Jorge Luis Borges: Mysticism, Fiction, and Politics
612 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10027
This class centers upon one of Latin America’s most prolific and influential literary figures, Jorge Luis Borges. It will introduce students to Borges’ most canonical works, including the two short story collections Fictions and The Aleph, as well as the essay collection Other Inquisitions. Students with previous knowledge of Borges’ work will certainly be familiar with some texts from these collections, such as the stories “The Garden of Forking Paths,” “Emma Zunz,” or “The Library of Babel,” and with the essay “Kafka and his Precursors.” However, the course will provide an overview of literary themes and social concerns across the most formative decade of Borges’ work, so prior knowledge is neither necessary nor required. The 1940s, during which nearly all these texts were written, was a tumultuous moment in world history. For the first half of the decade, World War II was raging; during the second, decolonization was reorganizing global power. Borges saw fiction as a particularly well-suited medium in which to engage with social questions. Nazis, Jews, German soldiers in Prague and Chinese spies in England are just part of the carnival of political allusions that populate his narratives. One crucial way in which Borges was able to bind political questions to fictional writing was through the use of mysticism as a set of literary tropes. As such, we will look closely at the theme of mysticism—particularly Cabala, or Jewish mysticism—in Borges’ writing, in order to investigate Borges’ literary weaving of an intimate relation between speculative metaphysics and political realities. Stories and essays will be supplemented with relevant secondary literature.
Course ScheduleMonday, 6:30-9:30pm
July 09 — July 30, 2018