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An Analysis of Jorge Luis Borges

Jorge Luis Borges was born in 1899 and became a prominent Latin American short story writer in 1930s. His major collection of short stories include A universal history of iniquity, Ficciones, The Aleph, Artifices, The Maker, Museum, In praise of Darkness, Brodies Report, The book of sand and Shakespeares memory.

Narrative style and the idea of unreal Borges stories are characterised by the different forms of narration it presents. The way Borges plays with time and space makes every story different from the last one. But on looking at the story carefully, we see the narration style a simplistic mixture of certain elements blended in different proportions to paint a new colour every time. Such elements like Magical Realism, Non linearity of time, creation of a fictional space, circular plot or timeline are the tools Borges implements with finesse. The most important of these elements is the unreal factor in his texts. Magical realism is a literary technique that we witness through the writings of a few other authors like Franz Kafka before Borges while several others like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Salman Rushdie after him, but the way Borges combines the two worlds of fiction and fantasy is quite different. Whereas on one hand we see Marquez using redundant details regarding a fantastic event to make it sound very ordinary, Borges shifts the attention of the reader from questions regarding the reality of the set of events by posing more entangling philosophical question from the event. For example, in Funes the memorious, we see the moment where the questions about the reality of Funes prodigious memory are overshadowed by the phrases he recites and the ideas he presents. Thus, Borges ventures into the world of fiction, without letting the reader realise that they have just crossed the line of distinction. According to me, that is what defines magical realism; when the line of distinction between reality and fantasy is so blurred that the reader never realises on which side is he. Apart from the stories of Aleph and Ficciones, we see numerous examples of Magical Realism in the stories of the book A Universal History of Iniquity. It presents collection legends about various adventures by people, generally criminals. These accounts, as generally happens with legends, have been exaggerated to the level of unreality but Borges presents it in a way that it seems quite natural and realistic. Through Borges we get a set of short stories that arent real. He writes stories in so many ways that some of them must require a widening of the definition of fiction in ones mind. Another type of his narrations is when he analyses a completely nonexistent story or book by an equally nonexistent author in a way that it seems to be totally real. Though it may remind us of some Double Fiction texts, but they are not the same at some level. The layers of the double fiction have a very intriguing relationship in this case. If one tells us that

the story and author analysed are real, then instead of being a story this becomes a review. The nature of one part of the story is closely related to the other but still there seems to be a very clear difference between the two. Generally, double fiction or hyponarratives have a story embedded inside a story. This imparts multiple layers to the story. For example, we have a narrator and there is his story going on while a story he narrates also forms a part of his life. Thus we have two stories going on in the narration, separated by time and space, with only common link being the person who is narrator in one and character in other. A twisted form of this is seen in Midnights Children where the character in the embedded story is also the narrator and thus the two stories meet up in the end. But Borges utilises the ambiguity that the reader may not know whether the embedded story is fiction or a journalistic account/ a book review. A perfect example of such story is Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis, Tertius where with an exception of the theme of utopia, the most basic idea seems to be to present Borges style double fiction narrative. The most intriguing part of this story is how the writer writes a fictional account of a writer, who wrote entire encyclopaedias about a fictional place and its fictional customs and culture. Another basic idea that embosses out is the circular nature of certain plots by Borges. Again, the circularity is not in the common style. Considering it with the example of the story The Circular Ruins, we can easily see how Borges gives a new meaning to the entire story by closing the plot in this fashion. The story starts with a wizard creating an individual in his dreams, growing him and educating him. But it does not exactly end where it started. It rather ends with the wizard realising that he himself also a piece of someones dream, someones imagination and thus it becomes clear that we end up exactly where we started, but now with a crucial knowledge, the lack of which was the driving force of the story.

The Labyrinth If there is one thing in his stories which is even more clearly visible than the unreality, then it has to be Borges fascination with Labyrinths. There are a few stories like The Garden of Forking paths and The Immortal where Labyrinth is presented as a theme. The garden of forking paths gives to us a fictional book which is written as a labyrinth. Unlike normal books where decision by characters decide which way the story leads, that book depicts a story in which all possible outcomes takes place and thus taking us to different ways. The intricacy of these ways and their possible connections with each other forms what seems like a literary labyrinth. In The Immortal, the labyrinth is used as a symbol of infinity. The town of the immortals is called a labyrinth and the frustration of immortality is materialised in front of reader by its comparison with being stuck in a labyrinth. In another story, The library of Babel, the fictional library is also presented as a labyrinth, in a way also symbolising the universe, which apart from just being infinite, is also very

symmetrical in nature. A specific book in this infinite library holds the way out of this labyrinth. All these stories employ labyrinth as a very strong motif. Though in The House of Asterion, he refers to a real Labyrinth, but for a major number of his stories, he uses Labyrinths as a metaphorical device to show to us the never ending nature of certain things like the strumming of guitar in the story The End where labyrinth is used to signify the seemingly never ending guitar strumming. Such examples are numerous in his texts and the repetition of the same metaphor cements his fascination with the concept. It is more like a signature, a word, a concept he seems to be obsessed with. One of his other short story collections even has the name Labyrinth.

Intertextuality Despite of the inclusion of unreal texts and authors as centre pieces of the story, Borges also bases his stories around a lot of other texts with Cervantes Don Quixote, Homers Odyssey and Iliad and Jose Hernandezs poem Martin Fierro being referred to very frequently. His vast knowledge of world literature is highly impressive. The very casual shift of discussion from Homer to Dante and then to Shakespeare establishes his grip over classical texts. This makes it a very difficult reading experience as the story has pre requisite knowledge for it to be fully understood. Many of these references being at the level of an object only can be understood with just factual knowledge about the text but others, like Martin Fierro and Asterion, require detailed knowledge before understanding the characters. In the story, Pierre Menard, the Author of Quixote he establishes an author who is rewriting the classic text Don Quixote but Borges reviews how it isnt merely a copy or translation but a new piece of literature. In The Immortal, Homer has a direct presence which brings in references to his Odyssey. The poem Martin Fierro draws reference in multiple texts. In my opinion, the complexity and direct inclusion of classical literary texts limits the readership/ legibility of his stories. To truly understand such stories, one needs to first read at least 50 more texts from which Borges draws inspiration.

Approaching the perfect A constant attempt to define and approach the perfect is seen in his texts. Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis, Tertius presents to us the search of Utopia which is a prime example of it. The story develops a picture of Tlon which seems to be ideal from a point of view. Even the entire concept of creating another world and just the world without any story, defining in detail its culture and geographical features and customs is in itself an attempt at putting down your dream world on paper. A never ending search for the ideal city seems to be shaping up in the thoughts of Borges while writing this story though it seems quite clear that such a city may never exist.

Another search is the search of god. The approach to Al Mutassim very explicitly shows the approach of a man towards god. But ending of the book before the traveller meets him is a very straight forward way to say that it is only about the journey and not the destination. Again, the idea that comes out is that God (The perfect) may not exist and the meaning isnt achieving what we are looking for but instead polish ourselves during the entire journey is what seems more meaningful. But all is not what meets the eye. It is the inner layer of the story, what remains are the criticism from the author which makes the entire concept multi faceted. All these are ideas presented by a fictional author and I think we can accept that in cases where the thoughts of this character and our author do not concur, we can conclude that it was only meant to generate a debate like in The approach to Al Mutassim. Such running commentary takes the story closer to the reader. When we realise that the person commenting is also a character in the story, then so are we and thus the narration in a way become second person. This makes it even more interesting.

The missing sex A very observant reader will always succeed in noticing the lack of female characters in the stories. With a possible exception of Emma Zunz female characters seem to be totally absent in these stories, the only discussion of women also being just in stories like Zahir and Aleph where the stature to women in the discussion is nothing more than an object. The exclusion of the women and sex are two things which seem very strange. Even when women are present in the story, they are highly objectified for providing sexual opportunities or facilitating further interaction between the male characters. But there is neither any explicit mention nor slight hint towards any kind of homosexual tendencies in his stories either. This kind of approach maybe a direct consequence of his own thoughts and life and a little research into his life story reveals his distances from them in real life as well. Another interesting point is how gradually this changes as we progress towards the chronologically second half of his collection.

The similarity in style An observation that I made during my reading was that no doubt Borges had a lot of ideas and techniques with him and what he did was to vary the proportion of each concept in a story to come up with an entirely new concept. But what is seen repeatedly is a helping hand in the understanding of these themes. There are stories which have been written with just one of these ideas in lime light. This helps us to extract the one idea and hence understand his writing style piece by piece. But still, nothing can truly by understood by making a sum of it parts and that is how Borges chooses to bound and elude us at the same time.

Stories Read The Cruel Redeemer Lazarus Morell, The Improbable Impostor Tom Castro, The Widow ChingPirate, Monk Eastman, Purveyor of Iniquities, The Disinterested Killer Bill Harrigan, The Uncivil Teacher of Court Etiquette Ktsukno Suk, Hakim, the Masked Dyer of Merv, Man on Pink Corner, Etcetera, Tlon,Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote, The approach to Al Mutassim, The Circular Ruins, The Lottery in Babylon, A Survey of the Works of Herbert Quain, The Library of Babel, The Garden of Forking Paths, Funes,His Memory, The Shape of the Sword, The Theme of the Traitor and the Hero, Death and the Compass, The Secret Miracle, Three Versions of Judas, The End, The Cult of the Phoenix, The South, The Immortal, The Dead Man, The Theologians, Story of the Warrior and the Captive Maiden, A Biography of TadeoIsidoro Cruz(1829-1874), Emma Zunz, The House of Asterion, The Other Death, Deutsches Requiem, AverrosSearch, Ibn-Hakam alBokhari,Murdered in His Labyrinth, The Two Kingsand the Two Labyrinths, The Wait, The Man on the Threshold, The Aleph