Borges : Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius (Summary)

Continuing with my extensive reading of Borges, I read this strange story where the narrator discovers a fictitious country (and latter a fictitious planet) that had been created as a part of a giant scheme by a secret society. The ideas of this false world later manifest themselves in this world and no longer we are able to make out the differences between these two and in essence - This our world becomes Tlön.

During a dinner with a friend, references to mysterious country named Uqbar come up. Not finding it in their encyclopedia copy, they find it mentioned in another copy of the same encyclopedia. The narrator is fascinated by Uqbar for the details around it add more mystery rather then solving it. Names, rivers, places all seem exotic, remote and unknown. He also notes "that the literature of Uqbar was one of fantasy and that its epics and legends never referred to reality, but to the two imaginary regions of Mlejnas and Tlön". Chance references to that country keep cropping up. A family friend accidentally leaves him a substantial related work, "Encyclopedia of Tlön Vol XI". Now he had access to a vast fragment of an unknown planet's entire history, its philosophy, its algebra, its literature and everything in between. Tired of looking for the missing volumes, his colleagues propose that they undertake the task of reconstructing those missing pieces. From here the story delves into languages, maths and philosophy of Tlön. An extreme form of idealism is practiced in Tlön. "Their language and the derivations of their language - religion, letters, metaphysics - all presuppose idealism. The world for them is not a concourse of objects in space; it is a heterogeneous series of independent acts". In one half on Tlön, the language have no nouns but verbs in place, in the other half adjectives are used instead. "The literature abounds in ideal objects, which are convoked and dissolved in a moment, according to poetic needs. At times they are determined by mere simultaneity".

Psychology is the main discipline here. Universe is proposed as a series of mental processes which do not develop in space but successively in time. In other world, they do not conceive that the spatial persists in time. Consequently causality is alien. Complete idealism invalidates all science. "Every mental state is irreducible: there mere fact of naming it - i.e., of classifying it - implies a falsification. There are no sciences on Tlön, not even reasoning. The paradoxical truth is that they do exist, and in almost uncountable number. The meta-physicians of Tlön do not seek for the truth or even for verisimilitude, but rather for the astounding. They judge that metaphysics is a branch of fantastic literature. They know that a system is nothing more than the subordination of all aspects of the universe to any one such aspect. Even the phrase 'all aspects' is reject-able, for it supposes the impossible addition of the present and of all past moments. Neither is it licit to use the plural 'past moments,' since it supposes another operation."

One school negates time as says the present is indefinite and future has no reality other than as a present memory. Another says that all time has elapsed & we live in only in remembrance. Many school abound, each more fantastic than the other. The basis of its mathematics is the notion of indefinite numbers. They maintain that the very act of counting modifies the quantities and converts them from indefinite into definite sums. The basis of their geometry is not the point, but the surface. Their fiction contains a single plot, with all its imaginable permutations. Both the thesis and the antithesis are present in it. A book which does not contain its counter book is considered incomplete. Even perceived reality is changed to exert this idealism. Physical objects are created just by the force of imagination. The 'past' becomes hostage to the present. The present become hostage to perception and perceiving. "Things became duplicated in Tlön; they also tend to become effaced and lose their details when they are forgotten. A classic example is the doorway which survived so long it was visited by a beggar and disappeared at his death. At times some birds, a horse, have saved the ruins of an amphitheater."

In the postscript, it is revealed that the narrator and the world now know that Tlön & Ubqar are fictitious, invented by a secret society. The society worked for three hundred years and came up with a imaginary planet Tlön with an understanding that will have no relation with Christ as proposed by later financier of this project. As Tlön is revealed to the world, later objects from Tlön begin to appear in the real world. Soon all the forty volumes of Tlön are revealed and the ideas Tlön starts to take hold on the earth. Mankind is obsessed by it. "Ten years ago any symmetry with a resemblance of order - dialectical materialism, anti-Semitism, Nazism - was sufficient to entrance the minds of men. How could one do other than submit to Tlön, to the minute and vast evidence of an orderly plant? It is useless to answer that reality is also orderly. Perhaps it is, but in accordance with divine laws - I translate: inhuman laws - which we never quite grasp. Tlön is surely a labyrinth, but it is a labyrinth devised by men, a labyrinth destined to be deciphered by men. The contact and the habits of Tlön have disintegrated this world. Enchanted by its rigor, humanity forgets over and again that it is a rigor of chess masters, not of angels." The narrator predicts in a hundred years, earth will lose its languages and countries to those of Tlön. This world is Tlön now. End.

The story is more a philosophical take on idealism than a fantasy. In this imaginary planet, causality is not possible for time does not exist. A consequence of that is there is no identity. There is nothing to connect a thing to others or to itself as it is passing through space. A extension of no identity means that there is no equality. A thing that no one sees or senses, is not perceived to exist. Any learning is impossible now and so are the sciences. Perceiving is supreme and the underlying reality is denied. In Tlön, what I hold in hand today is different from what I had in my hand yesterday (Even though I am holding the same thing). As Identity is missing, so is Equality. No two things are same. No two things are connected. A thing 'lost' means a duplication is created that we will 'find'. Lost and Found are not actions, but just remembrances. In a sense, there is no underlying reality to anything. Everything is what the mind perceives and outside of it, there is none. Everything becomes hostage to the perception and even physical objects that do not exist are created by sheer thought. A lost object can be found by two person in two different places because they are looking for it. To deal with this world, they proposed that there is only one supreme subject, that this indivisible subject is every being in the universe and that these beings are the organs and masks of the divinity. The other person finds it because he already knows he lost it. This all knowing subject takes the place of God in Tlön. Among other ideas the story explores, is the reality itself can be created. Like God, we have created the whole planet Tlön and its entire workings and this imagined reality is so powerful & simulating that in it we begin to lose the actual reality of earth. Probably God's reality is too complicated for us to see through, what interests is the model created by us, however bizarre though seemingly orderly and simple. For everything there is down to an irreducible state that can not be any more simpler. A labyrinth created by humans for humans, as opposed to the one created by God.

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