Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Borges on the Thriller

In that dim callejon sin salida near the Prado which houses the bookshop of the blind Abu al-Uqbari, I came across a book which bore the stamp of the library of the Athenaeum Club in London, of which Dickens, Darwin, Kipling, Thackeray and Scott were members. No one of them ever dared write of the reason why the clock on its stairwell should bear, twice, the numeral seven, while the number eight is absent from the dial, though the book of another member, Sheikh Abdullah’s Harun Al-Rashid (London, 1933), presents a possibility suggestive at least to the sect of the Acolytes of Perdix (alectoris philbyi was named for him, rather than his more notorious son).
The pale tan binding in octavo minor and its slender spine, faintly edged with gold which had rubbed away over the years, gave little hint that there was anything remarkable about this volume, and I had picked it up out of curiosity. It featured, as an emblem or siglio, the head of a tiger; not the jaguar, that spotted tiger which walks in the labyrinths of the jungles near Cartegena, nor yet that striped Asian beast which prowled the pages of the encyclopaedias and natural history books of my childhood – now long out of print, and in any case burned in the fire, started by a mirror gilded in Venice by Cellini, which engulfed the library in Buenos Aires -– but the authentic tiger of which Iskandar dhu-al-Qarnayan (or Alexander the Great of Macedonia) wrote in his account of Atlantean wild cats. It is known to us only through the translation made by Lucian of Samosata, which was long thought lost, but which came to me through the rare book dealer Joseph Cartaphilus, of Smyrna.
That offered one hint; another was furnished by the fact that, rather than endpapers marbled after the fashion of Carlos Argentino Daneri’s slim volumes of verse in that high mockery of the lower reaches of the Beaux-Arts style for which Oscar Wilde had -– as he explained to Huysmans – not time to spare, being busy completing the translation of St Paul which he had abandoned during his final Schools at Oxford, the book was circumscribed by mirrors. These were of beaten bronze, in the fashion which had been condemned as decadent when it was first identified by De Quincey as being not – as Paracelsus had thought, and as Francis Bacon had written in the Organum Novum – in imitation of the decorative key of the labyrinth at Knossos, but rather a copy of the inordinately more ancient cypher which the Alephites of the Zahir of the Phoenix of the Ziggurats of Thebes had guarded so carefully, until it was disclosed by Stephenson in a letter to Chesterton, almost as if to confine the arrangement of the characters within, to turn them in on themselves so that their hidden meaning might be protected from the profane gaze of the more decadent cults which sprang from the meditation developed in Petra by the followers of Ba’al, and which was later to be exported from Heliopolis to the Freemasons of the New World in the tin mines of Northern California.
It was with no small trepidation that I gazed upon those words, hauled through a maze of mysteries, from the Sumerian cuneform inscriptions to the hieroglyphs inscribed on papyrus at Memphis, carried across the Mediterranean in great secrecy, and bound in caskets of ivory sealed with the tail-feathers of the Roc and the solidified blood of the griffin, to be pored over in the dim caverns beneath the Acropolis (for though the Parthenon is known to have been a treasure house, no one has yet spoken of the nature of that treasure) by the disciples of Pythagoras, whose knowledge passed to the Knights Templar and thereby to the scriptorium of Bede and the monks of Lindisfarne, and made out, through the stylised script, the words which adorned the title page: “Tough Shit, by Lee Child”, and the incandescent quality of the opening sentence: “A shot rang out”. But such things are not lightly to be spoken of, and I passed beyond that burning phrase, which may, perhaps, once again be spoken of in dreams, many years from now, when the language of its mysteries has been uncovered by eyes which are not mine, but more attuned to the Rites of the Sword of Theseus…

1 comment:

Hugh Penfifteen said...

Awesome pastiche of my all-time favorite writer! I seem to recall Picador Books had a similar parody/homage in their "Brand X Fiction" omnibus many years ago.