Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
“The Aleph” begins with the narrator, Borges, recalling that on the February morning of Beatriz Viterbo’s death, a billboard advertisement in the Plaza Constitucion was being changed. The observation prompts him to vow not to allow himself to be changed by life, and thus he intends to consecrate himself to the memory of his beloved. Every year on Beatriz’s birthday (April 30), Borges returns to the house of her father and her cousin, Carlos Argentino Daneri. Whereas in the past it had been necessary to devise pretexts for his visits, the new circumstances permit him to carry on his devotion to Beatriz while seeming to perform an act of courtesy and respect. With each successive visit, he arrives later and stays longer. Gradually he gains the confidence of Carlos Argentino.
Beatriz’s cousin is in effect her antithesis: Beatriz possessed an ethereal quality that almost transcended reality, while Carlos Argentino is altogether too human, as is suggested by his entirely ordinary physical presence and his pointless existence. His remarks about modern humanity (that it is unnecessary for people to travel since the advent of the telephone, telegraph, radio, cinema, and so forth) cause Borges to make a connection between Carlos Argentino and literature: Both are equally inept, pompous, and vast. When Borges asks why Carlos Argentino does not write down his ideas, Carlos Argentino predictably responds that he has, in a poem entitled “The Earth.” As Carlos Argentino reads and comments on the verses, the consummate mediocrity of the work becomes evident. The real task involved in the poem, decides Borges, has been, not its composition, but rather the invention of reasons to explain why it is so admirable. Carlos Argentino’s purpose in his encyclopedic enterprise is to versify the face of the earth, which he does in a boring, unskillful, and chaotic way.
Several Sundays after Borges hears about the poem for the first time, Carlos Argentino unexpectedly requests a meeting between the two, which is to take place in the establishment of Zunino...
(The entire section is 846 words.)
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