Jorge Borges: Short Stories

Jorge Borges: Short Stories Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Reflecting on the themes presented in Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote, choose a famous piece of literature and a famous author other than its actual author. Suppose that this writer wrote that piece of literature, and describe what might have motivated the writer to have done so.

    Appropriate answers will of course broadly vary based on chosen author and piece of literature, but should incorporate the biography and other works of the chosen author, applied to the themes of the piece of literature. Though the contrast would be more apparent with a writer and piece of literature from different genres, greater nuance will be available if they are from the same genre.

  2. 2

    Describe a significant difference between Simurgh and Al-Mu'tasim.

    The moral supremacy of Simurgh lived within all worthy birds, whereas the moral supremacy of Al-Mu'tasim was confined to a single entity. Note that this is primarily true only for the second edition of The Approach to Al-Mu'tasim: in the first version, it is implied that he, too, is searching for someone of greater or equal moral worth.

  3. 3

    Explain the reason behind the humor in Borges' textual analysis of Don Quixote in Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote.

    Borges transcribes two literally identical excerpts from the Quixote but denotes one as having been written by Cervantes, and the other as by Menard. He then gives vastly different analyses to the two, seeming totally unimpressed by Cervantes and in awe of Menard. Yet to the reader, the two sections appear indistinguishable. This is a commentary on the importance of the reader's perspective, in contrast with the author's perspective.

  4. 4

    Describe the hallmarks of Borges' labyrinth theme, and give an example of when he employed it.

    The major hallmarks of the labyrinth are: unfathomable complexity; enormous size, sometimes to the point of either perceived or actual infinity; and seemingly unrelated paths intersecting and eventually leading to a coherent result or solution. Many textual examples are suitable, but the more abstract labyrinths are arguably richer. For instance, the Lottery of Babylon transforms the natural phenomenon of chance into a perceived labyrinth of randomized cause and effect.

  5. 5

    How would the ramifications of the actions taken by Emma Zunz against Aaron Loewenthal differ based on whether or not her father was actually framed for embezzlement?

    The argument Emma makes to herself for framing Loewenthal is defensible within the moral paradigm of reciprocity, provided that her father actually was framed by Loewenthal. No such grounds exist if her father was not actually framed. What's more, as her father's death was a suicide, the killing of Loewenthall is not functionally moral under a code of reciprocity - nor, indeed, under many well-renowned moral codes whatsoever.

  6. 6

    Discuss some benefits and drawbacks to the style of metafiction reviews written by Borges.

    A unique benefit is that Borges is able to observe and critique his ideas as a third party; the author becomes a character whose motives, style, and psyche are all included as part of the narrative (e.g., Pierre Menard). This adds more levels to the sorts of analyses that can be done both by Borges and his readers. The main drawback is that the need to speak in summaries of the metafiction prohibits the sort of thematic and technical nuance found in lengthier works of prose. Themes accrue a certain unique flavor when spun throughout a novel, and we may receive only the faintest hint of this flavor in a summary format.

  7. 7

    The god Fire, who presides over the Circular Ruins, manifests itself as a chimera of a tiger, horse, bull, rose, and tempest (99). Briefly postulate why Fire might appear as such a chimera before the dreamer.

    All five of the components of the chimera qua Fire are wild and untamed, like unharnessed fire, but each has a unique type of wildness: the tiger is ferocious; the horse is graceful and gallant; the bull is headstrong; the rose is dangerously beautiful; and the tempest is raw chaos. Yet almost all of these can be controlled as well: the tiger can be tamed as in a circus; the horse can be broken; the bull can be manipulated by the matador; and the rose can be domesticated and pruned. This implies that Fire, though wild, can still be controlled; yet there will always be the tempestuous element to it which tilts the scales in favor of chaos and destruction in the end.

  8. 8

    Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertus opens with a quotation about the reprehensible nature of mirrors for multiplying mankind. Describe an instance in Borges' literature where the reprehensible nature of mirrors is made apparent.

    Many examples are possible, but a strong candidate is The Circular Ruins. The dream-child is essentially a distorted reflection of the dreamer, brought into reality as something appearing to be separate from the dreamer but really only an extension of him. This is a dangerous game because, as discussed in the analysis of that story, the act of bringing dreams to life seriously damages the notion of liminality between reality and surreality.

  9. 9

    Taking these stories as a whole, would you be more inclined to believe Borges is theist or an atheist? Briefly explain why.

    What is clearest from stories such as Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius is that Borges is highly critical of the legitimacy of institutionalized religion. However, as we have discussed, this is not the same as the question of God. Given that Borges so often explores the infinite, the unfathomably complex, and the inevitable, and how vehemently he critiques that which is man-made but poses as divine, it appears a safe bet to believe that Borges believes in some manner of divinity, rather than none whatsoever.

  10. 10

    Using the views explored in Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote as a guide, postulate some basic views you might expect a modern Borges to hold on copyright law.

    The possibilities here are broad in scope, but a general outline is possible. The key point is that Borges sees the amount of effort required to organically come up with something created by someone else as practically impossible, meaning a defense of independent innovation would have to meet a substantial burden of proof. However, Borges would also find it counterproductive to enact laws or social norms which dissuade people from borrowing from or building off of existing ideas. After all, he revels throughout his stories in the act of playing with and experimenting with different ideas; to prevent that, he may well believe, would be to deny our intellectual nature.