Metafiction in Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges
Borges’ use of metafiction in the compiled short stories of “Ficciones”, shows a different type of narrative technique. The author interpolates ideas or stories within his stories to provide a critique of his own work in order to analyze the basic structures of narrative fiction. In Borges’ short stories “The Circular Ruins” and“The Approach to Al-Mu’tasim”, Borges critiques his own style of writing by creating a fictional story within his fictional story.
In “The Circular Ruins”, Borges explores and critiques his style of writing through the creation of an idealistic son, who is created by a despondent magician, who has always longed for a son. The story begins with an unhappy magician who has recently woken up and decides “to dream a man” and wants “to dream him in minute entirety and impose him on reality” (Borges 58). Borges here begins to explain how the sorcerer wants to create something of his own and show the rest of the world what he has accomplished in his lifetime.
Now the magician here can be viewed as Borges himself, who begins to show his writing style. But “At first, [the magicians] dreams are chaotic” (58), Borges’ writing here subtly portrays that his own ideas are out of control before he makes them eventually become “dialectic in nature” (58). As Borges writes on he depicts the magician “in the center of a circular amphitheater” with “clouds of taciturn students [who] filled the tiers of seats”. Borges, as the magician, displays his students as ideas which he arranges then chooses the one that he likes the best. Borges first splits his ideas up into two parts by classifying those “who accepted his doctrine passively” and those “who occasionally dared to oppose him” (58) or his doctrine.
Borges continues to write that the magician “dismissed the vast illusory student body for good and kept only one pupil” (59). The magician doing this is as if Borges has now isolated an idea “whose sharp features [resemble] those of his dreamer” (59) or in Borges case resembles his own personal views. In metafiction it is generally common for the architect to be replicated within his own creation because when they, the creators, create something it generally represents their own personal beliefs and/or ideas. In the magicians case he chooses a pupil from the group who opposed his views occasionally in order to appeal to other people, for example the villagers, who do not share the common view of the creator, so thus the creator feels obligated to create a more appealing work for the people around him.
Then, “a catastrophe took place. One day, the man emerged from his sleep…and understood he had not dreamed”. This realization that the magician has is Borges actually being portrayed having the debacle of not actually writing down his idea and developing it over time. If Borges is critiquing his own writing style through the sense that he is the magician, then when the magician realizes he is not actually dreaming is as if it is Borges realizing he is not developing the idea thoroughly because he is not actually writing down the idea. So when the magician then actually begins to dream up and develop his ideal image, it is similar to Borges writing down his own thought up image and developing it.
Also, in the story it mentions that for the magician, it “proved to be two years in order” in order to develop his creation by “instructing him in the mysteries of the universe and the cult of fire” (61). Through his work Borges portrays the magician as himself who is having the hardship of developing his
idea into an eventually completed vision. It is clearly seen in the end that the magician is a fictitious character that Borges made up in order to portray himself because the magician figures out “that he also was an illusion, that someone else was dreaming him” (63).
In “The Approach to Al-Mu’tasim”, Borges directly critiques his own style of writing by writing an assessment on a work/story done by a fictional character, but clearly the story written within the critique is written by Borges. Borges basically assesses his own style of writing directly through the use of metafiction. The story begins by Borges giving a slight introduction about the author, Mir Bahadur Ali, and including fictitious quotes said by historical figures. The reason as to why Borges provides these fictitious quotes like the one made by Philip Guedalla, who was a British barrister and a popular travel writer, is to assess the work from a different point of view. Borges writes that Guedalla said that “The Approach to Al-Mu’tasim” “ ‘is a rather uncomfortable combination of those allegorical poems of Islam…and those detective novels which inevitably surpass John H. Watson and refine the horror of human life found in the most irreproachable boarding houses of Brighton.’ “ (37). In metafiction a common thing to do is to incorporate historical figures into ones writings, and in Borges’s case he incorporates two real people who both are writers and quotes them as if they are commenting on the fictional story of “The Approach to Al-Mu’tasim” by using his knowledge about the writers.
As Borges continues to write and evaluate the story he first gives the readers a description of the protagonist, Al-Mu’tasim. Then after the description he, the narrator, explain how it is hard “to trace the vicissitudes of the nineteen remaining chapters” (39) and that “there is a dizzy pullulation of dramatis personae, not to speak of a biography which seems to exhaust the movements of the human spirit” (39).The way Borges criticizes the fictitious author’s writing here is possibly a similar way Borges looks at his own writing from a different perspective other than his own in order to make sure it is suitable for release to the public. After Borges does the initial criticizing, he then goes to give an overview of the plot of “The Approach to Al-Mu’tasim”. Finally, Borges gives a well detailed personal analysis of the story. He begins by saying that he sees “various invention of prophetic traits” within Al-Mu’tasim, and that “the extraordinary and unseen Al-Mu’tasim should give us the impression of a real character” (41).
Because Borges portrays himself as the actual author of “The Approach to Al-Mu’tasim”, the remarks (and other ones about the other versions) that he makes about the story itself makes it seem like Borges wants to show that the deeper meaning of a story can sometimes be lost within translation. Borges writes that in a nineteen thirty-two version of “The Approach to Al-Mu’tasim”, the main character is portrayed as a symbol and in a nineteen thirty-four version (of the same exact work) “the novel sinks into allegory.” (41). Through the use of metafiction Borges want readers to see that sometimes the meaning of a certain work can be lost in translation.
So throughout Borges’s stories that contain metafiction in his compilation, Ficciones, Borges analyses and critiques his own writing technique by portraying himself as the person being described within the story. By doing this Borges helps the reader see the particular hardship in creating a story that would appeal to his/her view. And Borges does not explain is writing technique in a certain boring way; he displays his way of writing through the intricately displayed adventures of metafiction. Even a reader who does not read closely can see Borges’s meaning within his metafictional stories of “The Circular Ruins” and “The Approach to Al-Mu’tasim.” Word Count: 1,254
Kerrigan, Anthony, ed. Ficciones. Grove Press, 1962. Print.
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