Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
“The Aleph” is a fictional rendering of a universal metaphor as outlined by Jorge Luis Borges in an essay published in 1952 entitled “La esphera de Pascal” (“Pascal’s Sphere”). The essay traces the development of the image of God as an endless sphere from six centuries before the Christian era to Blaise Pascal. Borges first cites Xenophanes of Colophon, who proposed to the Greeks the concept of one God who might subsume all the gods of their mythology, a single, perfect divinity in the form of a sphere and conveying solidity. Analogous images are found in the classical verses of Parmenides of Elea, in the Egyptian Hermetica, in the twelfth century poem Roman de la rose, and in the Book of Kings. The medieval interpretation of this idea was the presence of God in all of his creatures without being limited by any one of them, a reaffirmation of Scripture. When the cosmic vision represented in Dante’s La divina commedia (c. 1320; The Divine Comedy, 1802; the earth as the immobile center of the universe around which nine concentric circles revolve) ceded to Copernican space, the initial sense of liberation eventually turned into anguish: Humankind felt lost in time and space, alone in a universe that resembled a labyrinth and an abyss.
As Beatrice led Dante through the spheres to a vision of God, so does Beatriz Viterbo serve as the link between the character Borges and the Aleph: Her clairvoyance helps...
(The entire section is 592 words.)
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The Nature of Memory
In his parable ‘‘The Witness,’’ Borges imagines the last man to have witnessed pagan rituals dying in Anglo-Saxon England and remarks, ‘‘with him will die, and never return, the last immediate images of these pagan rites.’’ Because of this, ‘‘the world will be a little poorer,’’ since it will have lost its last link to a vanished historical era. Borges then wonders what images will die with him.
Similarly, ‘‘The Aleph’’ examines the fragile and faulty nature of memory. The story opens with Borges revealing his admiration of Beatriz Viterbo’s never allowing her final agonies to ‘‘give way to self-pity or fear’’; this admiration, however, is then seasoned by melancholy when he notices a new billboard advertising a brand of American cigarettes. While this detail may initially strike the reader as trivial, it helps Borges illustrate the subtle ways in which one’s world is always changing and, by extension, the idea that when one dies, the memory of the world at that particular point in time will die as well. ‘‘This slight change,’’ Borges knows, ‘‘was the first of an endless series’’— eventually, the last person to have seen Beatriz will die and, as Borges reasons in ‘‘The Witness,’’ the world will be ‘‘a little poorer.’’ At the end of the story, Borges acknowledges this sad fact by describing our minds as ‘‘porous’’ and admitting that he is...
(The entire section is 745 words.)