From Philosophical Idealism
to Political Ideology in “Tlön,
Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” and
María Díaz Pozueta
University of Washington, Seattle
Jorge Luis Borges was first recognized as a great writer by post-
structuralist and postmodernist critics who saw in his fictions a reflection
on language as a universal library, a labyrinth with no exit; he was thought
to have pioneered the discovery that “there is nothing outside the text.” This
interpretation, however, did nothing to counter the objections against his
work from early in Borges’s career: that it doesn’t meet the writer’s ethical
responsibility to deepen our insight into the real, and in particular, that it
lacks engagement with history and the political. In subsequent decades,
however, a number of writers have sought, with some success, to show that
there is a good deal of reference to history and the political in Borges’s stories.
The labor of contextualization carried out by these critics reminds us that no
text, no matter how self-referential, exists in a historical vacuum.
Rather than trying to adjudicate between these two critical standpoints,
I propose in this essay to carry forward the projects of both. I want to show
that the concern with historico-political reality in Borges’s fiction at times
CR: The New Centennial Review, Vol. 9, No. 3, 2010, pp. 205–228, issn 1532-687x.
© Michigan State University Board of Trustees. All rights reserved.
206 ● From Phi lo s ophical Id eali sm to Po litical Id e o log y
takes the form of a reflection on language, and specifically on its seductive-
ness, its tendency to ensnare us in its labyrinth by causing us to think that
its shape is the shape of reality. For Borges the type of discourse that was
most dangerously seductive was always philosophy. Rightly understood, he
thought, philosophy is a form of fiction; but it aspires to be a mirror of reality
at its deepest, metaphysical, level. When carried to its extreme, the deluded
ambition of metaphysics is magnified into the form of political ideology—