Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Borges’s concept of the relationship between the text and the perception of the reader is a manifestation of his concept of existence as a function of the perception of things. This idealist view of human experience is evident in all the writings of Borges. He develops his fiction not through realistic descriptions or character portrayals but through emphasis on the ideas and linguistic processes of his characters. The story about the author of the Quixote is, above all, an analysis of Menard’s obsessive concern with the possibility of creating the literary work as an intellectual exercise. The task represents an intellectual challenge, and the accomplishment of the task has significance for the essential meaning of the universe.

Because of the emphasis on the private intellectual experience of the character, the typical language of storytelling is replaced in Borges’s fiction with the linguistic techniques more commonly found in the essay. Even in the stories of Borges that have a well-defined plot, such as “El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan” (“The Garden of Forking Paths”) or “El milagro secreto” (“The Secret Miracle”), the interest lies not so much in what happens, but in the character’s intense rationalizing and intellectualizing about his predicament. In “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote,” Borges emphasizes the intellectual activity of Pierre Menard and develops only marginally anything that could be called a plot.

The list of Menard’s publications and the references to the testimonies of the friends of Menard concerning his work do not further the development of the “story”; rather, they reinforce the importance of the intellect and the rational in Menard’s experience. They also disarm to some extent the intensely serious rational nature of the narrative through subtle, sophisticated humor. The incongruity of the countess from Monaco who ends up in Pittsburgh and the doubtfulness of Madame Bachelier’s testimony because of its appearance in a Protestant newspaper are examples of Borges’s wry cynicism about his own analytical approach to human experience.

This ratiocinative emphasis results in a narrative language that is clear and concise. At some points, “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote” is difficult, as are all of Borges’s stories. The difficulty, however, never results from an imprecision of language, but rather from the complexity of Borges’s ideas and the obsessive intensity of his concerns.

Historical Context

(Literature of Developing Nations for Students)

Between the World Wars in Argentina
It is not without significance that one of the chapters of the Quixote rewritten by...

(The entire section is 477 words.)

Literary Style

(Literature of Developing Nations for Students)

The Literary Hoax
In a 1976 interview, Borges admitted that "Pierre Menard" is "what we might call a mystification, or a hoax."...

(The entire section is 1129 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Literature of Developing Nations for Students)

1939: In Argentina, President Robert M. Ortiz tried to establish democracy in a mostly Fascist country, partly to remedy its economic...

(The entire section is 205 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Literature of Developing Nations for Students)

Is "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote" a short story or an essay?

Explain the difference between the interpretations of...

(The entire section is 86 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Literature of Developing Nations for Students)

On the theme of memory, see Borges' "Shakepeare's Memory", in which the German narrator is possessed by the bard's thoughts, and also Borges'...

(The entire section is 146 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Literature of Developing Nations for Students)

Alazraki, Jaime, "Oxymoronic Structure in Borges' Essays," in The Cardinal Points of Borges, edited by Lowell...

(The entire section is 469 words.)