Blog post to Lecture 1
Talk about a Hypertext story! This essay required a lot of crosschecking Wikapedia, google lanuguage tools, and dictionary.com to understand what Borges was on about. Had I read this back in 1939 when it was published, well, I couldn’t have if I only had my current knowledge.
To me this essay was about two things; first, the authoring of a fake essay and the blaming of Madame Henri Bachelier in vicious way for making an error not to mention Pierre Menard’s work on Quixote and miss noting some other works. Second, the philosophical point to be made about one’s work never being original, or at least the only thing original about it is the context of the reader.
So, why didn’t Borges just write an essay about the latter? My guess is that would not get the point home. He’d be just another academic saying “I think this…”, ie, having little impact, not very memorable, even a bit ho-hum boring. Now, to really get this idea across how about presenting as written by someone nobody knows because they are of course fictional. That means no one can interpret that work with the author in mind, leaving out that bit of connotation. So, that’s pretty clever really, to be talking about perspective as the only original part of a literary work, then to make sure you’re way of communicating is a twist on perspective via a fake essay.
The first part is striking because of how critical the essay is of Madame Henri Bachelier and the newspaper that is accused of misrepresenting Pierre Menard’s “visible” literary works in what I am guessing Menard’s obituary. I mean, he really drags her and the paper through the mud! And, really, the essay’s point is to talk about the non-visible work of Menard. Then he goes on to point out two highly regarded ladies who back him, justifying and adding credibility to his claims. Again we see the implications of context; he says his authority is easily challenged but apparently theirs is not. (But to me, a 21st century reader, they have no more authority than the fictional author.) I guess this is more clearly demonstrated later in the essay (p5):
“In spite of these three obstacles, Menard’s fragmentary Quixote is more subtle than Cervantes’. The latter, in a clumsy fashion, opposes to the fictions of chivalry the tawdry provincial reality of his country; Menard selects as his “reality” the land of Carmen during the century of Lepanto and Lope de Vega.”
So, it just depends on who’s reading it, if these two ladies are more credible than the author!
Then after this is the list of visible works; very deep and heavy stuff with monographs of historical polymaths and a few sonnets for the two afore mentioned ladies. This gives the reader an idea that Menard was to be taken seriously as an author and I guess that the two ladies were his patrons.
So, with all that said, the role of representation of identity I think relates to the idea he’s trying to get across, that identity will affect how someone views your work. I think he uses the list of works as a way to get the reader thinking about things related to the point of this essay. He name drops tons of philosophers and polymaths, each known for some new way of thinking. So, it’s a bit of trickery there, getting the reader to recall Raymond Lully’s debating tool for winning over Muslims to Christianity through logic… and so on to influence how the reader is thinking before they get to the big philosophical argument on perspective and originality.
As far as authenticity goes, this type of writing was at the time innovative, but again there is the paradox that no writing is really original, that all is pastiche – every story or piece of art is made up of bits and pieces of other works, and that the only original part is the paradigm and cultural climate one views it from.
Dissemination and production and really, readership of this essay back in 1939 would’ve been quite limited. Borges wrote for literary journals and if you didn’t read that journal you weren’t going to see it. And, like I mentioned before, you’d have to be uber-knowledgeable to read it or else, even if you managed to have it in hand you wouldn’t understand it.
Finally, authorship seems to play two roles. First, this is a fake essay and even some fake authors are given. Next, the listing of the works… well, it’s the one work that has no physical evidence left behind that is the greatest piece. I guess the point is you read an author’s story but you author your own story of their story by merely reading it from your point of view. (wow. Pretty deep! Lol)