anyone who has read the work of this brilliant writer and towering cultural figure—Dante’s Divine Comedy, the Kabbalah, nightmares, the Thousand and One Nights.

I am still mid-book, so I am sure there will be more to share later on. But for now, here are two passages that struck something in me:

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We must reach the understanding that the world is an apparition, a dream; that life is a dream. But we must feel this deeply. In the Buddhist monasteries, the neophyte must live every moment of his life experiencing it fully. He must think: “Now it is noon; now I am crossing the patio; now I will meet the superior.” And at the same time he must think that the noon, the patio, and the superior are unreal, that they are as unreal as he and his thoughts.

One of the great delusions is the I. There is no subject; what exists is a series of mental states. If I say “I think,” I am committing an error, because I am assuming a fixed subject and then an act of that subject, which is thought. It is not so. One should say, not “I think,” but rather “it is thought,” as one says “it is raining.” When we say “it is raining,” we do not think that the rain is performing an act but rather that something is happening. In the same way that we say “it’s hot,” “it’s cold,” we should also say “it’s thinking,” “it’s suffering,” and avoid the subject.

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We may draw two conclusions, at least tonight; later we can change our minds. The first is that dreams are an aesthetic work, perhaps the most ancient aesthetic expression. They take a strangely dramatic form. We are the theater, the spectators, the actors, the story. The second refers to the horror of nightmares. Our waking life abounds in terrible moments: we all know that there are moments in which reality overwhelms us. The nightmare has a particular horror, and that horror may be expressed in any story.

Well, what if nightmares were strictly supernatural? What if nightmares were cries from hell? What if nightmares literally took place in hell? Why not? Everything is so strange that even this is possible.

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