Ficciones, by Jorge Luis Borges: The Garden of Forking Paths

Ficciones

Ficciones,
by Jorge Luis Borges,
1944
Magical realism/Short stories
576 pages
Goodreads
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 two stories:

The Garden of Forking Paths

The narrator, a German spy, tries to deliver important information before the possibility of being put to death. He ends up visiting the Garden of Forking Paths, reminiscent of a labyrinth. The designer of the garden was a novelist who thought he did manage to create the perfect labyrinth, as an infinite novel.
It is a complicated story, with a lot of reflection on the present, on time, and fate. And on the structure of the universe, with the possibility of several worlds: parallel or worlds within worlds, for instance the world of an author, or of a reader.

He believed in an infinite series of times, in a dizzily growing, ever spreading network of diverging, converging and parallel times.

The strength of the story is how Borges reflects on all this while writing a satisfying spy story.
It is this last story that gave the title to the first part of this collection.

Funes, the Memorious

The second part of the book, called Artifices, seems to focus even more on the theme of labyrinth. Funes is the first story.

Funes has such an amazing memory that he can only focus on details. To the point of not being able to embrace a concept, like for instance that of a dog. For him, two different dogs are so different in their details, or even the same dog seen from various angles, that they cannot actually be the same reality and called by the same name. This is a fun take and stretch on nominalism. Though Locke (mentioned by the narrator) did try something like that.

To think is to forget a difference, to generalize, to abstract.

And a consequence of his hyper attention to details, he is deprived of sleep.

I like the new way of counting he invented, like giving a name to numbers, like Màximo Perez for instance for 7,013.

To go more in depth, check the Course Hero page on this book.
Come back on Monday for my thoughts on next story: The Form of the Sword.

HAVE YOU READ THIS BOOK?
WHAT DID YOU THINK OF IT,
OR OF T
HIS STORY?

Ficciones, by Jorge Luis Borges: An Examination of the Work of Herbert Quain

Ficciones

Ficciones,
by Jorge Luis Borges,
1944
Magical realism/Short stories
576 pages
Goodreads
Buy the book on my Bookshop

  📚 📚 📚  

Click here to see my other posts on this book.

Today, I’ll share my thoughts on two stories:

An Examination of the Work of Herbert Quain

On the occasion of the death of the author Herbert Quain, the narrator talks about his works and compares him to other authors. Two of his books have a title featuring recurring themes in Ficciones: The God of the Labyrinth, and The Secret Mirror.

The end of the story actually reveals that Quain is a fictitious Borges himself, but as the real author of one of the previous stories, The Circular Ruins. And there are a lot more parallels between Quain and Borges. We are never far from metafiction with Borges!

I think there might be self-allusions in passages like this one:

He was very clear-headed about the experimental nature of his books: he thought them admirable, perhaps, for their novelty and for a certain laconic probity.

Could the following be Borges’s opinions ?:

Quain was in the habit of arguing that readers were an already extinct species…

He also affirmed that of the various pleasures offered by literature, the greatest is invention.

The Library of Babel

The story is about the Universe, aka the Library, “made of six-sided galleries containing 20 bookshelves”. It is “composed of an indefinite, perhaps an infinite, number of hexagonal galleries”. With a set number of books on shelves, 410 pages per book, 40 lines per page, about 80 letters per line.
And obviously, there’s an important mirror in this library! And we find the expression “a labyrinth of letters”.
Bu this infinity of books is not necessarily positive. In fact, the narrator fears it may lead to total chaos and lack of meaning.
The ambiance of the story is rather sad – although the story has an epigraph coming from a real book proposing study as a cure to melancholy.
So I’m not totally sure what to make of this story.

It focuses on language.
Could this Library contain all existing, or all potential books, if you rearrange the letters differently, in all languages? This is a story en abyme, typical of Borges’s style.

If you are wondering why Borges talks about the 22 letters of the alphabet, know his reference is the Hebrew alphabet.
And incidentally, Borges worked many years as a librarian.

To go more in depth, check the Course Hero page on this book.
Come back tomorrow for my thoughts on the last story of Part 1: The Garden of Forking Paths.

HAVE YOU READ THIS BOOK?
WHAT DID YOU THINK OF IT,
OR OF THIS STORY?

Ficciones, by Jorge Luis Borges: The Circular Ruins. The Babylon Lottery

Ficciones

Ficciones,
by Jorge Luis Borges,
1944
Magical realism/Short stories
576 pages
Goodreads
Buy the book on my Bookshop

  📚 📚 📚  

Click here to see my other posts on this book.

Today, I’ll share my thoughts on two stories:

The Circular Ruins

A man is on his way to a temple, now in circular ruins. He has a goal in mind: to create a man by dreaming of him. His “son” does eventually come to life, as a special type of god of fire. At the end of his life, the dreamer realizes “he also was an illusion, that someone else was dreaming him.”

I really enjoyed this one a lot, with the circular movement of not just the ruins, but the pattern of the story itself. It is also a movement reminiscent of a labyrinth, a theme we are starting to find more here and that will be even more preponderant in the following stories.

The creation through dreaming has many references, to Adam, to the Golem (in Jewish folklore), and to Pinocchio.
The story can also be read for reflections on the process of creation for an author.

The Babylon Lottery

The story focuses on a system of lottery that decided on the fates of people in Babylon, and how the system evolved along the centuries; and a secret Company behind it all (with possible criticism on the institution of the Church, as its “ecclesiastical and metaphysical strength” is mentioned, as well as “sacred scriptures”).

It obviously made me think of contemporary works of fantasy and also on the famous short story by Shirley Jackson. But at a deeper level, it also deals with how lottery was used to democratically determine positions and functions in Antique Athens for instance.

There is an interesting reflection in the background between fate and chance.

To go more in depth, check the Course Hero page on this book.
Come back on December 22 for my thoughts on the next story: An Examination of the Work of Herbert Quain.

HAVE YOU READ THIS BOOK?
WHAT DID YOU THINK OF IT,
OR OF THIS STORY?