translated from the French by Sarah Smith
This story goes way the hell over my head. Like “Rats” and “Pallas at Noon”, “Emblemata” makes me wonder what a ho hum writer like me is doing in this anthology at all. It isn’t just that I have only the most rudimentary grasp of the concepts of buddhist philosophy. This is a story whose content transcends its form. These are themes that, if you handed them to me and said “write a short story to encompass them”, I’d tell you they are too much for such a small form, that it couldn’t be done–except maybe in the style of Borges, where the story ceases to be a story, the character ceases to be a character, once it has served its purpose and revealed the true immensity of its ideas. And “Emblemata” does follow that Borgesian structure. Certainly its main character, Iacovleff, dissolves into the whiteness of the page by story’s end. And yet there’s something that makes Ms. Sihol’s writing more approachable than Borges’, more immediate and contextual. Maybe it’s just the fact that I am in an anthology with her that makes me think somehow I might be able to learn from this, to do this. I know, it sounds like catching flies with my fingertips. But I’ve tried the Borges thing, and I can’t do it. This is a story worth studying, worth taking apart to see what makes it go.