Pierre Menard, Author of the Style and Technique

Jorge Luis Borges

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.