PISANJE U RIJEKU, PISANJE U VJETAR
Pierre Menard, author of the Quixote
Hamilton is an English teacher at Cary Academy, an innovative private school in Cary, North Carolina. In this essay she examines the theme of reading in the literary project of “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote.”
“Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote” is metafiction about the overlap between essay writing and story writing. Writing certainly lies at the center of the story, beginning with the title. However, “Pierre Menard” is also “metareading,” a story that concerns itself with the relationship between writing and reading. References to writing about in this story. The narrator establishes Pierre Menard’s credibility as an author by listing a catalogue of his written work, his "visible oeuvre". The works represent a range of types, from sonnets and letters to monographs, manuscripts, and translations. The last item of the list, handwritten, is about one of the elements unique to writing: punctuation. The breadth of topics treated by the writings in the catalogue testifies to Menard’s intelligence and worth; his writing identifies him as an erudite and prolific writer. His most impressive work is a project to “produce a number of pages which coincided---word for word and line by line--with those of Miguel de Cervantes.” The narrator applauds this act of re-envisioning an entire novel, calling the finished product “perhaps the most significant writing of our time.” Menard himself, in a letter quoted by the narrator, equates his undertaking with “the final term of a theological or metaphysical proof” or to God. Menard assures the narrator in his letter that “The task I have undertaken is not in essence difficult…If I could just be immortal, I could do it.” Thus, the creative act of writing is placed on a divine level. Menard is also legitimized in a chain of biblical-sounding “begats,” as a descendent of a line of writers beginning with Poe. He is following an honored tradition. The novel that Menard chooses to re-created, Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote, also carries a theme of writing, being a new written genre (the picaresque novel) and having many authorial intrusions that constantly remind the reader of the act of writing that produced the novel. The difference between the author’s goals is that while Cervantes’ work views writing as a means to the end of narration, Menard’s project centers on how writing affects the act of reading, and not on writing as an end in itself.The crowning moment of the article about “Pierre Menard” occurs when the narrator places the excerpt from Cervantes’ novel alongside the excerpt from Menard’s identical version. The narrator’s analysis then proves that reading, the flip side of writing--like the tree that falls in a forest—depends upon its audience to be appreciated. In the last paragraph of “Pierre Menard,” the narrator summarizes the impact of Menard’s having re-written the Quixote as a contribution to reading, “Menard (perhaps without wishing it) has enriched, by means of a new technique, the hesitant and rudimentary art of reading…” Given that the final product matches the original Quixote word for word, how can a second Quixote, an identical twin text of the first, have any bearing on reading, if the words are exactly the same? The answer lies in the “rudimentary art” of reading itself, which is an act not of translation, but of interpretation and putting into other words. Reading, as Borges’ story illustrates, is always an act of interpretation, for although the texts appear the same on the page (though begotten by a different process), they “mean” differently. Reading is a complex art that can be accomplished on many different levels.In “Pierre Menard” Borges presents many kinds of reading of varying levels of complexity, that might be arranged in a “hierarchy of reading” corresponding roughly to psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a system of organizing human goals. On the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid are the most basic human requirements for survival: food, water, air, sleep. At the top, Maslow placed the human need for self-actualization. In Borges’ hierarchy, the basic “survival” reading skill is simple cataloguing, the librarian’s skill that Borges practiced as an assistant librarian. The narrator of “Pierre Menard” proves his skill of cataloguing early in the story, when he carefully lists all of Menard’s writings, correcting omissions of earlier lists. The next level up on Borges’ hierarchy of reading would be comprehension. In the narrator’s annotations of the catalogued items, he demonstrates his skill of comprehension, for the topic of each item is succinctly summarized. Comprehension is a relatively simple used by the high school student to learn parts of a text. However, comprehension lacks depth; one might comprehend the essence of a well known book (such as Don Quixote) simply because it has become an icon of culture. Regarding Don Quixote the narrator points out that “fame is a form—perhaps the worst form—of comprehension.” On a slightly more complex level would be interpretation, an act of inferring meaning between the lines and taking other information into consideration. The narrator proves his astuteness as a reader at this level of Borges’s hierarchy of reading when he points out that Menard’s diatribe against Paul Valéry “states the exact reverse of Menard’s true opinion of Valéry.” Here, the narrator has read Menard’s life against his written opinions in order to arrive at a more thorough understanding of his subject than a casual reader might derive. The narrator has taken Menard’s personal context—his habits of mind--into consideration in his interpretation. Borges, whose father had gone blind and who very early in his life began to have vision problems that would lead to blindness, had personal reasons to value the skills of comprehension and interpretation in reading. With his weak eyesight, it was important for Borges to grasp what he read quickly, so as not to need a second reading. In this Borges became quite successful, developing his memory to retain ideas, languages, and whole passages of favorite texts. Almost everyone who met Borges remarked on his uncanny ability to recall passages from books he had read years ago in the course of conversation about other books. Interpretation requires memory as well as understanding. One of Pierre Menard’s inspirations involves an even higher level of reading than interpretation--“total identification” with the author. To accomplish total identification with a sixteenth-century Spanish author, the French Menard had to “learn Spanish, return to Catholicism, fight against the Moor or Turk, forget the history of Europe from 1602 to 1918” all in order to “be Miguel de Cervantes.” As daunting an undertaking as this might seem, Menard dismissed it as “too easy.” Rather than read his way to a total identification with Cervantes, Menard wanted to come to the Quixote “through the experiences of Pierre Menard.” In other words, Menard’s wanted to retain his own identity while absorbing Cervantes’ world view thoroughly enough to reproduce his writing. Menard’s project is similar in some ways to the goals of the University literature professor, who tries to understand authors in enough depth to explain their work. Borges, writing “Pierre Menard” as a young man, had no way of knowing that he would later become a university professor of English literature too! Soon literature professors were approaching Borges himself in this fashion. One of them, Borges scholar Daniel Balderston, spent fifteen years on the Menardian task of trying to read and learn everything that Borges would have read and known when he wrote his stories, including “Pierre Menard.” Balderston wanted “to recover the fullness of Borges’s knowledge of his historical knowledge at the time of [composing].” Like Menard, Balderston chose to retain his own identity, knowing that he could not create the innocence of Borges’ knowledge, since intervening history affects his understanding. Balderston’s research is a rehistoricization of Borges. The postmodern term “rehistoricization” also applies to Menard’s goal, because he ostensibly succeeded in understanding Cervantes’ world, his historical context, while maintaining the identity of Menard. Menard and Balderston are ideal readers, who do not lose their own selves through “total identification.” They understand the writer’s words within their historical context as well within the contemporary context, with different values and beliefs. The second inspiration for Menard was “anachronism, ” an idea he gleaned from “one of those parasitic books that set Christ on a boulevard.” The fact that Borges has not supplied a specific title and author of a such a “parasitic book,” critics have debated what book he had in mind. Balderston sests Joyce’s Ulysses, where Leopold Bloom is a quotidian Christ, while Emilio Carilla sests a 1922 Argentine novel called Jesús en Buenes Aires. However, the question is irrelevant in the context of reading Borges’ story, for the point is not the specific allusion but the concept behind it, in this case, the placing of a famous character into a radically unexpected context. Such allusions, nearly impossible to trace, appear throughout “Pierre Menard” and they catapult the reader into the highest category of the Borges hierarchy of reading, to create meaning from deliberate ambiguity. This is where the craft of writing merges with the art of reading. Whether or not the reader can verify the story’s “fallacious attributions,” he or she is forced to create a meaning. This is a form of joke played by Borges upon his readers, to frustrate coherence as a way to “enrich the slow and rudimentary art of reading.” As critic John Frow put it, “Borges’s “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote is a perfectly serious joke that we are still learning how to take seriously.” The casual (who takes Borges’ word for it) as well as the inquisitive reader (who hunts down every reference) approach the text from different angles, but in either case must fabricate their own sense of his “deliberate anachronism and fallacious attributions.” By considering “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote” an essay/story about reading, the oxymoron of the two inspirations for Menard’s project begins to make sense, too. One of the texts that inspired Menard was the Novalis “philogical fragment” on total identification with the author--in other words, a “perfect” reading. The other was a “parasitic book” that played with context—in other words, it disrupted the reader’s expectations. Taking the two opposing concepts together, Borges seems to sest that full understanding, epitomized by “total identification” and perfect understanding, is undesirable and inadequate, because the reader has to negotiate context, epitomized by the example of Christ taken out of his expected context. Borges could not have intended “Pierre Menard” to spawn the postmodern idea of the “death of the author,” the concept that nothing new can be written. On the contrary, Borges meant the readers of “Pierre Menard” to discover the “birth of the reader,” the idea that it is readers who make the text, and not authors alone.
Pierre Menard, author of the Quixote II
The Oxford Book of Latin American Essays (1997) calls “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote” “the most influential essay ever written in Latin America.” Typical of Borges’ style, the work does not fall neatly into the genre of narrative story or of essay—it is a fictional essay. Borges wrote it to test his mind after recovering from a head injury that gave him hallucinations and was complicated by a dangerous case of septicemia. In the form of a scholarly article, it tells of one Pierre Menard, a French symbolist recently deceased, who had undertaken the absurd task of re-writing Cervantes’ Don Quixote as a product of his own creativity. Menard wanted his version to “coincide with” the original--word for word. The narrator applauds and legitimizes the act as academic heroism. Because of Borges’ erudite reputation, the publication of this story sent scholars scrambling to discover the obscure author from Nîmes, Pierre Menard. They unearthed a minor essayist, with a forgettable published essay on the psychological analysis of handwriting. The narrator of the Borges story, himself a fussy pedagogue, explains that Menard succeeded in indoctrinating himself so thoroughly in Cervante’s culture, thoughts, and language, that the finished portions of his Quixote exactly match the Cervantes text. Furthermore, the narrator calls Menard’s achievement “infinitely richer” than that of Cervantes, due to its modern philosophical perspective and the obstacles Menard overcame to produce it. The narrator means that the modern context imbues the same words with different meanings, presaging postmodernism reader-response theories. As Donald Yates points out in his introduction to a collection of Borges’ fictions, “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote” “quite subtly anticipated critical literary theory that would emerge a quarter of a century later.” The story would be included in Ficciones (1944), a widely translated collection and the first Latin American work to achieve international acclaim.The dedication, “For Silvina Ocampo” honors the editor of the literary magazine Sur, in whose pages “Pierre Menard” first appeared. The story takes the form of a scholarly article about a recently deceased novelist. The novelist’s name, Pierre Menard, does not appear until the third sentence. The narrator of the article establishes credibility by citing a couple of literary ladies with unfamiliar names, then presents a catalogue of writings found among in Menard’s private papers. The narrator asserts that this list is more accurate than one published earlier by a Madame Henri Bachelier in a newspaper with Protestant leanings. The list encompasses an unusually wide range of interests, from love sonnets to Boolean logic. Many are esoteric and strange, such as an invective against the French poet Paul Valery which is really “the exact reverse of Menard’s true opinion of Valery,” and an article on the elimination of one of the pawns in the game of chess, wherein Menard “proposes, recommends, disputes, and ends by rejecting this innovation.” These and other poems and essays represent the “visible” part of Menard’s works. Now the narrator turns to Menard’s crowning achievement, which the narrator deems “subterranean, interminably heroic, and…inconclusive.” The rest of the article/story concerns itself with Menard’s re-authoring of just over two chapters of Don Quixote. This was the result of a project partially inspired by a theory of “total identification” with an author. Menard undertook “ to know Spanish well, reembrace the Catholic faith, to fight against Moors and Turks, to forget European history between 1602 and 1918, and to be Miguel de Cervantes.”
In a serious tone, the narrator extols Menard’s ambitious project and acknowledges his accomplishment of having completed the ninth, thirty-eighth , and portion of the twenty-second chapters of Part One of Don Quixote. Although the task was “complex in the extreme and futile from the outset,” Menard succeeded in producing these segments literally word for word. The narrator considers Menard’s achievement far greater than that of Cervantes, because for a Spaniard of the early seventeenth century to write in his own language of contemporary events was not as significant an effort as Menard had to make to write in archaic Spanish about events he knew only through research into history. The narrator quotes several long passages from a letter he says he received from Menard, in which the Frenchman justifies his project. In the letter, Menard explains that he chose Don Quixote because he had read it at age twelve and had forgotten it to the point where his memory of the text paralleled the “anterior image of a book not yet written.” Thus he could begin with similar ideas to those of Cervantes when he began to write Don Quixote. The narrator asserts that even though Menard never completed his project, he sometimes imagines that he did, and that while reading the Cervantes version, he further imagines that he detects the Frenchman’s style of writing. To demonstrate the significance of Menard’s achievement, the narrator juxtaposes two identical passages, first Cervantes’ and then Borges’. The reader is directed to notice the subtle shift in interpreting the phrase “truth, whose mother is history.” In Cervantes’ text, the phrase is mere rhetoric, praising truth. However, in Menard’s identical version, “truth, whose mother is history” carries the syntactic weight of the modern consciousness of history’s remaking of the past, with its concept that history creates truth. The narrator explains, “Historical truth, for him, is not what took place; it is what we think took place.” The narrator draws the reader’s attention to differences in acculturation that affect the reader’s expectation and interpretation. The meanings of the words change over time. The appreciation of style also changes, for whereas the language sounds suitable for a sixteenth-century Spanish author, it seems affectedly archaic and stiff when it comes from a modern French author. The story ends with the narrator’s commendation of Menard for having “enriched the art of reading” through his use of “deliberate anachronism and fallacious attribution.” These are the devices that Borges himself uses in his story.
Memory is what is retained (or created, in Borges’ terms) in the mind from experience. The theme of memory fascinated Borges, who wrote “Pierre Menard” as a test of his own mental ability after a minor head injury turned serious and gave him hallucinations. Borges’ concept of memory roughly parallels that of Marcel Proust, a writer Borges introduced to literature circles in Argentina. Proust’s landmark seven-volume novel about memory, Remembrance of Things Past (1917), exemplifies the theory of French philosopher Henri Bergson, that humans do not experience life when events happen, but later, in forming memories of those events. The processing of memories, Bergson postulated, took place in the durée [duration], deep in the mind, where the superficial constraints of clock time do not interfere. Bergson’s theories of time and memory inspired the Symbolist poets, Marcel Proust, and also Borges, among others. Like Proust, Borges attempted to express his own conception of memory and time in his fiction. At the end of his story “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” the narrator writes, “already in memory a fictitious past takes the place of the other past, of which we know nothing, not even that it is false.” In “Pierre Menard,” the narrator postulates memory as a creative act. He compares memory, an act of reconstructing the past from the parts retained in the mind with creation, which also constructs a whole from parts. Pierre Menard had read Don Quixote long ago, and had forgotten parts of it. His faded memory corresponds to “the imprecise, anterior image of a book not yet written.” In other words, Menard’s hazy memory resembles the germ of an unborn idea, one that has not yet fully formed into a creative vision.
Meaning & Interpretation
In a 1967 interview with Richard Burgin, Borges said that “every time a book is read or reread, then something happens to the book...and every time you read it, it’s really a new experience.” A reader comes to a story with a set of culturally shaped experiences and values that influence the way the reader understands the meaning of the words on the page. As the reader matures and gains new experiences, new perspectives, these meanings may change, because the reader’s core beliefs and values have changed. The reader also responds to, or pays attention to, different aspects of the story depending on his or her status in life and personal interests. As in life, an older person pays attention to different issues in a text than a younger person does. A woman may interpret the same scenes differently than would a man. A person who has recently lost a friend or relative to death may notice different details than one who has never experienced such a loss. Differences between readers and between reading sessions also occur on a cultural level, as societies and cultures change over time. Readers of each new era pay attention to new details, as they experience shifts in values, beliefs, and perspectives. Things once taken for granted, that women do not vote, for example, are questioned. Consciousness is raised on new issues and old ones pass into obscurity. Though the words of a passage remain the same, over time connotations associated with the words inflect new meanings and resonate to new values. Even within a given time and place, the same phrase can take on different meanings according to different contexts. Literary critic Staley Fish explains this phenomenon in his 1980 essay, “Is There a Text in This Class?” According to Fish, no sentence can be understood outside of context. In other words, the reader can only interpret the meaning of a sentence by mentally connecting the words to previously held beliefs and knowledge. These beliefs and knowledge derive from the person’s social context: all readers are “situated” within a particular culture and history. A sentence is written or uttered in a given “situation” that inflects the way it will be interpreted. The phrase from Fish’s essay, “Is there a text in this class?”, could refer to assigned books to read or a text left behind. Fish explains, …within those situations, the normative meaning of an utterance will always be obvious or at least accessible, although within another situation that same utterance, no longer the same, will have another normative meaning that will be no less obvious and accessible….This does not mean that there is no way to discriminate between the meanings an utterance will have in different situations, but that the discrimination will already have been made by virtue of our being in a situation (we are never not in one) and that in another situation the discrimination will also already have been made, but differently. Reader-response theorists debate over whether meaning derives solely from the reader’s awareness and creation or whether the author prescribes meaning in the form of words on a page that invoke connotations.
The difference is significant, and lies at the heart of “Pierre Menard.”The two identical passages of text, one by Cervantes and one by Menard, demonstrate how the act of reading imbues a text with meaning. The second interpretation of the phrase “history, the mother of truth” comes Borges’ own understanding of William James’philosophy of pragmatism. Thus his own beliefs and knowledge inflect his interpretation of Menard’s passage, which he attempts to pass on to the reader. According to Stanley Fish, how the reader “gets” that meaning is another thing altogether.
The Literary Hoax
In a 1976 interview, Borges admitted that “Pierre Menard” is “what we might call a mystification, or a hoax.” A hoax is an attempt to present a text as authentic, either for monetary gain or as a joke. A literary hoax often takes the form of a text that the author presents as authentic, perhaps as translation of a recently discovered scroll or long-lost manuscript. In one of the chapters of Don Quixote re-authored by Menard, chapter IX of book I, the narrator tells of having purchased by chance an old Arabic scroll at the
silk market, and mentions that the scroll just happened to contain a missing fragment of the history of Don Quixote of La Mancha. Having found the missing piece, the narrator continues his story. Borges parodies the found manuscript with Menard’s re-invented manuscript. Rather than finding a lost work, however, Menard writes a work all over again, publishing a story that is not lost, but already published and extant.
Borges’ literary hoax echoes another idea from Don Quixote. In Cervantes’ prologue, a friend tells the narrator to fabricate bits of Latin and throw in random historical references, so that he “may perhaps be taken for a scholar, which is honorable and profitable these days.” The friend also advises including several notable authors in the beginning, to give the book authority. Borges takes his cue from Cervantes. He begins with two testimonials that authorize his essay and he lists an impressive catalogue of Menard’s writings to authenticate Menard as a viable writer. Borges creates a character with a fictitious list of works (paralleling the discovered long-lost texts), but they are trivial, personal writing whose discovery is nearly meaningless. These works the narrator presumably found among Menard’s personal effects, after Menard’s death, are quirky and contrived, and virtually irretrievable. Perhaps Borges’ narrator takes comfort in the assurances provided to the narrator of Don Quixote by the “intelligent” friend that there is no reason to fear discovery in this deceit, for “no one will take the trouble to ascertain whether you follow your authorities or not.”
Literary hoaxes have existed since ancient Egyptian times, when merchants offered large sums for Greek manuscripts to sell to the Ptolemaic rulers. With such a reward, many false replicas of Greek documents were fabricated and sold at a profit. “Pierre Menard,” in its own way, has also succeeded very well as a literary hoax. Scholars continue to conjecture who might be the original Menard, and one Borges expert, Daniel Balderston, has devoted fifteen years to studying and recreating all of the historical and literary knowledge that Borges drew upon to write his essays, including the story, “Pierre Menard.” In the introduction to his 1993 work, Out of Context, Balderston remarks that his years of research have given him new insight into the “fun Borges had at the time of writing “Pierre Menard”.
Ambiguity & Oxymoron
Ambiguity is openness to interpretation; it is writing that allows—or forces—the reader to contrive meaning independently. Ambiguity comes in degrees, and Borges stories lie at the high end of the scale. His stories cause the reader puzzle about their meaning. Usually, when a story--or a poem, essay or other piece of writing--contains a phrase that is difficult to comprehend, the story’s context gives pertinent clues. However, many Borges stories resist interpretation because the context also remains mysterious. Sometimes even knowing the facts does not help. Of how much use is knowing whether Pierre Menard existed or not? Or whether he actually tried to re-author Don Quixote? Does it really matter who the baroness de Bacourt was? In other places the narrator frustrates the reader with oxymoronic sentences, such as when he attributes to Menard the notion that “all times and places are the same, or are different.” In “Pierre Menard,” the narrator proclaims that “Ambiguity is a richness.” The narrator’s story contains dozens of high-sounding but ambiguous statements, such as “merely astonishing” and “pointless travesties.” In both of these phrases, the words “astonishing” and “travesties” are rather vague, but the modifiers “merely” and “pointless,” rather than clarify their referents, qualify them beyond sense into nebulous oxymorons. “Astonishing” means something extraordinary, while “merely” connotes commonplaceness, its opposite or near opposite. Somehow a sense of quiet surprise comes through the oxymoron in spite of its self-contradiction. Likewise in the phrase “swept along by the inertia of language and the imagination,” inertia means staying on a given path, thus lacking the creativity of imagination. Yet, the phrase manages to carry the sense of being at the mercy of language and imagination, as of a force outside of oneself. The process of deriving the meaning of Borgesian oxymorons requires the reader to reconcile the opposing terms. Jaime Alazraki, in an article called “Oxymoronic Structure in Borges’ Essays,” explains how the incongruity “is only illusory. The two components clash on a conventional level only to reach a deeper level of reality. Like any other trope, it represents an effort to correct through language to correct through language the deficiencies of language itself.” Borges stories demand that the reader create meaning by discerning it from his rich but ambiguous prose, by navigating between opposing terms; it is not just Menard who has “enriched the slow and rudimentary art of reading by means of a new technique,” but Borges himself.
”Bricolage” is something made out of whatever is at hand, of available bits and pieces, or trifles. It comes from the French verb bricoler, meaning to putter about. A short story that employs bricolage uses details that do not contribute to what Edgar Allan Poe termed the “single effect” sought by early modernist short story writers. Following Poe, conventional modernist wisdom had it that, due to the brevity of the short story, each of its element must contribute to the story’s theme and meaning. As Elizabeth Bowen said in her Preface to The Faber Book of Modern Short Stories, a short story “must have tautness and clearness; it must contain no passage not aesthetically relevant to the whole.” The modern short story was meant to be lyrical, to have the concise intensity of a poem. Bricolage resists lyricism by using a motley arrangement of symbols that evoke various responses and disrupt the possibility of a holistic, lyrical meaning. Bricolage is a postmodern device, exemplified in the works of novelists Thomas Pynchon and Don DeLillo and short story writer Bobbie Ann Mason. In “Pierre Menard” Borges employs bricolage in the catalogue of the “visible product of Menard’s pen.” The list includes works on chess, sonnets, and symbolic logic, an assortment that was not unusual for intellectuals of the early modern period such as Menard (and also Borges). The list contributes to the story a sense of everyday reality and
of the triviality of Menard’s life.
Between the World Wars in Argentina
It is not without significance that one of the chapters of the Quixote re-written 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 politically instability country, Argentina found herself during the inter-War years with numerous thriving Fascist organizations, and frequent shifts occurred between democratic to Fascist leadership. Harboring German agents and generally supportive of the pro-Axis Powers, Argentina maintained neutrality long into World War II, even after the attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan. In 1945, it joined the Allies just in time to be counted among the winning nations for the final victory.
Modernism and Postmodernism
Modernism was an early twentieth-century reaction against the movements of naturalism and Romanticism of the nineteenth century. It retained elements of the Symbolist movement of the late nineteenth century, especially the Symbolist interest in metaphor and in human consciousness. Borges was not just a modernist writer, but a transitional one whose work began in modernism and helped to shaped postmodernism as he moved from his gaucho (Argentine cowboy) stories and mysteries into his metaphysical experiments. Although Borges claimed to have no personal philosophy, his works demonstrate the influence of several eighteenth-century philosophers whose theories inspired modernist thought. Borges admired Hume and Berkeley for their notions of the self as a motley and ever-changing collection of different perceptions, and he spoke frequently of Schopenhauer’s concept of a universal will that can only be contained through the intellect. Borges found literary inspiration in the essentially pessimistic stories of Henry James and Franz Kafka, noting that neither of these authors developed characters, but rather wrote parables composed of intricate plots. The Borgesian turn from storytelling toward philosophy and metaphysics became pivotal in launching the postmodern movement, in which authors, in a sense beginning with Borges, challenged the separation between reality and fiction by blurring these lines in their stories. Postmodern literature, presaged by Borges’ style and interests, self-consciously destabilize traditional conventions of character, genre, and plot.1939: In Argentina, president Robert M. Ortiz was trying to establish democracy in a mostly Fascist country, partly to shore up its economic difficulties. Today: Since 1989, Carlos Saul Menem, elected president of Argentina has successfully pulled Argentina back from the brink of economic despair. He has balanced the budget and imposed an austerity program to curb inflation, which had been running at 900% in the 1980s. With diplomatic relations restored with Great Britain after a falling-out over the Falkland Islands in 1982, Argentina is well on its way to establishing itself as a positive economic power in South America. 1939: Europe was mobilizing for inevitable war with Germany. Hitler invaded Poland and Czechoslovakia.
Today: Although the Balkan area remains a military hot spot, decisive action on the part of NATO has prevented the conflict from intensifying and spreading to other countries. 1939: Modernist literature expressed a sense of pessimism and exhaustion through flat characters who move relentlessly through a complex and absurd world. Today: Postmodern literature attempts to express the uniqueness of the individual through the theme of relative values. At the same time, however, a sizeable and growing number of writers are turning back to transcendent values, aware that despite diversity, the human condition shares many values and experiences in common.
Early criticism about Borges centered on his poetry, and when he began to write essays, most critics preferred his poems. His works appeared primarily in the literary magazine Sur which was a fledgling venture when he first contributed to its pages, but which later emerged as one of South American’s most important venues for new Hispanic literature. Surprisingly, Borges gained national attention despite his apparent disinterest in his nation’s turbulent political scene, in an era when Argentine writers proved their courage through polemical writing. He was also criticized for his literary games, and the fact that certain of his key phrases, themes, and devices tended to crop up again and again. Fellow Argentine writer Ernesto Sábato facetiously asked, “Will he be condemned from now on to plagiarize himself?” At least one compatriot recognized Borges’ groundbreaking technique; César Fernández Moreno called him “a premature phenomenon of our culture” under whose tutelage the country would one day gain the literary acumen to vie with European writers. An early work of criticism by Ana María Barranechea (1957) viewed Borges through the lens of “irreality” (Barranechea’s term), thus placing him firmly within the modernist movement. Her view of him is rather dark, seeing in him, “the horrifying presence of the infinite and the disintegration of substance into reflections and dreams.” It was the European ex-patriots living in Argentina who ensured that Borges’ works were translated into French, Italian, and German, thus exposing him to international criticism with the result in 1961 that he shared the Formentor International Publisher’s Prize with Samuel Beckett. John Updike, in his capacity as book reviewer for the New Yorker hinted in 1965 that in Borges might be found a proposal for “some sort of essential revision in literature itself.” In 1967, Columbian novelist, and liberal, Gabriel Garcia Marquez said of Borges, "He is one of the writers ... I have read most, and yet he is perhaps the one I like least." Why? Because he "writes about mental realities, he is sheer evasion." However, in the same year, John Barth found in Borges the inspiration for his essay, “The Literature of Exhaustion,” published in the Atlantic. Barth’s theory comprised the “death of the author,” the consequence of all stories having already been told. Barth called this state of affairs, “the used-upness of certain forms or the felt exhaustion of certain possibilities.” Barth cites the story, “Pierre Menard” as an example of “the difficulty, perhaps unnecessity, of writing original works of literature.” Borges, according to Barth, offered a new literary agenda, to self-consciously imitate what has been written already. Barth himself adhered to this agenda by writing his “Lost in the Funhouse,” also published in the Atlantic in 1968. The Borges theme of the labyrinth serves as the central organizing metaphor for Barth’s short story. The sixties saw Borges responding to international interest in his writing, and he traveled worldwide on lecture and reading tours. However, in Argentina as well as abroad, Borges was often seen as an anomaly in contrast to writers committed to social change, such as civil rights and feminist advocates. Argentine critics and fellow writers accused him of solipsism, alone and impotent in his narrow world of dreams and labyrinths. Mexican critic Jaime García Terrés called him “a sort of self-sufficient vacuum.” Reader-response theories of the eighties brought about a shift in valuing this aspect of Borges, such that Jean Marco applauded his “context-free paradigm which can be reactivated through reading at any time and under any circumstances.” In other words, Borges’ lack of social “commitment” (context), his interest in surfaces and the artifice of writing, is now considered significant and relevant. This revaluation derives from the shift over the last twenty years from political writing to interest in issues of reading and interpretation. The concern over the sources for his numerous allusions to minor authors (whether apocryphal or historical) now resonates to the postmodern sense that the context hasno pertinence. If, on one hand, he made up certain allusions, then his works parody reality; if, on the other hand, his allusions are real, yet unimportant, then his works, again, parody reality. Thus, recent criticism, encouraged by the appearance of three new centenary editions (commemorating the hundredth anniversary of his birth, 1899-1999) of his poems, stories, and essays, respectively, has responded favorably to the Borgesian irony.
Borgesov rukopis i crtež
* Ova dva kratka teksta, koja čak ne bih nazvao ogledima o Borgesovoj priči "Pierre Menard, pisac Don Kihota" već naprosto nepretencioznim uvodima u nju, donosim ovdje iz dva razloga - oba zorno svjedoče o nedostatku boljih običaja naše akademske zajednice: prvi se tiče susretljive spremnosti američkih profesora da bez ikakvih suvišnih okolišanja žurno, srdačno i iscrpno odgovore svakome tko se zanima za predmet njihova znanstvena interesa i bavljenja; drugi, ne manje značajan, tradicionalan je nedostatak uvoda bilo u znanstvene discipline kojima se naši univerzitetski profesori bave, bilo u teme s kojima se studenti tih disciplina svakodnevno susreću. Mentalitet hrvatske akademske zajednice čudan je bastard devetnaestostoljetne arogancije seoskog vučitela/doktora/župnika u apovijesnom seljačkom narodu nepismenih, i socijalističke zaštićenosti univerzitetskih profesora od bilo kakve akademske obveze, osim one citiranja klasika marksizma.
Redovito se dopisujem s američkim znanstvenicima: nema onoga tko bi mi uskratio neku informaciju, esej, kopiju nedostupnog teksta, dapače nerijetko raspričano iznenađen prekoatlanskim interesom za akademski život, kao u ovom slučaju, male privatne škole u Sjevernoj Karolini, na kojoj predaje profesorica Carole Hamilton. Kao bivši student Filozofskog fakulteta, nedavno sam se e-mailom obratio nekom tamošnjem imbecilnom glupom kretenskom shithead slojmun u glavi mi gnarrrrr po mozgu skače ignoratnu, koji na Komparativnoj izgleda muca o ovim istim temama, jasno, visokoparno i kudikamo pozvanije od američkih kolega okupljenih oko Daniela Balderstona i Borges Centra ( koji je sada na Univerzitetu u Iowi ), jer, kako inače objasniti činjenicu da mi idiot na rafinirano i poticajno pitanje o paleografiji Borgesovih teksova - o čemu sam inače tih dana vodo zanimljivu prepisku s C. Jared Loewensteinom, kuratorom najveće svjetske zbirke Borgesovih manuskripata, The Borges Collection, na Univerzitetu Virđinija (misleći da mu pišem iz SAD, odmah mi je ponudio termin susreta!) - nije odgovorio čak ni kratkim dopisom: Čujte, jebite vi to, o tome ja ne znam ništa, pustite me na miru, ja sam idiot i imam svu sreću svijeta da sam rođen i živim i radim u Zagrebu, Croatia, s kraja 20. i početkom 21.vijeka. Bog i Hrvati! S osobitim štovanjem, vaš Im Becil.
O nedostatku einführunga ne treba trošiti riječi: ovdje se već naraštajima odustaje od bilo kakvog uvođenja studenata u predmete s čijih katedri pročelnike odnose izravno u mrtvačnice, jer naši profesori nikada nisu dovoljno veliki stručnjaci da napišu dovoljno male knjige: inhibirani s jedne strane ambicijom fundamentalnog prekretničkog doprinosa vlastitoj znanstvenoj disciplini, a s druge jasnom sviješću o nedostatku snaga i znanja neophodnih takvom poduhvatu, umjesto svijeta akademici uglavnom i najradije mijenjaju birtiju. Studenti su tu posve nevažni i suvišni, jer, budu li dobri ionako će odmah po studiju napustiti zamlju, a gubiti vrijeme na kretene zaludna je mistrija.
Ništa čudno: bona parte naše akademske zajednice misli da je ionako od Bolonjskog procesa kudikamo značajniji onaj Bombaški!
Budući da ne priznaju ničiji sud osim onoga svoje partije, sva je zgoda da i ja ovdje piše/am malo u vjetar, malo u rijeku: bez minimuma šanse da i moja kaplja pomogne je tkati, a samo bih mogao iz svega izaći osjećajuć' se k'o - popisan.
J.L.B., "Viejo habito argentino", manuskript
Pierre Menard Author of the Quixote
by Jorge Luis Borges
The visible work left by this novelist is easily and briefly enumerated. Impardonable, therefore, are the omissions and additions perpetrated by Madame Henri Bachelier in a fallacious catalogue which a certain daily, whose Protestant tendency is no secret, has had the inconsideration to inflict upon its deplorable readers--though these be few and Calvinist, if not Masonic and circumcised. The true friends of Menard have viewed this catalogue with alarm and even with a certain melancholy. One might say that only yesterday we gathered before his final monument, amidst the lugubrious cypresses, and already Error tries to tarnish his Memory . . . Decidedly, a brief rectification is unavoidable.
I am aware that it is quite easy to challenge my slight authority. I hope, however, that I shall not be prohibited from mentioning two eminent testimonies. The Baroness de Bacourt (at whose unforgettable vendredis . I had the honor of meeting the lamented poet) has seen fit to approve the pages which follow. The Countess de Bagnoregio, one of the most delicate spirits of the Principality of Monaco (and now of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, following her recent marriage to the international philanthropist Simon Kautzsch, who has been so inconsiderately slandered, alas! by the victims of his disinterested maneuvers) has sacrificed "to veracity and to death" (such were her words) the stately reserve which is her distinction, and, in an open letter published in the magazine Luxe , concedes me her approval as well. These authorizations, I think, are not entirely insufficient.
I have said that Menard's visible work can be easily enumerated. Having examined with care his personal files, I find that they contain the following items:
a) A Symbolist sonnet which appeared twice (with variants) in the review La conque (issues of March and October 1899).
b) A monograph on the possibility of constructing a poetic vocabulary of concepts which would not be synonyms or periphrases of those which make up our everyday language, "but rather ideal objects created according to convention and essentially designed to satisfy poetic needs" (Nîmes, 1901).
c) A monograph on "certain connections or affinities" between the thought of Descartes, Leibniz and John Wilkins (Nîmes, 1903).
d) A monograph on Leibniz's Characteristica universalis (Nîmes 1904).
e) A technical article on the possibility of improving the game of chess, eliminating one of the rook's pawns. Menard proposes, recommends, discusses and finally rejects this innovation.
f ) A monograph on Raymond Lully's Ars magna generalis (Nîmes, 1906).
g) A translation, with prologue and notes, of Ruy López de Segura's Libro de la invención liberal y arte del juego del axedrez (Paris, 1907).
h) The work sheets of a monograph on George Boole's symbolic logic.
i) An examination of the essential metric laws of French prose, illustrated with examples taken from Saint-Simon (Revue des langues romanes , Montpellier, October 1909).
j) A reply to Luc Durtain (who had denied the existence of such laws), illustrated with examples from Luc Durtain (Revue des langues romanes , Montpellier, December 1909).
k) A manuscript translation of the Aguja de navegar cultos of Quevedo, entitled La boussole des précieux .
I) A preface to the Catalogue of an exposition of lithographs by Carolus Hourcade (Nîmes, 1914).
m) The work Les problčmes d'un problčme (Paris, 1917), which discusses, in chronological order, the different solutions given to the illustrious problem of Achilles and the tortoise. Two editions of this book have appeared so far; the second bears as an epigraph Leibniz's recommendation "Ne craignez point, monsieur, la tortue" and revises the chapters dedicated to Russell and Descartes.
n) A determined analysis of the "syntactical customs" of Toulet (N. R. F. , March 1921). Menard--I recall--declared that censure and praise are sentimental operations which have nothing to do with literary criticism.
o) A transposition into alexandrines of Paul Valéry's Le cimitičre marin (N. R. F. , January 1928).
p) An invective against Paul Valéry, in the Papers for the Suppression of Reality of Jacques Reboul. (This invective, we might say parenthetically, is the exact opposite of his true opinion of Valéry. The latter understood it as such and their old friendship was not endangered.)
q) A "definition" of the Countess de Bagnoregio, in the "victorious volume"--the locution is Gabriele d'Annunzio's, another of its collaborators--published annually by this lady to rectify the inevitable falsifications of journalists and to present "to the world and to Italy" an authentic image of her person, so often exposed (by very reason of her beauty and her activities) to erroneous or hasty interpretations.
r) A cycle of admirable sonnets for the Baroness de Bacourt (1934).
s) A manuscript list of verses which owe their efficacy to their punctuation.1
1. Madame Henri Bachelier also lists a literal translation of Quevedo's literal translation of the Introduction ŕ la vie dévote of St. Francis of Sales. There are no traces of such a work in Menard's library. It must have been a jest of our friend, misunderstood by the lady.
This, then, is the visible work of Menard, in chronological order (with no omission other than a few vague sonnets of circumstance written for the hospitable, or avid, album of Madame Henri Bachelier). I turn now to his other work: the subterranean, the interminably heroic, the peerless. And--such are the capacities of man!--the unfinished. This work, perhaps the most significant of our time, consists of the ninth and thirty-eighth chapters of the first part of Don Quixote and a fragment of chapter twenty-two. I know such an affirmation seems an absurdity; to justify this "absurdity" is the primordial object of this note.1
1. l also had the secondary intention of sketching a personal portrait of Pierre Menard. But how could I dare to compete with the golden pages which, I am told, the Baroness de Bacourt is preparing or with the delicate and punctual pencil of Carolus Hourcade?
Two texts of unequal value inspired this undertaking. One is that philological fragment by Novalis--the one numbered 2005 in the Dresden edition--which outlines the theme of a total identification with a given author. The other is one of those parasitic books which situate Christ on a boulevard, Hamlet on La Cannebičre or Don Quixote on Wall Street. Like all men of good taste, Menard abhorred these useless carnivals, fit only-- as he would say--to produce the plebeian pleasure of anachronism or (what is worse) to enthrall us with the elementary idea that all epochs are the same or are different. More interesting, though contradictory and superficial of execution, seemed to him the famous plan of Daudet: to conjoin the Ingenious Gentleman and his squire in one figure, which was Tartarin . . . Those who have insinuated that Menard dedicated his life to writing a contemporary Quixote calumniate his illustrious memory.
He did not want to compose another Quixote --which is easy-- but the Quixote itself . Needless to say, he never contemplated a mechanical transcription of the original; he did not propose to copy it. His admirable intention was to produce a few pages which would coincide--word for word and line for line--with those of Miguel de Cervantes.
"My intent is no more than astonishing," he wrote me the 30th of September, 1934, from Bayonne. "The final term in a theological or metaphysical demonstration--the objective world, God, causality, the forms of the universe--is no less previous and common than my famed novel. The only difference is that the philosophers publish the intermediary stages of their labor in pleasant volumes and I have resolved to do away with those stages." In truth, not one worksheet remains to bear witness to his years of effort.
The first method he conceived was relatively simple. Know Spanish well, recover the Catholic faith, fight against the Moors or the Turk, forget the history of Europe between the years 1602 and 1918, be Miguel de Cervantes. Pierre Menard studied this procedure (I know he attained a fairly accurate command of seventeenth-century Spanish) but discarded it as too easy. Rather as impossible! my reader will say. Granted, but the undertaking was impossible from the very beginning and of all the impossible ways of carrying it out, this was the least interesting. To be, in the twentieth century, a popular novelist of the seventeenth seemed to him a diminution. To be, in some way, Cervantes and reach the Quixote seemed less arduous to him--and, consequently, less interesting--than to go on being Pierre Menard and reach the Quixote through the experiences of Pierre Menard. (This conviction, we might say in passing, made him omit the autobiographical prologue to the second part of Don Quixote . To include that prologue would have been to create another character--Cervantes--but it would also have meant presenting the Quixote in terms of that character and not of Menard. The latter, naturally, declined that facility.) "My undertaking is not difficult, essentially," I read in another part of his letter. "I should only have to be immortal to carry it out." Shall I confess that I often imagine he did finish it and that I read the Quixote --all of it--as if Menard had conceived it? Some nights past, while leafing through chapter XXVI--never essayed by him--I recognized our friend's style and something of his voice in this exceptional phrase: "the river nymphs and the dolorous and humid Echo." This happy conjunction of a spiritual and a physical adjective brought to my mind a verse by Shakespeare which we discussed one afternoon:
Where a malignant and a turbaned Turk . . .
But why precisely the Quixote ? our reader will ask. Such a preference, in a Spaniard, would not have been inexplicable; but it is, no doubt, in a Symbolist from Nîmes, essentially a devoté of Poe, who engendered Baudelaire, who engendered Mallarmé, who engendered Valéry, who engendered Edmond Teste. The aforementioned letter illuminates this point. "The Quixote ," clarifies Menard, "interests me deeply, but it does not seem-- how shall I say it?--inevitable. I cannot imagine the universe without Edgar Allan Poe's exclamation: Ah, bear in mind this garden was enchanted! or without the Bateau ivre or the Ancient Mariner , but I am quite capable of imagining it without the Quixote . (I speak, naturally, of my personal capacity and not of those works' historical resonance.) The Quixote is a contingent book; the Quixote is unnecessary. I can premeditate writing it, I can write it, without falling into a tautology. When I was ten or twelve years old, I read it, perhaps in its entirety. Later, I have reread closely certain chapters, those which I shall not attempt for the time being. I have also gone through the interludes, the plays, the Galatea , the exemplary novels, the undoubtedly laborious tribulations of Persiles and Segismunda and the Viaje del Parnaso . . . My general recollection of the Quixote , simplified by forgetfulness and indifference, can well equal the imprecise and prior image of a book not yet written. Once that image (which no one can legitimately deny me) is postulated, it is certain that my problem is a good bit more difficult than Cervantes' was. My obliging predecessor did not refuse the collaboration of chance: he composed his immortal work somewhat ŕ la diable , carried along by the inertias of language and invention. I have taken on the mysterious duty of reconstructing literally his spontaneous work. My solitary game is governed by two polar laws. The first permits me to essay variations of a formal or psychological type; the second obliges me to sacrifice these variations to the "original" text and reason out this annihilation in an irrefutable manner . . . To these artificial hindrances, another--of a congenital kind--must be added. To compose the Quixote at the beginning of the seventeenth century was a reasonable undertaking, necessary and perhaps even unavoidable; at the beginning of the twentieth, it is almost impossible. It is not in vain that three hundred years have gone by, filled with exceedingly complex events. Amongst them, to mention only one, is the Quixote itself."
In spite of these three obstacles, Menard's fragmentary Quixote is more subtle than Cervantes'. The latter, in a clumsy fashion, opposes to the fictions of chivalry the tawdry provincial reality of his country; Menard selects as his "reality" the land of Carmen during the century of Lepanto and Lope de Vega. What a series of espagnolades that selection would have sested to Maurice Barrčs or Dr. Rodríguez Larreta! Menard eludes them with complete naturalness. In his work there are no gypsy flourishes or conquistadors or mystics or Philip the Seconds or autos da fé. He neglects or eliminates local color. This disdain points to a new conception of the historical novel. This disdain condemns Salammbô , with no possibility of appeal.
It is no less astounding to consider isolated chapters. For example, let us examine Chapter XXXVIII of the first pare, "which treats of the curious discourse of Don Quixote on arms and letters." It is well known that Don Quixote (like Quevedo in an analogous and later passage in La hora de todos ) decided the debate against letters and in favor of arms. Cervantes was a former soldier: his verdict is understandable. But that Pierre Menard's Don Quixote--a contemporary of La trahison des clercs and Bertrand Russell--should fall prey to such nebulous sophistries! Madame Bachelier has seen here an admirable and typical subordination on the part of the author to the hero's psychology; others (not at all perspicaciously), a transcription of the Quixote ; the Baroness de Bacourt, the influence of Nietzsche. To this third interpretation (which I judge to be irrefutable) I am not sure I dare to add a fourth, which concords very well with the almost divine modesty of Pierre Menard: his resigned or ironical habit of propagating ideas which were the strict reverse of those he preferred. (Let us recall once more his diatribe against Paul Valéry in Jacques Reboul's ephemeral Surrealist sheet.) Cervantes' text and Menard's are verbally identical, but the second is almost infinitely richer. (More ambiguous, his detractors will say, but ambiguity is richness.)
It is a revelation to compare Menard's Don Quixote with Cervantes'. The latter, for example, wrote (part one, chapter nine):
. . . truth, whose mother is history, rival of time, depository of deeds, witness of the past, exemplar and adviser to the present, and the future's counselor.
Written in the seventeeth century, written by the "lay genius" Cervantes, this enumeration is a mere rhetorical praise of history. Menard, on the other hand, writes:
. . . truth, whose mother is history, rival of time, depository of deeds, witness of the past, exemplar and adviser to the present, and the future's counselor.
History, the mother of truth: the idea is astounding. Menard, a contemporary of William James, does not define history as an inquiry into reality but as its origin. Historical truth, for him, is not what has happened; it is what we judge to have happened. The final phrases--exemplar and adviser to the present, and the future's counselor --are brazenly pragmatic.
The contrast in style is also vivid. The archaic style of Menard--quite foreign, after all--suffers from a certain affectation. Not so that of his forerunner, who handles with ease the current Spanish of his time.
There is no exercise of the intellect which is not, in the final analysis, useless. A philosophical doctrine begins as a plausible description of the universe; with the passage of the years it becomes a mere chapter--if not a paragraph or a name--in the history of philosophy. In literature, this eventual caducity is even more notorious. The Quixote --Menard told me--was, above all, an entertaining book; now it is the occasion for patriotic toasts, grammatical insolence and obscene de luxe editions. Fame is a form of incomprehension, perhaps the worst.
There is nothing new in these nihilistic verifications; what is singular is the determination Menard derived from them. He decided to anticipate the vanity awaiting all man's efforts; he set himself to an undertaking which was exceedingly complex and, from the very beginning, futile. He dedicated his scruples and his sleepless nights to repeating an already extant book in an alien tongue. He multiplied draft upon draft, revised tenaciously and tore up thousands of manuscript pages.1 He did not let anyone examine these drafts and took care they should not survive him. In vain have I tried to reconstruct them.
1. I remember his quadricular notebooks, his black crossed-out passages, his peculiar typographical symbols and his insect-like handwriting. In the afternoons he liked to go out for a walk around the outskirts of Nîmes; he would take a notebook with him and make a merry bonfire.
I have reflected that it is permissible to see in this "final" Quixote a kind of palimpsest, through which the traces--tenuous but not indecipherable--of our friend's "previous" writing should be translucently visible. Unfortunately, only a second Pierre Menard, inverting the other's work, would be able to exhume and revive those lost Troys . . .
"Thinking, analyzing, inventing (he also wrote me) are not anomalous acts; they are the normal respiration of the intelligence. To glorify the occasional performance of that function, to hoard ancient and alien thoughts, to recall with incredulous stupor that the doctor universalis thought, is to confess our laziness or our barbarity. Every man should be capable of all ideas and I understand that in the future this will be the case."
Menard (perhaps without wanting to) has enriched, by means of a new technique, the halting and rudimentary art of reading: this new technique is that of the deliberate anachronism and the erroneous attribution. This technique, whose applications are infinite, prompts us to go through the Odyssey as if it were posterior to the Aeneid and the book Le jardin du Centaure of Madame Henri Bachelier as if it were by Madame Henri Bachelier. This technique fills the most placid works with adventure. To attribute the Imitatio Christi to Louis Ferdinand Céline or to James Joyce, is this not a sufficient renovation of its tenuous spiritual indications?