My personal philosophy on reading Borges: If you want to have the socks blown off your mind, start at the beginning and read forwards. If you want to understand what he's writing, start at the end (where he usually puts his punch lines) and read backwards. This philosophy holds pretty well for Borges' short story Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius.
Read beginning to end, the story is about a man who discovers obscure references to the land of Uqbar (said to be in Asia Minor) in a copy of Encyclopedia Britannica. The encyclopedia turns out to be a falsification, but the man is enchanted with the idea of this land. In the encyclopedia article, the area of Tlon (a sort of subdivision of Uqbar) is mentioned.
Through the course of the story, the man starts to see more references to Uqbar, but even more to Tlon, which takes on a larger meaning to him. The "subdivision" of Tlon is referred to in other ways in other encyclopedias the man finds, and ultimately Tlon becomes a whole planet in his mind.
The story involves a secret society, called Orbis Tertius (which means Third World, I believe). This society is discovered to be the author of the encyclopedia of Tlon; apparently, for centuries the society had been creating this fictitious world, which includes its own language and epistemologies and sciences.
The ultimate idea of this short story is that mankind, like God, is capable of creating reality. In Borges' story, objects from the world of Tlon (which is admittedly nothing more than an idea in the minds of brilliant and secretive people) begin showing up in the "real" world, our world. Perhaps more significantly, the ideas of Tlon, their language, and their beliefs about the nature of reality begin to be adopted into "our" schools and belief systems. By the end of the story, the speaker worries that all of reality will give way to the pretend reality of Tlon. He writes:
"Almost immediately, reality yielded on more than one account. The truth is that it longed to yield. Ten years ago an symmetry with a semblance of order--dialectical materialism, anti-Semitism, Nazism--was sufficient to entrance the minds of men. How could one do other than submit to Tlon, to the minute and vast evidence of an orderly planet?" (Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, postscript).
Yes, Borges is delicious...but he also weighs heavily in my internal debate of which way is the best to interpret literature. For instance, I had a certain understanding of this short story the first time I read it, and then my understanding changed the second time I read it. When I consulted my first source (Wikipedia, of course), my understanding changed again, simply because the source gave a good outline of the plot summary and mentioned the name of Berkeley.
Why is this significant?
1) The plot of this book is convoluted enough to require three or four readings (or a good plot summary).
2) The name Berkeley is mentioned only once, as far as I can find, in this short story. However, when Wikipedia brought the name up, I instantly understood the story on a new and more profound level, perhaps one which is more in alignment with what Borges intended the story to read on. Berkeley was a an 18th Century philosopher who proposed that all humans are nothing more than the dreams of God.
More to follow...