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Fantasy

The metaphysicians of Tlön seek not truth, or even plausibility -- they seek to amaze, astound. In their view, metaphysics is a branch of the literature of fantasy.
What really got my attention in Josipovici's piece Borges and the Plain Sense of Things, was his focus on the postscript to the story, on the narrator's experience of Tlön infiltrating and disintegrating our world. I see now that I have in the past read this story as if it were written by a Tlönian metaphysician, as a work of fantasy: my understanding of the story has been twofold, of Borges asking me to imagine a world where idealism is the obviously correct way to understand reality and a human conspiracy to invent such a world, and of Borges asking me to imagine this invented world overtaking our own. But I've been missing, or not paying enough attention to, a third aspect of this (vast) story, how Borges the narrator feels about this alteration of reality. (Maybe I should have been tipped off by Borges' footnote #2, in which he refers to Russell's idea that the world could have been "created only moments ago, filled with human beings who 'remember' an illusory past." It has never been very clear to me what this note is doing in the story; but it could certainly be there to tie the thought-experiment in to the present moment in history from which Borges is writing.)

Speaking of footnotes -- one of the things that is great about this edition of the fictions, is Hurley's painstakingly researched, unobtrusive endnotes. They are easily ignorable when you want to read the story without interruption; and they add a whole lot when you read the story with interruptions. I am taken aback to find that all of the people named in this story (excluding, perhaps, Herbert Ashe) -- Carlos Mastronardi, Néstor Ibarra, Alfonso Reyes, Xul Solar, etc. -- are real figures from Borges' milieu, and very interested at some of the books referenced. And this does not come from Hurley's notes -- but I was very happy to learn that there really is an Anglo-American Cyclopædia from 1917, which really is a reprint of an older edition of Encyclopædia Britannica.

posted evening of Wednesday, March 17th, 2010
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