Friday, March 18, 2011

Option 1

Upon first reading the two stories, “The Circular Ruins” and “A Survey of the Works of Herbert Quain”, I didn’t realize how many aspects of “The Circular Ruins” are in the details of “A Survey of the Works of Herbert Quain”. While rereading the two and specifically looking for characteristics of “The Circular Ruins” it became fairly clear to me that the chances of that story being a work of Herbert Quain were very likely.

One of the first features I noticed within “A Survey of the Works of Herbert Quain” was where Borges mentions that many of Quain’s works are constructed in a backwards manner. Borges states, “Quain’s foreword prefers instead to allude to that backward-running world posited by Bradley, in which death precedes birth, the scar precedes the wound, and the wound precedes the blow” (108). I connected that aspect of Quain’s work with “The Circular Ruins” in regards to how the main character forms the heart in his dreams. I see the “backward-running world” playing out because the man must retract from his original dream and build the man rather than find him out of a crowd. This is exemplified starting on page 97 and expanding to page 98 with the paragraph starting “On the ninth or tenth night, he realized (with some bitterness)…” and is elaborated through the sentence “Almost immediately he dreamed a beating heart”. Borges also mentions that Quain tends to write “regressively and ramifying” (109). Regression is prominent in “The Circular Ruins” in similar contexts as the “backward-running world”. Ramification is apparent when it is stated that “his dreams were chaotic; a little later, they became dialectical” (97). This is a prime example of the ramification that Quain so diligently put into his writings because, from this point on, the details of the story branch out to show how the man conducted his dreams, which ended up going in multiple directions until he came upon the specific dream that he desired.

Elements of retrograde seen in Quain’s April March (as told by Borges) is that he writes of consecutive nights, although in April March each night precedes the next. It shares characteristics with “The Circular Ruins” because we are taken into the dreams of the man on many consecutive occasions.

We are also told that Quain has novels whose themes include “symbolic; another supernatural;…another psychological…” (109). I connected “The Circular Ruins” with these themes because of what I recognized as supernatural and psychological aspects of the story. The supernatural aspect being present when deities, Gnostic thought and biblical references are discussed and said to have influenced the man’s thought on his dream. Quain says, “In the cosmogonies of the Gnostics, the demiurges knead up a red Adam who cannot manage to stand…After making vows to all the deities of the earth and the river, he threw himself at the feet of the idol that was perhaps a tiger or perhaps a colt, and he begged for his untried aid” (99). That proves that Quain was concerned with the idea of a higher power and he wanted to convey that through his writings. In regards to connecting the psychological aspect of Quain’s work, the fact that the plot of “The Circular Ruins” is about a man dreaming also shows Quain’s interest in psychology and psychological functions of the brain. It shows that he believed the mind could do more than just think in the conscious state and people can expand their thoughts beyond the temporal and use their imagination.

With all of these elements combined, “The Circular Ruins” seems to be a significant work of Herbert Quain because it shows what Quain believed to be important aspects of writing and thinking, such as adding supernatural events, experimental thinking and perception, and an “element of surprise, shock, astonishment” (108). It proves to be significant also because of the intricate ways he was able to incorporate so many theories of his within such a short story, while making it relatively easy to read through, although it may be necessary to go back and reread, simply because of how many intricate details he fused into “The Circular Ruins”.


  1. This is probably your best and certainly your most detailed work so far. I thought it was a little weak where organization is concerned: you are concerned with several different characteristics of the Quain's works (then you show how those characteristics are manifested in The Circular Ruins), and those individual readings are generally productive (some are more so than others - I struggled to understand some of what you have to say about the backward-running world).

    All of that being said, though, I would have liked to see more unity here. Your individual analyses have merit - but what would you like to say *overall*? Having established some ways in which the story makes sense as having been written by HQ the way Borges presents him - *why* would Borges go to so much effort to make his fictional character seem like the author of another one of his stories? Is this, for instance, something of a self-analysis on Borges part? You are handling the parts fairly well, but at some point you still need to move back from the parts to the whole.

    It's also strange that you don't discuss the moment when Borges *explicitly* marks "The Circular Ruins" as being a product of HQ.

  2. This essay I think was one of the best essays I've read when I was commenting on the blogs so far. Your argument was very clear and particularly, the idea of "backward-running world" is present in both stories was something that I've never thought of when reading this essay.
    Also, It made me understand better where Borges got ideas to write "Circular Ruins" from Quian's story.

    However, I was very confused about a very short paragraph that discusses April March, because your argument was not very clear and there were no textual support from the book. It would have been better to elaborate more on that part or take out the idea all together, because the short argument doesn't really go with the rest of the essay.

    But, Overall it was a very good essay. Nice job!