FL 380: An Archaeology of the "Boom":
Modern Latin American Prose Fiction
Preliminary Guide to Borges
The Fictions of Jorge Luis Borges: Some Themes
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)
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
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
iv. It questions our sense of what is real and truthful
Does man create a mental habitat in order to maintain a comfortable reality?
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
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
iv. The Circular Ruins
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