The class blog for a section of Literature and the Contemporary, a literature and writing class offered at the University of Pittsburgh.
I found several of the stories difficult to read. One of the stories in particular, Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote, was the source of much of my confusion. The way it was written, I could have sworn I was reading a non-fiction biography of some sort. Thankfully the foreword of help.I really enjoyed the way Borges played with the idea of existence. He offered many different options/opinions which allows for the reader to find one that best suits their own ideologies.A common theme that I noticed in many of the stories was the idea of an infinite loop where there is no ending. This was illustrated in the example of the hexagonal library in "the Library of Babel" and also the book with the same content on every page.However, out of the 8 stories, "The Circular Ruins" stood out to me the most. Specifically the last line. "With relief, with humiliation, with terror, he realized he, too, was but appearance, that another man was dreaming him."
Jorge Borges's short stories were very interesting and they introduced many new ideas that I would never thought of. The most interesting fiction among many others was "The Circular Ruins". I especially liked this story because, it kind of reminded me of Pinocchio when the wizard "began accustoming him [the boy] to reality" (Borges). Also, overall setting of the story was gloomy, which reminded me of Pinochio even more, because I remember Pinocchio as not a happy story. However, the biggest reason why I like this story the most is because of the big twist at the end when the wizard "realized he, too was but appearance, that another man was dreaming him". I think this twist at the end was very surprising and helped me to understand the title of the story as well. however, one thing that I don't understand is why the wizard felt relieved, humiliated and terrified at the same time. I understand that he must felt humiliated because his belief that he created this boy based on his dreams, but his sense of relief is not understandable.
Collected fictions was difficult to read, it was just too much to understand. I just don't understand why most of the authors we have read talk about slavery. In The Lottery in Babylon, the company controlled their destiny, so is that like the government? I just felt everyone should be in control of their own destiny but in here the lottery decides what is done with your life. I hate to read stories like this, it becomes draining because it seems like the government is the root of all evil.
Exemplifying the short story of "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius", I found three major themes seemed to come to my attention: Philosophical, literary, and some others. Picking out one, the philosophical themes of Jorge's fictional story seemed to pan out with the motif of Idealism and language. It seemed that, ideas, in themselves, could have a great impact and influencing pressure on reality. Also, ending on a random note, I feel that since the story was a mix of fictitious and real aspects, that the story seemed to come off sounding like an essay of sorts.
In general, the first 8 readings in Borges Collected Fictions were extremely confusing to me. I did not understand, especially in Pierre Menard: Author of the Quixote, what Borges was really doing in his writing. It seemed like a critique of what Menard wrote but I feel that if you are reading a critique, it would be important to read the work that Borges was critiquing. I found myself zoning out while reading that selection and Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius. I had no idea what the author was going on about for so long. What is Tlon and why were there about 10 pages written about it in this book? The one fiction that I did enjoy was The Circular Ruins. The story reminded me of Inception because it messed with my mind a little bit. I felt like I was sure of what the story meant and then I thought about it again and was wrong. I also had no idea why the man was dreaming about this body and once had dreamed about it, it became his son. Then the man worries that his son will be upset when he finds out that he was dreamt up. If the boy had been dreamt up, wouldn’t he know it? The quote that really reminded me of Inception is this; “With relief, with humiliation, with terror, he realized that he, too, was but appearance, that another man was dreaming him.” (Borges 100) This quote makes the whole story seem absurd. A sorcerer spends 1001 nights constructing a son only for the son to be a dream. The sorcerer is upset because one day he’ll have to tell his son he is a dream then oh! The sorcerer realizes that he is a dream too… That was a very weird ending.
This was one of the most difficult works I've ever read. The Lottery of Babylon was the most enjoyable to me, especially the part where on page 104, the company instituted a policy of making some losers pay an additional fee on top of losing their initial investment. Also, the idea of imprisonment seems so radically extreme and turns something that was designed to be fun into a life or death struggle with chance. I guess the plausibility of this fictional short story rests with the idea that life was so bleak for the average person in this time that this game was a viable option.
Borges’ works was one of the most complicated readings that I have come across in a while. I thought that in Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, the narrator said it best in that why not create a piece of literature in which it would “omit or distort things and engage in all sorts of contradictions, so that a few of the book’s readers—a very few—might divine the horrifying or banal truth” (Page 68). There was one piece in which I did see some similarities with another work that I was recently exposed to which was We by Yevgeny Zamyatin and The Lottery in Babylon by Borges. The main similarity between both works is that they are all examples of dystopian fiction. The resemblance that I first came to realize is that in The Lottery in Babylon, the narrator describes a tattoo that he has, “you can see on my stomach a crimson tattoo—it is the second letter, Beth. On nights when the moon is full, this symbol gives me power over men with the mark of Gimel, but it subjects me to those with the Aleph, who on nights when there is no moon owe obedience to those marked with the Gimel” (Page 101). Basically they are characterized by letters. He is a B who is better than a G, but worse than an A only when the moon is full, but if there is no moon then A is worse than G and who only knows where that leaves a B. This immediately reminded me of the main characters in We. The protagonist is D-503 who is a man and a highly respected engineer. In the book We, the men have no names but a consonant and a number, while the women have a vowel and a number. The fact that in both books the protagonist is characterized by a letter, though in We it is consonants vs vowels and in The Lottery it is just alphabetical, helps to dehumanize people and make them more likely to fit in with status quo then in individualism. The other thing that stood out was that in The Lottery of Babylon, the lottery is controlled by The Company which is a generic name so as to not cause controversy or suspicion, and is also an anonymous overseer who controls everything, “the Company was forced to assume all public power. (The unification was necessary because of the vastness and complexity of the new operations.) Second, the Lottery was made secret, free of charge, and open to all” (Page 103). This allowed them to slowly take control of everyone’s life without casting any suspicions in the process. This aspect of a ‘Big Brother’ made me recall of the We’s version of the Company. They were ran by the Benefactor which was a bit later in the process of ‘taking over’ then the Company seemed to be in The Lottery, but they represent the same thing—an overseeing company, person, or group of people seeking to enslave the masses by doing what they think is in their own best interests and in the best interests in the way that they feel that life should be ran.
These are interesting stories to read. My favorite was the first, Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius. What I took from this story was that this new world that was created, was actually more or less the reality that we live in. If anything, it questions our world. The cliched quote "If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" Similar to this quote this story seems to emphasize the ways in which we view things. In the word "tree" for example, everyone has some sort of predetermined bias. I personally picture a live tree, similar to oak but smaller and outside on a sunny spring day.. However others might picture pines or palms or whatever. In this Tlon language there are no nouns so that we have no such biases, which is a fantastic idea. We talk about what we actually can sense, see in this case: tall-green-brown separating beneath bare-blue-wide..or something like that. we can visualize on the same playing field. I feel like this is a good starting for a moral/universal life lesson so we can unite as a human race.A similar lesson comes from the story of Pierre Menard. At first I was confused by his copying/not copying scheme, but then I came up with three scenarios. First, he is merely translating, and this new language actually does owe a new perspective on sound and meanings. Second, we read how we want to read, regardless of the words anyway. So I might read the same sentence differently if I knew it was written by a third grader versus a college student (or famous person versus an unfamous one...pick your metaphor) but the lesson is we put our own prejudices on it. Thirdly, when we know the speaker we automatically (and maybe even subconsciously) interpret the story differently. For example if one of my outgoing friends tells me a story that later a meek friend tells me, I interpret the same story two different ways. One in the mindset I know (or assume) the outgoing personality to give, and one in the mindset the meek (or different in some way) mindset I think the second has.In relation to the Lottery story, I don't understand why he begins by talking about the tattoos/marks of Aleph, Beth, and Gimel...I do not see the connection to these differentiations and the lottery he then goes on to describe in the following pages. The only thing that I can come up with is the fact of chance..but even then what is the point of it?Themes or motifs that are evident in several of the works are the image of mirrors. Even in the Tlon story, where the mirror mention was unimportant, he still places it in there. I'm not quite sure exactly what the mirror represents, although I'm assuming it is in conjunction with the perception theme that is also prevalent. He loves to discuss how different people can view or think about the same thing in multiple ways.I also noticed he mentioned the story (parable as he calls it) of the Race between the Hare versus the Tortoise, which is interesting that he chooses to reference it twice: once in the Lottery and once in a previous story I had not made a note of. Lastly he mentions time & future a lot, it is interesting, too, that he does so with capitalizations (such as in Quain or Tlon).
I’ve read Borges before so I was prepared for his difficult postmodern aesthetic. One of my favorite themes in the work of Borges and one that is common in this type of fiction is his take on the seeming randomness of life. I take The Library of Babylon to be an alagory for this randomness. ‘The Company’ is not group of people, a government, or even a human institution, by my interpretation. I see the Company as being representative of life’s seemingly random twists and turns. Some will be born rich, some poor, some free, and some prisoners. One might even say that in the same way the Company is representative of God. One may either accept the company’s presence and allow it to guide their lives, or one can deny its existence. This is the difference between the believer and the atheist. The Library of Babel is similar. In this tale a library exhists where all the answers to the human experience exist upon its shelves but they are mixed in (in a random pattern) with what looks like gibberish. People in the story debate the origin of the library and whether there is any meaning to it at all. The library, to me, is representative of the universe. Potentially our universe offers all of these answers much like this library does, but there is no way of knowing if we will ever be able to find them, whether someone already has, and if we do find them if there is really a coherent pattern to it at all (if a God exists or not).
I enjoyed reading The Circular Ruins the most because it was set up as more of a story than some of the other passages such as Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius which to me seemed more like he was giving real facts than telling a story. During that particular passage I found myself forgetting that it was a partially fictitious story because the manner in which Borges was writing seemed like a news article. Although, in The Circular Ruins I found it easier to follow, despite it's complexity, than some of the other stories simply because of the writing style Borges utilized. The religious aspect of the story particularly interested me because I find it fascinating to learn how people of different religions search for themselves and God, or another higher power.