Saturday, March 19, 2011

Open Thread For Second Borges Reading

I understood and liked the first two of the three stories we had to read this week much more than I did the stories of last week. I am split though on which one I liked more, Death in the Compass or The Three Versions of Judas. Death in the Compass reminded me of the really bad cartoon villain speeches as the end. Before Red Scharlach kills Lonnerot, he explains each and every thing he did to get Lonnerot to his present position. Though extremely interesting, I was waiting for Lonnerot to jump up and somehow be save by the police force. This is what normally happens when the villain takes too long telling us about his crime. Instead, the story just ends with Lonnerot being killed. My question is: Is this Borges trying to give Scharlach revenge because it makes the story circular or does he have another reason to do away with the main character? I thought that Scharlach’s way of trapping Lonnerot was inspired. He did everything exactly right and Lonnerot fell into his trap. Does this have a feeling of fate? Was Lonnerot destined to die that day? Is that why he could do nothing but listen as Scharlach tells of his undoing?

The Three Versions of Judas was especially interesting for me, as I grew up Catholic. I was taught that Judas blatantly betrayed Jesus for money. We were all taught to hate him as the great betrayer of Our Lord. I very much enjoyed Runeberg’s first version of Judas. It is a very interesting prospect and makes me wonder if it was his motivation. My question though, is what made Runeberg try to tell Judas’s story if he was so religious. That does not make sense to me.


  1. The story that stuck with me the most was The Witness on page 311. What resonated with me was when the narrator was discussing how when something dies, a piece or history or a moment dies with them and he very directly asked, "What will die with me the day I die?" That question sort of stuck with me while I finished the rest of the readings and I wondered the same thing. What would die when I die? What impact will I leave behind? Who will remember me? Does my life even matter? Which in itself is a scary thought, "does my life matter"? What would be the point it doesn't? We all have our routine, what we are supposed to do---go to school, get an education, get a meaningful job, meet someone, build a life, have kids, etc. But what if you don't? Do you cease to exist? Is your life worth less then someone who does, who leaves something behind? What if you don't matter to anyone? Was all your experiences, all your emotions, everything just a slow march to the inevitable? Or what if you may or may not leave a lineage, but impact someones life in a way that you may not realize. Sort of like the butterfly effect. But of that were the case then could it not be argued that every life mattered? Even the worst of the worst murderers, child molesters, serial killers? They left something behind when they died. They impacted lives, not for the good though. And even with that, who says it wasn't for good? Maybe one of their victims vows to go into law to stop others like them and as a result then something big happens that removes that crime from the streets. I know that is an extreme example, but it's an example. Bit of a tangent. But what will die with me the day I die? Interesting question. I don't think anything will, just me.

  2. Out of the three readings I most enjoyed Death and the Compass: due to, but not limited to, its detective and adventurous nature. From the very beginning I found it noteworthy that Lonnrot's personality was described as both a "reasoning machine", but also as gambler; somewhat ironic indeed. Also, I found it captivating that, like in the beginning; his powers of perception regrettably foresaw his own death – “the last letter of the Name”: which was regrettably a sham. Additionally however, I liked how the "Name" was always capitalized: giving the meaning of the Jewish holy God - and in that, the Tetragrammaton: another pointless discovery. Furthermore, on an alternative ironic note, I found it thought provoking that a compass, which customarily guides oneself to salvation, in fact guided oneself to death – Lonnrot’s death. I suppose however, that sometimes through discovery comes tragedy: however trivial, the idea of Tetragrammaton.

    Side notes

    Borges mentions rectangles throughout points of the story that lead to the “rectangular prison” that Scharlach’s brother laid upon and died.

    I thought it was dumb that the first murder just came “by chance”

    Does the house’s trite symmetry mean something more? Yes, it speaks of how Scharlach sees the world and also similarly how he constructed a “labyrinth” for Lonnrot: the murders. Which will, as Scharlach said, be “…invisible and endless.” (156)

  3. I enjoyed the third reading the most. While reading through many of these short stories, I picked up on many of Borges' common themes: Retrospective ideas, immortality/infinite life, and the fear and ignorance of the supernatural.

    I thought the idea within the story "Dialog About A Dialog" about Death & recarnation was extremely interesting.

    I also noticed the presence of a dichotomy in many of Borges' stories. People have two separate lives, a realistic one as well as a hallucinogenic one.

    A line within the story aptly titled "The Plot" does a good job of summing up these stories: "Fate is partial to repetitions variations, symmetries" (pg 307).

  4. I found Three versions of Judas interesting because religion is a huge part of every culture. Everyone determines their actions based off of their teachings of faith. This story having three different ways of interpreting one story questioned everything a person was taught. People believe what they want but become upset when you question their religious views.

  5. The story that I liked the most was definitely "Three Versions of Judas". Although it was interesting to read about different view of Judas' betrayal, but also because the story was written as some sort of a critical essay, which is a characteristic writing of Borges.
    As always, it made me wonder if this story is all made up, because it sounded like Borges wrote this essay based on a books that was truly written. For example, when he was using citation from the fictional book Kristus och Judas and says "It is not one thing, but all the things which legend attributes to Judas Iscariot that are false (de Quincey, 1857)", it sounded like Borges using a reliable support for his essay. Also, referring back to real verses of the bible (I actually checked the bible,and they are not made up!), even made me wonder about Judas' betrayal and thought about what if this was true. Also I thought that it is possible for people who are unfamiliar with Judas story may really think that Judas had different motivation for betraying Jesus, not because of the money, but because of his duty as a human.

  6. It was more difficult to find meanings in these reading I found. The Compass and Death one was interesting because it went against convention. In the beginning it seemed like the entire series of crimes was planned out; it was a shock to find out that it began by almost accident. I think it has something to say about our expectations/assumptions. The other character, Treviranus, had simple answers while Lennrot delved into meaningful explanations. Sometimes the simple answers can be just that, simple answers. It is also cyclical it seemed. The first paragraph made no sense to me at all in the beginning but afterwards when I went back and read it once finished with the story, it was so clear. Because of this it seemed to me that constantly we are faced with the choices of literal and semantic, and there are constant consequences of our actions. Lennrott should have told someone where he was going, maybe gone with Treviranus, what if the books were written in another language and he didnt delve into them?
    Judas was interesting, because of the different perspectives on one person. It was hard to follow though cause I do not know the story of Judas from the bible. The one quote that stuck out to me was on 64: "to assume an error in scripture is intolerable." Throughout the entire piece I feel like Borges is writing from a very religious standpoint, but in this instance it is so solemn that it almost appears like mockery. That one cannot even fathom the possibility that the bible has any room for error is a little bit too much. who wrote the bible? humans, and as humans, as he later states in accordance to Judas, we are not perfect. thus the bible must have imperfections. When read this way the whole piece turns from a religious propagation piece to questioning the dogma of religion as a whole. Its a stretch but I'm sure one could make it work out because it is hard to imagine why judas would be included by jesus if he had turned out as such. The reasons that Borges provided are very interesting as well, and also question religion by breaking apart the different perspectives that one could take on a singular topic.
    As for the Maker poems, those were a bit hard for me to get through. It was tough to understand the point of some of them, such as the dreamtiger ones, but as a whole it really made one think. (It just came to me now that the dreamtiger one makes a lot more sense when using the other dream poem's idea of dreaming a sphinx to show fear..etc). Anyway, the Augumentum piece was very interesting although I disagree with his logic. Just because you cannot fathom not-one, not-two..etc doesn't mean it wasn't one of those numbers, you just aren't sure. Also God doesn't know how many you saw if you don't know how many you saw, there was a definte number of birds because if you had counted you would have reached a definite number.
    Another work that stuck out to me was the Delia one. How a goodbye denies seperation is so true. It is weird how he worded it, but it is interesting to think about. Its arguable that a goodbye lets both (all) parties know that the interaction has ceased and its time to leave, but we do say goodbye with the knowledge of the next time we will see the person again.
    Overall Borges seems to be big on perspectives and looking at situations in multiple ways, though i'm not sure he ever lays judgement on which way is better, if there is a better way. In addition dreams and madness seems to play a part in his poetry, with getting lost in fantasy...In the end when it is Borges & I it was almost sad to see the separation of people. I think he believes in two people for everything.

  7. I really enjoyed reading Death and the Compass the most. I like stories of mystery and I understood this story. The plot that the murderer had to avenge the death of his brother on the detective and the extensive way that he went about trying to murder the detective was interesting and not as hard to follow as the other stories that Borges tells.

    The only part I didn't understand was the beginning. Did Scharlach mean for this murder to happen, or did it just occur that they needed to kill the tetrach (Yarmolinsky) for his sapphires to start a chase for the detective or the just mean to steal the sapphires without killing the tetrach at all and there was never really a plan to start a killing spree?

  8. Reading Three Versions of Judas was the most interesting for me. Even before reading it I noticed the possible significance that it was titled Three Versions of Judas, rather than Two or Four versions. Having gone to Catholic school for 12 years I had learned that 3 is a special number in the Bible, as it symbolizes the Trinity, and it seemed ironic that it would be used here as well. The points brought up by Runeberg really got me thinking about everything I had been taught about the story of Judas and how he betrayed Jesus. Not once in my 12 years of Catholic education had I been encouraged to see Judas' act as anything but blasphemy. The comparison of Jesus and Judas especially sparked my interest because it was a very unconventional way of seeing Jesus' mission here on earth: "The Word had stooped to become mortal; Judas, a disciple of the Word, would stoop to become an informer..." (164). This statement got me thinking: Could the entire story in the Bible really been misinterpreted for all these years? Who knows, maybe Judas was only following Jesus' footsteps in what he felt he needed to do to reveal the Son to the world.