‘On Exactitude In Science’ by Jorge Luis Borges


On Exactitude In Science by Jorge Luis Borges, 1946

The magic trick:

A one-paragraph short story

Is it a story? Is it a poem? An essay? A practical joke?

I’m gonna vote story, and here’s why: it leaves behind a completely formed idea. Chekhov is considered the master of the form, and rightly so. Many of his stories dissolve into nothing more than an idea. They are beautifully rendered ideas. It’s not a knock at all. But still, they are not working hard to develop plots. They simply exist to convey a single message. “On Exactitude In Science” conveys a single message. It just happens to get to the point quicker than most. And that’s quite a trick on Borges’s part.

The selection:

…In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast Map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography.

—Suarez Miranda,Viajes de varones prudentes, Libro IV,Cap. XLV, Lerida, 1658

READ THIS STORY ONLINE (even though you just did)

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