Borges as reader: Keats' nightingale in The garden of forking paths

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Verdugo, Isela Maria

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This study investigates Borges’ solution to the problem of universals, and how this solution relates to his time labyrinth as it appears in “The Garden of Forking Paths”; to his conception of literature as a living labyrinth; and to the aesthetic and metaphysical ideas in his poem “The Art of Poetry”. Chapter 1 analyzes Borges’ essays on Zeno’s paradox of the tortoise, and his “Penultimate Version of Reality”. I show that Borges’ discussion of the paradoxes associated with the notion of the universe that presupposes that time and space are absolute, uniform, and symmetrical, and his idea that only time is essential to the intellect, leads him to propose an artistic model of the universe made of time or music. This model, however, does not guarantee that the universe is an organic whole, or cosmos. This issue is discussed in Chapter 2, which also examines how Borges vii links language with his notion of time and the problem of causality. Additionally, I consider the implication of Borges’ take on language and causality with regard to the art of narration and the aesthetic emotion (hecho estético). Chapter 3 discusses the problem of time in connection with the notions of eternal recurrence and eternity, and shows how these relate to Schopenhauer’s interpretation of Plato’s theory of Forms, and to Cantor’s theory of transfinite numbers. Chapter 4 discusses the connection between Cantor’s theory and those visual and literary artworks where fiction lives within fiction, and considers Borges’ re-examination of eternal recurrence and Plato’s notion of eternity. It also examines how Borges combines Cantor’s and Schopenhauer’s theories with the notion of eternity, to create his time labyrinth, which he concretized for the first time in “The Garden of Forking Paths”. Chapter 5 is devoted to the analysis of this story, where Borges alludes to his own search for the solution to the riddle of the universe, and to the immortal bird of Keats’ “Ode to the Nightingale”. Then it briefly considers how the collection of short stories The Garden of Forking Paths compares to Dante’s Divine Comedy. Finally, I discuss in Chapter 5 the problem of free will vis-à-vis determinism in connection with the time labyrinth, and the way in which this relates to modern science, fractal geometry and chaos theory. Chapter 6 examines how Borges developed his literary labyrinth, and how it relates to the time labyrinth and the aesthetic emotion. Finally, I show that Borges’ “The Art of Poetry” comprises the poetic and metaphysical elements of both, the time and the literary labyrinths.