Eleven pages, removed from a ledger, the same notebook, presumably, from which the manuscripts of El jardin and La biblioteca de Babel, also offered here, were removed. A late state of the manuscript, but with a fair number of corrections, and several more significant insertions. One of the most intellectually compelling ficciones in Borges's opus, an astonishing essay on Pierre Menard, a 20th Century French author who seemed not much more than an erudite dabbler until the creation of a chapter and a few fragments of Don Quixote made apparent the profundity of his genius, which turned, like a Moebius strip on the past of letters. The no less astonishing critical appraisal of the achievement finds in the work a texture, depth and poignancy that cannot inhabit the original for reasons of the differential conditions of composition. Paul Valéry is mentioned twice in the bibliography accompanying Borges’s essay on Menard, and indeed is something of a literary model for the extraordinary Menard. He was a literary hero for Borges much as he was for T.S. Eliot, as reflected in his essay Valéry como simbolo. The labyrinthine, multi-mirroring, homage presented in the Menard is deepened by the fact that it was written in the wake of his father’s death, a lawyer, psychology professor, man of action and lover of English literature with literary aspirations of his own, who was a great influence on Borges, and who stalks these pages with the further echoes of Elsinore.
In spite of most of a century of the starkest self-analysis in the visual arts, which has ultimately resulted in almost nothing, the verbal arts have somehow, notwithstanding their vastly superior capaciousness for thought, managed to ignore watersheds like Menard as definitive of their future. And the latter therefore have not been. To re-examine, or to finally examine, Borges, would be to obviate the vast majority of what we accept as literature today. Perhaps only in France has such a notion been taken seriously, and to a great extent such seriousness has killed, or rendered irrelevant, its own literature, hence the flight to thought of its great writers of the last decades. Much of Borges’s work in the period of Menard is a highly self-conscious coming-to-terms with modernity and the meaning of literature, and art in general, in a time when it had become unmoored from its originary motivations, during the post high-modernist reassessment of which Borges is perhaps the greatest, and least digested, figure.
One of the greatest Borges stories of all and a true connoisseur's piece.