In his 1969 study The Narrow Act: Borges’s Art of Allusion, Ronald J. Christ offers an important piece of advice to anyone reading Borges for the first time: ‘‘The point of origin for most of Borges’s fiction is neither character nor plot . . . but, instead, as in science fiction, a proposition, an idea, a metaphor, which, because of its ingenious or fantastic quality, is perhaps best call[ed] a conceit.’’ ‘‘The Aleph’’ certainly fits this description, for while it does possess the elements of traditional fiction, it is more concerned with exploring the ‘‘conceit’’ of infinity: if there were a point in space that contained all other points, and one could look at it, what would one see—and how would one describe what he or she saw to another person? Such are the questions raised by Borges’s story.
‘‘The Aleph’’ was first published in the Argentine journal Sur in 1945 and was included as the title work in the 1949 collection The Aleph. Like so many of Borges’s other stories, essays, and poems, ‘‘The Aleph’’ is an attempt to explore and dramatize a philosophical or scientific riddle. To date, the story stands as one of Borges’s most well-known and representative works.
In a 1970 commentary on the story, Borges explained, ‘‘What eternity is to time, the Aleph is to space.’’ As the narrator of the story discovers, however, trying to describe such an idea in conventional terms can prove a daunting—even impossible— task.