Thursday, March 24, 2011

Borges Prompt 1, second reading.

Jorge Borges' short story “Three Versions of Judas” is written in classic “Borges” fashion. The story is a work of fiction, but the style it is written in could easily cause it to be confused as a scholarly article. By fashioning certain stories this way, I believe that Borges could easily use his writings to insert his own opinions about race, gender, class, and specifically religion into mainstream culture. People who read his works masked as nonfiction are more likely to relate to and believe the ideas presented in the “scholarly” article then if the story were shaped as a fictitious tale.

Religion, specifically Judaism, is a mainstay in most of Borges’ literature. This is significant when one considers the time period many of his short stories were written during. Borges’ approach to Judaism can be described as philo-Semitic, which is the opposite of anti-Semitism, as he supported and wrote about Judaism in a positive light in many of his stories. “Three Versions of Judas” in particular was published in 1944, three years after the start of World War II. This story-essay is not Judaic in content, and instead focuses on the writer Nils Runeberg and his controversial religious writings about the Christian apostle Judas. His journey from a sane “deeply religious man” to an individual “drunk with sleeplessness and his dizzying dialectic” is chronicled in the short essay-story (Borges, 167). I found the correlation between Religion and insanity to be interesting. The initial idea that I thought Borges’ wanted to convey was that religious knowledge put an individual closer to God. On closer inspection, I saw that it was the opposite. Borges’ is implying that it is wrong one to “assume an error in the Scriptures is intolerable” and the punishment handed down for those who try to find inconsistencies or tried to find the “true” meaning behind ideas/people, is death.

Throughout the story-essay it appears that Borges is attempting to cast Nils Runeberg as an antagonist. I believe that this due to his obsession with trying to prove that the “inexplicable betrayer” was actually God in disguise (Borges, 165). It also may be due to Runeberg’s assumed German Heritage. As stated above, Borges’ was supportive of the Jewish faith, and was once even accused of being Jewish himself. This leads me to believe that Nils Runeberg, or even just Nazi Germans in general were the final version of Judas that the title “Three Versions of Judas” was referring to. The first was the original Judas himself; the second one referring to the Runeberg imagined Judas, and the last referring to the Germans who had a hand in the Jewish holocaust. The third could definitely be described as the “ultimate betrayer”, as they betrayed mankind with the atrocities they imposed against the Jewish people during WWII.

The last two paragraphs of the story-essay are important. It is in within these two paragraphs that remorse is seen on Runeberg’s part. At that point Runeberg realizes that he himself has performed blasphemous acts by speaking “against the Holy Ghost (Matthew 12:31) which shall not be forgiven” (Borges, 167). Runeberg however does not ask for forgiveness, and instead cries out “for a blessing-that he be allowed to share the Inferno with the Redeemer” (Borges, 167). It can be extrapolated that Borges’ believes that there are some actions that are so bad, that they cannot be forgiven and are worthy of “infinite punishment” (Borges, 167). This idea can be applied to both Runeberg's blasphemous thoughts and writings against God, as well as the onslaught of terror brought down upon the Jewish at the hands of Nazi Germany.


  1. I think this essay was good but I wasn't sure about what the essay was arguing as a whole. There were so many different opinions in one paragraph that it was confusing to read. Especially the first paragraph, even by glimpsing it, I could see that it needs to be divided into separate paragraphs.
    Also, i thought it was confusing in the first paragraph where you were talking about connection between insanity and religion and concluded with a topic about death.
    The most important thing that this essay needs to work on I think is the overall organization and a clear argument that you are trying to convey.

  2. In response to your first paragraph - do you think anyone is actually fooled by Borges' presentation of stories as essays? People might have a lot of trouble understanding him, granted - but unless they were presented very carefully in the right context, I don't think much of his work would be in any really danger of being taken as non-fiction. This might, in fact, be a question which could be addressed, at least in part, though outside research.

    The second paragraph is wordy, and it seems like you should be citing something here, but it has some good material re: philo-semiticism and error in scripture (an observant comment which could be the basis of a whole essay in itself, I think).

    The last couple paragraphs have too much summization in them *but* also successfully elaborate on the role of philosemiticism in Borges' thought.

    The problem here is ultimately one of form. The prompt called for you to pull a Borges, and treat him like one of his own fictional authors - you don't really do that in any visible way. You *do* address a worthwhile and interesting problem in 3 varities of Judas, but in the absence of following the prompt you do a lot of unnecessary summarization - maybe in place of "Borges-izing" your style