A Weekend’s Respite: A Slice from the Nothingness of Personality

I really love writing this blog. But we all need a teeny break every once in awhile. And since I have family coming in for the weekend, I’m taking a week off from S.o.a.C. So I hope you all likewise had the opportunity to grab some R & R this weekend and I’ll see you next week for the 3rd installment of Syndromic Forms of Autism.

To hold you over, here’s a segment from The Nothingness of Personality by Jorge Luis Borges, translated by Esther Allen, for a little discourse on the philosophy of personality. I love that not only does he make a validly impressive point, but he does so with such delectable turns of phrase. The old Creative Writing Major in me goes all gooey. 😉


Borges, quite a personality himself.


I want to tear down the exceptional preeminence now generally awarded to the self, and I pledge to be spurred on by concrete certainty, and not the caprice of an ideological ambush or a dazzling intellectual prank. I propose to prove that personality is a mirage maintained by conceit and custom, without metaphysical foundation or visceral reality. I want to apply to literature the consequences that issue from these premises, and erect upon them an aesthetic hostile to the psychologism inherited from the last century, sympathetic to the classics, yet encouraging to today’s most unruly tendencies.

Course of action.

I have noticed that, in general, the acquiescence conceded by a man in the role of reader to a rigorous dialectical linkage is no more than a slothful inability to gauge the proofs the writer adduces and a vague trust in the latter’s rectitude. But once the book has been closed and the reading has dispersed, little remains in his memory except a more or less arbitrary synthesis of the whole reading. To avoid this evident disadvantage, I will, in the following paragraphs, cast aside all strict and logical schemas, and amass a pile of examples.

There is no whole self. Any of life’s present situations is seamless and sufficient. Are you, as you ponder these disquietudes, anything more than an indifference gliding over the argument I make, or an appraisal of the opinions I expound?

I, as I write this, am only a certainty that seeks out the words that are most apt to compel your attention. That proposition and a few muscular sensations, and the sight of the limpid branches that the trees place outside my window, constitute my current I.

It would be vanity to suppose that in order to enjoy absolute validity this psychic aggregate must seize on a self, that conjectural Jorge Luis Borges on whose tongue sophistries are always at the ready and in whose solitary strolls the evenings on the fringes of the city are pleasant.

There is no whole self. He who defines personal identity as the private possession of some depository of memories is mistaken. Whoever affirms such a thing is abusing the symbol that solidifies memory in the form of an enduring and tangible granary or warehouse, when memory is no more than the noun by which we imply that among the innumerable possible states of consciousness, many occur again in an imprecise way. Moreover, if I root personality in remembrance, what claim of ownership can be made on the elapsed instants that, because they were quotidian or stale, did not stamp us with a lasting mark? Heaped up over years, they lie buried, inaccessible to our avid longing. And that much-vaunted memory to whose ruling you made appeal, does it ever manifest all its past plenitude?  Does it truly live? The sensualists and their ilk, who conceive of your personality as the sum of your successive states of mind, are similarly deceiving themselves. On closer scrutiny, their formula is no more than an ignominious circumlocution that undermines the very foundation it constructs, an acid that eats away at itself, a prattling fraud and a belabored contradiction.

No one will pretend that, in the glance by which we take in a limpid night, the exact number of visible stars is prefigured.

No one, on thinking about it, will accept that the self can depend on the hypothetical and never realized nor realizable sum of different states of mind. What is not carried out does not exist; the linkage of events in a temporal succession does not refer to an absolute order. They err, as well, who suppose that the negation of personality I am urging with such obstinate zealotry refutes the certainty of being the isolated, individualized, and distinct thing that each of us feels in the depths of his soul. I do not deny this consciousness of being, nor the immediate security of “here I am” that it breathes into us. What I do deny is that all our other convictions must be adjusted to the customary antithesis between the self and the non-self, and that this antithesis is constant. The sensation of cold, of spacious and pleasurable suppleness, that is in me as I open the front door and go out along the half-darkness of the street is neither a supplement to a pre-existing self nor an event that comes coupled to the other event of a continuing and rigorous self.

Moreover, even if the aforementioned reasons are misguided, I would refuse to surrender, for your conviction of being an individuality is in all ways identical to mine and to that of any human specimen, and there is no way to separate them…

If you’re interested in reading more on The Nothingness of Personality, see Borges’ Selected Non-fictions. I highly recommend them.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

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

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s