Friday, April 8, 2011

Relgion and Creationism in Borges

Casey Rankin
Dr. Johns
April 7 2011
Promotion of Creationism in Circular Ruins
Jorge Luis Borges’ The Circular Ruins and A Survey of the Works of Herbert Quain are often lauded and remembered for their messages about tapping into the imagination of readers. In fact on the surface, one can certainly claim that this is the central focus of the story. However, upon deeper examination of the texts and with consideration about Borges’ own personal life, I believe it is apparent that he wrote these stories with at least the subliminal intention of promoting creationism, and to an extent organized religion. While his points mostly revolve around the importance of connecting with the imaginations of the audience, he also attempts to point out that fantasy can be more satisfying than reality (Borges 111). We can extrapolate from that sentiment that Borges would believe that some things are more important than everyday life and the material, which would make him supportive of the concept of organized religion. In addition to these writings, Borges was an outspoken opponent to communism, which often includes atheism as a central tenant, thereby strengthening the argument that Borges intends to push creationism (Ruch). Borges particularly emphasizes this in The Circular Ruins, where a man believes he is the creator, before realizing a far different truth.
Early in Circular Ruins, a man who is presumably an educator travels to an ancient circular structure that he believed to have been a temple years before, where he believes he can uncover the secret to creating a man through dreaming (Borges 96). He begins to mediate and eventually sleep in front of this structure, where he dreams of teaching a large class in an amphitheater (Borges 97). As he lectures this class, he finds that the students who display the most potential are the ones who tend to question him (Borges 97). After a while, the man chooses one student from the crowd who he believes is worthy of being imagined into reality, but eventually discovers he is not actually dreaming, and that it was just a hallucination. Frustrated, the man creates a being from scratch, starting with what he deems most important, a heart (Borges 98). The being that comes to life as his de facto son is a strange red figure, who the man trains before sending off. After a while the man imagines being told stories of his son by other men, before finally realizing that he himself does not exist as anything but a part of another person's dream (Borges100). The man in the story essentially believed that nothing was really, as he came to view his imagined son as better than anything that was part of reality. When he comes to believe that he is a figment of someone's imagination, he pushes that point even further, by questioning whether or not anyone or anything is actually real, similar to the way some of the characters in the movie Inception did. The point he raises is actually rather plausible, especially in the sense that some spiritual people who believe in God or another form of intelligent design already consent to this viewpoint, although their phraseology would probably differ a bit.
In his essay Creationism and Intelligent Design, Robert T. Pennock gives a variety of definitions for these ideas (Pennock 143). The theory of intelligent design that seems to most resemble what Borges puts forward, called “old Earth creationism”, takes a more scientific view of anti-evolutionism, with the idea that biblical texts can be accepted without necessarily believing in that the Earth was only 6,000-10,000 years old (Pennock 145). While the people Pennock describes in his essay are most likely far more extreme than Borges would ever potentially be, the essay shows that there is room in the movement for someone like him. At the root of intelligent design is the belief that there is more to life than scientific happenstance, and that the best parts of living are those that cannot necessarily be explained. When Borges says that the man in The Circular Ruins who imagines his son gets more enjoyment out of this experience than of any other facet of his life, he describes a mindset that gets its satisfaction from nonmaterial, existential factors that cannot be confirmed by scientific or conventional means, which is the exact same view held by creationists (Borges 100). By holding reality as a dynamic concept rather than a static one, Borges challenges those who want factual data or proof in the same way creationists challenge Darwinists. At the end of The Circular Ruins, when the man realizes that he too does not exist as anything other than in someone else’s imagination, he also promotes religious ideals, as creationists and Christians in general believe that the physical essence of a person is unimportant, and that our souls are what matters (Borges 100). The physical aspect is just simply the imagination of the higher being, making it just auxiliary.
In A Survey of the Works of Herbert Quain, Borges expresses his view regarding the importance in touching the imagination of his readers. He says, “of the many kinds of pleasure literature can minister, the highest is the pleasure of imagination” (Borges 111). Since writing is his profession, and it is his imagination that enables other people to utilize theirs’, it is obvious that he values the ability to think outside of society’s conventional box, which includes evolution. Also, Borges addresses one of the primary reasons people value religion- trying to derive a sense of hope that is missing from their everyday lives, when he says “not everyone is capable of experiencing that pleasure, many will have to content themselves with simulacra” (Borges 111). His advocacy for the expansion and utilization of imagination correlate strongly with the idea of embracing religion.
Lastly, Borges’ strong anti-communist credentials also reinforce his commitment to religion. Growing up in Argentina, Borges was a writer in his fifties when Juan Peron took control of the government in 1946 (Ruch). Peron instituted many communist reforms and attempted to stifle the opinions of his political opposition. Borges refused to support the Peron government, as he resigned a cushy position in the government as Poultry and Rabbit Inspector for the Public Market rather than work for Peron (Ruch). After resigning from the government, Borges used his platform as a writer to criticize Juan and Eva Peron both verbally and in print (Ruch). His family was placed under house arrest and he was followed by police throughout Peron’s time in office (Ruch). Borges opposed Peron on the basis of his communist affiliation, and his abridgement of freedom. While Peron was a Catholic, communism throughout the world was largely atheistic, and Borges’ opposition to it can be at least partially based on its abridgement of the freedom to worship. This again reaffirms Borges’ commitment to religion and creationism, especially when one considers the courage it took to speak out against an authoritarian leader with a cult of personality like Peron. In addition to his communist affiliation, Peron was also excommunicated by Pope Pius XII, meaning that Borges’ opposition helped to reinforce the decree of religion. Overall on the subject of communism, Borges took a stand consistent with many of the strong Christian leaders, by opposing the communist leader of his country.
To conclude, Jorge Luis Borges used the ideas of imagination and anti-communism to help convey his strong belief in religion, particularly the idea of creationism. In A Circular Ruin, Borges pushes the idea that it sometimes imagination can be more satisfying than reality, and that it is difficult to draw boundary lines between the two. In A Survey of the Works of Herbert Quain, Borges reiterates these points, as well as the notion that people turn to literature as a means of escaping from the dull tedium of reality. This idea paves the way for the theory that he also approves of religion and creationism as another method of doing this. Finally, Borges took a strong stance against Juan Peron and communism. While Peron wasn’t an atheist, most forms of communism place the state as the highest being, which would certainly offend someone with religious beliefs. Overall, Borges’ writing and public life affirm the idea that he values religion and believes in some form of creationism, often in the form of imagination, his favorite surface subject.
Works Cited
Borges, Jorge Luis. “Collected Fictions”. Penguin Classics. New York. 1998.
Pennock, Robert T. “Creationism and Intelligent Design”. The Annual Review of Genomics and Human Genetics. June 4, 2003.
Ruch, Allen. “Jorge Luis Borges, The Modern April 7 2011.

1 comment:

  1. The idea of connecting Borges with creationism and organized religion is certainly a reasonable one. I think, though, you should have paused and thought through what it means to use a term which very much belongs to our time and place (creationism) and apply it to an Argentine author working much earlier in the century. I'm not saying the word "creationism" is illegitimate when applied to him, but the historical and cultural context needs to be understood (creationism and debates between it and evolution are not the same among Catholics and Protestants, for instance!).

    "By holding reality as a dynamic concept rather than a static one, Borges challenges those who want factual data or proof in the same way creationists challenge Darwinists." While this sentence appeared kind of suddenly, and didn't get the full explanation/discussion that it deserved, this is an example of why doing this project was a good, valid idea. You are going to the heart of why we might understand Borges as being, at least in a sense, anti-scientific. However, I think you are basically assuming that because he isn't an atheistic materialist that he must, therefore, by a creationist. You don't simplify it quite that much, but I think you're basically assuming that he has to be one or the other, rather than exploring the possibility that he could be something else entirely.

    In other words, I see a lot of value in your reading of Borges, and I think bringing creationism into the conversation makes sense, but also that you might be simplifying the debate and the range of possibilities.

    "His advocacy for the expansion and utilization of imagination correlate strongly with the idea of embracing religion." This line has enormous merit and potential, but you don't actually follow through on it. Because they correlate doesn't mean that you've *demonstrated* anything, and demonstration is the hard part.

    Peron was not a communist; generally, he's understood as a fascist, perhaps more like Mussollini than like Hitler. Like them, he had mass appeal, but mass appeal does not equal communism. I don't actually think that error does a whole lot of damage to your essay; a detailed reading of Borges' politics through his life could certainly be done in a way that would help your reading. However, your misunderstanding of Peron demonstrates, at least, that you needed to read a Borges biography (at least in part), or at least part of a history of Argentina.

    Summary: the idea is interesting and worthwhile, and your reading of The Circular Ruins helps make your case. Your discussion of ID and Creationism did more than I thought they would. To make a strong claim about Borges personally, though, you needed to expand your research. Alternatively, you could have argued more that we need to read his fiction in a more religious or pro-religious way, which is also a fine idea, *but* would need to think through any potential problems (starting, I think, with his great love for blasphemy in, e.g., Three versions of Judas).