A Lesson for the King: Renunciation and Politics
This chapter follows the political thread that runs through the story, interrogating its purpose as a didactic tool. Renunciation stories are told to kings in an attempt to control or mitigate their tyrannical behavior. The king-and-ascetic dialogue sets up a confrontation between power and authority, which paradoxically the king loses to a powerless adversary. This chapter explores how Renunciation stories can be used to achieve political goals, with renouncer figures serving as instruments of awareness in political genres—fables or mirrors for princes. The discussion reaches beyond Borges to a constellation of stories from the Borgesian hypertext (from Burton’s hermit trilogy in the 1001 Nights to Victorian renouncer stories) that complicate the pen-vs-sword problem. Ultimately, Renunciation stories raise the bigger questions of the power of storytelling and the possibility of truth-telling that were also central preoccupations for Hannah Arendt and Michel Foucault. It also reassesses Borges’s ambiguous position against this rich political tradition.