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Ficciones | Quotes


Now, in all memories, a fictitious past occupies the place of any other.

Narrator, Part 1, Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius

A secret society has invented a planet named Tlön and has quietly spread the news of its existence. The fictional world gradually supplants the real one. Thus in a Borgesian twist, the imitation world is superior to the real one. The narrator's remark points to a late stage in that development. The fictitious planet Tlön has supplanted the real world not only in the present but even in memories of the past.


The text of Cervantes' [and Menard's books] are verbally identical, but the second is almost infinitely richer.

Narrator, Part 1, Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote

The two texts being compared are identical, word for word. But Menard, a 20th-century Frenchman, has written part of a novel in 17th-century Spanish. The narrator finds Menard's accomplishment that much more remarkable than Cervantes's writing in his own idiom, 17th-century Spanish. The ideas referred to in each text seem more surprising coming from the 20th-century Menard. Although there is no verbal basis for comparison, because they are the same, the two texts can be read differently. This concept underscores the author's importance in the interpretation of a book. The paradox is Menard's two disconnected chapters are superior to Cervantes's entire novel. Likewise it is paradoxical for Menard's copy to be "almost infinitely richer" than the original work.


He understood that he also was an illusion, that someone was dreaming him.

Narrator, Part 1, The Circular Ruins

The main character of "The Circular Ruins" finally has created a man by dreaming him. The dreamed-of man knows nothing of his origins nor his invulnerability to fire. But everything that seemed to mark the "son" as different from his creator turns out to be true of the "father" as well. Readers know nothing of the wizard's life before his arrival in the jungle. And he too is unaware, until the end, he is someone's dream.


The consequences, sometimes, are terrifying.

Narrator, Part 1, The Babylon Lottery

The lottery begins as a simple drawing for cash prizes. As it evolves into something more complex, penalties are added—lottery results, such as fines, jail terms, and death, that can have devastating consequences for the "winner." Then in a late stage of the lottery's evolution, there are "impersonal drawings" that sometimes have "terrifying" consequences. These likely are worse than the personal consequences already in effect, but examples are never provided.


I do know that his books are over-anxious to astonish.

Narrator, Part 1, An Examination of the Work of Herbert Quain

The narrator has been explaining the complicated opinions of the writer Herbert Quain. Quain does not share the opinions of noted writers Gustave Flaubert and Henry James, who thought "works of art are infrequently and laboriously composed." Quain thinks "good literature [is] common enough." But then Quain seems to swing back to the Flaubert/James position because he thinks books should "astonish," and "to be astonished by rote [habitually] is difficult." The weakness of Quain's work, it seems, is its anxious need to astonish.


The universe (which others call the Library) is composed of ... an infinite number of hexagonal galleries.

Narrator, Part 1, The Library of Babel

This opening sentence of "The Library of Babel" functions as a metaphysical proposition: the universe is an infinite Library. The rest of the story works out the consequences of an infinite (or almost infinite) Library housing books that are nothing but combinations of the 25 "orthographic symbols." The story does not have characters other than a lugubrious narrator-librarian. Nothing much happens in the story, though drastic and distant events are relayed, such as the destruction of books or the suicides of librarians. But Borges manages to create a taut story of existential doubt, seemingly with nothing more than this one proposition.


Time is forever dividing itself toward innumerable futures ... in one ... I am your enemy.

Dr. Stephen Albert, Part 1, The Garden of Forking Paths

Albert is speaking to Dr. Yu Tsun, great-grandson of Ts'ui Pên, author of The Garden of Forking Paths. He is speaking of the theory of possible worlds but in a way in which all possible worlds are actual. There is dramatic irony in Albert's words. He believes he is in a world in which he is Yu Tsun's gracious host, not his enemy. But readers soon learn Yu Tsun has come to Albert's house to kill him.


The two projects ... are lacking in sense, but they reveal a certain stammering greatness.

Narrator, Part 2, Funes, the Memorious

The two projects are Funes's. He conceives of a numbering "system" in which every number would have a completely unsystematic proper name. His other project is a catalogue of his 70,000 most essential memories. He discards this project as "interminable" and "useless."

Like the old-fashioned term idiot savant, the narrator's phrase "stammering greatness" uses the metaphor of pathology to suggest a combination of deficit and talent. For all of Funes's prodigious mental abilities, he is unable to think in a way that lets him live in the world.


He was the solitary and lucid spectator of a multiform world which was ... intolerably exact.

Narrator, Part 2, Funes, the Memorious

After being thrown from a horse, Funes develops a remarkable memory and a remarkable way of perceiving the world. He notices every detail, right down to the rapidly shifting shape of a horse's mane in the wind. He lives in an exhausting welter of tiny details. No one else apprehends the world in such detail, leaving Funes very much alone. He is reduced to being a "spectator of a ... world" rather than an actor in it because he cannot think in general enough concepts to accomplish anything. The example of Funes shows forgetting and inexactitude are necessary for thought.


I am Vincent Moon. Despise me.

John Vincent Moon, Part 2, The Form of the Sword

Moon says these words at the end of the story he has been telling to a man who turns out to be named Borges. Until this moment Borges thinks Moon is "the Englishman of La Colorada" (who soon introduced himself as an Irishman).

Moon has been describing his own traitorous cowardice. It is a surprise his loathing for Moon's treachery turns out to be self-loathing, but self-deprecation does not lessen Moon's self-involvement. The ending is a surprise, but that is the story's weakness. Even Borges later dismissed it as a "trick story."


And supposing the story of this night were a sham?

Commissioner Treviranus, Part 2, Death and the Compass

"Death and the Compass" is a detective story in the tradition of Edgar Allan Poe's August Dupin or Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories. Treviranus is the plodding, unimaginative police official whose analysis of the crime should pale in comparison to the insights of master sleuth Erik Lönnrot. But on "this night" as on the first night of this series of crimes, Treviranus is right, and Lönnrot is wrong.


He renounced honor, good, peace, the Kingdom of Heaven, as others, less heroically, renounced pleasure.

Narrator, Part 2, Three Versions of Judas

The narrator is speaking of Nils Runeberg's second version of Judas, in his revised book Kristus och Judas (Christ or Judas). In the first version Judas was a reflection of Jesus, playing his predestined part in the Resurrection. In this second Judas acts more freely, willingly becoming an ascetic. But Runeberg's twist is to suppose Judas also renounces spiritual progress. He renounces all spiritual reward on Earth and in Heaven. In doing this he becomes a better ascetic than Jesus, who has committed no sins on Earth and has Heaven waiting for him. Thus Jesus is "less heroic."


He added to the concept of the Son, which seemed exhausted, the complexities of calamity and evil.

Narrator, Part 2, Three Versions of Judas

The narrator is summarizing Nils Runeberg's work as a theologian, particularly his final version of Judas. Most people would think of "calamity and evil" as subtractions from the concept of the son of God, but for the narrator they are enriching additions.


From his cot, Recabarren saw the end.

Narrator, Part 2, The End

Recabarren lies on his cot, paralyzed from an apparent stroke. The "end" he sees is Martín Fierro's death.

The attention to Recabarren's situation is significant. At the beginning of the story Recabarren has to ask a boy to tell him who is in the store because he cannot see from his cot. Therefore, he is unlikely to have seen Fierro enter the store and unlikely to have witnessed the fight. Recabarren may be imagining these events.


Dahlmann closed his book and allowed himself to live.

Narrator, Part 2, The South

Juan Dahlmann has been ill and confined to a sanitarium. Traveling by train to the South, where he will recover at his country estate, he has brought with him The Thousand and One Nights. But on the train he is distracted from reading by "the morning itself and the mere fact of being." In closing the book he turns away from fantasy and toward real life, grateful to be alive. But readers may be aware he is not engaged in real life. It is possible Dahlmann is dreaming and is actually still in the sanitarium.

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