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Borges in his parallel universes



By Niven Kumar (2007)

Where does one begin with Borges? What meanings, if there is any at all, do we glean from his work? Who is Borges? And how many? One? Three? Five? Is he Everyman? Or is he No Man? Where do his labyrinths take us?

These are merely possibilities in Borges' body of work which imply yet more possibilities, forming a labyrinth of questions culminating in a vague intimation of substance. Borges' ideal and, for him, real world lies in the construction of fictional universes, in the practice of fiction making. His art has been labeled metaphysical, philosophical, sometimes even anti-philosophical. Consequently, studies focus on his style as a means of gaining access to his world of meanings. In other words, style is conceived as containing the meaning of a work of art, "with stylistic devices appearing as significant marks in a literary language that expresses certain intuitions" (Ja n, 1992, 10). The initial purpose of such an analysis is to underline the unique features of the particular work, but the ultimate goal is the prospecting of meaning in the text. Yet, Borges himself denies that there is any meaning to his work, and that his interest in religious, metaphysical and esoteric truths is purely aesthetic in nature (Borges, 1964; 37).

What is the purpose of all his writing, if we assume that all writing is political once the pen has left its mark on paper? The key to this question lies in Borges' own interpretation of what literature or fiction making is, what is written and how it is read.

For Borges, the writer is a "mobile mind in a stationary body" (Sturrock, 1977; 39). While this statement seems innocuous enough, it contains a virulent insistence that imagination is the only resource open to a writer, and that a truly realist fiction writer does not exist. The writer's first act is to isolate himself from everything, and his or her second act is to duplicate oneself in two places and be two people at one time (Sturrock, 1977; 39). Hence, in Borges' fiction, the reader encounters stories about doubles, or doppelgaengers, in pieces like Borges and I and The Shape of the Sword (although this second story is more to do with a perceptual sleight of hand than a problem of identity). Because the writer is essentially a fiction maker, imagination, that constellation of chimerical images, becomes the world he inhabits and lives within and breathes, and which for the maker of fictions is essentially the 'real' world. For the writer, the imagination, despite its interiority, is an entity in itself, an exterior interiority, so to speak, from which he or she has to step away in order to apprehend. In other words, and for our purposes, the maker of fictions creates his own universes and, therefore, is subjected to the laws and conditions imposed upon him by this existential commitment. To be divorced from 'reality' in the idealist world of words, then, is to be doubly alienated through isolation and immobility – these are the two conditions required if the imagination is to be preserved from the distractions or 'invasions' of reality (Sturrock, 1977; 41).

Isolation alone, however, is insufficient for the maker of fictions to practice his craft. Confinement leads to inspiration. It lowers the number and variety of stimuli from the outside world and gives rise to a higher level of mental activity. He writes in the Preface to his Brodie's Report,

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The craft is mysterious; our opinions are ephemeral and I prefer Plato's theory of the Muse, to that of Poe who argued, or pretended to argue, that the writing of a poem is an operation of the intelligence (Borges, 2000a; 20).
Here, Borges is suggesting that intuition is not necessarily synonymous with the intellect. Isolation brings out in the maker of fictions an intuitive temperament. He argues that Poe is an intuitive masquerading as a mathematician (Sturrock, 1977; 49). He is a dissembler, Borges claims, but the Argentine himself is a dissembler, a mathematical spirit masquerading as an intuitive. Despite this, or perhaps because of this, Borges believes that it is intuition that allows the mind to pass from the mundane world of the everyday, replete with specifics and the minutiae of daily routine, to the linguistic world of universals. Intuition, in other words, is the medium through which we pass from existences to essences.

In the opposition between realism and idealism, then, Borges stands firmly in the camp of the latter. For Borges, the realist doctrine that all things exist independently of the mind offers nothing. He is a maker of fictions, and can only utilise mental phenomena as a means of understanding reality, and being part of it. He says:

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I thought above all of the literary possibilities of Idealist philosophy, let us say, rather than its intrinsic merits. This does not mean necessarily that I believe in Berkeley or Schopenhauer ... I believe I was thinking rather of the alchemy or unreality of the material world as subjects usable by Literature (Sturrock, 1977; 22).

Borges' chief goal, then, is a linguistic one, and one that is very instructive for critics and writers alike. His stories divulge not only the conventions and procedures of his own art but of the art of narrative in general, and to that extent they rank among the criticism of literature at the same time as extending the possibilities of creative writing. Borges wants to demonstrate the true nature of fiction: the immateriality of fictional objects, the distinction between causation and succession, the juxtaposition of the possible and impossible on an equal footing. By doing so, however, he inadvertently develops a new way of seeing and apprehending the world, and sets new standards for not only making fiction, but also reading it. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, for example, says that he reads Borges for his "extraordinary ability at verbal artifice. [H]e's a man who teaches you how to write, teaches you to sharpen your instrument for stating things" (Bell-Villada, 1999;44). Julio Cortazar, an Argentine, and an oft-considered heir to Borges' legacy, believes they both coincide in their "search ... for a style" (Bell-Villada, 1999; 44). Carlos Fuentes, the Mexican novelist, argues that Borges "blurs all genres, rescues all traditions, kills all bad habits, creates a new order, rigorous and demanding, on which irony, humour, and play can be built..." (Bell-Villada, 1999; 45).

The three writers mentioned above agree, however, that Borges' fictions are, as Marquez puts it, "escapist literature" (Bell-Villada, 1999; 44). To be sure, Borges' fantastical stories, at first glance, seem far divorced from the reality that we inhabit in our little everydays. His imaginary worlds, his non-existent novels and alien philosophies and landscapes are unimaginable and unreachable. They do not try to attempt any form of reflexivity, preferring instead to forever turning in on themselves, and referring to themselves, like a spiral staircase with no end.

However, Borges' unrealities, his forever multiplying universes, are not anti-realities. His fictions do not merely speak of non-existent landscapes and worlds. Instead, his unrealities are at the core of his aesthetic, and this he argues in his The Secret Miracle, is "one of art's prerequisites". They are not akin to the fantasies of the surrealists. Nor are they in any way similar to the soothing escapist, though elegant, fantasies of Tolkien. Borges' landscapes are disconcertingly suggestive of this world; his characters may inhabit ancient worlds such as Babylon and ancient Rome, or haunt imaginary spaces, like the Library of Babel or the circular ruins, but the fictional scenarios still refer to our own, even if obliquely.

Borges has, on many occasions, stated that his tales are essentially parables, veiled comments on real human problems. As such, they allude to reality indirectly even though they depict unrealities. Borges does not see the magical and fantastical elements as the luxuries of a bourgeois literary man. He sees magic as an essential and redeeming element in fiction making. The realist does not actually create worlds but merely expresses what already is. He suppresses artifice. He argues that the realist novel contains a contradiction. The central concern of the novel, according to E.M. Forster, an argument that Borges subscribes to, is causality. Having fashioned a plot based on character, the writer is obliged to look for reasons, be they obvious or implicit, for the events that take place. This succession of motives and occurrences claim to reflect the real world faithfully and objectively. The realist novel, by definition, represents the presumed working of natural laws. This assumption is untenable in Borges’ reckoning, since nature has an "infinite mesh of causes and effects" (Borges, 1970; 91). Nature has forces that are too numerous to pin down in a fiction. It follows, then, that nature is beyond formal control. Therein lies the contradiction. It is situated between the implicit philosophy of the novel and its intrinsic capabilities, its aims and material means (Villada, 1999; 54).

Magic, then, is a means to clarity and vigour. It has the evocative advantages of the atavistic, but it is also formally lucid, and intellectually diverse; "it is governed by all natural laws, and by imaginary ones as well" (Borges, 1970; 80). In this, Borges anticipates by thirty-five years the Franco-Bulgarian structuralist, Todorov, who, in 1967, conceived of the idea of imaginary causality, a term denoting those events that, though seemingly the products of a random conference of disparate elements, are actually informed and impelled by a greater, more mysterious, transcendental order of things (Villada, 1999; 55).

Imaginary causality, needless to say, runs through much of Borges stories. Not only is this employed by Borges as a stylistic device, it is a direct extension of his world view. Causality, be it divine or imaginary, has one basic characteristic – the loss of the Self. The individual is never in control of his or her own destiny when beneath the surface of all events and actions lies the spark of Chaos, that silent explosion of forces which orders and then re-orders our reality. Borges fiction, especially the more fantastical of his work, exemplifies this loss of the Self, and the struggle to come to terms with the revelation or discovery of our own unrealities. "Let us admit", he writes, "what all idealists admit: the hallucinatory nature of the world. Let us do what no idealist has done: seek unrealities which confirm that nature" (Borges, 1994; 207-8).

My intention in this paper is to focus on the more fantastical of Borges' stories, three in particular, in order to discover the secret universes in which Borges is a contented inhabitant. My purpose is to show that despite their esoteric and obscurantist nature, his stories do hold some relevance to the modern condition and that he brings to literature not only a way of writing, but also a way of reading it.

We have already seen that Borges' work falls well within the rubric of Idealism rather than realism. The fictions of Realism are recognisable by their concealment of artifice, by the normality or unobtrusiveness of their viewpoint on the world. In other words, they are characterised by their fidelity with which they seem to be transcribing a world and not making one up. Borges believes, however, that by employing language in the service of artifice he is exemplifying the real power, not the false promises, of words. For him, as a writer, words and books are reality, as they are for any writer. His acknowledgement that he will never, however many and various the tigers he imagines, accede to the real animal, is an acknowledgement that cuts deep into the pretensions of Realism. Instead of hiding his workings, as most realists do, Borges chooses to make these said workings the subject of his fictions. He vehemently argues that when writers purport to write about what they claim to be first-hand experience of the world, they are in fact using only a second-hand experience of it through the literature of their day. Roland Barthes, in his S/Z, demonstrates, to this effect, that the Realist depends heavily on the cultural stock of his time rather than any immediate confrontation with real people and places.

Reality, for the Argentine, lies outside of literature and language. He is not interested in the mimesis of Reality, but instead is concerned with the mimesis of convention. How does one reconcile the word with the thing, abstraction with reality? You can't, says Borges, and so he uses abstractions as the reality proper to literature. Borges' mind, then, becomes his absolute reality. He walks through it, suffers in it, struggles with it, enjoys it, and exhausts it possibilities.

The last of these is essential for our purpose here today. Borges' reality relies on presuppositions. Presuppositions are tacit. They are potential statements we are committed to accepting if we accept the statement which presupposes them. In his essay, Narrative Art and Magic (2001, 75-82), he argues that in order for William Morris's The Life and Death of Jason to work, the writer has to establish the possibility of the centaur's factual existence. Borges goes on to show here that through artifice and other linguistic and perceptual tricks, Morris achieves the impossible; that is, he uses lyrical verse to achieve a willing suspension of disbelief in order to establish the centaur and the adventures of Jason as factual truths.

Similarly, Borges' fictions, too, are full of 'centaurs', often so cunningly introduced that they escape notice. These artifices suggest, without pretending to represent 'what is', that the reality we know is always more complex than any possible representation of it. It is up to language, therefore, to only hint at this complexity. Its task is to dream into existence the possibility of impossibilities. In this dreaming, then, the permutations for what can possibly be are endless. The dreamer is, at the same time, the dreamed.

Nowhere in his fictions is this clearer than in the story entitled The Circular Ruins. A magician dreams another man to put him into reality. After many repeated attempts, he finally succeeds, but in order to bring him to life he requires the help of the God of Fire, previously worshiped at the temple which now lies in ruins and where he meditates on his project. In return for the help received he sends the newly dreamt man, essentially his son, down the way to another ruined temple to worship the Fire God. He is concerned, however, that his son might discover the fact that he has been dreamed (a humiliating discovery), because he learns of rumours of a man who can walk on fire without being burned.

Years later, when his own temple is surrounded by a forest fire, he walks into the flames, and is relieved to find that he is unscathed. Then, he understands with terror that he, too, is an illusion, that someone else had been dreaming him. The story reminds us of Hume's belief that mankind is nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions, which succeed each other with an inconceivable rapidity. The circular inversions of the dreamer and the dreamt, of dreaming and being dreamt, is firstly suggested by the epigraph Borges employs for the story, the incomplete thought implied when Tweedledee and Tweedledum explain to Alice that she is part of a dream the red King is dreaming at the moment: "And if he left off dreaming about you..." Here, Alice is confronted with the possible unreality of her self, since to be dreamed is to be nothing. This is a delightful infinite regress since the Red King is part of Alice's dream. The idea here is that while Reality is merely the product of one's real time dreaming, if you like, the possibility that our place in that reality has been dreamt by another makes it pointless to attempt to describe the universe through literature.

The Universe, or reality, therefore, is a chaos of impressions upon which any semblance of order is imposed or arbitrary. He concludes that,

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obviously there is no classification of the universe that is not arbitrary and conjectural. The reason is very simple: we do not know what the universe is... We must go even further; we must suspect that there is no universe in the organic, unifying sense inherent in that ambitious word. If there is, we must conjecture its purpose; we must conjecture the words, the definitions, the etymologies, the synonymies of God's secret dictionary.

The impossibility of penetrating the divine scheme of the universe cannot dissuade us from outlining human schemes, even though we are aware that they are provisional (2001, 231).
Borges is attempting, then, to create a "through-the looking-glass" world through his art, juxtaposing it with the world of 'reality'. The world of reality is created by our presence, like the images in the mirrors: impermanent, unreal and of mysterious purpose. This, of course, is not Borges' discovery but has philosophical roots in Berkeley’s work and earlier.

Borges considers Berkeley's negation of objective reality irrefutable and even easy to conceive and accept. He suggests the simile of the mirror:

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Regarding the negation of the autonomous existence of the visible and palpable objects, it is easy to reconcile oneself to it by thinking: Reality is like the image of ourselves that appears in all mirrors, a simulacrum that exists for us, arrives with us, gestures and leaves with us, but that we only need to look for in order to find it.
Berkeley denied matter. This does not mean that he denied things like colours, smells, tastes, and tactility. He denied that there were pains no one feels, colours no one sees, forms no one touches. He argued that to add matter to perceptions is to add to the world another inconceivable and superfluous world. Borges carries Berkeley's postulates and their logical conclusions and consequences to the field of literary creation to mould a literature that moves not within the world of everyday reality but in that of metaphysical reality. Whereas Berkeley wrote under the illusion that he was describing the real world, Borges' literary use of his ideas shows us that the world he projected may be just as unreal as the one he tried to undermine. These realities cancel each other out (Ja n, 1992; 53-54). In other words, like the magician who believes he is a Creator only to find out that he too has been created, we live in the terrifying grip of an infinite regress.

At the root of this story, lies the theme of Creation, which is related to the cyclical repetition of the dream. A dream implies a dreamer, and Creation implies a Creator. The orthodox argument that god is the uncaused Caused is "a mere juggling of words, a violence done to language" (Jaen, 1992; 58). For him, a speech implies a speaker, and a dream a dreamer; this, of course, leads to an endless series of speakers and dreamers, an infinite regress. Since in the world of experience every effect has a cause, the idea of an uncaused Cause introduces a contradiction to this principle in order to avoid falling into an infinite regress. Similarly, in The Immortal, the narrator says,

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Among the corollaries of the doctrine that there is no thing that is not counterbalanced by another, there is one that has little theoretical importance but that caused us, at the beginning or end of the tenth century, to scatter over the face of the earth. It may be summarized in these words: There is a river whose waters give immortality; somewhere there must be another river whose waters take it away (2000, 15).
This possibility that the next river you stop at to drink may be the river that takes away one's immortality relegates reality to a game of chance, with no end to the nightmare of possibilities. That our world is "full of possibilities", as the clich  goes, is an anathema, argues Borges, and that is why it is relegated to the level of a clich , sequestered in the world of language like a nun of the Cistercian order.

Further along in the story, the narrator tell us,

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Everything in the world of mortals has the value of the irrecoverable and contingent. Among the immortals, on the other hand, every act (every thought) is the echo of others that preceded it in the past, with no visible beginning, and the faithful presage of others that will repeat it in the future, ad vertiginem. (2000, 15).

The never ending sequence suggested here represents the endless possibilities of language. After all, objects are irrecoverable and contingent by accident of language alone. All this contributes to Borges' essential purpose of undermining individual personality and Self, individual meaning, and individual destiny.

This world view first appears in his essay entitled The Nothingness of Personality (2001, 3):

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I want to tear down the exceptional pre-eminence now generally awarded to the self, and I pledge to be spurred on by concrete certainty, and not the caprice of an ideological ambush or a dazzling intellectual prank. I propose to prove that personality is a mirage maintained by conceit and custom, without metaphysical foundation or visceral reality. I want to apply to literature the consequences that issue from these premises, and erect upon them an aesthetic hostile to the psychologism inherited from the last century, sympathetic to the classics, yet encouraging to today’s most unruly tendencies.
His reference in the last line to the classics is important for it signifies an interest in literature as form, as creation, as opposed to the romantic conception of literature as expression of self or the personality. Because Borges does not believe in the solidity of a personality, he questions the idea of character development in literature. Form is, in itself, a universe, a constellation of being, and it is through its exposition that an artistic, or creative continuity is achieved. He argues:

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I repeat: there is not, behind the face, a secret self governing our acts or receiving our impressions; we are only the series of those imaginary acts and those errant impressions. The series? If we deny matter and spirit, which are continuities, and if we also deny space, I do not know what right we have to the continuity that is time (2001, 321).

Here, Borges is alluding to both Berkeley and Hume. Berkeley denied matter; Hume denied spirit (Borges, 2001; 328). In essence, then, humanity is nothingness. Hence, in The Circular Ruins, the final revelation that the magician, too, has been dreamed suggests not only that the self is illusory, but also that the narrative that has led us to that revelation is illusory, or meaningless. It is the snake eating its own tail. This is his meaning when he stubbornly insists that there is no meaning to his stories.

However, we can go much further. While in The Circular Ruins, Borges shows us that the Self is an illusion, he also believes that the entity, the being of the singular 'I' is not one thing alone, but all the things in the universe, and of none. He argues that "Man is not matter, form, impressions, ideas, instincts, or consciousness. He is not the combination of these parts, nor does he exist outside of them" (Personality and the Buddha, 2001; 348-9). Not only is the self negated, but all things are negated, including the negation of the negation. Borges is here attempting to equate pantheism with the negation of the personality, for pantheism represents the fragmentation and the dissolution of the Godhead.

The central idea of pantheism is that the world is a projection of the divine or the transcendental realm. Therefore, the multifarious diversity of the world is imbued with unreality, and points to an underlying and essential unity. Borges employs the cabbalistic notions of the world as an intellectual or verbal emanation of the divine, Schopenhauer's vision of the world as representation of Will, and the Buddhist perception of the world as a dream of Buddha to suggest in his stories the "vacuity or banality of the differentiated world while affirming its fundamental unity and the equality of its parts" (Jaen, 1992; 79).

In The God's Script (1964, 169-173), or sometimes translated as The Writing of God, Tzinacan, magician and high priest of the pyramid of Qaholom is imprisoned in a cell divided in two by a wall of long iron bars. On one side of this wall is Tzinacan, on the other, a jaguar. The conquering Spaniards have tortured him in order to force him to divulge the secret of the hidden treasure, but he refuses because his God has not forsaken him.

In prison he begins to dream, recalling all that he knew, and in one of these mental sojourns, he recalls the tradition of God who, forseeing that at the end of time there would be devastation and ruin, "wrote on the first day of creation a magical sentence with the power to ward off those evils" (1964, 170). He meditates for months on end, then, remembers that the jaguar was one of the attributes of God. He sets about to decipher the secret word from the black patterns on the animal's coat.

Finally, he cracks the code, but, he does not use the Word to wreak havoc on his enemies and save himself and his people because, he says, he no longer remembers Tzinacan.

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Whoever has seen the universe, whoever has beheld the fiery designs of the universe, cannot think in terms of one man, of that man's trivial fortunes, though he be that very man. That man has been he and now matters no more to him. What is the life of that other to him, if he, now, is no one. This is why I do not pronounce the formula, why, lying here, in the darkness, I let the days obliterate me (1964, 173).
Tzinacan has seen the universe through the eyes of God. In the universe, all things are one and nothing. Like the magician in The Circular Ruins, Tzinacan finds himself unable to change the direction of his fate, even when imbued with the knowledge of Gods. The magician has the power to create a being into existence, but he cannot deny that he is both everything and nothing. Tzinacan has the power to obliterate the Spaniards and claim back his lands and his people, but he has seen the infinite processes “that formed one single felicity” and he becomes a personification of inertia.

It is clear that despite being criticised or labeled as fantastical or irrelevant, Borges employs universal themes, the predominant one being the disempowerment of the individual in the face of universal forces, and the loss of the Self. To be sure, other writers before and after him have dealt with the same issues. Kafka, among these, is the best known and is often compared with Borges. Whereas Kafka writes from the outside looking in, Borges writes from the inside looking in. By juxtaposing the idealist principle that all matter and spirit is illusory with the world of language and fiction making, he allows himself the advantage of exhausting the possibilities of and limits to creative output.

By using abstractions as the reality proper to literature, he extends the life of fiction making, and allows language to explore and describe areas of the human psyche. His literature of exhaustion is a silence that comes with the disruption of all connection between language and reality. Like Nabakov, Borges turns art into anti-art or silence, which proposes a "mood of ultimacy" (Stark, 1974; 3). Discovering that one has nothing to say, one seeks a way to say that.

The 'silence' that Sontag argues exemplifies the work of Borges is a silence that results when a Literature tries to subvert itself, to exhaust its own possibilities. In this, the literature of exhaustion differs from fantastical fiction, since the latter seeks to transcend itself. This self-subverting tendency stems, in Borges' mind, from William Morris's belief that the essential stories of man's imagination had long since been told and that by now the storyteller’s craft lay in rethinking and retelling them.

Borges' literature is about literature. Writers of this kind of literature build an artificial construct, rather than rendering in artistic form meaningful details from a meaning-laden world. They care not for character or plot. The most vivid exposition of the reason why he creates artificial literature can be found in the essayistic story, The Library of Babel:

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At that time a great deal was said about the Vindications: books of apology and prophecy which vindicated for all time the acts of every man in the universe and retained prodigious arcana for his future. Thousands of the greedy abandoned their sweet native hexagons and rushed up the stairways, urged on by the vain intention of finding their Vindication. These pilgrims disputed in the narrow corridors, proffered dark curses, strangled each other on the divine stairways, flung the deceptive books into the air shafts, met their death cast down in a similar fashion by the inhabitants of remote regions. Others went mad... The Vindications exist (I have seen two of which refer to persons of the future, to persons who perhaps are not imaginary) but the searchers did not remember that the possibility of a man's finding his Vindication, or some treacherous variation thereof, can be computed as zero (1964, 55).
The world is inexhaustible, and no man can be completely understood, suggests Borges, and this reminds us of Edmund Husserl's notion of the self's ultimate unknowability, and that it, like the rest of everyday reality, is unreal. A couple of paragraphs down, Borges continues:

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There are official searchers, inquisitors. I have seen them in the performance of their function: they always arrive extremely tired from their journeys; they speak of a broken stairway which almost killed them; they talk with the librarian of galleries and stairs; sometimes they pick up the nearest volume and leaf through it, looking for infamous words. Obviously, no one expects to discover anything (1964, 55).

The Universe, then, which Borges calls the Library of Babel, is infinite because all that can be written about it has already been written. The Library exists ab aeterno. Man is the imperfect librarian looking for the chance infamous Word, not realising that he, too, is the product of chance or of malevolent demiurgi. Further, because the Library can only be the work of a god, as Borges claims in the story, those who try to dissemble or emulate the divine structure are reduced to pathetic figures "in latrines with some metal disks in a forbidden dice cup" who "feebly mimic the divine disorder" (1964, 56).

In other words, while the universe may be infinite, what we can apprehend of it through language is finite. The Library, says Borges, "is unlimited and cyclical. If an eternal traveller went to cross it in any direction, after centuries he would see that the same volumes were repeated in the same disorder (which, thus repeated, would be an order: the Order)" (1964, 58).

Borges' universes, then, are limitless entities, abounding in a multitude of forms, crossing over time and space, their boundaries determined only by the extent of Borges' imagination and language. Reality lies outside of this equation, carries no weight, save for the realities we create in our own minds when we read, for example, of a high priest called Tzinacan, who unravels the secret code of God from the invisible circular designs on the jaguar's coat. The Wheel that Tzinac n discovers and which he explains in his mind is, in fact, the wheel our own minds construct from the cultural stock at our disposal. We do not need to consciously learn that Borges has borrowed the idea of the Buddhist Wheel of Life; we know this from our own vague internal, muddled realities, which collect like moths to a light source, and through which we sift to retrieve what we need. Borges' games, then, include the readers. We are unwitting conspirators in his diabolical labyrinthine puzzles.

Borges is not a magic realist, despite the magical elements. More accurately, he is a literary critic and theorist. He does not theorise the short story form. Rather, he theorises writing. Read in this manner, Borges' task becomes clear.

Borges merely articulates in literary form what we articulate in the form of vaguely apprehended snippets of social and cultural reality. He gives voice to our inner urges, the chaotic order that characterises our dream state. Such reverie weaves soft bonds around the dreamer, and poetises the dreamer. Perhaps, this is Borges' ultimate goal – to attain a purity of form, both in apprehension and expression. This purity is meant to achieve a cognitive resonance within the experience of the reader, to emulate a dream sequence and to extend the limits of a linguistically engendered reality. He forces us, as both writers and readers to confront literature as a mirror (that negates) of the Universe.

Ultimately, Borges is perhaps suggesting that literary creation is the same as the reading of it. Perhaps, he is saying that all our ideas are games of chance that point to one fundamental fact – the objects we dream have already dreamt us.


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Works Cited:

  • Bell-Villada, Gene H., Borges and His Fiction: A guide to His Mind and Art (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1999).
  • Borges, Jorge Luis, Labyrinths (New York: New Directions, 1964).
  • _______________ Dreamtigers (New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., 1970).
  • _______________ The Aleph (London: Penguin Classics, 2000).
  • _______________ Brodie's Report (London: Penguin Classics, 2000a).
  • _______________ The Total Library (London: Penguin Classics, 2001).
  • Jaen, Didier T., Borges' esoteric library: metaphysics to metafiction (Lanham: University Press of America, 1992).
  • Stark, John, The Literature of Exhaustion: Borges, Nabokov, and Barth (Durham, N.C: Duke University Press, 1974).
  • Sturrock, John, Paper tigers: the ideal fictions of Jorge Luis Borges (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977).

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