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224 pages, Paperback
First published January 1, 1944
I owe the discovery of Uqbar to the conjunction of a mirror and an encyclopedia. The mirror troubled the far end of a hallway in a large country house on Calle Gaona, in Ramos Mejia; the encyclopedia is misleadingly titled The Anglo-American Cyclopaedia (New York, 1917), and is a literal (though also laggardly) reprint of the 1902 Encyclopœdia Britannica. The event took place about five years ago.
With one quick look, you and I perceive three wineglasses on a table; Funes perceived every grape that had been pressed into the wine and all the stalks and tendrils of its vineyard. He knew the forms of the clouds in the southern sky on the morning of April 30, 1882, and he could compare them in his memory with the veins in the marbled binding of a book he had seen only once, or with the feathers of spray lifted by an oar on the Rio Negro on the eve of the Battle of Quebracho. Nor were those memories simple – every visual image was linked to muscular sensations, thermal sensations, and so on. He was able to reconstruct every dream, every daydream he had ever had.
Con alivio, con humillación, con terror, comprendió que él también era una apariencia, que otro estaba soñándolo.
With relief, with humiliation, with terror, he realized that he, too, was but appearance, that another man was dreaming him.
…los espejos y la cópula son abominables, porque multiplican el número de los hombres.
Mirrors and copulation are abominable, for they multiply the number of mankind.
Like every writer, he measured the virtues of other writers by their performance, and asked that they measure him by what he conjectured or planned.An ironic dig, but that phrase is more than a shot fired. Borges is fascinated by the concept that if something has been thought about, has acquired meaning through that contemplation, then that something has become real. Thought creates its own reality, and reality is composed of varied systems of being and behavior; thought becomes the way that reality is interpreted - and therefore enacted.
The nations of that planet [Tlön] are congenitally idealist. Their language, with its derivatives ― religion, literature, and metaphysics ― presupposes idealism. For them, the world is not a concurrence of objects in space, but a heterogeneous series of independent acts. It is serial and temporal, but not spatial. There are no nouns in the hypothetical Ursprache of Tlön, which is the source of the living language and the dialects; there are impersonal verbs qualified by monosyllabic suffixes or prefixes which have the force of adverbs.Heady stuff! This twenty page story (the longest in the book) is so abstruse and heavily laden with philosophical ideas and allusions that I found it almost completely impenetrable. It reminded me of trying to read James Joyce’s Ulysses. I was so completely lost that I’ll confess I had to put this book down and retreat to a fluffy romance while I mentally regrouped for another attack on this book. Brain cell verdict: no response. They totally shorted out on this one.
He understood that modeling the incoherent and vertiginous matter of which dreams are composed was the most difficult task that a man could undertake, even though he should penetrate all the enigmas of a superior and inferior order; much more difficult than weaving a rope out of sand or coining the faceless wind.It’s still a challenge, but my brain cells are starting to feel a little more hopeful. So we moved on to …
To think is to forget a difference, to generalize, to abstract. In the overly replete world of Funes there were nothing but details, almost contiguous details.This tale was, again, a little too opaque and short on plot for me to really enjoy. The brain cells were grumbling a little.
On the second floor, on the top story, the house seemed to be infinite and growing. The house is not this large, he thought. It is only made larger by the penumbra, the symmetry, the mirrors, the years, my ignorance, the solitude.This detective story had enough philosophy in it to make it intriguing and give it more depth than a typical mystery, but not overload my brain cells, which are feeling like they’re now on a roll.
In the allegory of the Phoenix I imposed upon myself the problem of hinting at an ordinary fact ― the Secret ― in an irresolute and gradual manner, which, in the end, would prove to be unequivocal; I do not know how fortunate I have been. Of “The South,” which is perhaps my best story, let it suffice for me to suggest that it can be read as a direct narrative of novelistic events, and also in another way.“The South” ― This is one of my favorite stories in this collection, as well as Borges’. The main character is Juan Dahlmann, a mixture of German and Spanish ancestry, whose life is mundane but who dreams vaguely of a more romantic life, inspired by the Flores side of his heritage and the Flores ranch in the South that he owns but has never visited. One day Dahlmann brushes his forehead against something in a dark stairway and realizes afterwards that he is bleeding. He develops a life-threatening infection and is taken to a sanitarium for treatment. After many excruciatingly painful and feverish days, he recovers, and decides that he will take a trip to his ranch to convalesce. He travels out of the city on a train, feeling as though he is traveling into the past, and has an unexpected confrontation as he nears his final destination. Or does he? You decide, but several clues in the text ― a mysterious cat, a spitball that brushes his face, a dagger tossed to him by an old gaucho ― have led me unequivocally to my own conclusion. The brain cells, by the way, were completely engaged by this tale, which was complex and layered enough to make me think, but didn’t lose me in a labyrinth of difficult-to-grasp ideas.
“Blind to all fault, destiny can be ruthless at one's slightest distraction.”Reading Jorge Luis Borges is a bewildering experience and a challenge all in one. There is no logically understanding the mazes Borges creates, but that is what fantastical-realism is all about. Ficciones is a labyrinth, beautiful and witty, of ideas and feelings that mock and conquers the reader.
“When it was proclaimed that the Library contained all books, the first impression was one of extravagant happiness. All men felt themselves to be the masters of an intact and secret treasure. There was no personal or world problem whose eloquent solution did not exist in some hexagon. The universe was justified, the universe suddenly usurped the unlimited dimensions of hope. 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 which refer to persons of the future, to persons who are perhaps 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.”A masterpiece, not to be missed!