[(essay date 2004) In the following excerpt, Frisch discusses the kinds of roles that the author’s female characters play, showing that in several cases, the women appear strong and independent. Although Borges is not centrally concerned with the depiction of individual characters, Frisch contends, he nevertheless conveys how people may change over time, and in this sense Borges may be termed an activist.]
Borges and Feminism
The critics above argue over the nature of the self, of history, and of truth and foundational positions because they realize that, ultimately, the acceptance or rejection of these ideas and issues may affect the success or failure of the feminist movement. They realize that ideas are important, that people act on their ideas, and that changing ideas can change behavior. Borges was very aware of this as well. While women’s issues are certainly not the central theme of his works, some of his stories suggest that they were part of his thinking and writing.
Postmodern theorists and critics, drawing on Borges, have focused attention on topics such as the self and pluralism, and now these issues are at the crux of the postmodern debate. While by no means alone in bringing about these changes, Borges proves to be an important player in the cultural transitions of the last forty years that have helped to bring women’s issues to the fore. In many ways, postmodernity and feminism have helped sustain each other. In rethinking and redefining the self, history, and foundations of our truths and our utopian visions, postmodern discourse has helped bring women and women’s issues in from the margins and has encouraged feminist thought. These feminist discourses have opened, challenged, and changed the culture so as to feed the postmodern debate. Together, they have helped initiate a rereading and a redefinition not only of the role, place, and image of women in the society, but also of many of the foundations and assumptions of Western culture as well. It is in this interaction that Borges’s contribution to the development of various feminisms becomes clear.
One of Borges’s stories that best exemplifies his vision of the world as fluid and changeable is “Tlön Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”. It is worth revisiting it from this perspective. This story is often considered important in a discussion of Borges because it contains so many different aspects of his vision with themes that appear in other stories. The narrator, Borges, along with Bioy Casares, has discovered an effort to superimpose a new world upon the existing one. A group of scholars has undertaken the writing of an encyclopedia that redefines reality. They are creating a planet, named Tlön, based on idealism. They change the language, the understanding of material reality, of metaphysics, of truth, and of literature. In effect, they transform the total sense of self, of being, and of order and meaning. As the story closes, it becomes clear that this new order is superimposing itself on the old.
In some ways, this story provides a...