‘The Circular Ruins’ by Jorge Luis Borges

Borges, Jorge Luis 1940a

The Circular Ruins by Jorge Luis Borges, 1940

The magic trick:

Making the story into an optical illusion of sorts

Just like yesterday’s SSMT feature, “The Hanging Stranger,” this story is like a fictional equivalent to an optical illusion. The protagonist is completely consumed by his own point of view and his feeling of control over the reality around him. So consumed, in fact, that he is totally blindsided by the revelation awaiting him at the end of the story. No shame – I was blindsided too. And that’s quite a trick on Borges’s part.

The selection:

Gradually, he began accustoming him to reality. Once he ordered him to place a flag on a faraway peak. The next day the flag was fluttering on the peak. He tried other analogous experiments, each time more audacious. With a certain bitterness, he understood that his son was ready to be born–and perhaps impatient. That night he kissed him for the first time and sent him off to the other temple whose remains were turning white downstream, across many miles of inextricable jungle and marshes. Before doing this (and so that his son should never know that he was a phantom, so that he should think himself a man like any other) he destroyed in him all memory of his years of apprenticeship.

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