‘The Aleph’ by Jorge Luis Borges

Borges, Jorge Luis 1945

The Aleph by Jorge Luis Borges, 1945

The magic trick:

Establishing a strange, subtle rivalry between two men

Settle in for a week of stories from the Borges 1949 collection, The Aleph. They’re all so good.

The title story is an outstanding place to start. It has all the Borges staples – comedy, magical realism, philosophy, self-referencing and a huge layer of intellectual name dropping and categorizing that, quite frankly, is mostly above my head.

The rivalry between the two men is wonderful. Borges – the narrator, not the author; maybe the author? – is hilarious in his criticisms of Daneri’s poetry. Daneri seems to be messing with Borges’s mind, too. The moment that finds him catching Borges talking to the photo of the late Beatriz is funny, sad and a little creepy all at once. Borges, meanwhile, can’t manage to give him credit for seeing the aleph. He can’t admit it exists. It galls him to give Daneri any affirmation. One imagines Borges not being the most generous of friends at a creative-writing workshop.

The strange, subtle rivalry between the two men, connected by the dead Beatriz, is the haunting takeaway from the story for me. And that’s quite a trick on Borges’s part.

The selection:

Once we were in the dining room, he added, “Of course, if you don’t see it, your incapacity will not invalidate what I have experienced. Now, down you go. In a short while you can babble with all of Beatriz’ images.”

Tired of his inane words, I quickly made my way. The cellar, barely wider than the stairway itself, was something of a pit. My eyes searched the dark, looking in vain for the globe Carlos Argentino had spoken of. Some cases of empty bottles and some canvas sacks cluttered one corner. Carlos picked up a sack, folded it in two, and at a fixed spot spread it out.

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