Literature Study GuidesFiccionesPart 2 Prologue Summary

Ficciones | Study Guide

Jorge Luis Borges

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Ficciones | Part 2, Prologue : Artifices | Summary

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Summary

Borges introduces the stories in Part 2 with a left-handed compliment, saying these are "less torpidly executed" than those in Part 1, torpid meaning "lacking in energy, or dull." Borges singles out two stories for special mention: "Death and the Compass" and "Funes, the Memorious." He says "Funes, the Memorious" is "a metaphor of insomnia" and describes "Death and the Compass" as set in "a Buenos Aires of dreams."

Borges adds a postscript, dated 1956. He has included three more stories in Part 2: "The End," "The Sect of the Phoenix," and "The South." "The End" contains one fictional character, Recabarren. Everything else is "implicit in a famous book." He describes the task he set for himself in "The Sect of the Phoenix": to reveal gradually the ordinary fact at the heart of the story's secret. He regards "The South" as "perhaps my best story." It can be read as a narrative "and also in another way." Finally he lists the authors he "continually rereads": 19th-century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer; 19th-century English essayist and critic Thomas De Quincey; 20th-century Viennese philosopher Fritz Mauthner; and 19th-century English author Robert Louis Stevenson, best known for Treasure Island and The Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Also in the list are Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw; English critic and author G.K. Chesterton, known for his detective novels featuring the priest-sleuth Father Brown; and Léon Bloy, a 19th- and 20th-century French writer and convert to Catholicism.

Analysis

Borges sounds a little like one of his characters—an English gentleman with an aristocratic disdain for boasting, perhaps. Apart from the dry remarks about his own fiction, Borges offers surprising insights. "Funes, the Memorious" is not obviously a story about insomnia. But Funes cannot forget; he cannot forget the multifarious details of the world long enough to form a general concept—a nation, a dog, a person. Forgetting could also be seen as a key to sleep during which one withdraws from the world, forgetting its claims. Funes is incapable of this too: "To sleep is to be abstracted from the world." Funes in his bed imagines "every crevice and every molding of the ... houses around him." These thoughts also make Funes a universal figure in a way he does not seem to be at first. Few people have Funes's memory, but many have felt for one night the difficulty of being "abstracted from the world."

Borges identifies Recabarren as the only thing he invented in the story "The End." Everything else in the story, he says, is "implicit in a famous book," the epic poem The Return of Martín Fierro by José Hernández, a sequel to Hernández's epic poem The Gaucho Martín Fierro. Fierro is the hero of both poems and a character most Argentine readers would recognize. The guitarist is a minor character at the end of the sequel. Borges's use of Hernández's characters is an example of Borges's transfictional methods. Transfictionality refers to moving characters, plots, or settings from one fictional work to another.

Borges's list of the writers who influence him is odd. They are overwhelmingly English (with some Central European philosophers thrown in) rather than Argentinean or Spanish. They are lesser-known writers and philosophers, or ones who write in the lesser genres, such as Stevenson with his adventure tales or Chesterton with his detective fiction. As American novelist and essayist William H. Gass points out, Borges does not claim affiliation to the giants among writers of English such as Henry James, Herman Melville, or James Joyce. As in the list of minor works Borges gives to his characters Herbert Quain, Pierre Menard, and Jaromir Hladík, Borges claims a minor and quixotic tradition as his forebears.

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