A Brief Introduction to a Human Labyrinth
Politics and Activism

A Brief Introduction to a Human Labyrinth

The Magical Realist Jorge Luis Borges


So far, the fall semester at Hiram has given me some great reads—I’ve covered everything from the TOMS story to magical realism. SPEAKING OF, we just read a great deal of stories from a collection by the father of magical realism himself, Jorge Luis Borges.

Before I get into Borges’s story and style, I’ll tell you about magical realism. Essentially, it’s a style that’s pretty darn realistic, but that has some element of magic about it (and, no, I’m not trying to be a smartass). Maybe the story takes place at Hiram College, but giant leeches are covering the buildings. Maybe people are chatting about random topics, become interested in finding out more about a particular topic, and eventually find their world consumed when that topic moves from abstract to reality (that’s a bare-bones summary of Borges’s short story “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”). No matter the time or place, magical realism will exist at the intersection of the real and the strange, where both are seen as perfectly natural.

Yep. Perfectly normal.

Now let’s talk about Borges. He was born in 1899 in Argentina and died in 1986 in Switzerland. In between those two events he wrote works that would later be considered classics of 20th century World Literature and he's to this day an extremely important figure in Spanish literature. Not dissimilar to the means by which Doc created the Flux Capacitor in “Back to the Future,” Borges wrote some of his best works in an experimental style he created after suffering a severe head injury in 1938.

Sounds pretty cool, right? Now try reading stuff by this guy. It’s ROUGH. At least, on the first read-through it is. As I mentioned above, I’m reading a collection Borges’s work, called “Labyrinths,” for school and at first I hated it. It was dense in every sense of the word: the language was difficult to muddle through, as was the style, as were the themes. But, through class discussion, I was able to piece together what this guy was talking about, and what he was talking about was NUTS. The modern day equivalent of what this guy is doing would be something like Danielewski’s “House of Leaves” or Mitchell’s “Cloud Atlas,” chock-full of mazes and cyclical plots. Borges’s stories blur the line between fiction and reality, truth and deception, physical and metaphysical. By the time you’re finished reading, you aren’t sure which way is up, but you also feel like you’ve come to a new, bizarre understanding of the universe. It’s trippy.

So, if you want to destroy your brain sometime, check out Borges! I’d recommend forming a reading group for it, though, since, in the case of Borges, two heads are better than one. I’ll leave you with a quote of his that I liked, and that I think sums up this magical guy and his love of labyrinths:

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