Academic journal article The Modern Language Review

In Search of the Aleph: Memory, Truth, and Falsehood in Borcess's Poetics

Academic journal article The Modern Language Review

In Search of the Aleph: Memory, Truth, and Falsehood in Borcess's Poetics

Article excerpt

Oh vana gloria de l'umane posse!

(Dante, Purgatorio XI)

Of all the short stories written by Jorge Luis Borges, 'El Aleph' stands out as one of the most suggestive in terms of its literary and psychological interpretations. Estela Canto (its dedicatee) refers the composition of 'El Aleph', a story she links with 'El Zahir' and 'La escritura del dios', back to the summer of 1945. (1) There are three factors that particularly strike critics of 'El Aleph': its autobiographical allusions, its literary references to Dante, and the presence of an implicit poetics in connection with the cultural reality that the author confronts directly. I explore here some aspects of this complexity in order to provide a tentative definition of its poetic principle as a whole.

Regardless of whether or not the author acknowledged any biographical content in the story, it is a fact that at the time of its composition Borges was going through a difficult period in his relationship with the dedicatee. (2) Not only is Estela Canto present in the story (in the fashion of a frame) but, in addition, her corporeality acquires a relevance comparable to that of the author himself. Thus she gives us an important key to the psychological aspects in the story when she says:

El amor de Borges era romantico, exaltado, tenia una especie de pureza juvenil. Al parecer, se entregaba completamente, suplicando no ser rechazado, convirtiendo a la mujer en un idolo inalcanzable, al cual no se atrevia a aspirar. No era sentimental, sino lirico. Pero yo no podia amarlo. (Canto, p. 81)

Me repetia que el era Dante, que yo era Beatrice y que habria de liberarlo del infierno, aunque yo no conociera la naturaleza de ese infierno. (p. 95)

The characters in 'El Aleph' have an allusive nature and play a multi-dimensional, symbolic role: 'Borges', the nostalgic and thoughtful persona, reflects the conflictive empirical author who identifies himself (outside the story) as Dante. (3) Similarly, Estela Canto is referred to as Beatrice (Dante's symbolic guide through Paradise), whose poetic image paradoxically suggests that of Beatriz Viterbo. (4)

In her initial appearance to Virgil, Beatrice refers to Dante as 'l'amico mio' (Inferno, II. 61), and certainly the traditional theme of literary friendship, transformed into enmity in 'El Aleph', underlies the poetics of the story. (5) As critics have noted, the name Carlos Argentino Daneri is a pun on Dan[te] [Alighi]eri (Rodriguez Monegal, p. 414). (6) In this respect Dante recalls other names, such as that of his friend and literary rival Guido Cavalcanti ('questo mio primo amico a cui io cio scrivo', Vita Nuova, XXX), (7) and Arnaut Daniel, the famous Provengal poet, of whom Dante says 'fu miglior fhbbro del parlar materno' (Purgatorio, XXVI, 117). Both Cavalcanti and Arnaut wrote highly sophisticated poetry of love, and both play an important role in Dante's evaluation of his own poetic language.

Contemporary Spanish American poets may also be perceived in the name: Ner[u]da (whose collection of poems Residencia en la Tierra and Canto general may be alluded to in Daneri's poem La Tierra), and R[ub]en Dari[o]. (8) A more immediate allusion, as Alicia Jurado puts it, is that Carlos Argentino represents 'la caricatura de un escritor nacional'. (9) Thus Daneri effectively embodies a web of references, implying both the author's homeland and fellow countrymen, as well as representing the figure of a poet who is also a rival and an enemy. Furthermore, there is an element of parodic self-representation in both male characters (note the double identification Borges-Dante, Daneri-Dante); in Borges's own words: 'El poeta es cada uno de los hombres de su mundo ficticio.' (10) Borges was very critical of his early ultraist period and he dedicated much of his reflections on literature to defending his deviation from the movement.

It is a frequent habit of Borges to confront his identity and thought under the guise of other writers or fictional characters, a trick he also attributes, as proof of cunning, to Pierre Menard: 'Su habito resignado o ironico de propagar ideas que eran el estricto reverso de las preferidas por el' (OC, I, 449). …

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