Style and Technique

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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.

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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

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Between the World Wars in Argentina
It is not without significance that one of the chapters of the Quixote rewritten by Pierre Menard concerns a debate between "arms and letters." In 1939, Hitler was moving a substantial army into Poland and Czechoslovakia and 7,500 Jewish businesses were destroyed in Germany on Kristallnacht (Night of Crystal, named for the broken storefront windows) on November 9 and 10, 1938. Borges had been trapped in Zurich during World War I, his father having made the mistake of taking his family with him to Europe in 1914 in order to seek treatment for advancing blindness. The Borges family had ties to Europe, as did (and does) Argentina itself, since at that time roughly one-third of Argentines were European immigrants, some of them Jews who had left Hitler's Germany. The military armament and sense of impending disaster in Europe would have been apparent to Borges as he wrote. He courageously denounced Hitler and his program of a "final solution" of exterminating all Jews in the pages of the Argentine literary magazine Sur, where "Pierre Menard" would later be published.

Having had a history of political instability, Argentina found itself during the inter-War years with numerous thriving Fascist organizations, and frequent shifts occurred between democratic to Fascist leadership....

(The entire section contains 2673 words.)

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Teaching Guide