The story called “The Circular Ruins” was written by Latin American writer Jorge Luis Borges and published in the journal Sur in 1940. This journal specialized in philosophic and surrealistic stories of intellectual nature. Borges’ short story is a perfect example of such type of fiction. At first the reader may think that “The Circular Ruins” is a pure fantasy story as the setting is to a large extent surrealistic, fantastic, and sometimes, even unbelievable. Borges describes the world of dreams full of imaginary characters that have never existed even in terms of the story. He tells the reader about strange places of uncertain purposes and skillfully constructs some mysterious religion about which the readers have never heard. However, this short story deals predominantly with the real world that surrounds real people. It is deeply philosophic and full of thoughts concerning the nature of real human life. Despite all the fantastic elements that abound here and perform significant roles, this story highlights and discusses important basics of people’s existence and the purpose of life. “The Circular Ruins” by Borges is based on philosophic metaphors that aim at revealing the circular and repeated nature of any processes taking place in the universe.
The author of “The Circular Ruins” is quite often described as a person who was “widely read and profoundly erudite” (Poetry Foundation). Borges’ immense knowledge of philosophy, literature, and many other branches of humanities gives him an opportunity to play with a great number of concepts and ideas. One of the most striking characteristic features of “The Circular Ruins” and many other short stories of this author is a skillful and elaborate combination of various philosophic ideas that sometimes belong not only to different schools of thought but also to different millennia. The readers can observe Borges’ interesting attitude towards ancient Greek philosophy. In fact, many aspects of “The Circular Ruins” are based on ancient Greek philosophic ideas. For example, Gnosticism is of great importance in constructing the ideological basis of this short story. The author writes, “In the Gnostic cosmogonies, demiurges fashion a red Adam who cannot stand…” (Borges). According to Gnosticism, the meaning of gnosis, the secret knowledge, is exactly represented by the humans’ understanding of their own divine nature. It is one of the plot lines that the readers see in the story under analysis. However, the author does not describe this philosophy as a perfect one. He even says that some concepts can be “contaminated by Greek” (Borges). Moreover, Borges compares and contrasts the ideas of ancient Greeks with more modern philosophical schools, such as pluralistic idealism whose followers argue that the world people see in fact exist only in their imagination. All the above-mentioned philosophic ideas serve in the case of “The Circular Ruins” as an effective and powerful link between the past and the present. This unification of various epochs forms the basis for the main idea of the story and allows Borges to interweave important philosophic metaphors into the literary canvas of the fiction work.
In “The Circular Ruins” Borges pays much attention to the analysis of the relations between the creator and the creation. He uses the metaphorical binary of “father” and “son” to show the deep connection between the sorcerer and the man he created in his dreams. It is also remarkable and quite symbolic that the main character is picky and legible while selecting the best candidate for being materialized as a real man. It makes the reader think of the creation myth in Christian culture, various versions of creating the world in other religions, especially ancient ones as they usually tend to be more picturesque. Borges creates a steady line of multiple “creations.” “Through his symbols and images, he repetitiously and systematically alludes, and his allusions comprise much, if not most, of the real substance of his narratives.” (Wheelock 19). These allusions help the readers to understand Borges’ idea of parenthood. First of all, it is necessary to say that this idea lies in the philosophical, not biological surface. The phrase “Now I will be with my son!” (Borges) is full of genuine and sincere desire of the sorcerer to join his creation. However, it must be highlighted that it is pronounced when the protagonist of the short story is completely sure of his “originality.” The sorcerer still thinks that he possesses some uniqueness that makes him able to create other beings. He believes that he is somehow superior to the man he has created, however, later it will become obvious that he is completely wrong.
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The idea of repeated stories is not revealed by Borges only in “The Circular Ruins.” He strongly believes in the constant reoccurrence of certain events or things and he tries to implement and develop this message in many of his works. Once, Borges has said that there are only two stories in the world. The first is about a hero that goes abroad and dies trying to conquer a distant city, and the second is about another hero who is trying to return home after the war and many years of adventures (qtd. in Kittler 413). Borges obviously meant The Iliad and The Odyssey, but the important thing that should be extracted from this quotation is not that these epic works are the greatest in the world history, but that all the stories constantly repeat themselves. According to Borges, this is true not only in the sphere of literary works but also in the case of religions, societies, cultures, etc. The sorcerer in “The Circular Ruins” constantly tries to create the perfect man who will possess the best qualities. All human societies starting from first Homo sapiens tried to do that. The sorcerer in “The Circular Ruins” is not the person but the embodiment of all humanity, and the biggest shock comes to him when he realizes that he is also a copy. “With relief, with humiliation, with terror, he understood that he also was an illusion, that someone else was dreaming him” (Borges).
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