borges by cuiliqing


									                                                                                 Kristin Farr
                                                                             Eng 437 Essay 2

       Jorge Luis Borges has been deemed by some the initiator of the influx of meta-

fictional elements in Latin American literature; the Argentine author’s short stories are

complex and often bizarre and many times throughout them, the line between reality and

fiction becomes blurred. Some of the same elements are used by Beatriz Guido, another

Argentine author, in her short story “The Usurper.” Each of these authors uses

metafictional aspect differently, but both of them are ultimately using the elements in

their stories as their way of rebellion and acting out in the dire political scenes in which

they were writing. Borges’ “Fictions” and “Parables,” sections of Labyrinths, with their

depiction of alternate worlds and sometimes bizarre philosophies, call into question the

reality of political truths and history and offer alternate accounts for life, while Guido’s

short story, while obviously reflecting the political situation in Argentina, is more

pertinent to the machismo aspect of society.

       In “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote,” Menard is immediately called the

author of this literary work which is obviously by Cervantes. However, Menard’s copy is

supposed to not just be a transcription of the original. “Being” Miguel de Cervantes

“seemed to him a diminution,” but he had to reach it through his own experiences. The

narrator says that while in the 17th century, writing it was a “reasonable undertaking,”

now it is almost impossible, and that “Cervantes text and Menard’s are verbally identical,

but the second is almost infinitely richer”(42). After quoting a passage from Cervantes,

he writes that Menard, who “multiplied draft upon draft” frantically working, “on the
other hand” writes another passage, which is exactly the same, word for word, but the

narrator says that “the contrast in style is vivid”(43).

        Irony in the story is heightened in the very quote that was pulled from Cervantes

and Menard’s works, where history is called the mother of truth; here the line between

truth and history is called into question, and Menard says that historical truth is actually

just what people judge to have happened.       The purpose of this short narrative seems to

be that “it is not in vain that three hundred years have gone by filled with exceedingly

complex events”(41), and it is so much harder to write the same thing because so much

has changed over time. However, it becomes even more confusing when the narrator

says that certain things in the writing were in fact changed (42), pointing to “a new

conception of the historical novel,” when in fact, as has been revealed earlier, the works

are exactly the same! He seems to imply that their history should be looked at and lived

through modern eyes, which seems simple enough, but then the fact remains that the two

texts are actually literally identical, suggesting that their history will be literally the same

regardless, and just must be interpreted differently. Thus Borges creates a confusion

between what is real and what is fiction, a blur of the real text of Cervantes and the

fictional Menard’s work, as well as what really happened in the past and how literature

constructs people to judge history; this contradiction calls into question historical

Argentina and the modern perspective of the machismo, tyrannical society in which he

lives. What is real in the history of Argentina, and what have their politician and society

constructed their history to be? The question is not answered, but to raise this question

and show the possibility for a different mindset is just the goal of Borges.
       Another of his stories, “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” in which a totally imaginary

planet is introduced and very specifically described in realistic modern terms, is also

highly metafictional. The narrator has found volumes of histories of the land, so he

knows the laws governing it, as well as the population’s psychological beliefs and

specific language, which are described with almost bizarre details. He says, “Uqbar was

one of fantasy,” and “its epics and legends never referred to reality”(5), but then these 40

volumes of the Encyclopedia of Tlon are said to be put in an actual Memphis library.

Furthermore, in the end, the narrator says, “The English and French and mere Spanish

will disappear from the globe. The world will be Tlon”(18), in the height of the lack of

distinction between fiction and reality. In this bizarre use of combining a fictional world

which was “invented” by man, eventually becoming the real world, Borges is making a

statement about man’s control and dictatorship over his society and also calling into

question the very reality of the Argentine state at that time.

       A similar metafictional constituent is found in the Parable entitled “Borges and I”;

clearly the narrator is Borges, as he knows of Borges “from the mail,” but Borges is the

one whom things happen to and the one who contrives literature. It seems as if perhaps

Borges is the one to whom society’s standards and values have been thrust. But while at

first the narrator differentiates strongly between himself and Borges, he later says he is

destined to perish but a part of him can survive in Borges, and then finally he says that he

does “not know which one of us has written this page”(247). Borges is the one who

writes which will cause him to live on in the future, but he is also the one who is affected

by the state of affairs. And in the end, since this story has indeed been written, there is a

question of who in fact wrote the essay. This calls into question reality and how societal
factors have created another sort of fictional “reality,” and suggests that the line between

the two has become so completely blurred, the two cannot even be distinguished. A

similar ending is found in “The Circular Ruins” where the main character realizes after

dreaming up another, that he himself is “a mere appearance dreamt by another”(50).

       Beatriz Guido seems to borrow some elements of Borges and combine them with

the gender-related issues of Puig in her short story “The Usurper,” in which she uses

metafictional elements as well, as another way of critiquing society. Living in a society

which could parallel Guido’s own, with the recollection of the men who watch the twins

in their sleep shooting other men, each of the girls in the story, Victoria and Marina,

while physically identical, represent a side of the female “virgin/whore” dichotomy;

Victoria is her father’s favorite, who is paralyzed, overly feminine, and angelic, while

Marina is masculine, playing the role of the groom in the mock wedding and speaking of

her manly need for sex, as well as promiscuous, having lost her virginity to her uncle.

Throughout the story, however, there are suggestions of them being the same person,

such as the statement made when they are playing their mirror game, and the exclamation

of Marina when she sees her sister with Pablo, “My sister—myself”(197).

       In the end, therefore, the reader does not know if Marina has usurped her sister’s

identity, as the title suggests, of if the two were one all along. After Victoria is raped,

Marina paints her eyes and lips while Marina was the one that wore makeup throughout

the story, and Marina becomes just like her sister, as her father never stops kissing her

and Pablo wheels her around. This would suggest that they switched roles, that Marina

usurped her twin’s identity. If this is the case, the short story becomes a critique of the

male-dominated wealthy class which is usurping or taking over the virtuous native
population. But, as before mentioned, it could also be that the twins are actually the same

person, so that the Argentine stereotypes for opposite good and bad women are

questioned as they are brought together as two halves of the same person. So while what

actually happens in the story is unclear, society’s gender distinctions also become

unclear. Furthermore, there is also the idea that Victoria is raped by workers who had

previously praised her for being so “angelic” and fitting society’s mold for a proper

female. And too, there is the possibility that Marina had also been raped at a young age

by her uncle, which is actually implied in the language Guido uses, which could have

been the cause for her bad behavior. No matter how it is read, Guido makes use of

metafiction, the question of what is real and what is fiction, to strongly critique machismo

society, gender roles, and the usurpation of virtue or the native population.

       The stories of both Borges and Guido end on a perplexing note, with the reader,

and sometimes even the characters in the stories, not fully knowing the difference

between fiction and reality. The question that remains, the blur of that fine line, is used

by both of them to raise greater societal questions and attempt to challenge the situation

in the country at the time.

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