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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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