Borges on Totalitarian Thought

7 08 2008

Ten years ago any form of symmetry with the appearance of order – dialectical materialism, anti-Semitism, Nazism – was enough to charm all men. Why not then submit to Tlön, to the thorough and vast evidence of a completely ordered planet? Needless to say that reality itself is ordered. Perhaps it is, but according to divine laws – read: inhuman laws – that we will never in the end perceive. Tlön will be a labyrinth, but it is a man-made one, a labyrinth meant to be solved by men… Enchanted by its rigor, humanity forgets and forgets again that it is a rigor of chess players, not of angels.

-Jorge Luis Borges, “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”



4 responses

9 08 2008
Alice C. Linsley

The story is found in El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan (The Garden of Forking Paths). It is interesting that Borges includes both invented words (if that’s possible) and words from spoken languages such as Basque. The point is that there is no reality that we haven’t already imagined in our minds. It says so much about humanity that our ideas become realities. So Hitler’s gas chambers started as ideas.

Here is some good reading about this story:

9 08 2008

Human attempts to remake humanity will always fail because we’re neither smart enough nor good enough to make them work. Consequently, such utopian schemes tend to result in mass murder or some other admission of failure.

A better idea would be to channel our depraved tendencies into social useful outcomes. One drawback to the better idea, however, would be that not many rulers would be honest enough to admit depraved tendencies. Another drawback is the revulsion some folks would feel at the stark utilitarianism entailed in harnessing depravity. Third, assuming the constancy of depravity is insulting and injurious to our self-esteem.

8 08 2008
Arturo Vasquez

Sorry, Tlon is the subject of the story. The short story by Borges is about a made-up planet where things are follow their own rigorous logic. Borges contrasts this planet to our imperfect one.

7 08 2008

Um…Forgive my ignorance but what is Tlon?

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