"...it is clear that there is no classification of the Universe not being arbitrary and full of conjectures. The reason for this is very simple: we do not know what thing the universe is."—"The Analytical Language of John Wilkins"
Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) is considered the greatest Argentine writer of the twentieth century and an immensely influential author. His short stories, essays and poetry blend truth and fiction in unexpected ways, playing Mind Screws on the reader at every turn, and exploring deep philosophical themes (idealism, determinism, infinity, the search for personal identity, fiction vs. reality, humanity vs. divinity...) in a rigorous but entertaining way. He is considered an important precursor and originator of many Post Modernism devices. Borges himself was an Ultraist, a short lived movement that originated in early XX century Spain (where Borges arrived around 1920).
Borges became blind due to an inherited disease in his middle age and blindness is a recurring Motifs in his later works. Other common motifs are labyrinths, mirrors, libraries, tigers, and daggers. The blind monk Jorge de Burgos in Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose is one allusion to Borges. The blind librarian in The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe may be another.
Some of his best known short stories (Borges didn't write any novels) are:
- "Tlon Uqbar Orbis Tertius": An Ancient Conspiracy to create a complete fictional universe is discovered by the narrator in the form of an encyclopedia describing the nation of Uqbar and its mythology about the land of Tlön. Its plan is to recreate Earth in the form of Tlön by subconsciously persuading everyone that it is true. They succeed.
- "The Library of Babel": Trope Namer for the eponymous trope, this story describes a universe consisting of a huge, endless library, that contains all possible books (that is to say, all possible combinations of letters, spaces, and punctuation given a certain number of characters per book)-- but arranged with no discernible order or pattern.
- "The Garden of Forking Paths": Explores the idea of time branching forwards into Alternate Universes and weaves it with a spy story set in World War I. Famous for anticipating the "many worlds" interpretation of quantum mechanics.
- "Death and the Compass": A Genre Deconstruction of the Detective Fiction that seems to follow a Connect the Deaths plot -- but with a twist at the end.
- "The Aleph": A mediocre poet has found in his basement an Aleph, a point that reflects every other point in the universe and from which everything can be seen simultaneously and together.
- "The Cult of the Phoenix": A group of madmen, outcasts, women, children, and urchins founds a philosophical school that lasts for thousands of years and secretly manipulates all other religions behind the scenes. And they're the good guys.
- "Averroes's Search" An exploration of the Tragic Dream in the character of Averroes, Islamic Philosophers dreamed to explain Aristotle’s works to the Islamic culture. His problem was that Averroes didn’t understand the terms “Tragedy” and “Comedy” that constantly pop up in Aristotle’s canon because he was confined to the Islamic orb. Suddenly there is a No Ending and the Mind Screw begins: Borges is Breaking the Fourth Wall to inform that he realized that he had a Tragic Dream himself, because as a twenty century author, he has no better chances to imagine the 12th century Averroe’s character with only some literary references. This realization forces him to recognize the Recursive Reality of literature, and conduces Borges to a Creator Breakdown and his story to a No Ending because a minor case of Author Existence Failure.
The other half of his stories are about South Americans knife fighting, such as "The South".
- Adaptation Expansion: The movie version of Death and the Compass; the added material actually makes the the story more of a Mind Screw. "Days of Hate", a screenplay adaptation of "Emma Zunz"
- Ancient Conspiracy: "Tlon Uqbar Orbis Tertius"; played with in "The Cult of the Phoenix". Invoked at "Death and the Compass".
- And I Must Scream: Perhaps the only positive use of this trope ever takes place in "The Secret Miracle".
- Animal Motifs: tigers, featured or mentioned in many of his stories
- Author Existence Failure: "Averroe's Search" : A subversion, when Borges has his Creator Breakdown, he doesn’t believe anymore in the characters of this story, forcing a No Ending.
- Author Stand In: Borges doubles as narrator in "Tlon Uqbar Orbis Tertius", "The Aleph", "Funes the Memorious", "The Other", "The Other Death", and several other stories.
- The Bad Guy Wins: Arguably, "Garden of Forking Paths". Definitively, "Death and the Compass"
- Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: "The Immortal", in which Homer has become immortal.
- Blessed with Suck: "Funes the Memorious".
- Brown Note: "The Zahir".
- The Chessmaster: Red Scharlach in "Death and the Compass"; Azevedo Bandeira in "The Dead Man"; James Alexander Nolan in "Theme of the Traitor and the Hero"; Eric Einarsson in "The Bribe".
- Clingy MacGuffin: "The Zahir."
- Creator Breakdown: "Averroe's Search" : Subverted when Borges realizes he has broke the Stable Fictional Loop and incurred in an Ontological Paradox, the short story suffers a No Ending.
- Connect the Deaths: "Death and the Compass".
- Cthulhu Mythos: "There Are More Things", written in memory of Lovecraft. Incidentally, Borges considered Lovecraft more like an involuntary parodist of Poe.
- Culture Clash: "Averroe's Search" : This is the cause why Averroes, an islamic philosopher, had Pop Culture Isolation.
- Doppelganger: "The Other" and "August 25, 1983".
- Dream Weaver: "The Circular Ruins"
- Going Native: "Story of the Warrior and the Captive Maiden" contrasts two opposite examples of this trope.
- Great Big Book of Everything/Tome of Eldritch Lore: "The Book of Sand".
- Heh, Heh, You Said "X": "The Cult of the Phoenix":
There are no decent words to name it, but it is understood that all words name it or rather inevitably allude to it, and so in a conversation I said anything and the adepts smile or become uncomfortable, because they felt that I had touched the Secret.
- Library of Babel: The Trope Namer, as mentioned above.
- Lured Into a Trap: In "Death and the Compass", the entire Connect the Deaths plot is bait to lure the detective to a location where his enemy can kill him.
- Magic Realism: many of his stories are in this genre, and he was part of the so-called "Latin American Boom" that helped popularize it.
- Arguably, he's also one of the founders of it and by far one of the most well known, along with Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
- Meaningful Name: Plenty, often combined with Shout-Out. For example, Carlos Argentino Daneri in "The Aleph" is a play on Dante Alighieri (his sister is called Beatriz), and Pedro Damián in "The Other Death" references medieval philosopher Pier Damiani, as lampshaded in the story itself.
- Mind Screw: Where to start?
- Special mention goes to "The Search of Averroes". In it, an Arabian professor investigates a Greek translation and ponders the meaning of "drama" and "comedy", which he can't understand becasue he lives in a culture in which the art of perfomance doesn't exist. After hearing with some guests a story about China and the performers that live in there and completely misses the point about the whole "acting" thing he starts meditating and eventually has a sudden realization about the meaning of "drama" and "comedy", which turns out to be wrong. He then disappears, as do his house and all those that were in there without leaving a trace. Borges then explains within the story that he himself had to understand Averroes to write the story, and like Averroes, had no real chance of doing so. The writer, could no longer believe in Averroes as a character and he naturally disappeared completely along with his house.
- Mortality Ensues: The protagonist of "The Immortal" finds a river that makes anyone who drinks from it immortal; after around a thousand years he gets bored and goes off in an ultimately successful search for a hypothetical sister river that will make him mortal again.
- Motive Misidentification: "The death and the Compass": Great Detective thinks the Diabolical Mastermind is looking for a Magical Incantation. The real Evil Plan is more sinister (and logical).
- No Ending: "Averroe's Search" ends with all the characters and his surroundings suddenly disappearing, except maybe the Guadalquivir River.
- Nonsense Classification: His fake chinese encyclopedia Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge, with its classification of animals: (a) those that belong to the emperor; (b) embalmed ones; (c) those that are trained; (d) suckling pigs; (e) mermaids; (f) fabulous ones; (g) stray dogs; (h) those that are included in this classification; (i) those that tremble as if they were mad; (j) innumerable ones; (k) those drawn with a very fine camel's-hair brush; (l) etcetera; (m) those that have just broken the flower vase; (n) those that at a distance resemble flies.
- Perspective Flip: "The House of Asterion", in which the narrator tells us of his strange life in his strange house; upon reaching the end we realize that the narrator is the Minotaur and the house is the Labyrinth. (Well, the reader realizes it about halfway through if he's conversant with ancient mythology.)
- And a story sketched in "The Zahir," whose protagonist is an ascetic living in isolation in a wasteland called gnittaheidr, guarding a huge treasure to protect lesser men from the temptation it causes (including his own father, whom he killed). in the end, it turns out the protagonist is Fafnir, who was turned into a giant serpent by the Ring of the Niebelungen and slain by Siegfried.
- Pirate Girl: "The Widow Ching, Lady Pirate"
- The Plan: "Death and the Compass"; "The Dead Man".
- Pop Culture Isolation: In-Universe example meets Truth in Television in "Averroe's Search" : Averroes, an Islamic philosopher, never could understand the terms tragedy and comedy.
- Post Modernism.
- Photographic Memory: The titular character of "Funes the Memorious". The story also deconstructs it.
- Reality Warper: "The Circular Ruins"
- Recursive Reality: "Averroe's Search" : In the last page, Borges realizes that he has broke the Stable Fictional Loop and incurred in an Ontological Paradox
I felt, on the last page, that my narration was a symbol of the man I was as I wrote it and that, in order to compose that narration, I had to be that man and, in order to be that man, I had to compose that narration, and so on to infinity.
- Rewriting Reality: "Tlon Uqbar Orbis Tertius".
- Shoot the Shaggy Dog: "Death and the Compass", "The Garden of Forking Paths".
- Shout-Out: Pretty much every author in the Western and Eastern literary and philosophical canon gets a Shout-Out in some Borges story or another. For example, "Death and the Compass" has Shout Outs to philosopher Baruch Spinoza and authors Edgar Allan Poe and James Joyce, among others.
- Stylistic Suck: Carlos Argentino Daneri's poems in "The Aleph".
- Through the Eyes of Madness: Asterion's House.
- Time Stands Still: "The Secret Miracle"
- Tomato in the Mirror: "The Circular Ruins"
- Tragic Dream: "Averroe's Search" : Averroes tries to explain Aristotle without understanding the terms Tragedy and Comedy and Borges trying to imagine Averroes.
- Unreliable Narrator: "The Other Death"; "The Immortal". The reliability of the narrator is questioned explicitly in the stories themselves; the latter one almost takes it into Deconstruction territory. "A Survey of the Works of Herbert Quain" mentions a story in which, based on the final sentence, the sagacious reader can discover that the solution to the mystery was wrong and, with that additional piece of information, can reconstruct what actually happened.
- Unwitting Pawn: Lönrott in "Death and the Compass"
- Who Wants to Live Forever?: "The Immortal".
- Your Mind Makes It Real: "The Circular Ruins" in a personal level. "Tlon Uqbar Orbis Tertius" on a global scale.