Throughout the tenure of the Legend of Korra (including its previous iteration Avatar: The Last Airbender) its creators have pulled from myriad sources for inspiration. The fluid movements of the Water Nation are based on the art of T’ai Chi; The Lord of the Rings Trilogy helped form the show’s travel story; and the guiding principals of Hinduism are the tenets that structure the Air-Nomad society.
In the most recent episode, we find the young Avatar echoing the writings of Jorge Luis Borges. The young protagonist is consumed with fear. She often wakes from fever-dreams, paralyzed with visions of her battle with Zaheer, an idealist hell-bent on destruction. Despite the 3 years she’s spent recovering from her near-death battle with him, he continues to haunt her.
And since then she’s lost her mobility – both literally and figuratively. She’s been temporarily confined to a wheelchair and become a prisoner of her own mind, unable to move on from the pangs of the past.
“You’re not sleeping,” Her mother caringly laments, “you’re barely eating…it’s been 3 weeks.”
The festering obsession that Korra has with Zaheer mirrors the fixation stirred by a twenty-centavo coin in Borges’ short story “El Zahir”. The names alone are a painfully clear connection. The story, which itself draws inspiration from the Islamic ideals of the Zahir, recounts the absolute debilitation that comes with obsession.
“[I]n Muslim countries,” Borges tells us, “the masses use the word for beings or things which have the terrible powers to be unforgettable, and whose image eventually drives people mad.”
Zaheer has always been an idea. He was the idea of unadulterated anarchy: a world ruled without order, the Four Nations or the avatar. A world hinged on chaos.
“He chose to find meaning in his suffering and eventually found peace,” Katara tells an embattled Korra.
But in her current state, Korra can’t find that peace. She continually sees apparitions of herself in the Avatar state – a level of being where she’s at her strongest and most vulnerable. She’s at war with herself, with the obsession that Zaheer has instilled within her: Maybe the world doesn’t need an Avatar.
“I could not rid myself of my idée fixe”, Borges writes. And neither can Korra.
Shortly after she regains her ability to walk, she decides to leave for Republic City, where she’ll “clear her head” and regroup with friends. But on the way she fails to stop two common street thieves – and even the local shopkeeper begins to wonder, “You sure she’s the Avatar?”
Korra ultimately decides to sail away from the shores of Republic City. The background: a towering statue of her previous incarnation Avatar Aang. She’s elected the path of the pariah, and left her family and friends.
She eventually finds herself in an unknown locale. In the rippling waters of a reflective pool, she looks at herself as she cuts off her hair – a gesture across many cultures, including Ancient Asia, symbolizing her banishment.
Throughout the series - as seen here - Korra has undergone constant change. And in "El Zahir" Borges’ characters are no different.
“She passed through endless metamorphoses as though fleeing from herself; her coiffure and the color of her hair were famously unstable, as were her smile, her skin, and the slant of her eyes”, Borges writes of Teodelina, a woman in “El Zahir” whom he held deep infatuation for, even in her death.
And that’s where the true level of obsession lies. It’s not exactly a 20-centavo coin that holds the spark of Borges’ unwavering fixation – it’s Teodelina. The moneda is mere simulacra. For Korra, it’s not Zaheer, but the insidious idea that she’s not needed.
In Korra’s absence, order has seemingly been restored. The Earth Nation is close to being reunited (although there’s tension growing about how it’s being reunited). A group of airbending agents, headed by Ginora, has kept order. Her friends have moved on. And she’s exiled herself to an unknown location, where she competes in – and loses – bending battles.
It’s here – away from the reminders of her inability to fulfill her role as the Avatar –that she’s trying to rid herself of her obsession, her fear.
Borges did the same, ridding himself of the 20-centavo coin; using it to pay for another drink in a neighborhood of Buenos Aires he consciously avoids the name and location of. Zaheer is incarcerated. But the ideas that both Zahirs conjure continue their insidious festering. And as days pass, the fixation becomes stronger. “Time,” Borges writes, “which softens memories, only makes the memory of the Zahir sharper.”
Zaheer will continue to be an idée fixe for Korra. The idea of her insignificance consumes her and drives her. And maybe it’s here, in her suffering and exile, that she’ll find peace.
from the album I wish my brother Rob was here
Can’t stop listening to Milo. Infectious “nerd-hop”
The Legend Of Korra is indebted to Jorge Luis Borges. Zaheer (as in “El Zahir”) has “consumed” Korra, much like the moneda from Borges’ short story. And now she can “think of nothing else, until at last [her] personality cease[s] to exist.”
My 2014 Fantasy Football team: Mighty, Mor-o-les
“At the center of this study is the theory of spatial entitlement: the spatial strategies and vernaculars utilized by working class youth to resist the demarcations of race and class that emerged in the postwar era.”
This book sounds incredible - definitely a counterpoint to the dominant narratives I often hear or read about Hispanic/Black relations.
It has been a slow week of reruns, so this happened.
Windfarm | Tuscola, TX