Jorge Luis Borges's Ficciones, what is it all about?

2021-05-11 @Literature

After ten or more years of continuously postponing to read Borges’s short stories, I checked out Ficciones at the local library and read it over a two week period.

Ficciones is the first short story anthology Borges published and arguably the most renown. Likewise, I didn’t find anything too unwieldy about the read: not in the language anyway. I remember struggling far more with the Cortázar shorts back in the day.

Now as far as the sheer breadth of ideas executed within these fairly short compositions, therein I perceive a far greater challenge and likely a struggle to even articulate in mutually intelligible tongue.

In fact, the very topic of mutual intelligibility and interpretation infused itself throughout one too many of those stories: Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, *Pierre Menard", La biblioteca de Babel, El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan [Garden of diverging paths, I suppose?] just to name a few.

The first explores the notion of imaginary worlds, detailed in encyclopedic meticulousness through generations of underground contributors, and the impact fiction can render upon reality in general.

Pierre Menard, one among my favourites, relates the journey of an imaginary author that aimed to recreate Cervantes' Don Quixote. Interpret that any way you wish. :)

The Babel Library, another of my favourites, projects an entire universe onto a library: though a library of finite proportion, yet one, how shall I say, countably intractable, within mathematically precise, yet exponentially inconceivable constraints. Then having imagined that sort of a universe, Borges proceeds to conceptualize its impact on the inhabitants.

El Jardin (the garden), likewise, relates a quest to decipher cryptic meanings within a book, the idea of which requires nothing short of quantum theory to articulate, less explain.

If that sounds perplexing, then you’ve a tiny sample of the mood to anticipate in reading most of these works.

In fairness, the tales undertake an impressively varied scope of ideas. Not since Poe (one of Borges’s sources of inspiration) do I recall this extent of erudition exhibited so craftily.

La lotería en Babilonia concerns randomness (as the ideas of determinism, unpredictability, fate, noise), just as (also) the Babel library above.

One tale (actually, far more than one, depending on interpretation) embarks on the concept and philosophy of dreams.

One relates the story of a man of a most singular memory faculty. Here Borges even exhibits a particular mnemonic number system, albeit one of horrendously intractable proportion. (Both Poe and Borges share a fondness for hyperboles. Heck, what fiction authors don’t?)

La muerte y la brújula features a detective motive inspired by Poe’s Dupin stories (the latter even referenced in course), and differing in character from anything else in this anthology.

El milagro secreto concerns literature, theology, dreams and metaphysics.

That’s just a sample. The remainder I shudder at the idea of even a one-sentence remark, as I likely require some rereads lest I severely misconstrued the underlying meaning.

But there’s no shortage of themes encountered: literature, language, combinatorics, quantum theory, magic realism, paradoxes, theology, Kabbalah, dreams, psychology (Schopenhauer another major inspiration), meta-physics.

Many question the very fabric of reality and fate.

Allusions to the ancients (literature, philosophers, poets) are aplenty, as throughout Poe’s works.

In some of the more mathematically endowed stories, I even detected hints (or at least projections) of Computer Science, although Borges authored these tales when the field was still in the infantile stage, making this the more impressive.

Borges repeatedly imagines a concept, an idea, an entire world that, however far-fetched, however unrealistic or even loony, he postulates as an axiom: this being possible, or better yet, this being a certainty, how would it transpire? How would this world function? How would it impact the populace: on an individual scale, on a national scale, on even a socio-economic?

That’s the sort of dedication I perceive in Borges towards his fiction, and it inspires much respect.

Questions, comments? Connect.