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Tlön is surely a labyrinth, but it is a labyrinth devised by men, a labyrinth destined to be deciphered by men.
Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius is a 1940 Magic Realism short story by Jorge Luis Borges. Although it's only a few hundred words long and not a particularly easy read, it quickly became one of the most influential works of fiction of the 1940's.
The report begins with an unnamed narrator, who becomes fascinated with the land of "Uqbar" that a friend tells him of. Uqbar, as it turns out, only exists in one copy of one edition of The Anglo-American Cyclopaedia, and the article is mostly self-referential.
Slowly, however, more details on Uqbar start finding their way into the narrator's life. The purported nation seemingly once had an extensive mythology, based around the mythical land of Tlön. Tlön's philosophy and linguistics paint a fascinating picture of a holistic mysticism. Using the mindset of this mythical land, its inhabitants could allegedly find things simply by expecting to find them, regardless of whether or not these things existed previously. In the minds of these mythical Tlön people that the Uqbar culture spoke of, simply thinking, or writing, about objects and events could cause them to be real.
The narrator decides that both Uqbar and its stories of Tlön can only be inventions of a particularly creative author -- or rather, a group of natural scientists and philosophers who combined their knowledge to create such complicated World Building.
An addendum to the report, dated 1947, is repentant rather than speculative. The narrator was right: Uqbar and Tlön were indeed made up by a 17th century secret society... with the goal of eventually writing Tlön into reality. They succeed.
Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius provides examples of:
- Ancient Conspiracy
- Direct Line to the Author
- Language Equals Thought: Their strange language leads to the people of Tlön developing a philosophy similar to Berkeleyan idealism, but without his benevolent God.
- Literary Agent Hypothesis
- Mind Screw
- Rewriting Reality
- Starfish Language: The languages of Tlon have no nouns but only verbs or adjectives, reflecting the philosophy of its speakers (they see the world not as a set of objects with continuity in time, but a succession of events and transitory qualities).
- World Building
- Your Mind Makes It Real