On the superfluity of camels

by look i have opinions

“Some days past I have found a curious confirmation of the fact that what is truly native can and often does dispense with local color; I found this confirmation in Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Gibbon observes that in the Arabian book par excellence, in the Koran, there are no camels; I believe if there were any doubt as to the authenticity of the Koran, this absence of camels would be sufficient to prove it is an Arabian work. It was written by Mohammed, and Mohammed, as an Arab, had no reason to know that camels were especially Arabian; for him they were a part of reality, he had no reason to emphasize them; on the other hand, the first thing a falsifier, a tourist, an Arab nationalist would do is have a surfeit of camels, caravans of camels, on every page; but Mohammed, as an Arab, was unconcerned: he knew he could be an Arab without camels. I think we Argentines can emulate Mohammed, can believe in the possibility of being Argentine without abounding in local color.”

—Jorge Luis Borges in his essay “The Argentine Writer and Tradition,” as translated by James E. Irby

Borges isn’t trying to give advice to falsifiers and tourists here, but I think what he says also applies to fiction writers trying to write outside our own experience.

By the way, sorry for the blasphemy, Muslims. (Or is it blasphemy to call Muhammad the author of the Quran? A good atheist ought to know these things. Anyway, googling the question hasn’t yielded anything.)

Advertisements