Borges : The Circular Ruins (Summary)

I read another fantastic piece of Borges called as "The Circular Ruins". It's a small 3-4 page short story that I read on my train ride to home and multiple times over subsequent days, each time reading ever less and thinking ever more.

In the story, we are told a man arrives on a shore from the south. On this shore lay the ruins of a magical circular temple that served the abode for our man. The man had a mission that drove him here, He wanted to dream a man; he wanted to dream him in minute entirety and impose him on reality. It was the sole purpose of his life and which had come to fill his whole heart. Initially he dreams of being a teacher in a circular amphitheatre where student's faces hung in cosmological distances and yet still clearly visible. He choose one student from the class that showed potential and attempted to dream him in ever greater detail. But after some days of dreaming, he fails. He starts again after a gap and this time start to dream a complete man, piece by piece. He dreams a heart. Each passing day he dreams it with ever more clarity. After 14 nights he touches the heart and marvels at his creation. He now starts on other organs. Feature by feature, in an year he completes (dreams) most of the Man, but he can not make him open his eyes.

To realise his task, he invokes the Gods of the Circular Ruins who agree to animate the dreamed phantom in such a way that all creatures, except Gods and the dreamer would believe him to be a man of flesh and blood. The Gods further instruct to send him to the other ruined temple down shore to glorify God's name there. In the dream of the man that dreamed, the dreamed one awoke. The dreamer starts teaching the now real phantom (he calls him Son for he is his creation) with the mysteries of the universe. Slowly he began accustoming him to reality and the world around him. Then one day, he orders him to go to the other temple as the Gods said. Before he left, he destroyed in him all memory of his years of apprenticeship.

He is a happy man now for he has realised his purpose in life and spends time wasting away on the banks. Years passed. One day, two faceless oarsmen tell him about a mystic in the temple in North who could walk on fire and not get burned. The dreamer satisfied initially dreaded if his creation would reason on why he is blessed and may figure out that he is just an imagination. He is just another man's dream. The dreamer's worries ended suddenly one day, when in midst of great tumult the Circular Ruins are destroyed in fire. The dreamer thought initially of taking refuge in water, but realising that his life's goal was complete and he can joyfully embrace death as a crowning jewel and rewards of his laboured existence. He walked into the fire, but it does not burn him. In this moment, the terror, the awareness, the humiliation that he also was an illusion, that someone else was dreaming him came across him. End.

Borges comes up with such thought provoking story that questions the very basis of existence, perception, reality and self-awareness. One person's existence can be extension of another person's thought. In same way, one person existence can be extension of another person's existence. The dream can not exist outside the dreamer. The dreamt does not have a life outsider the act of dreaming. Where does the boundary lie between real and dream? In in the story, the whole universe is a dream dreamt up by someone who in turn is being dreamt. The dreamer is as unreal as the dream. Were the space time real in the absolute sense of word Real? Did the dreamer had control over what he dreamt for he himself he is creation of someone else. Could he had done something else? Could he have envision something else for his dreamt Son than what the one who is dreaming the dreamer provisions it? Could he have lived forever as a life in a dream? He played God and creating a complete Man, organ by organ but in fact he is just a conduit for someone else's control. The setting of the story (the circular ruins) and circular dreams and the supposed circular reality adds strangeness to this work. The dreamer comes from the south and sends his dreamt son to the north and his circular dreaming continues upstream until say maybe the ingress falls into singularity or maybe they never reach singularity for they each live in their individual universe. This infinite regress is like holding the mirror to the mirror and seeing a candle light in it. Everything in this universe (or set of universe) is illusionary, the Self is illusionary, even the realisation about self is illusionary for someone else dreamt it. This loss of Self at the same time as the realization of being Creator produces such paradox that to define an order or semblance of order to this universe, to define the Creator and Created, the dreamer and the dreamt, being dreamt and of dreaming, of cause and causality will just ultimately fail. But it in a sense that is what the Universe is. It is infinitesimally complex. The center is everywhere and everything is the center. Reality in this universe is created and viewed by each center (dreamer). Remove the center and this reality is meaningless. It's like when one looks for into the mirror. The image has no self and no existence outside when one looking into the mirror. Similarly, what is in this universe is meaningless and does not exist independent of the observer. The dreamer ("I") has to be there to dream it ("Universe") and outside it none exists. The sole purpose of dreamer is to dream and of Universe is to exist both in concurrence and both aware.

As James Jean truly said, "The Universe is a Giant Thought instead of a Giant Machine."

1 comment:

  1. Thank you - great job! This has been really insightful and has helped me in studying this text :)