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Jorge Luis Borges

When Reality Is Not Enough


With exquisite accuracy, Jorge Luis Borges stretched the limits of reality to build imaginary spaces.

Jorge Luis Borges had the well-known habit of inventing inexistent references that endowed his work with “academic seriousness”. Because of this, he could pass them off as reliable sources for posterior research, which left the curious readers feeling uneasy after being unable to find the book, article or encyclopedia that had been so neatly referenced in one of his texts.

Among readers who are open to the art of playing with reality beyond the urge of ratifying literary references, Borges’ playful resource would have the opposite effect; it would propel their desire to keep swimming —by continuing reading— in this intricate, imaginary world created by the author.

The endearing Argentinean was particularly generous with this second type of readers; he even offered them the idea of a place where they could take their imagination: “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”. Included in his book Fictions (1944), “Tlön” is the concoction of a world not built by a single person but by many individuals ––all of them members of a sect–– who through their writings shared the discoveries of an invented realm.

Who are the inventors of Tlön? The plural is inevitable, because the hypothesis of a lone inventor ––an infinite Leibniz laboring away darkly and modestly–– has been unanimously discounted. It is conjectured that this brave new world is the work of a secret society of astronomers, biologists, engineers, metaphysicians, poets, chemists, algebraists, moralists, painters, geometers… directed by an obscure man of genius. Individuals mastering these diverse disciplines are abundant, however, those capable of inventiveness are harder to come by, and those that are capable of subordinating that inventiveness to a rigorous, systematic plan are even more rare. This plan is so vast that each writer’s contribution is infinitesimal.

These imaginary lands, characterized by their idealistic essence, exist in the writings of the fictional group of enthusiasts of Tlön, in Borges’ fictional city, Uqbar, and in the mind of every reader ––A multilayered phenomena that honors, of course, the labyrinthine nature of the Borgesian universe.

Therefore, solipsism is not possible: how can we imagine a single individual if he is nothing other than the result of an accident in the idea of another individual? ––And further yet, if everything is related to everything else.

Not even the nouns of those languages spoken in Tlön remit to real entities, on the contrary, they encompass poetic objects:

The literature of this hemisphere (like Meinong’s subsistent world) abounds in ideal objects, which are convoked and dissolved in a moment, according to poetic needs. At times they are determined by mere simultaneity. There are objects composed of two terms, one of visual and another of auditory character: the color of the rising sun and the faraway cry of a bird. There are objects of many terms: the sun and the water on a swimmer’s chest, the vague tremulous rose color we see with our eyes closed, the sensation of being carried along by a river and also by sleep. These second-degree objects can be combined with others; through the use of certain abbreviations, the process is practically infinite. There are famous poems made up of one enormous word. This word forms a poetic object created by the author. The fact that no one believes in the reality of nouns paradoxically causes their number to be unending.

For us, ordinary humans, this absolute lack of tangible substances permits that we conceive the world from an unprecedented, hyper-malleable point of view, which constitutes by itself an extraordinary gift, courtesy of our writer.

Taking advantage of the myriad of possibilities that only a well-told lie provides, Borges created a fantastic and alluring world that can be fully inhabited by those who let themselves be swept away by the story, regardless of traditional conventions of reality.

In ‘Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius’ Borges created, using the degrees of possibility that a well-told lie enable, a fantastic and alluring world, which we can inhabit if we allow ourselves to read his story and break our ties with reality.

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