Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) is considered the greatest Argentine writer of the twentieth century and an immensely influential author. His short stories, essays and poetry blend truth and fiction in unexpected ways, playing Mind Screws on the reader at every turn, and exploring deep philosophical themes (idealism, determinism, infinity, the search for personal identity, fiction vs. reality, humanity vs. divinity...) in a rigorous but entertaining way. He is considered an important precursor and originator of many Post Modern devices. Borges himself was an Ultraist, a short lived movement that originated in early XX century Spain (where Borges arrived around 1920).Borges became blind due to an inherited disease in his middle age and blindness is a recurring Motif in his later works. Other common motifs are labyrinths, mirrors, libraries, tigers, and daggers. The blind monk Jorge de Burgos in Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose is one allusion to Borges. The blind librarian in The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe may be another.
Some of his best known short stories (Borges didn't write any novels) are:
"Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius ": An Ancient Conspiracy to create a complete fictional universe is discovered by the narrator in the form of an encyclopedia describing the nation of Uqbar and its mythology about the land of Tlön. Its plan is to recreate Earth in the form of Tlön by subconsciously persuading everyone that it is true. They succeed.
The Library of Babel: This story describes a universe consisting of a huge, endless library, that contains all possible books (that is to say, all possible combinations of letters, spaces, and punctuation given a certain number of characters per book)— but arranged with no discernible order or pattern.
"Funes the Memorious": After being concussed and paralyzed from the waist down in a riding accident, a young man suddenly finds that he has a literally photographic memory — he can remember everything that he has experienced, every second of every day of his life, down to the minutest possible detail. As he goes on living, the number of things he remembers continues piling up. This has a very strange effect on the way he sees the world, and after meeting him, Borges' narrator cannot decide whether Funes is Cursed with Awesome or Blessed with Suck.
"The Aleph": A mediocre poet has found in his basement an Aleph, a point that reflects every other point in the universe and from which everything can be seen simultaneously and together... and he uses it to write a poem.
"The Cult of the Phoenix": A group of madmen, outcasts, women, children, and urchins founds a philosophical school that lasts for thousands of years and secretly manipulates all other religions behind the scenes. They're the good guys.
"The Two Kings and the Two Labyrinths": A deconstruction of Sealed Room in the Middle of Nowhere: The Prideful King of Babylon mocks the King of Arabia by forcing him to enter his labyrinth. The King of Arabia asks for God's help, and gets out. He tells the King of Babylon he knows a better labyrinth and some day he will show it to him. Years later, The Arabian King makes war and dethrones the King of Babylon, cross with him the Arabian desert and abandons the King of Babylon there, where he died from thirst and hunger.
"The Immortal:" A literary agent announces the discovery of a diary of a man that claims to have achieved Complete Immortality.
"The Dead Man:" Borges narrates the seemingly impossible life and death of Benjamín Otalora, a courageous Argentinean hoodlum who emigrated to the frontier and became the leader of a band of smugglers, explaining why it was possible.
Borges explains the Logic Bomb at his essay The perpetual Race of Achilles and the Turtle that Zenon's paradox had survived 23 centuries and now could be declared immortal: In a race, the quickest runner can never overtake the slowest, since the pursuer must first reach the point whence the pursued started, so that the slower must always hold a lead. The logical method cannot explain why in Real Life Achilles really can outrun the Turtle. At his other essay, "Avatars of the Turtle" he comes to it's Logical Extreme: The fact we cannot solve this paradox acts like a Dream Within a Dream, showing us that Real Life is All Just a Dream.
Let us admit what all idealist admit: the hallucinatory nature of the world. Let us do what no idealist had done: seek unrealities wich confirm that nature. We shall find them, I believe, in the antonomies of Kant and in the dialectic of Zeno. The greatest magician (Novalis had memorabily written) would be the one who would cast over himself a spell so complete that he would take his own phantasmagorias as autonomous appearances. Would not this be our case? In conjeture that this is o. We (hte undivided divinty operating within us) have dreamt the world. We have dreamt it as firm, mysterious, visible, ubiquitous in space and durable in time; but in its architecture we have allowed tenous an eternal crevices of unreason wich tell us is false.
This author's works provide examples of:
Adaptation Expansion: The movie version of "Death and the Compass"; the added material actually makes the story more of a Mind Screw. "Days of Hate", a screenplay adaptation of "Emma Zunz"
Ancient Conspiracy: "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius "; played with in "The Cult of the Phoenix". Invoked at "Death and the Compass". Deconstructed in "The Lottery in Babylon": The conspiracy is so secretive, nobody could be sure it is ancient or not.
And I Must Scream: Perhaps the only positive use of this trope ever takes place in "The Secret Miracle".
Animal Motifs: tigers, featured or mentioned in many of his stories. Particularly important when you consider that one of the Zahir was once a tiger.
Artifact of Attraction: El Zahir is the most fascinating object in the world. It doesn't matter what it is - in this case, it's a scarred coin, but there's always one Zahir in the world at any one time (but God is good and doesn't let two things be the Zahir at the same time). Zahir is an Arabic word meaning "the obvious meaning," "the conspicuous" or "something that cannot be ignored."
Later, Borges wrote that one of the characters of this tale, Teodelina Villar, was a deconstruction of this trope: Who could be fascinating to anyone in Real Life? A Shallow Love Interest, someone who nobody (not even the guy who is in love with her) can define why is he in love: Teodelina was a Rich in Dollars, Poor in SenseRich Bitch when she was young, and then she was a Fallen Princess. Even when Borges describes her as pretty stupid, he claims to love her, even when he cannot justify why, except because Borges admit he is a snob.
Big Bad: Azevedo Bandeira in "The dead man", Red Scarlarch in "The death and the compass".
Bilingual Bonus: There is a famous Brahms composition called Ein deutsches requiem that could be translated as A german requiem, but the title of one of Borges stories is Deutsches requiem that could be translated as A requiem for Germany: The tale is told by a Nazi who destroyed his own country.
Blessed with Suck: "Funes the Memorious", a story about a man who can remember absolutely everything he experiences, damning him to be tortured by the memory of every last detail of every single fraction of a second he ever lives through.
"The Garden of Forking Paths" the Framing Device is a Trenchcoat Brigade type of Spy Fiction at World War I where a chinese is obligued to spy for Germany, and is chased by an Irish agent working for the english: The Chinese reflects that for him, Germany is a barbarian country (maybe excepting Goethe) and he and the irish agent knew that their masters despise them, but they are obligued to be their UnwittingPawns.
"The Shape of the Sword" and "Theme of the Traitor and the Hero": The protagonists of those stories are part of the Irish La Résistance.
There are no decent words to name it, but it is understood that all words name it or rather inevitably allude to it, and so in a conversation I said anything and the adepts smile or become uncomfortable, because they felt that I had touched the Secret.
Meaningful Name: Plenty, often combined with Shout-Out. For example, Carlos Argentino Daneri in "The Aleph" is a play on Dante Alighieri (his cousin is called Beatriz), and Pedro Damián in "The Other Death" references medieval philosopher Pier Damiani, as lampshaded in the story itself.
Special mention goes to "Averroes's Search". In it, the Islamic philosopher Averroes investigates a Greek translation and ponders the meaning of "drama" and "comedy", which he can't understand because he lives in a culture in which the art of perfomance doesn't exist. After hearing with some guests a story about China and the performers that live in there and completely misses the point about the whole "acting" thing he starts meditating and eventually has a sudden realization about the meaning of "drama" and "comedy", which turns out to be wrong. He then disappears, as do his house and all those that were in there without leaving a trace. Borges then explains within the story that he himself had to understand Averroes to write the story, and like Averroes, had no real chance of doing so. The writer, could no longer believe in Averroes as a character and he naturally disappeared completely along with his house.
Mortality Ensues: The protagonist of "The Immortal" finds a river that makes anyone who drinks from it immortal; after around a thousand years he and the other immortals gets bored and goes off on a ultimately successful search for a hypothetical sister river that will make him mortal again.
No Ending: "Averroes's Search" ends with all the characters and his surroundings suddenly disappearing, except maybe the Guadalquivir River.
"There Are More Things", although written like a Lovecraft story, abruptly ends two-thirds of the way through its ostensible plot.
Nonsense Classification: His fake chinese encyclopedia Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge, with its classification of animals: (a) those that belong to the emperor; (b) embalmed ones; (c) those that are trained; (d) suckling pigs; (e) mermaids; (f) fabulous ones; (g) stray dogs; (h) those that are included in this classification; (i) those that tremble as if they were mad; (j) innumerable ones; (k) those drawn with a very fine camel's-hair brush; (l) etcetera; (m) those that have just broken the flower vase; (n) those that at a distance resemble flies.
Perspective Flip: "The House of Asterion", in which the narrator tells us of his strange life in his strange house; upon reaching the end we realize that the narrator is the Minotaur and the house is the Labyrinth. (Well, the reader realizes it about halfway through if he's conversant with ancient mythology.)
And a story sketched in "The Zahir," whose protagonist is an ascetic living in isolation in a wasteland called gnittaheidr, guarding a huge treasure to protect lesser men from the temptation it causes (including his own father, whom he killed). in the end, it turns out the protagonist is Fafnir, who was turned into a giant serpent by the Ring of the Niebelungen and slain by Siegfried.
The Plan: "Death and the Compass"; "The Dead Man".
Pop-Culture Isolation: In-Universe example meets Truth in Television in "Averroes's Search" : Averroes, an Islamic philosopher, never could understand the terms tragedy and comedy... any more than Borges, a South American writer in the twentieth century, could understand Averroes.
When, many years ago, I was given this book, I thought it was a satire. I learned later that it was the first work of a distinguished sociologist. Otherwise, when we look closely enough into a society, we know is not Utopia and its fair description runs the risk of border on satire.
Photographic Memory: The titular character of "Funes the Memorious". The story also deconstructs it.
Reality Subtext: In the essay Kafka and his precursors, Borges presents us with various literary works whose tone and material seem like forerunners of Franz Kafka. Before Kafka, though, no one would have said they had much in common. Borges argues that the reality of the author's later career created its precursors, retroactively making them similar to each other!
The poem Sherlock Holmes is about how this fictional character managed to survive his Creator Backlash to the point to Outlive His Creator, realizing that literature has made an immortal character simply because Holmes was never alive. Borges published this poem at the Los conjurados, his last book, and died some months after its publication.
I felt, on the last page, that my narration was a symbol of the man I was as I wrote it and that, in order to compose that narration, I had to be that man and, in order to be that man, I had to compose that narration, and so on to infinity.
Satellite Love Interest: Borges claims that this trope is the deconstruction of the Artifact of Attraction trope: When someone falls in love with someone else without any reason. Borges cannot define why he is in love (fascinated by) Teodelina, a pretty shallow Rich Bitch that later becomes a Fallen Princess... except that Borges is a snob himself.
Serial Killings, Specific Target: An early example of the device, "Death and the Compass" offers an interesting Double Subversion in that the villain's intended victim is the detective himself, who turns up early after deducing the particular place and time suggested by the pattern to try and stop the last murder. He thus becomes the victim of an ambush by the killer, his longtime Arch-Enemy. The added twist makes this story a bit of an early, Unbuilt Trope version f the device.
Shout-Out: Pretty much every author in the Western and Eastern literary and philosophical canon gets a Shout-Out in some Borges story or another. For example, "Death and the Compass" has Shout Outs to philosopher Baruch Spinoza and authors Edgar Allan Poe and James Joyce, among others.
"The Other Death"; "The Immortal". The reliability of the narrator is questioned explicitly in the stories themselves; the latter one almost takes it into Deconstruction territory.
"A Survey of the Works of Herbert Quain" mentions a story in which, based on the final sentence, the sagacious reader can discover that the solution to the mystery was wrong and, with that additional piece of information, can reconstruct what actually happened.
Similarly, "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius " begins with the narrator and a friend discussing how one might write a novel with a narrator so subtly unreliable that only a few perceptive readers would be able to figure out the truth.