Jorge Luis Borges
The Circular Ruins
Borges and I

The Fictions of Jorge Luis Borges: Some Themes

Text extracted from Harry Velez's FL380 site

1. Two main ways of looking at Borges' fictions:
A. Fables or parables designed to subvert, often with gentle humor, our comforting presuppositions about ourselves, our place in the universe, or the intelligibility of the material universe itself, that is, if it is in fact something other than a dream. (31 [Alazraki, Shaw]
i. Borges as a skeptic: the themes of his literary games are derived from the wealth of philosophical and theological systems invented by men and women. In playing with them as literature he shows their fictionality as well as our own.
B. Stories . . . about the act of writing. (. . .) with Ficciones (one of the books in Labyrinths), Spanish-American imaginative writing suddenly becomes more aware of its fictive nature, more ready to foreground and display its own devices. It thus compels the reader to recognize what is being read as what it is: fiction. (32) [Sturrock, Del Río, MacAdam]
i. Borges and metafiction: His works help "open the way to forms of literature which allude to their own limitations or parody themselves" (32)

2. Commonalities:
A. Form/Theme: The search for new metaphors leads to a search for new forms: i. There is no difference between fiction and fact; 'created' reality is as real as observed reality and vice versa; any attempt on our part to describe reality is bound to be a fiction. (34)
B. Problem solving: The fiction presents itself as a puzzle to be sorted out, not as a documentary or panorama of external "reality". That is its appeal, much as that is the appeal of religions, philosophical systems, etc.
i. Collaborative reading is active reading.
C. A turn towards the fantastic:
i. it is natural: part of the real world (ie. detective stories)
ii. it is supernatural: an imagination or illusion (dreams, nightmares, madness, demonic interventions, extraterrestrial interventions, the dead at work...)
a. sometimes we accept the happening but are uncertain about what it may mean and other times we cannot be certain whether or not the happening has taken place.. b. the fantastic tends to arouse fear or curiosity
c. allows the creation of suspense
d. allows to describe a privileged universe
e. the fantastic admits the possibility of higher powers above humanity
iii. can it be explained? sometimes yes sometimes not: a. active participation is required: the reader hesitates along with the characters/narrator
iv. It questions our sense of what is real and truthful

3. Does man create a mental habitat in order to maintain a comfortable reality? 31

4. Is there an order to this universe? A. Are we able to determine its rules?
B. Are we condemned to labor in trying?
C. Are doomed to never know? 31

5. Ficciones (from Labyrinths)
A. The motif of the journey or quest: Knowledge is either not attained or if attained is not a source of life-affirming values.
i. The Circular Ruins a. mockery: circular, unanimous...
ii. Theme of the Traitor and the Hero
iii. Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius
B. Metafictional stories:
i. Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote a. Literature and metaliterature
ii. Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius a. The invention of a world
iii. Theme of the Traitor and the Hero a. History/Fiction
iv. The Circular Ruins a. Life/Dreams
C. Stories of treachery, guilt and betrayal
i. Theme of the Traitor and the Hero
ii. The Circular Ruins
iii. Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius?
a. Bioy's initial "deception"
b. the engineer's death

Short Bio

Jorge Luis Borges.Center for Study and Documentation

"Borges and I" Hypertext

Notes on Todorov