Ficciones, by Jorge Luis Borges: The Approach to Al-Mu’tasim 


by Jorge Luis Borges,
Magical realism/Short stories
576 pages
Buy the book on my Bookshop

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Click here to see my other posts on this book.

Today, I’ll share my thoughts on:

The Approach to Al-Mu’tasim 

The narrator presents another fictional book, The Approach to Al-Mu’tasim, and its illustrated edition entitled The Conversation with the Man Called Al-Mu’tasim: A Game of Shifting Mirrors.
Ah yes, here we go again about mirrors, and the theme of reflection.
According to Course Hero, mirrors “Represent the creation of artificial worlds and fictional universes through art and philosophy”.
See also what I said about this theme in my presentation of the first story.

Then the narrator focuses on the main protagonist of that book, a law student in Bombay. The scenes he is described in made me really think of Murakami. We are here in total magical realism territory (“mooncolored hounds”? I thought of this painting by Le Douanier Rousseau, The Sleeping Gypsy, even though it’s a lion and not a hound!)!
Circumstances lead the student to flee and to try to find a man called Al-Mu’tasim, which means “the seeker of shelter.” So the story has aspects of a detective novel as well. And there are references to Watson and Wilkie Collins for instance, to Dorothy L. Sayers, and obviously to Chesterton, because of the “hybridization” of detective novel and mysticism, though the narrator tells there no such similarity!

For me, the mean theme of the story is the quest. I liked the ambivalent ending. Has the student found what he was looking for? Is the finding more important than the quest itself?
The story actually made me think of the famous quotation by Augustine in his Confessions, “you would not be seeking Me if I had not already found you.” Not sure Borges had that in mind, as references here seem to focus more on Persian literature and Sufi mysticism, not Christian.
Though there are lots of Gnostic elements present as well (which are sometimes not far from Early Christian mysticism, like the idea of a “divine spark” hidden in each of us).

To go more in depth, I can only recommend the Course Hero page on this book.
Come back tomorrow for my thoughts on the next story: Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote



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