Borges in the Terminal

I just gobbled up Jay Parini's beautiful coming-of-age travelogue memoir Borges and Me. The center of this book is Parini taking Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges on a road trip through Scotland. At this point in time Borges is blind, so along with leading Borges through the world, Parini has to describe the world to him. At the beginning of their road trip there's a great exchange as Parini attempts to describe the view.

“It's quite dark, the sea, in broad daylight,” I said, fumbling to describe what I saw. “There's a surf.”

“This is not specific enough,” Borges chided. “Talk about the running waves, the white horses on the water. Dark is not detailed. What are the colors? Find metaphors, images. I want to see what you see. Description is revelation! Words that create pictures. Like the cinema perhaps. Moving pictures!”

Borges constantly asks Parini his eyes. As the journey goes on, Parini gets better at describing the Highlands to Borges. This relationship between Parini and Borges struck me similar to how Zach Mandeville describes the relationship between a person and the terminal in “The Map is the Territory” (link)

The command line is pure language, and to exist in it is to practice all the reality-shifting and world manifesting power of metaphor and dialogue. This is a place of empowerment, tangible creativity, and mystic bewilderment. While it can be dangerous, it’s also exceedingly helpful if you know how to listen.


In the terminal, your main tools are eloquence and metaphor. You are constrained only by what you don’t know how to express. At the beginning this will be quite a lot. But language, like your heart, wants to expand, and as you spend more time here, a shared language will grow between you and the computer, spoken in a dialect entirely your own.

It pleases me to think of the terminal as a blind Borges, goading me to describe things better, every error ending with a beckoning to elucidate further.

“I want to see what you see. Description is revelation!”