Kaj Tanaka


A person can read something and not understand it at all, even something simple. My students, for example—they read literature voraciously, but when I grade their papers I can see they don't understand much beyond the basics. Plato was a man; Odysseus was a man; the list goes on. Or maybe I have misunderstood them, and hiding behind each of their offerings is some powerful truth, imperceptible because it is beyond me.

Last night, for instance, I dreamed of a pristine city that exists entirely in this man's mind. He showed me a picture of the city taken from a distance. He explained this was the closest any living soul had ever come to this city's massive walls, and then he told me a story. He had composed it, as Borges did with his later works, entirely in his head. He refused to let me write it down, which was my first impulse, insisting that his story was too fragile to survive the writing. I don’t remember what the story was about, but it was short, about as short as this story. The only difference between his story and this one was that his story was completely perfect.