Thursday, November 22, 2007


The worlds and places that Borges creates in Labyrinths are fantastical to say the least. The worlds are so for removed from our perception of reality that at times they seem impossible, or at the most improbable. Still, even though they are different from our world, they are so well held together, so tight, that they are entirely believable, despite seeming impossible. This is one of the admirable qualities of his writing, every detail is thought of; all ideas are explained. However different from the real world these worlds appear, though, they are all reflections of the real world and can be considered accurate depictions of the real world themselves. Maybe it isn’t his worlds that are askew. Maybe our perception of this world is off.

As is suggested by the title, each of the stories as well as describing a labyrinthine world is a labyrinth is itself, which me must sift through to find the inner meaning. The closest analogy to that idea would be the labyrinth of the Garden of Forking Paths, which was a book where all possibilities were acted out simultaneously, so you had to sift through your understanding to understand the various paths within the story. (145) Except in the Labyrinths themselves we must sift through the various levels that the author is working on the find the meaning at the end. What’s happening on the surface, what happens just below, and the symbols and ideas used all mesh together to convey the author’s overall purpose. This is with such complexity that changing one word could change the entire meaning. For example, the quote that Ts’ui Pen left behind: “I leave to the various futures (not to all) my garden of forking paths” would not have been so profound without the word “various” or the very small phrase “not to all.” In the Library of Babel, where every possible combination os letters was present, people were looking for the one book that told them their life. However, how is it possible to know you have the right book? The book might be right so far, but then change and tell a different story. It may tell something almost right, but leave out one very important word that changes the meaning of the idea. Also, there are so many languages that the same series of letters might mean something different to different people. “You who read me, are You sure of understanding my language?” (151) In this, the author is giving a hint on how to read his labyrinth. Everything has meaning, no matter how meaningless it seems. As you dig through the Labyrinths of this work, each phrase and each action gains it’s own small significance. By understanding the significance of each idea in turn, one can navigate through the labyrinth

In all of the Labyrinths, the world created is grounded in the real world and separated from it. They seem to be set in the real world and make reference to historical events that happened to us. The Garden of Forking Paths is set during World War I, and is passed off as the memoirs of a German spy. The main action in the Garden of Forking Paths, however, takes place in the middle of a large hedge maze, so in effect they are also separated from the rest of the world. The article on Uqbar was found in an edition of the Anglo-American Cyclopaedia, which is a reprint of the Encyclopedia Britannica. However, the reference to Uqbar was found in four pages that were added to the volume, and “Uqbar” wasn’t within the markings on the side of the Encyclopedia. (They went from Tor to Ups) These details serve to separate the idea of Uqbar from the real world. On top of that, Tlon was a place which was invented by the people of Uqbar, so this is a case of a made up world being made up by a made up world. At the end of the stories, however, Borges connects these fantastical worlds to the real world again. In Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, they first make the Tlon encyclopedia, which is later translated to the language of Tlon, then objects from Tlon start appearing in the real world: a compass, and a small cone which was extremely heavy. In the end the author predicts that “the world will be Tlon” (141). In the Garden of Forking Paths after Dr. Yu Tsun shoots Albert, he is arrested by Madden and sent into the gallows. Madden in effect breaks through the barrier that had been set up before, namely the maze. In each case the author removes himself from the real world and then the world he creates becomes the real world.

Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius reflects the human races willingness to accept an easy ideology or a sense of order in the world. The world of Tlon seems like an impossible world. Everyone in united in their idealism. The fact that everything on the planet stems from this idealism also seems impossible. Science, the way we understand it doesn’t exist. Neither does philosophy. Since science involves the explanation of facts, thereby changing the facts, the explanations of the facts have no effect on the actual facts, thereby negating the idea of science. (although the author also says that even though science is supposedly no possible, it still exists) Philosophy is basically a “dialectical game,” a chance to come up with a pleasing way to explain what happens in the world, and not a way to describe the world itself. It’s more about aesthetics than developing an understanding. “Metaphysicians… do not seek for the truth or even verisimilitude, but rather for the astounding.” (136) Even their language is affected by this idealism. Nouns do not exist. Rather, they use verbs or strings of adjectives, depending on where they are located. The example the author uses in the text is “The moon rose above the river.” In the southern hemisphere, where verbs are used, that phrase would be translated as “upward behind the on-streaming it mooned.” The word “moon” in the northern hemisphere of adjectives would be “round airy-light on dark” or “pale-orange-of-the-sky.” There are some hints, however that Tlon may be closer to the real world than it seems. Literature has always been about expressing the beauty of ideas. The word “moon” despite being bery specific, doesn’t elicit the same reaction as “bright silvery orb in the sky,” or “great beacon of the night.” These words give the reader an idea of how the author perceives the moon. Adding adjectives to literature to make an impression is not that new an idea. One could also argue that philosophy for the most part is a “dialectical game”, where it doesn’t matter what your ideas are as much as how you present them. Why is the Bible such a popular book? Is it because it has many great ideas or because it has many quotable phrases that may just happen to have good ideas behind them as well? After the First Encyclopedia of Tlon is found in a library, the world was immediately exposed to to writings of the place. “Reality yielded on more than one account.” Borges compares this to many other philosophies and ideas already adopted by the world “dialectical materialism, anti-Semitism, Nazism.” Since we want a “semblance of order” and Tlon is “a minute and vest evidence of an ordinary planet” “how could one do other than submit to Tlon.” In the end Borges writes that the past has been changed around so we aren’t sure of anything. All the sciences and disciplines are being modified to match the ideology of Tlon. In at little while “the world will be Tlon.”

The Garden of Forking Paths is a study on the consequences of the choices we make. The narrator was sent to find “the secret name” of the place the British are. To do this he visits Stephen Albert in the middle of the hedge maze where Albert has taken up residence. Albert is the protector of the Garden of Forking Paths, a book in which whenever someone makes a choice, all possible outcomes are explored simultaneously. This is, Borges proposes, the way that time works in our world. Whenever someone makes a decision, time branches off in many different directions, making all different universes for each outcome. We are manifestations of the decisions made before us and the outcomes of those decisions. Before Dr. Yu kills Albert, he sees, or rather feels, many different copies of Albert and himself, each choosing a different outcome to whatever choice they made. Once he had made his decision, they were gone. It seems in the end Dr. Yu Tsun regrets his decision to kill Albert. He mentions his “innumerable contrition and weariness.” The decision was made. Now he can’t take it back.

The Library of Babel is an interpretation of the universe itself. The library itself represents the universe, a large sphere where every point on the sphere is the center of the universe. The hexagons represent each of the individual worlds, or maybe the understandings of each person in the world. The books represent different levels of understanding the world. These range from very simple (the letters “MC, perversely repeated from the first line to the last”) to the complex and unintelligible. (”"a mere labyrinth of letters, but the next-to-last page says Oh time thy pyramids“) Each person has many different ideas and many different ways of viewing the world. No two people are alike, although they might have similar ideas. Since each hexagon has a finite number of books and no two books within the library are alike, it makes sense that they each represent a person or being. The author later says that there is not one book in the library without meaning. One can find meaning in every book, although the meaning might change from person to person. If every book is made up of random characters, how can it be known if you found a book in your language, or how can you decipher what language any book is in? Heretics have tried to use the books for their own. Others have decided any useless books should be burnt. Useless books were books that people couldn’t understand or that people believed were false. Because of this many great books were burnt, but many similar books survived. (150) and the ideas expressed in the burnt books live on, although with slight changes made to them. This is how beings deal with ideas. The ideas will long outlast us, and indeed everything in the world. “The Library will endure, illuminated, solitary, infinite, perfectly motionless, equipped with precious volumes, useless, incorruptible, secret.” (151)

In the end, although these labyrinths might seem separate from our world, they are very much a part of the real world, and stem from Borges perception of human understanding and the human condition. Each labyrinth deepens our understanding of the world we live in and the obstacles we face. The world is a confusing and complex place, and there are many more labyrinths we must face after these, but each labyrinth, if traveled correctly will bring us closer to understanding this world as a whole.

No comments: