Orbis Tertius

by Kiko Matsing

(Source: Landscape Canvas, Fine Art America)

It is no accident that I invoke the name of Borges. It is one of the supreme ironies in literature that its most erudite writer, who quotes fluently from ancient and modern texts, was going blind. It is equal to Beethoven going deaf. It is perhaps from this experience of density and opaqueness, this claustrophobia of darkness, from which we get the central metaphors of the library and the labyrinth for the ramified world (orbis) of the text.

“Now I held in my hands a vast methodical fragment of an unknown planet’s entire history, with its architecture and its playing cards, with the dread of its mythologies and the murmur of its languages, with its emperors and its seas, with its minerals and its birds and its fish, with its algebra and its fire, with its theological and metaphysical controversy… It is conjectured that this brave new world is the work of a secret society of astronomers, biologists, engineers, metaphysicians, poets, chemists, algebraists, moralists, painters, geometers… directed by an obscure man of genius… [It] is surely a labyrinth, but it is a labyrinth devised by men, a labyrinth destined to be deciphered by men.”

Borges’ planet seem to be built not on episteme–knowledge in the scientific sense–but, gnosis–mysteries alchemical and hermetic. “I assure you that anyone who attempts a literal understanding of the writings of the hermetic philosophers will lose himself in the twists and turns of a labyrinth from which he will never find the way out.” (Livre de Artephius, 1741)

Here is both pleasure and paranoia. There are delights in alchemic amalgamations (the marriage of sulfur and mercury, of sun and moon), and there are terrors of some obscure genius turning the wheels at the invisible and anonymous capillaries of power.

It is thus with trepidation that I embark for this planet Orbis.