What People See vs. What People Know

For now, all I have read of Borges is the 15 short stories Jon assigned. While this is enough to understand the lectures, I get the feeling that in order to fully understand Borges I would need to read all his collected works, and even I then might not have one definitive picture. In a sense it is similar to the Wasteland. Although each story can be read on it’s own the fragments also feel like part of a greater whole. Anyway, what i’m saying is that I still don’t really know who Borges is, or ‘whats his deal’, but I do have some thoughts on his stories. I thought they were really, really interesting.

As a whole: There are definitely recurring themes in almost all these stories. You never really know “the whole story”, and I think that is part of the point. In the story of Hakim, the Masked Leper, or The Man on the Pink Corner, or Circular Ruins, you are led to believe in one reality (e.g. that Hakim is a messiah)  and the last page often does something to dramatically shift this perspective, altering the whole story. I guess this isn’t a new way of writing by any means, and i’m sure that even when Borges was writing the interesting plot twist was already being employed frequently, but there is a way he does it that seems to make a more lasting statement. It’s a tension between what people see, what people tell, and then what people know. I think maybe Borges is cool because instead of combining these three things into one analogous narrative, he can separate then so they work independently. What we see, what we tell, and what we know all gain some distance from each other. It even makes you ask “is there a whole story? Is there any point to knowing a ‘whole story’?” Considering my obsession with seeing things in life as unified, this is an important question.

Circular Ruins was good at asking these questions. Borges was writing about inception long before Hollywood picked up on it’s marketability.  He also can create a lot of premise in a short amount of time. The Traitor and the Hero: more things within things. My favorite story of the ones we had to read was “Library of Babel”. Is this a whole world of some significant metaphor? Perhaps but there was so much in that story, and so many ideas, that I hope we discuss it in class or in the lecture (you listening Jon?)

The last thing I was interested in was the mashing up of cultures. There is imagery of desert plains and battles fought in the name of Allah, and then a Spanish bar fight. In terms of faith, these far off ideas are actually closely related, but it’s an interesting juxtaposition in this work of… collected works.




3 thoughts on “What People See vs. What People Know

  1. I had hoped to say at least one short thing about every one of the stories in the lecture, but ran out of time towards the end, so didn’t get to say much if anything about “The Library of Babel.” I also think that’s an amazing and intriguing story, and would be happy to discuss it in seminar.

  2. Just finished reading it and have to say it’s probably the best of the stories I’ve read thus far. My favorite part is where the librarians begin to burn and destroy the books they deem “useless”. They can’t find any purpose in it, but Borges implies that there is practical use within all books and metaphorically all life, despite subjective perceptions. So just because your a Christian, that doesn’t mean you should toss out the Quaran and vise versa. There’s lessons to be learned in both texts. Also the idea of every possible answer and sentence and alteration of all of history is just mystifying. Reminds me of that thing of an infinite amount of Monkeys and typewriters eventually writing a work of Shakespeare. Also just how different any of us could alter the course of the next 1000 years by doing one action differently. If I’m late for class by 10 minutes, how far will my ripples move, how much of an effect could one thing like that make over time. Butterfly effect, deep stuff.

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