Fictional essay: “Funes the Memorious”

by look i have opinions

“Funes the Memorious” or “Funes, His Memory” (“Funes el memorioso”), by Jorge Luis Borges

Wikipedia says this first appeared in La Nación in June 1942; English translation in PDF here

? words (I swear I’ll come back to this)

I will never understand why Borges’ fictions are all generally considered short stories. This one, like “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote” and “The Library of Babel,” strikes me as a fictional essay. None of Borges’ essays make much pretense at plot, and the characters are static. What develops as they go on is not plot or character or theme as I understand it, but something else, something they have in common with excellent science fiction. They take a strange idea and work out its implications so thoroughly that it begins to seem familiar (though still strange) and to have relevance to real life. “To think is to forget differences” (Pensar es olvidar diferencias)—yes, of course, why didn’t we realize that before? The fact is that these pieces work, never mind whether they work as essays or as stories, so I may be the only one who cares about the distinction. (And the fact that there are so few fictional essays as good as this must make it tempting to lump them all in with stories. I imagine it’s doubly difficult to make fiction interesting without the carrots of suspense and character identification.)

An especially uninformed opinion (I can barely read Spanish): I think the best translation of the title would probably be “The Vast Memory of Funes.” “Funes the Eidetic” would be okay, except that apparently the word refers mainly to visual memory, and anyway is relatively obscure.

None of this anal-retentive blather does justice to the piece, but I expect to write many more posts on Borges before I’m done here.