Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius

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Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius is a short story by Jorge Luis Borges from the volume Fictions (span. Ficciones)

The story takes place in 1940 and the narrative horizon extends to 1935; however, the events described go back to the 17th century . A postscript is attached to the story in which the narrator pretends to have written it in 1947, although it was written at the same time as the main story . It is - like the numerous footnotes - part of Borges' literary certification strategy, which supports the principle of the fictitious source citation, which essentially determines the narrative.

Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius reports how Borges and his friend Adolfo Bioy Casares discover an entry under the title Uqbar in a single edition of the Anglo-American Encyclopedia . The country named Uqbar can not be found in any other reference work - neither in other editions of this encyclopedia nor in other lexicons or atlases . The two friends speculate about the origin of this lexicon article. This article is the first trace of "Orbis Tertius", a massive conspiracy by intellectuals to come up with a world called "Tlön". The earth also changes: as the story progresses, the narrator encounters more and more artifacts from Tlön and Orbis Tertius, and in the end the earth becomes Tlön. The reader experiences how the reality content of the story changes again and again. The apparent reality of the beginning turns into fiction, which in turn is exposed as fiction, whereupon it seems to influence the real world. Accordingly, the Borges figure is to be interpreted sometimes as a narrator and sometimes as an author. Playing with these levels is what makes this story so appealing, which is typical of Borges' fantastic realism: reality and fiction permeate each other. The life of its own that Borges ascribes to invented literary works is a central theme in the narrative as in the entire volume.

The narrative is widely viewed as an allegory (or parody) of philosophical idealism - one of its main themes is how ideas manifest themselves in the physical world. To some extent it is also a protest against totalitarianism .

"Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" has the structure of a detective story in a world gone mad. Although it is a short story, it is full of allusions to intellectual positions in Argentina and around the world and takes up a range of subjects such as philosophy of language , epistemology, and literary criticism .

Summary of the story

“Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” follows a first-person narrator who is a fictionalized version of Borges himself. At first, Uqbar seems to be an obscure region in Iraq or Asia Minor . In a conversation with Borges, Bioy Casares explains that he remembers a heresiarch (leader of a heretical sect) declaring that “the mirrors and the pairing are abhorrent because they multiply the number of people.” Borges, impressed by this sentence, asks for their source. Bioy Casares gives an encyclopedia article about Uqbar in the Anglo-American Cyclopedia. This is a reprint of the Encyclopædia Britannica from 1902. It turns out that the article on Uqbar can only be found in a few copies of the work.

Borges reads the article more closely and states that the geographical information in the article is very vague and the extent of the area is only explained with mountains and rivers from the region itself. He was particularly struck by a reference in the section on literature that it never refers to reality, but to the imaginative realms of Mlejnas and Tlön.

After a short, realistic digression about Herbert Ashe, engineer of the Süd-Eisenbahnen, a friend of his father's, we find Borges with a more important and surprising object from his inheritance: a book in large octaves, the eleventh volume of an encyclopedia by Tlön. A blue oval with the inscription "Orbis Tertius" is printed on the first page and a cover sheet made of tissue paper.

At this point the story goes beyond Borges and his circle of friends. The assumption that several volumes of this encyclopedia still exist (about which opinions are divided) leads to the consideration of reconstructing the missing volumes and thus the history, culture and languages ​​of Tlön.

This is followed by a lengthy treatise on languages, philosophy, and especially Tlön's epistemology , which forms the main part of the story. The residents of Tlön cling to an extreme form of Berkeley idealism that denies the reality of the world. “For them, the world is not a meeting of objects in space; it is a heterogeneous sequence of independent actions. It is successive, temporal, not spatial. "

One of the imaginary languages ​​of Tlön knows no nouns : There are impersonal verbs that are specified by monosyllabic suffixes or prefixes of an adverbial type. There is no word for “moon”, but a verb that could be translated as “moons” or “moons”. The tlönic equivalent of the sentence “The moon rose over the river” is called Hlör u fang axaxaxas mlö , which literally translates as something like : Up behind permanent flow it moons . In Spanish the sentence is: Upa tras perfluyue lunó and Borges also adds an English translation: Upward, behind the onstreaming it mooned . (One can assume that Borges was aware of the double meaning of the English " to moon " (ie "to present someone's bare bottom")). In another Tlön language, the base is not the verb, but the monosyllabic adjective , whereby the noun is formed by the accumulation of adjectives. One does not say “moon”, but rather light and airy on dark round or shining orange sky .

In a world without nouns and therefore without "things", a large part of Western philosophy becomes impossible. Without nouns, there can be no deductive deductions from first principles a priori , and also no teleology that shows the development of things.
It is also impossible in this concept to observe the same thing at different times, so there are no
a posteriori inductive conclusions (generalization from experience). In short: Tlön is a world of Berkeley idealism, but with one important difference. At Berkeley himself, God guarantees a self-consistent world. In this infinitely changeable world, the " common sense " is suspended, even if the simpler minds enjoy their transparent tigers and towers of blood.

In the anachronistic postscript, through the appearance of a letter, the narrator and the world learn that Uqbar and Tlön are fictional places invented by a secret and charitable society in the early 17th century , of which George Berkeley was a member. In the course of time they realized that one generation is not enough to invent a country like Uqbar. Each master has chosen a student who should continue his work in his discipline. However, the next traces of society can only be found two hundred years later with the (fictional) multimillionaire Ezra Buckley from Memphis ( Tennessee ), who had a meeting with a federal brother in 1824 . He makes fun of the modesty of the plan: In America it is absurd to want to invent a country. He therefore proposes the invention of a planet. The conditions for this are the writing of an encyclopedia, strictest secrecy and that no alliance with the “charlatan Jesus Christ ” (and thus also not with the god Berkeley) should be entered into.

In the early 1940s (so in the future at the time the story was written), the project ceases to be a mystery and begins to disintegrate the real world. “Around 1942” “Tlönian” objects begin to appear in the world, which are the product of a mysterious science and technology. The full forty volume "Encyclopedia of Tlön" is found in Memphis. However, the eleventh volume is somewhat different from the eleventh volume of the narrator: some all too implausible details have been removed or weakened in order to depict a world “which is not too incompatible with the real one”.

In the end, reality is in full dissolution and the previous culture of the earth gives way to the culture of Tlön. The first-person narrator Borges is impressed by this development. He puts it in a phrase that suggests that the adoption of Tlön's ideas is also a metaphor for the spread of totalitarian ideas in Europe at the time the story was written : “Ten years ago, any symmetry that gave the appearance of order was sufficient - of dialectical materialism , the anti-Semitism , the Nazis - completely out to beguile the people. How should one not submit to Tlön, the meticulous and comprehensive visibility of an ordered planet? Needless to say that reality is also ordered ”.

Impact history

Borges' story is reflected in Karlheinz Essl's string quartet upward, behind the onstreaming it mooned (2001), in which the composer tries to create a musical speech without melodic formulations in analogy to Tlön's original language.

In his novel The Rings of Saturn , published in 1995, WG Sebald refers in several places to Borges' narrative and its view of reality.


Secondary literature

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius (translation: Karl August Horst, edited by Gisbert Haefs ) In: Collected Works Volume 3 / I. Carl Hanser Verlag, Munich 1981, p. 93
  2. Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius (translation: Karl August Horst, edited by Gisbert Haefs ) In: Collected Works Volume 3 / I. Carl Hanser Verlag, Munich 1981, p. 99
  3. Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius (translation: Karl August Horst, edited by Gisbert Haefs ) In: Collected Works Volume 3 / I. Carl Hanser Verlag, Munich 1981, p. 109
  4. Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius (translation: Karl August Horst, edited by Gisbert Haefs ) In: Collected Works Volume 3 / I. Carl Hanser Verlag, Munich 1981, p. 110
  5. Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius (translation: Karl August Horst, edited by Gisbert Haefs ) In: Collected Works Volume 3 / I. Carl Hanser Verlag, Munich 1981, p. 111
  6. ^ Karlheinz Essl  : Notes on my Third String Quartet.