The Bad Infinity

A Passage from Luminous Airplanes, or Things As They Were: A Hyperromance

I’ve been thinking about copies some more, and I think I got this wrong—staying up all night must have scrambled my wits. At the least, I have misread “Tlön.” The point of Borges’s story is that the copy is different than the original. In the fictitious world of Tlön, there is such a thing as a hrön: an object brought into existence because someone expects it to exist. The hrön is identical to a real object, “and are, though awkward in form, somewhat longer.” It is possible to make copies of hrönir (pl.) in turn, and in each case the copy is different from the original. “Curiously,” Borges writes, “the hrönir of the second and third degree— hrönir derived from another hrön, those derived from the hrön of a hrön—exaggerate the aberrations of the initial one; those of the fifth degree are almost uniform; those of the ninth degree become confused with those of the second; in those of the eleventh degree there is a purity of line not found in the original.” And so on. It is, obviously, the same with Xerox copies also. A copy looks different from the pages of a book: it is flattened; contrast is heightened; colors become shades of gray; etc. And the copy of a copy looks different in turn. We think of this transformation as a degradation, generally—the copy is less clear than the original—but might it be that after some number of copies, new qualities are introduced, which were not present in the original? Might copying be a way to bring new things into the world?

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