Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Circular Ruins, Quain and Borges

The Circular Ruins, to me, was the most intriguing of the Borges stories. Although I enjoyed it on the surface, I came to like it even more once I learned about in more depth during class. The Circular Ruins was the most accessible of plots, making it easier to read and enjoy. The barest outline of the plot is that man sets out on a quest to create a son. He does this by meditating to the point of slumber, slowly creating this person and then bringing him to “life” with the sacred Fire. This story really is circular because the main character goes from creating a son to worrying that his creation is going to know that he is not real. He then realizes that he needn’t worry because he is a dream too.

Borges admits that this story is owned in all or in part to Herbert Quain is interesting. In Borges’ Survey of the Works of Herbert Quain, he quoted Quain as saying, “That of the many kinds of pleasure literature can minister, the highest is the pleasure of the imagination.”(111) Considering that an author said this, I believe it is warranted to say that he values imagination above all things. To show the significance of Quain’s connection with Borges, this essay will explore different areas in The Circular Ruins where Quain’s idea about imagination is quite evident.

The first area is the plot. In the story, a man decides to create a son solely from his mind and make him flesh. He does this while in a dream state and indeed succeeds in his quest. It is so firmly about imagination and creativity that Borges alludes to the idea that it is acceptable when creating something to use a model. When the sorcerer first tries to create a son, he tries to use a student that he handpicked from a dream lecture. It was not one dream session after he picks his target that the man suffers from a bought of insomnia. When he finally sleeps again, he is unable to recall the student-model. When the sorcerer starts again, he begins from the heart. When he starts this way, he is finally successful and makes a boy. MY estimation is that the sorcerer was not allowed to continue on his quest until he understood the true meaning of imagination.

The crafting of the heart is another example of Quain’s emphasis on imagination. “He dreamed it, with painstaking love, for fourteen brilliant nights. Each nights he perceived it with greater clarity, greater certainty. He did not touch it: he only witnessed it, observed it, corrected it, perhaps, with his eyes.” (98) The heart is your center and it is connected to your soul. If your soul is not original and imaginative, neither is the rest of you. Therefore, it is the center of your imagination.

The fact that the son exists solely in his “father’s” mind is another factor in the importance of imagination. That the father was able to create the son wholly, to the point that he believed the son was real is a testament to the importance and potency of imagination. The father says, ”Now I will be with my son.”(99) He creates a world in his imagination for his son as well. The power of the mind, it seems, knows no bounds.

The father does recognize that not only is his son not real but it also realizes, “With humiliation, with terror, he realized that he, too, was but appearance, that another man was dreaming him.”(100) This is a key part in the story because although we already get the idea that imagination is vast, it is driven home by this thought. Not only did the father dream his son, but also, the father, has been dreamed by another person. This leads the reader to believe that all the people of the world are a figure of another’s imagination. To extend that, we could say that everyone owed their existence to another person and by extension, that person’s imagination.

The Circular Ruins is a story about imagination and I think it’s message is that imagination really knows no boundaries. Not only was the sorcerer not able to complete his creation until he imagined something entirely new, he also imbued the creation’s spirit with it’s own imagination. The play comes full circle when we see that everyone is just a figment of someone else’s imagination. That is a powerful statement and one that I believe comes straight from the influence of Quain. Imagination is easily the key theme of the story and this key is an ode to Herbert Quain.


  1. 1st paragraph

    You just say how you liked the story and It was easy to read.
    You give a short summary of the Sorcerer creating his son thanks to Fire
    but the Thesis that the story is in itself circular, however a a good point, isnt really your focus through out the essay.

    2nd paragraph

    You relate the two stories, however this should have been done in the first paragraph. Your actual thesis, of imagination and how its pleasure, is what should have been last in the first paragraph as well. Lastly, just from reading other things, i've read that youre not supposed to say things like “this essay will explore things" and instead just state your point

    3rd paragraph

    Imagination and creativity are main points that you bring up, which could have been added in your thesis. You seem to really only summarize the actual story with the only aspect of one thought at the end "MY estimation is that the sorcerer was not allowed to continue on his quest until he understood the true meaning of imagination." instead of summarizing so much try to come up with some of your own examples to add to your thought

    4th paragraph

    You say the heart is the center of imagination, but Perhaps you could elaborate a little more on “soul is not original and imaginative”

    5th paragraph

    Maybe elaborate a little more along with the sorcerer believing his son is real by speaking more about the “importance and potency of imagination." and also it seems that another theme is the power of the mind: which could be elaborated on and the infinite power of it

    6th paragraph

    Elaborate on how we could be from someone else’s imagination
    Or give another example

    7th paragraph
    maybe a stronger ending sentence?

  2. I like Luis' commentary - he did an excellent job covering some of the basics, and especially how the earlier parts of the essay could be improved. Rather than covering the same territory (which is hardly necessary), let me touch on some more conceptual material.

    Obviously the story is about imagination, and Borges is always deeply concerned with imagination. Based on your tone, I think you're primarily interested in a kind of celebratory concept of the imagination: you're basically arguing that Borges portrays the imagination as being both good and powerful.

    Maybe that's true, but I'd like you to question it, at least up to a point. The sorceror is powerful - yet he doesn't know his own name. He can create something out of nothing - and yet the something that he creates seems, in fact, to be nothing other than himself (not to mention being nameless and vague in many ways).

    In other words, the imagination is powerful, and yet it is circular; it may also be bounded. Maybe you don't agree with how I see it - but since Borges does a lot here which defines *how* the imagination works, I'd like you to explore it.

    I also would like you to do more with the fact that Quain is Borges creation - so we have a story by an author who isn't real (which is another way in which the sorceror's own unreality is repeated). It just seems like that needs to be more involved in your reading, although what you do with it, exactly, is obviously something only you can decide.