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Creator / Jorge Luis Borges

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"... It is clear that there is no classification of the Universe not being arbitrary and full of conjectures. The reason for this is very simple: we do not know what thing the universe is."
Jorge Luis Borges, The Analytical Language of John Wilkins

Jorge Luis Borges (August 24, 1899 – June 14, 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 Screwsnote  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 an important precursor and originator of many Post Modern devices. Borges himself was an Ultraist, a short-lived movement that originated in early-20th-century Spain (where Borges arrived around 1920).

Politically, Borges described himself as a Spencerian anarchist and a classical liberal. He was an outspoken critic of populist Perónism in his native Argentina and Marxism. However, his vocal support for right-wing capitalist dictators such as Augusto Pinochet, and a reported undercurrent of elitism and snobbery in his life and his work, have earned him detractors.note 

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.
  • "The Garden of Forking Paths": The Framing Device is a spy story set in World War I where The Protagonist is visiting Mr. Exposition, who explains the idea of time branching forwards into Alternate Universes.note 
  • "Death and the Compass": A Genre Deconstruction of the Detective Fiction that seems to follow a Connect the Deaths plot — but with a twist at the end.
  • "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 how he sees the world, and after meeting him, Borges' narrator cannot decide whether Funes is Cursed with Awesome or Blessed with Suck.
  • "The House of Asterion" (1947): A monologue from Prince Asterion where he denies the claims he is arrogant, misanthropic or mad, or how he isn't a prisoner inside his home of infinite doors. A Perspective Flip of the myth of the Minotaur from the monster's point of view.
  • "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote": A brief memoir of a French poet and essayist whose final project was to attempt to copy Don Quixote, but in a new way: rather than slavishly copying the original, he attempted to arrive — from his own experiences — at a number of lines identical to the original. (He succeeded in reconstructing two and a half chapters without ever rereading the book.) The narrator, presenting us with two identical passages, points out the incredible effort needed for a twentieth-century man to be inspired to write the same words as Miguel Cervantes, given their inevitable differences in point of view.
  • "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.
  • "Averroes's Search": An exploration of the Tragic Dream in the character of Averroes, an Islamic philosopher who hoped to explain Aristotle’s works to Islamic culture. Averroes's problem is that, being confined to the sphere of Islam, he cannot understand the terms “Tragedy” and “Comedy” that constantly pop up in Aristotle’s canon. Suddenly there is No Ending and Borges is Breaking the Fourth Wall to inform us that this story is his own Tragic Dream, because as a twentieth-century author with nothing better to go on than some literary references, he has no better chance of successfully comprehending the character of a twelfth-century Arab than that twelfth-century Arab could comprehend Aristotle.
  • "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, drags him out into the Arabian desert and abandons him there, where he died from thirst and hunger in a "labyrinth with no walls".
  • "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.
  • "Deutsches Requiem": The last testament of Otto Dietrich zur Linde, the one-legged commandant of a Nazi concentration camp. After being tried and convicted of crimes against humanity, Zur Linde reflects that while his comrades were mere Straw Nihilists, he (and Hitler) were real Ubermenschen, and tries to explain humanity's future while he awaits the firing squad; his position is that the violence of Nazi Germany has successfully dethroned and destroyed the weak, hypocritical phantoms of Judaism and Christianity forever... and all it took was the sacrifice of Germany itself.
    • Alternatively: A twentieth century German Torture Technician tries in vain, before his execution, to exculpate himself, never suspecting that the secret justification for his life is that he has inspired a writer to create a new trope.

The other half of his stories are about South Americans knife fighting, such as "The South". He also wrote poetry and literary criticism.

Some of his poems are:

Some of his best-known literary essays are:

  • "Half-Way House" by Ellery Queen: A simple critique of the rules of Mystery Literature and how that genre is different from the Adventure Novel or Spy Fiction. Also explains why Ellery Queen works could be considered as Growing the Beard on the genre. You can find the quote at the Ellery Queen page.
  • Borges explains the Logic Bomb in his essay The perpetual Race of Achilles and the Turtle. Zeno's paradox has 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. In Real Life, Achilles really can outrun the Turtle, but all the mere logic in the world cannot help explain why. At his other essay, "Avatars of the Turtle", he comes to its 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 idealists admit: the hallucinatory nature of the world. Let us do what no idealist has done: seek unrealities which confirm that nature. We shall find them, I believe, in the antonomies of Kant and in the dialectic of Zeno. The greatest magician (Novalis has memorably 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 conjecture that this is so: We (the undivided divinity 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 tenuous and eternal crevices of unreason which tell us it is false.
  • "Borges and I": This short story (that you can read in the link) explains the curious relationship between the normal person Jorge Luis Borges actually was, and the literary Sacred Cow Sophisticated as Hell Gentleman Snarker Borges his public was expecting to meet. You can see it's an essay about the Secret-Identity Identity trope.

Other notable works of his are:

  • Book of Imaginary Beings: Borges details mythical creatures. Considered the Trope Codifier (or Ur-Example) of all books on mythical creatures today and popularized of many obscure mythical creatures, but it also includes literary creations and creatures he made up himself. The most notable of these joke mythical creatures is the Peryton, a half-stag, half-bird monster that cast a human shadow (for they were the souls of Atlantis survivors trapped in monstrous forms, only able to escape by killing a human and devouring the victim's heart). Borges claimed it came from Classical Mythology (specifically a medieval German tome on the subject that was destroyed in World War II), which many people believed in, turning the Peryton into a fantasy staple.

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."
    • Another subversion is "The Condemned": In some street of Buenos Aires, two Bit Part Bad Guys are going to fight. Ezequiel Tabares wants revenge because El Chengo stole his lover Matilde from him, and impatiently waits for El Chengo, repeatedly entering a little bar. Ezequiel can't see the new houses built at the street, and the new buses pass through him. He doesn’t realize that he’s Dead All Along and condemned to a "Groundhog Day" Loop of his final seconds on earth… but if he could realize, he would not care either. His own hate fulfills him.
  • Animal Motifs: Tigers are featured or mentioned in many of his stories. Particularly important when you consider that 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 Satellite 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 Sense Rich 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 admits he is a snob.
    • This trope is deconstructed again at "Deutsches Requiem:" Otto Dietrich Zur Linde, director of a concentration camp, realizes that he could invoke this trope as a form of Cold-Blooded Torture. He even describes this method, but an editor censors it:
    • The Disk, a woodcutter once met an old man who claimed to be King of the Sects, and to prove it shows him the disk of Odin, that has only one side. There is not another thing on earth that has only one side. The woodcutter wants it and kills the old man, who drops the disk on the floor. The woodcutter says he is still looking for the disk after many long years.
  • Ascended Fanfic: "The End" and "A Biography of Tadeo Isidoro Cruz" are expansions on Martín Fierro.
  • Author Stand-In: Borges doubles as narrator in "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius", "The Aleph", "Funes the Memorious", "The Other", "The Other Death", and several other stories.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Arguably, "Garden of Forking Paths." Definitively, "Death and the Compass" and "The Dead Man."
  • Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: "The Immortal", in which Homer has become immortal.
  • Big Bad: Azevedo Bandeira in "The Dead Man", Red Scharlach in "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" — "A requiem for Germany". The tale is told by a Nazi who admits that his party has destroyed their own country.
  • Bizarrchitecture: In "The Immortal", The City of the Immortals.
  • 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.
  • Brown Note: "The Zahir."
  • The Chessmaster: Red Scharlach in "Death and the Compass"; Azevedo Bandeira in "The Dead Man"; James Alexander Nolan in "Theme of the Traitor and the Hero"; Eric Einarsson in "The Bribe."
  • Clingy Macguffin: "The Zahir."
  • Creator Breakdown: "Averroes's Search": Subverted when Borges realizes he has broke the Stable Fictional Loop and incurred in an Ontological Paradox, the short story suffers a No Ending.
  • Connect the Deaths: "Death and the Compass."
  • Culture Clash: Combined with Pop-Culture Isolation in "Averroes's Search" to explain why Averroes, an Islamic philosopher, had trouble translating Aristotle.
  • Death of the Author: "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote" is very much a discussion of this idea, before the Trope Namer essay: the fictional Menard recreates Don Quixote word for word from memory and some summaries. The text of story then suggests that the copy is more interesting than the original, since it was impacted by world events in the centuries between. (The obvious reading of Borges' story being that "Authorial-based interpretations of a text can result in flat nonsense, if applied without careful thought.")
  • Delayed Ripple Effect: "The Other Death."
  • Determinator: Deconstructed in "The Garden of Forking Paths", "The Shape of the Sword" and "Emma Zunz." The protagonists had a goal and they will cross the Despair Event Horizon to achieve it, only to ask themselves if Was It Really Worth It? for the rest of their lives. The protagonist of "The Other Death" achieved his goal, but just at the moment of his death after trying for it all his life. The narrator thinks nobody could be happier than him.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: "The Cult of the Phoenix" can be read as a deconstruction of this trope, in that it describes a cult which only has one ritual, the Secret, which ritual is basically the entire nature of the cult itself; any member of the cult can initiate anyone else into it; some members of the cult are ashamed of the ritual, and for that reason are despised by other members, but they despise themselves even more; any member of the cult can be found in any walk of life; members of the cult often think that innocent words refer to the Secret, etc. Not surprisingly, some readers have speculated that the entire story is a kind of extended metaphor for some sort of sexuality, possibly homosexuality, possibly sexuality itself, except that there are too many details in the story for this to be strictly accurate.note 
  • Doppelgänger: "The Other" and "August 25, 1983."
  • Dream Weaver: "The Circular Ruins."
  • Eldritch Abomination: The A Bao A Qu, one of several mythical creatures from The Book of Imaginary Beings, which originated from India. It’s so obscure that it was thought to be created by Borges himself until 2021.
  • Eldritch Location: The City of the Immortals in "The Immortal", which is so horrible that the narrator can't clearly describe it except as a blight upon all creation.
  • The Empire: England and Germany:
    • "The Garden of Forking Paths": The Framing Device is a Stale Beer-type of Spy Fiction set in World War I, where a Chinese man is obliged to spy for Germany, and is chased by an Irish agent working for the English. The Chinese man reflects that for him, Germany is a barbarian country (maybe excepting Goethe) and the Irish agent must surely know that his masters despise him for being an Irishman, but they are both still obliged to be the Unwitting Pawns of countries they hate.
    • "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.
    • "The Man on the Threshold": A British government official in The Raj investigates the disappearance of a judge. La Résistance kidnapped him to judge him for being an Evil Colonialist Hanging Judge.
  • Fallen Princess: Teodelina Villar from "The Zahir."
  • Foil: He said that G. K. Chesterton was this to Oscar Wilde: the former was a conservative, orthodox Catholic who stood for health, order and harmony, but whose works were always teetering on the edge of nightmare, whereas the latter was a socialist, feminist aesthete with no formal religious affinities who stood for pleasure and beauty, but whose work (counter to Chesterton's opinion of it) was fundamentally happy and innocent.
  • Gaslighting: In "The Aleph", the narrator initially doubts that Carlos Argentino Dineri really has an Aleph (a point in space containing the entire universe) in his cellar. The narrator eventually sees it for himself and is shaken by the experience—but he dislikes Dineri, so, to make Dineri doubt his own sanity, he pretends that he saw nothing.
  • Going Native: "Story of the Warrior and the Captive Maiden" contrasts two opposite examples of this trope.
  • Great Big Book of Everything/Tome of Eldritch Lore: "The Book of Sand."
  • Heh Heh, You Said "X": "The Cult of the Phoenix":
    There are no decent words to name it, but it is understood that all words name it, or rather, inevitably allude to it; I might be speaking in a conversation and the adepts would suddenly smile or become uncomfortable, because they felt that I had unknowingly touched on the Secret.
  • Inspector Lestrade: Inspector Treviranus in Death and the Compass. Subverted when it turns out that his mundane solution for the first murder was true, while the Great Detective was misled by his own cleverness.
  • Lured into a Trap: In "Death and the Compass", the entire Connect the Deaths plot is bait to lure the detective to a location where his enemy can kill him.
  • Magic Realism: Many of his stories are in this genre, and he was part of the so-called "Latin American Boom" that helped popularize it. Arguably, he's also one of the founders of it and by far one of the best known, along with Gabriel García Márquez.
  • 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.
  • Mighty Whitey:
    • Deconstructed in "The Dead Man."
    • Subverted in "The Gospel According to Mark", when the family of backcountry illiterates to whom the protagonist has been reading the Bible decide to crucify him in hopes of being forgiven for their sins.
  • Mind Screw: Where to start? Special mention goes to "Averroes's Search". In it, the Islamic philosopher Averroes investigates a Greek translation and ponders the meaning of "tragedy" and "comedy", which he can't understand because he lives in a culture in which the art of dramatic performance doesn't exist. After hearing with some guests a story about China and the performers that live there and completely missing the point about the whole "acting" thing, he starts meditating and eventually has a sudden realization about the meaning of "tragedy" and "comedy", which turns out to be wrong. He then disappears, as do his house and all those that were in it, 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.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: The Peryton in The Book of Imaginary Beings, described as a half-bird, half-deer beast that casts a human shadow.
  • Mock Millionaire: In his prologue to Thorstein Veblen's Theory Of The Leisure Class, Borges provides a harsh critique of Argentinean society:
    Veblen thought and wrote this book in the United States. Between us, the phenomenon of the leisure class is more serious. Except for the very poor, every Argentine pretends to belong to that class. As a child, I have known families during the hot summer months hiding out in their homes, to make people believe that they vacationed in a hypothetical summer village or in the city of Montevideo. One woman confided to me her intention to decorate the hall with a signed painting, certainly not by virtue of calligraphy.
  • 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 successful search for a hypothetical sister river that will make him mortal again.
  • Motive Misidentification: “Death and the Compass": The Great Detective thinks the Diabolical Mastermind is looking for a Magical Incantation. The real Evil Plan is more sinister (and logical).
  • 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, the 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.
  • Our Perytons Are Different: His Book of Imaginary Beings is the Trope Maker.
  • 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 they’re conversant with ancient mythology.)
    • 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 Nibelungen and slain by Siegfried.
    • "The Shape of the Sword": A man with a scar tells Borges how he got it: When he was a young Irish rebel, a comrade called Moon, whom he saved from death, betrayed him to the Englishmen and he gave Moon a Mark of Shame. When Borges asks him to finish the story, the man reveals himself as the traitor Moon. His Guilt Complex is so big he only can tell the story of his treason invoking a Perspective Flip.
  • Pirate Girl: "The Widow Ching, Lady Pirate."
  • The Plan: "Death and the Compass"; "The Dead Man."
  • Poe's Law: His prologue to Thorstein Veblen's Theory of the Leisure Class:
    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. At any rate, when we look closely enough at any society, we can see that it is not a utopia and its fair description runs the risk of bordering on satire.note 
  • 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.
  • Postmodernism: He helped in founding it.
  • 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 linking these dissimilar works together.
    • 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 in Los conjurados, his last book, and died some months after its publication.
    • He was a die-hard classical liberal, anticommunist, and pal of Augusto Pinochet. Many of his works (such as Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius) are thinly-veiled rants about how classical liberalism is the only value system that sees "the real reality", and all those other value systems which he doesn't believe in make people lose sight of what's real and what's fake.
  • Reality Warper: "The Circular Ruins."
  • Recursive Reality: "Averroes' Search": On the last page, Borges realizes that he has brokem the Stable Fictional Loop and incurred an Ontological Paradox:
    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.
  • Rewriting Reality: "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" and "The Other Death."
  • 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 of the device.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: "Death and the Compass", "The Garden of Forking Paths."
  • 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.
  • Stylistic Suck: Carlos Argentino Daneri's poems in "The Aleph". The narrator decides that Daneri is very talented; it's just that his talent is not for writing poetry, but for inventing reasons why his own poetry is so good.
    • Combined with They Wasted a Perfectly Good Plot in "A Survey of the Works of Herbert Quain". The titular author wrote (among other things) a collection of short stories, each of which promises and hints at a good plot and then intentionally frustrates it; the annoyed reader is meant to ponder what Quain should have done with each story, thus arriving at his own version of the plot Quain intended.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Plot: invoked Played with in "A Survey of the Works of Herbert Quain", which reviews several books from the titular (fictional) author; one of them is a collection of stories in all of which Quain has deliberately wasted a good plot turning it into a wrong direction, with the intention of making the readers believe they have discovered the better possible plot themselves.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: "The House of Asterion."
  • Time Stands Still: "The Secret Miracle."
  • Tomato in the Mirror: "The Circular Ruins."
  • Tragic Dream: Averroes's Search": Averroes tries to explain Aristotle without understanding the terms Tragedy and Comedy'' and Borges trying to imagine Averroes.
  • Trust Password: Played with very shrewdly in "The Other". An older Borges meets his younger self on a bench by a river. The older tells the younger details about their life that no one else could know. Young Borges dismisses this as a dream, but Old Borges proves That Was Not a Dream by reciting a line of French poetry he is sure his younger self has never heard nor could have dreamed up, and showing him a piece of money with a recent date on it. He later realizes that the banknote he showed his younger self doesn't actually have a date on it — meaning that the younger Borges did in fact dream it, but the older one did not.
  • Unreliable Narrator:
    • "The Other Death"; "The Immortal." The reliability of the narrator is questioned explicitly in the stories themselves; the latter almost takes it into Deconstruction territory.
    • "A Survey of the Works of Herbert Quain" mentions a detective novel in which, based on the final paragraph, the careful 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.
    • A more minor example: the writers of his fictional essays and criticisms, such as "The Approach to Al-Mu'tasim" and "An Examination of the Work of Herbert Quain", are subtly affected by their own biases. From their comments, one gets the impression that they wouldn't be big fans of Borges.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Lönnrott in "Death and the Compass", every Babylon citizen (except those already in The Conspiracy) in "The Lottery in Babylon."
  • We Are Everywhere: Deconstructed in "The Lottery in Babylon": The Company is continually trying to introduce chaos at Babylon, and everyone knows they have infiltrated the city. Given anyone could work for them, those who aren’t working for them are Properly Paranoid about being manipulated into being their Unwitting Pawns:
  • Wham Line:
    • "The Immortal." The narrator, after discovering the famed City of the Immortals deserted and in ruins, returns, dejected, to the village of the primitive troglodytes who live nearby, and names one of them who follows him around "Argos", after Odysseus' old dog. One day, when he uses this name, the previously nonspeaking troglodyte suddenly quotes a line from The Odyssey. The stunned narrator asks how much of it does the troglodyte know.
      "Argos": Very little, less than the meagerest rhapsode. It has been eleven hundred years since I wrote it.
    • "Death and the Compass."
      Lönnrot: Are you looking for the Secret Name, Scharlach?
      Red Scharlach: No. I am looking for something more ephemeral and slippery. I am looking for Erik Lönnrot.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: "The Immortal".
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: "The Circular Ruins" on a personal level. "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" on a global scale.