Jorge Luis Borges was an inveterate thinker, an incorrigible genius and an inevitable tinkerer of thoughts. One need not go beyond a reading of “Ficciones” to grasp these facts. Borges auscultates his readers with a preciseness that puts the word ‘clinical’ to veritable shame. He hurls them into an inescapable and powerful vortex of contemplation, chaos, cacophony and calmness. A vortex which at first asphyxiates only to gain, at a later point in time a complete and voluntary submission on the part of the once-perplexed but subsequently contended subjects.
Ficciones is made up of seventeen awe inspiring and breathtaking pieces of fiction that transports the reader from the mundane wheel of every day existence into a temporal and metaphysical realm punctuated by vicissitudes and victories. The whorl of story telling has an impact that is scarring, an effect that is surreal and an outcome that is inexpressible. Lashing irony, lacerating contradictions and laconic surrender all weave together in an unparalleled tapestry of a human imagination that has reached exalted heights. Borges’ mind represents a niche connecting agony and ecstasy, light and shadow and purity and taint.
The remarkable ability of this wonderful story teller is revealed in the very first piece in the book, ‘Tlon Uqbar, Orbis Tertius’. The chance discovery by the narrator, of a mystical and mysterious Middle Eastern Country named Uqbar, triggered by what Borges describes as a ‘conjunction of a mirror and an encyclopedia, sets the tone for the reminder of the book. One can only marvel at the sheer and infinity capacity for conjecture and visual allegory possessed by Borges as the further search for details on Uqbar sets the seeker onto paths of regret and alleys of retrospection.
While ‘The Approach to Al Mu’tasim coalesces the gift of divination with a transformation of human angst and primal anger, ‘The Circular Ruins’ is a masterly tribute to Borges’ unnatural and unreal talent of crafting masterpieces out of thin air. A wizard deliberately dreams up his son and breathes life into him by singularly employing the technique of dreaming. ‘The South’ is a tragic tale befalling an optimistic man heading home to spend his future in a ranch restored by him and belonging to his ancestors.
John Updike in his praise of Borges, said “in resounding the the note of the marvelous last struck in English by Wells and Chesterton, in permitting infinity to enter and distort his imagination, [Borges] has lifted fiction away from the flat earth where most of our novels and short stories still take place”. Ficciones represents the very crux and core of Borges’ imagination, an imagination that frightens, allures, embraces, reviles, rants, reverberates, throbs and tantalisingly addicts anyone who has access to it. It is at once appealing and outrageous; exquisitely divine yet intensely demonic. Ficciones does not come to a conclusion once the last page between the covers has been absorbed by the reader. For this cannot be absorbed in one reading, it cannot be fully assimilated even after multiple readings. This collection is a magnificent prism which emanates a different pattern of colours each time one views it. It is the similar yet completely different. Claiming to be fully immersed in this work after just a singular read is not merely a plebeian claim, but a meek endeavour at self-deceit. The reader is best advised to avoid enveloping herself in such a self imposed cocoon of false security. Instead the reader will be best served in sincerely pledging never to stop reading Ficciones.
For Jorge Luis Borges should not be merely read, he has to be lived and experienced!