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.