Accident no.20

2009

I’m having an exhibition at a small independent gallery. In the rush to get the show arranged I end up writing the press release. In describing the work I reference one of my favourite Jorge Luis Borges stories – The Map in the Sand. The story describes how an emperor’s cartographic obsession with knowing his empire leads to him commissioning increasingly complex maps – culminating in the attempt to construct a 1:1 scale map of the territory. The effort required to achieve this task ultimately ruins the empire – leaving only a few scraps of its doppelgänger blowing in the desert. The press release is duly dispatched out to the world and by the end of the show there are a smattering of reviews and listings that have used this text as the basis of their description of the exhibition.

A year passes.

I’m giving a talk and want to reference the same story. Being less stressed I have time to check the details. I google “Borges map.in.the.sand”. There is a cluster of results all citing this same story but as I explore further I realize that all these references lead directly back to my press release. There are no other references to a story called Map in the Sand by Jorge Luis Borges. Eventually, amongst my shelves, I track down the volume where I thought I had read it. It doesn’t exist. Or at least not as I had imagined it. After rereading the whole book I find a tiny half page parable called On Exactitude in Science. In this half page of text there is no mention of an emperor or sand but there is a description of an abandoned 1:1 scale map: “In the western Deserts, tattered Fragments of the Map are still to be found, Sheltering an occasional Beast or beggar”.

Sixteen years after his death, with the help of lazy journalists, it seems I have accidentally inserted into the world the spectre of a thoroughly new Borges story.