Jorge Luis Borges, an Argentine writer active during most of the 20th century, has been described as a writer who explored “the crannies of the human psyche, the fantastic within the apparently mundane” (Gargan). He is most well-known for his Ficciones, or Fictions, a group of short stories that raise the issues of the nature of reality, the nature of dreams, and the nature of the human heart.
Exploring Borges over the past month has been a sometimes alarming, always revelatory experience. In his “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” I read of a secret society that dreams of an alternative universe, one which ultimately overtakes reality. In “The Library of Babel,” nihilistic inhabitants of a library the size of the universe decide that there can be no meaning in all of the words that they read. In “Three Versions of Judas,” Borges compellingly argues that Judas is God, for Judas must have chosen willingly to suffer for eternity, whereas Jesus only suffered for three hours. The ideas more so than the plots of Borges’ work are labyrinthine in nature, leading the reader again and again to the conclusion that there are no answers or “exits,” only many different versions of reality.
As I have studied Borges’ works, I have come to realize that there is a world of interested lay people online who have realized the applicability of his work. There are forums, book groups, and bloggers who discuss his ideas. Borges remains distinctly relevant today because of the prescience of many of his Fictions; they deal in highly specific ways with the digital culture that has evolved over the last twenty years. Noam Cohen of the New York Times even stated that Borges “uniquely, bizarrely, prefigured the World Wide Web” with his conception of infinite stores of information and the ways in which those stores would alter the human experience. (I beg of you to run as fast as your clicker finger can carry you and read his article on Borges.)
Borges, with his powerful dreams of the future, has been translated by many devotees from the original Spanish into English—but also, and with similar zeal, he has been translated into the visual arts. Exhibitions in museums from Brazil to London have featured work that is based on or related to his literature; more accessibly, interested and unprofessional artists the world over have made use of his prefigured internet to post visual artwork based on his literary artwork.
More interesting to me are the ways in which unrelated artwork has been used to explore and illuminate Borges’ work. For instance, AlleneParker has argued that M. C. Escher’s art is directly comparable to Borges’ writing, because both deal with the concept of the labyrinth: a maze in which there is only one entrance which also serves as the exit. Borges writes intellectual riddles that wind around and around; Escher creates visual paradoxes such as two hands drawing themselves. The visual experience of viewing Escher’s work richly enhances my understanding of Borges when put into the context of its labyrinthine qualities.