[(essay date 1964) In the following essay, Foster provides an overview of the collection The Aleph, describing the stories as variations on the genre of the fantastic tale. Comparing Borges to Franz Kafka, he observes that, while Kafka used the fantastic to grapple with his own psychology, Borges used it as part of his literary arsenal, displaying an artistic conflict between his learned intelligence and his fascination with mystery.]
El Aleph (Buenos Aires, 1957) is the last collection of entirely new short stories to be published by Jorge Luis Borges, and as such merits a careful examination as the most recent document of the Borgian literary production. This paper is intended more as a review of the thematic content and structural style of the book than an intricate examination of its thematic facets.
In his “Epílogo,” Borges states “fuera de ‘Emma Zunz’ … y de la ‘Historia del guerrero y de la cautiva’ … las piezas de este libro corresponden al género fantástico.” (p. 171) The fantastic forms the greatest part of Borges’ fiction production. But although there are elements which are fantastic in appearance, his particular genius arises from the service which he makes them perform.
Certainly the fantastic tale is not a novelty—it is an eminent part of folklore tradition, in which context it is believed. The fantastic-centered literary creation was an integral part of fiction with the Romantic writers in their search for themes which would support their distorted philosophy of the ego and the universe. With Borges, the fantastic is a cultivated flower—a hothouse product of his fecund mind. Borges, an extremely cultured man (one need only to observe the explicit and implicit references in his work to world literature and philosophy), forges a type of short story out of his intellectual background and his romantic predilection for the fantastic.
What are the metaphysical tenets of the author as they are presented in this collection? In the first story, “El inmortal”, a story central to Borges’ art, we encounter the following observations:Sentí que era [yo] anterior a los hombres, anterior a la tierra. Esa notoria antigüedad (aunque terrible de algún modo para los ojos) me pareció adecuada al trabajo de obreros inmortales.(p. 14)
This story deals with the complications arising from the concept of immortal beings. In the short quotation above, one observes Borges’ style and technique at work. In a very “clean” sentence, one without the Baroque trappings of, say, a Poe, the author conveys his sense of mystery: “aunque terrible de algún modo.” Borges is never precise, and consequently his writings abound with the indefinite article, pronoun, or adjective, always successfully charged with mystery. The first part of the quotation contains an expression of one of the main emphases in his tri-focal philosophy (time, space, and consciousness). It is the theme of conscious repetition, expressed again further on in these terms:Entre los Inmortales, en cambio, cada acto (y cada pensamiento) es el eco de otros que en el pasado lo antecedieron, sin principio...