Borges : Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote (Summary)

I have been occasionally reading Borges these days and each story unfolds itself like a labyrinth. Ever perplexing as to what those scant pages meant or said. I finished reading "Pierre Menard Author of the Quixote". Like many other stories, it's a literary hoax i.e. to say that Pierre Menard does not exist. The construct is the same as last story, imagine such a book or writer exists and weave an idea around it.

The story is written as a literary piece about Pierre Menard that begins with brief introduction about him and a exhaustive list of his works that range from symbolist literature to algebra. But this is not the focus of the story. The story is about the Menard's seemingly impossible and absurd task of rewriting the Cervantes's Don Quixote. The rewrite is not to be a manual reproduction, but rather coming up with the same work word by word and line by line. He did not want to create another Quixote, but the Quixote itself. The way he attempted this was to learn Spanish language and its cultures, return to catholic faith, forget about events in Europe in these intervening three hundred years and write Quixote through the experiences similar to that of Cervantes but he forgo of this approach (as it seemed less interesting) and instead choose to live in 20th century (with current ideas and ideals) and write Quixote through the experiences of Menard.

In the end the narrator reviews the couple of chapters of first part of Don Quixote that Mernard was able to create. He says that these chapters are infinitely richer to what Cervantes wrote (even though they matched word to word) due to the fact that Menard was able to accomplish this against all obstacles like huge historical and cultural events that have changed human perspective in the intervening years. The same lines now give a reader a much different meaning due to a different context (made possible by the all the world changing events that modern world saw) in which the reader is. So it is the reader who defines the narrative rather then the narrator. The context is the driver channeling the reader response. Thus Quixote written today will be a lot different in meaning to the one that was written in 1600's even though they match the word to word. It is the reader who gives meaning to a work. It is he who is not a passive agent, but rather an active agent in this process. The words may be eternal and unchanging, yet the perception they create on the reader's mind are ever changing with no finality to it. In a way any book in any given time isn't some static collection of pages written by the author, instead it is this packet/case that holds the book and the one reading it and their thoughts and their meanings and there are countless such packets out there. Each packet true and valid to the substance of the book. Borges says that ultimately even the most brilliant books are relegated to the old libraries and says Mernard was a brave man to attempt such a impossible task to keep the book relevant.
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.
“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.”

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