Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Borges’s narrators tend to be highly rational and emotionally detached; this is made necessary by the intensity of the intellectual riddles and paradoxes that Borges presents. No other sort of narrator is possible; the idea of an unreliable narrator performing in such a situation, for example, is unthinkable, because the other complexities are nearly overwhelming by themselves. The contrast between the apparent honesty of the narrator and the heavy specific gravity of his complex environment leaves little room to develop passion or feeling for the narrator himself. One of the things that distinguishes Borges’s fiction is this detachment. His narrator is not completely flat and one can feel his presence; however, any change in him is apt to be in the reader’s mind and not in his persona. This is a markedly different situation from that which one finds in two-dimensional genre literature—such as science fiction, horror, or mystery fiction—in which a certain predictable game is to be played. In such writing the people are not important; only the game is.

With Borges it is a game, but one of people caught in a paradox. For this reason there cannot be rounded people who play off against each other and come to some awareness of themselves. However many characters are needed to develop the paradox, it is the paradox that remains supreme. Thus it is the reader who comes to an awareness. The intensity of intellectual riddles requires that the stories be kept brief; if any of Borges’s stories lasted much longer, one might quit reading or go mad. Instead, the pieces are short, though much more work is required in reading them.

Because style and content do not separate in art, Borges’s stories, though clearer than any philosophical tract, must be read line by line because of the weight of the paradoxes with which they play. The information necessary to handle each riddle is presented chronologically, as if in recollection—the narrator is hurried, so he says his bit and exits.