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Borges Stories - M.R. 2013 > Discussion - Week Twelve - Borges - Death and the Compass

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message 1: by Jim (new) - added it

Jim | 3055 comments Mod
This discussion covers the story, Death and the Compass


An ancient game of cops and criminals takes place in the environs of the capital and Lönnrot ends up dead (again?).


message 2: by Mala (last edited Sep 10, 2013 10:43AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mala | 283 comments Another one of my Borges favs! A classic cat & mouse with a twist- imagine that for once Professor Moriarty outwits Mr.Holmes!
Over-intellectualizing sent Detective Lönnrot to a bad & sad end so I'll keep my thoughts plain & simple ( as if I were capable of over-intellectualizing!).
Esoteric, atmospheric,broody & full of symbolism, this story is a nod to so many disciplines that it's mind-boggling.
Borges tips his hat to Poe, who,with his Murders in the Rue Morgue, invented the Detective fiction. Borges' sleuth Lönnrot who "thought of himself as a reasoning machine, an Auguste Dupin'',becomes a victim of his own labyrinthine reasoning.
Gleefully,Borges subverts the genre fiction into an anti-detective one where the criminal mastermind pulls all the strings & in the denouncement, à la Poirot/Miss Marple, gets to lay all the cards on the table with a grand flourish & ever the pure reasoner, poor Lönnrot saves face with the fig leaf of Zeno's Paradox!
It's easy to see now where Robbe-Grillet was going with his fiction,also how deeply Umberto Eco was influenced by Borges' writings– The Name of the Rose also follows elaborate false clues while the solution turns out to be so simple! I've heard similar things being said about Foucault's Pendulum ( which I'm yet to read).

So far,an interesting aspect of the stories taken from the Artifices collection– The Shape of the Sword,The Theme of the Traitor and the Hero,&
Death and the Compass– is that they show a curious blending/mirroring/doubling of the protagonist & antagonist in that they turn out to be one & the same!
Here's an excellent analysis of this story tackling this aspect:

http://www.lehman.cuny.edu/ciberletra...


Mala | 283 comments In the Foreword to Artifices (1944), Borges wrote: "Death and the Compass (...) in spite of the Germanic or Scandinavian names in it, takes place in a Buenos Aires of dreams: the twisting "rue deToulon" is the Paseo de Julio, Triste-le-Roy" is the hotel where Herbert Ashe received, yet probably did not read, the eleventh volume of an imaginary encyclopedia. After this fiction was written, I thought it might be worthwhile to expand the time and space the story covers: the revenge might be bequeathed to others, the periods of time might be calculated in years, perhaps in centuries; the first letter of the Name might be uttered in Iceland, the second in Mexico, the third in Hindustan. Is there any need for me to say that there are saints among the Hasidim, and that the sacrifice of four lives in order to obtain the four letters that the Name demands is a fantasy dictated by the shape of my story? "

From the Paris Review interview:

Interviewer:
"Do you have any particular method for the naming of your characters?

BORGES

I have two methods: One of them is to work in the names of my grandfathers, great-grandfathers, and so on. To give them a kind of, well, I won't say immortality, but that's one of the methods. The other is to use names that somehow strike me. For example, in a story of mine, one of the characters who comes and goes is called Yarmolinsky because the name struck me—it's a strange word, no? Then another character is called Red Scharlach because Scharlach means scarlet in German, and he was a murderer; he was doubly red, no? Red Scharlach: Red Scarlet."


message 4: by Jim (new) - added it

Jim | 3055 comments Mod
Mala wrote: "poor Lönnrot saves face with the fig leaf of Zeno's Paradox!.."

I'm not up to speed on Greek metaphysics. Which of Zeno's paradoxes would fit the story?


Mala | 283 comments A labyrinth of the straight-line–which he refers to in the end,meaning,if the murderer is always taking one-half of the previous distance, then he'll continue to do so infinitely and never reach the destination.
The link I shared explained it very well.
Here's another one:


For the intellectuals:
"Two formulations of Zeno’s Achilles paradox attacking the infinite divisibility of space and time relate directly to “Death and the Compass” acutely demonstrating, despair/ambiguity, the impossibility of escape, the inevitable conjunction of fate, inexplicable violence and the movement towards and from immortality becoming one single approximation of universal impersonality. These labyrinths continue to endure principally for their aesthetic compulsion; because this presents the eternal return These “vertiginous symmetries”, have a tragic beauty."
From: Symmetry Of Death
http://www.borges.pitt.edu/documents/...


message 6: by Jim (new) - added it

Jim | 3055 comments Mod
Mala wrote: "A labyrinth of the straight-line–which he refers to in the end,meaning,if the murderer is always taking one-half of the previous distance, then he'll continue to do so infinitely and never reach th..."

Okay, the tortoise and Achilles one.

What did you think about the lines:

"When you hunt me down in another avatar of our lives.."

and

""The next time I kill you," Scharlach replied..."

Is Borges suggesting that these two are archtypes, maybe of good and evil, or perhaps principles of creation and destruction cycles?


Mala | 283 comments Jim wrote:"What did you think about the lines:

"When you hunt me down in another avatar of our lives.." Etc.

I felt sad about the ending cause the Hero/Good Guy shd always win,no?
Strange that the 'intellectual' Borges was taking an anti-intellectual stand here! The police commissioner Treviranus,with his Watson-like common sense,was right about several things. Irony is,even when his abstract reasoning led him straight to Red S's lair,Lönnrot tries to upstage him using the tortoise & Achilles paradox which perhaps Red S didn't get as his line " The next time I kill you..." shows.
Borges might be working on the archetypes ideas but I was more intrigued by Nadine Borholt's analysis that they could be two sides of the same psyche– going by the dense,allusive nature of all the sculptures in the villa in the final scene.( Click on the first link in my comment.)


message 8: by Jim (last edited Sep 03, 2013 11:11PM) (new) - added it

Jim | 3055 comments Mod
Mala wrote: "Jim wrote:"What did you think about the lines:

"When you hunt me down in another avatar of our lives.." Etc.

I felt sad about the ending cause the Hero/Good Guy shd always win,no?
Strange that th..."


The good guy winning is for childhood fairy tales which keep us believing that justice prevails and life is worth living, even though the empirical evidence leans entirely in the other direction. Without the resultant hope of justice and fairness, most people would find life much harder to endure.

Re: the psyche, this is well illustrated in the Taoist Tai Chi symbol (yin/yang) with dark turning to light turning to dark endlessly. Creation/Destruction cycles, etc...


message 9: by Bill (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 443 comments Jim,

Just in case they come up again, because they do, here is a good link for Zeno's paradoxes. People love these things.

This is the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, an excellent cheat sheet.

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/par...

Essentially the problem is how can Achilles capture catch up to a tortoise because every time he gets to where the tortoise was, the tortoise has already moved on

Nobody, including Zeno, ever believed the paradox, in this case, that Achilles couldn't catch the tortoise. They're in the nature of logical problems where the trick isn't to figure out "the answer" -- we know the answer, Achilles can in fact catch a tortoise -- but how do we explain it given the argument.

The link explains the solution as well.


message 10: by Jim (new) - added it

Jim | 3055 comments Mod
Bill wrote: "Achilles can in fact catch a tortoise.."

In that case, Scharlach will again successfully kill Lönnrot in their next incarnation. 'Twill always be thus?

Thanks for the link!


message 11: by Whitney (last edited Sep 03, 2013 09:51AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Whitney | 326 comments Jim wrote: "Bill wrote: "Achilles can in fact catch a tortoise.."

In that case, Scharlach will again successfully kill Lönnrot in their next incarnation. 'Twill always be thus?"


Great discussion! I loved this story as well; especially, as Mala discusses, the subversion of the traditional detective story. The common-sense Treviranus would normally be shown-up as the unimaginative plodder, while our brilliant Lönnrot solves the case with his esoteric knowledge.

I did think the reference to Zeno's Paradox implies that the characters will play out their archetypal roles endlessly. One thing that bothers me a bit though is the switch from the rhombs to the infinitely divisible straight line. The implication seems to be that we are entering the story at the beginning of the series. I suppose this could be another example of the 'expected' structure being subverted. Typically, a story like this would imply the process was eternal rather than just endless.


message 12: by Rise (last edited Sep 09, 2013 08:44AM) (new) - added it

Rise This story appears to be the inspiration of the novel, an elaborate whodunit, called Borges and the Eternal Orangutans by the Brazilian writer Luis Fernando Verissimo. A murder also took place in a hotel during a literary conference about Edgar Allan Poe. The victim was one of the conference speakers, found dead in front of a mirror, in a position that seemed to form a letter of the alphabet. Borges himself was in the conference and his help was sought in the investigation.


message 13: by Jim (new) - added it

Jim | 3055 comments Mod
Rise wrote: "This story appears to be the inspiration of the novel, an elaborate whodunit, called Borges and the Eternal Orangutans by the Brazilian writer Luis Fernando Verissimo. A murder also took place in a..."

I recently added this to my tbr shelf. Is it a good read?


message 14: by Rise (new) - added it

Rise It is. It's quite funny.


message 15: by Zadignose (last edited Sep 13, 2013 09:19PM) (new)

Zadignose | 444 comments The conclusion has similarities to The Garden of Forking Paths, but it postulates a different sort of time, as it's also fatalistic. Instead of infinite possible outcomes branching into the future, we can imagine all of the possible combinations and permutations of events which would lead to one inevitable conclusion.

The detective seems to have undergone a spiritual or philosophical transformation by the end. He's embraced a bizarre variant of an eternal return.

Perhaps the idea of multiple paths leading to one destination ( in time ) is an echo of the idea of all the four-symbol names which can apply to one God.


message 16: by Bill (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 443 comments Zadignose and Jim,

In Juan Luis Borges, Selected Fictions Selected Non-Fictions

Borges has an essay both on the doctrine of "the eternal return" ("The Doctrine of Cycles") and on Achilles and the Tortoise ("The Perpetual Race of Achilles and the Tortoise").


message 17: by Jim (new) - added it

Jim | 3055 comments Mod
Bill wrote: "Zadignose and Jim,

In Juan Luis Borges, Selected Fictions Selected Non-Fictions

Borges has an essay both on the doctrine of "the eternal return" ("The Doctrine of Cycles") and on Achilles and t..."


I have that on my tbr - should probably order a copy


message 18: by Bill (last edited Sep 16, 2013 06:33PM) (new)

Bill (BillGNYC) | 443 comments Ah -- The essay on the eternal return I was thinking of is "Circular Time." It's in the same collection.

It begins "I tend to return eternally to the Eternal Return."

(I guest just in case we hadn't noticed. ;-)


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