Borges and his reader's reader

by Paul Burmeister

Re Borges' theoretical fiction: Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote

In her splendid study (1993) of Jorge Luis Borges, Argentine cultural critic Beatriz Sarlo examined and uncovered Borges' important position as a thinker on the edge of things. Among the works discussed is an early short story in the form of review, Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote, which provides necessary details about a fictitious writer's (Menard) efforts to rewrite an exact copy of Cervantes' original masterwork. Ultimately, Menard does not come close to completing his copy, having finished only identical fragments—two chapters and parts of a third. Still, the reviewer finds Menard's Quixote to be "more subtle" and "infinitely richer" than Cervantes' original. In Menard's passages the reviewer recognizes Menard's style and something of his voice and credits Menard with having enriched "the halting and rudimentary art of reading." What Borges has achieved in this economically dense fiction is to call into question assumptions about identity, authorship, and originality. I recommend Pierre Menard for this achievement and also for its demonstration of Borges' dry humor and effortless use of the perfect detail.