Juan Luis Borges (1899 to 1986-Argentina) is best known for his fables and short stories as well as his essays. He is one of the dominant figures in Latin American literature. I was very happy to see that included in Object Lessons: The Paris Review Presents Art of the Short Story edited by Lorin and Sadie Stein, 2012, was a short story by Borges. I have read his work before but it has been several decades. Each of the stories in the collection has a brief introduction by a well established short story writer. Borges' story is introduced by Aleksandar Hemon, author of three short story collections and The Lazarus Project, a 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award finalist.
Set in the middle of the 19th century in Buenos Aires, the story centers on a man with incredible mental capacities, a man who wants to know everything. There are strong connections for many people, myself included, between a compulsive love (that is the wrong word but will let it go for now) for the reading life and a compulsion to know as much as you possibly can. As illustrated in the story, these compulsions are at least as isolating as they are connecting.
As Hemnon says in his great introduction, the work of Borges "belongs to the tradition of literature with cosmic ambition: the Bible, The Iliad, The Divine Comedy, Ulysses..works that strive to convey complete universes, containing everything". In order for this to work, human language has to be able to articulate all knowledge. The vision in this story and the other works in the tradition us that you cannot really conceptualize humanity without literature.
Funes, the central character in the novel cannot forget anything. He can pull up the number of leaves on a tree he saw 25 years ago. The story focuses on the attempt of the narrator of the story to tell of the life if Funes, a near impossible task as his very project transcends human limitation. This is a beautiful fable. It has a lot to tell us about the reading life.
The Reading Life