Jorge Luis Borges - El Aleph

2021-06-30 @Literature

I’d read another short story collection of Jorge Luis Borges, this time, El Aleph. I then reread many of the individual stories. And still, analogous to my earlier experience with Ficciones, I shudder at the idea of analyzing a work of such vastness.

Though formally of the fiction genre, at least half of the stories could, without severe challenge, acquire the shape of philosophical or theological essays. For though present the notion of storytelling (that is, narrative), and itself of respectable quality, it feels a mere preamble in face of a more profound exploration. At times, caught in the labyrinth of existential thought, I’d nearly come to disregard the underlying genre.

I could also classify the stories as metaphysical prose poems. Immortality, randomness, infinity, the existence of infinitely parallel choices, causes, effects and numerous theological considerations (The Quran abundantly consulted) are among the common thematics comprising this collection.

Stories fork other stories. The contained stories then shape further essays, which diverge onto an alternate train of thought, which might eventually link back to the surface. I distinctly perceived recurrence and fractalization.

I can’t recall if this were the case with Ficciones, but the author sports a peculiar obsession for the tiger (or other ferocious felines in select cases). Especially upon the reread, I’d encountered the tiger story after story: as a symbol, as a metaphor, as a divine link, or as the very physical incarnation.

References appear in insurmountable quantities: references to literature, poetry, scripture, and philosophical schools of thought. Though plentiful throughout Poe stories, here they surface at quadruple the pervasiveness.

An inquisitive reader could easily become consumed in a whirlpool of academic research to examine even a quarter of unfamiliar citings. As for me, I’d limited myself to merely documenting a severe portion for future’s sake.

Borges also treads familiar territory, setting numerous stories in Buenos Aires and involving local history, legend, as well as ephemeral tabloid manifestations.

As for the individual stories? I’ll leave you with but terse remarks:

El inmortal explores the notion of immortality on an existential and meta levels. It also exhibits a curious portrait of the city of the immortals. And a lot more. Poe fans might also detect a commonality of sentiment with his stupendous tale MS found in a bottle (1833).

Los teologos concerns rival schools of theological thought, possibly to be construed as a satire, or possibly as a dream (as Borges makes mention in a postface).

El Zahir, among the longer and my favourite of tales, makes the focal point the Islamic, Curan-inspired concept of the Zahir: an object upon which, once exposed, the holder/beholder becomes irredeemably obsessed, everything else in life assuming the shape of a mere fragmentary shade next to the dominant and all-consuming Zahir.

In this tale, Borges includes not one, but two extensive catalogues of the different incarnations of the Zahir throughout history. Who knows what’s fictional and what isn’t? I also appreciated a reference to a remark in a Tennyson poem (from Lotus Eaters, presumably, with which I’ve a mild familiarity).

El Aleph (the actual story), in contrast to El Zahir (which focuses on a unique object), treats the idea of everything. One narrative concerns the Aleph, a concept and object of Semitic origin, projecting, upon the beholder, a view of everything, at the same time, from all angles. Take that as you will. The tale also features another, equally bedazzling narrative of an all-encompassing poem.

La casa de Asterión (the house of Asterion). Another of my favourites, notably terse, the tale, according to the author postface, is entirely inspired by a mythological painting.

La otra muerte (The other death): parallel realities superimposed, forgetfulness, redemption. Makes side references to a Ralph Waldo Emerson poem. (I surveyed the poem. It didn’t vibrate with me.)

Deutsches Requiem: a philosophical exploration of a condemned Nazi official. Exposes multiple viewpoints to both sides of the picture, surveying multiple philosophical schools of thought.

La busca de Averroes (the search of Averroes) - An Islamic/Quran inspired theological journey. Also makes repeat reference to Aristotle’s Poetics. Though hardly the focal point, this immediately got me hooked.

La escritura de dios - another theological first-person narrative concerning an imprisoned sorcerer and the search for God’s key sentence yielding all-encompassing wisdom.

La espera (the wait): not among the featured stories, but one of my personal favorites. A short, melancholic tale of a man awaiting his assassination in a hotel room.

The collection includes another batch of tales that I haven’t made mention of. Among them you’ll find a detective and even a parable. All are works of impeccable quality and insight. All undoubtedly reveal fresh dimension upon each successive reread.

I highly encourage the reading of both El Aleph and my earlier analyzed Ficciones in whatever language you can manage. Read slowly, thoughtfully. Reread.

Questions, comments? Connect.