Jennifer J


The concept of the Aleph as conceived by Borges seems to represent the incommunicability of what is real and essential. The Aleph of the story contains all knowledge in the universe, but this knowledge cannot be given or communicated, which may be viewed as a metaphor for the fact that reality can only be perceived subjectively, and even if one were to be omniscient his or her consciousness would be confined to his or her own mind and his or her knowledge would, in the end, be lost to time with that consciousness. What is especially interesting is that at the end of the story, the author, despite having seen the Aleph, begins to forget what he has seen, and he links this loss of memory to the loss of his mental image of Beatriz, a woman he once loved who is now dead. This woman was his reality just as much as anything he saw in the Aleph, and it is this loss of an individual perception of a single person he fears more than anything.

What was most notable in Borges’s “The Immortal” was the story of the narrator’s meeting with Homer, a once-wise philosopher who had been reduced to a mute savage living in the desert. It seemed that with this, Borges was illustrating the idea that all the great plans and philosophies of human beings are, in the end, reduced to gibberish in the face of the passage of time–this is accented ironically particularly by one line in which the narrator praises the intelligence of men over “beasts”, even the intelligence of the Troglodytes. The beauty and art of Homer’s works were no longer communicable when the narrator found him; yet they did have a kind of communication between them, that of two men trying to express something, trying to teach something and learn something (for example, how to write, how to speak). In the face of immortality and time without end, Homer’s works meant nothing, and yet his humanity still spoke to the narrator, the representation of the modern age.

The infinite, hexagonal library of Borges’s “The Library of Babel” is a metaphor for the universe in which human beings exist. The books in the world of the story seem to be metaphors for people; each one is in many ways the same and yet there are infinite variations on the same theme. The same 25 characters make up each one, and yet an endless number of books exist and not a single one is exactly the same as any other. Interestingly, Borges’ librarians search for their Vindication, a single book which holds their past as well as future, yet never find it; certainly in the real world it is hard enough to ever find oneself no matter how hard one searches. The futility of the search for the “Book-Man,” an effectively omnipotent being and a symbol for God, also obviously echoes the agony of the world in which mankind exists. The most haunting idea by far, however, is Borges’s narrator’s final “elegant” idea, the notion that if one traveled far enough among the hexagonal libraries, the bookshelves would begin to repeat themselves, on and on and on ad infinitum, while gradually all of humanity dwindles away and disappears into the bottomless airshafts.

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