Mystery in a Jellabah: Cultural Worlds in Borges’s Historia Universal De La Infamia
When we speak of the aesthetics of mystery, do we allow that mystery may differ from one culture to another? Is mystery the same experience to someone Chinese, for instance, as it is to someone English? This is one question about the phenomenology of mystery that this essay considers in the context of five short pieces by Jorge Luis Borges, drawn from his earliest collections of talesHistoria universal de la infamia(1935): “La cámara de las estatuas” (“The Chamber of the Statues”), “Historia de los dos que soñaron” (“Tale of the Two Dreamers”), “El brujo postergado” (“The Wizard Postponed”), “El espejo de tinta” (“The Mirror of Ink”), and “El tintorero enmascarado, Hákim de Merv” (“Masked Dyer, Hakim of Merv”). These tales have distinct features that link them with the magical, Oriental world ofAlf layla wa layla(The Thousand and One Nights). They are eminently intertextual, and to read them is to read intertextually as well as intersubjectively. Written by an erudite Western author who knewThe Arabian Nightsin several languages, they reference a fictional Oriental world and construct not only an atmosphere but also a certain kind of being and knowing associated with that world; when the tales are read today, what is the source of their mystery? Is it something culturally specific, something universal, or perhaps some com-bination of the two? In what sense might mystery be intertextual and intersubjective? Borges’s tales, which impose a certain rigor and labyrin-thine structure on the reader’s reconfiguration of them, constitute minia-ture test cases for a phenomenological approach to mystery because they seem like textual worlds enclosed within their intricate structures. In highly artificial tales such as these, can we still talk about the world in the fiction? Is mystery – at least in the case of Borges – finally only a particular kind of verbal game?
KeywordsLiterary Text Cultural Quality Oriental Material Universal History Arabian Night
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