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Painting Borges

Philosophy Interpreting Art Interpreting Literature

Jorge J. E. Gracia

Publication Year: 2012

A provocative examination of the artistic interpretation of twelve of Borges' most famous stories. In Painting Borges, Jorge J. E. Gracia explores in depth the artistic interpretation of fiction using a novel and philosophically sophisticated approach. The book presents a provocative theory of the artistic interpretation of literature, thus contributing both to aesthetics and hermeneutics; it provides original artistic and philosophical interpretations of twelve of Borges's most famous stories, thus making new inroads in to the understanding of Borges's work; and it introduces readers to recent figurative Argentinean and Cuban art, two of the most vibrant artistic currents today. The book breaks new ground because, although the artistic interpretation of literature is nothing new in the history of art, the philosophical exploration of how artists have interpreted literature is a topic that has been largely ignored.

Published by: State University of New York Press


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p. c-c

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x


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pp. xi-xiv

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pp. xv-xviii

This book grew out of a life-long love of literature, art, and philosophy. My love of literature goes back to the time I had the mumps when I was ten years old. Before then my reading had been consigned to comic books, particularly those that had to do with horror. But I got sick and had to stay in my room for two weeks. During my illness, my sister, who was twelve years...

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1: Introduction

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pp. 1-22

The artistic interpretation of literature is nothing new. A great part of the history of Western art has been concerned with rendering stories, myths, and adventures first recorded in literary genres into the media of art. The subjects of much Greek and Roman art were the myths of the gods that had first been cast in oral or written texts. In late antiquity and in the Middle Ages,...

I: Painted Stories

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2: The Other

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pp. 25-36

“The Other” is one of those stories in which Borges challenges the reader to solve a puzzle for which there seems to be no solution. The central difficulty posed by the story concerns personal identity and memory, appearance and reality. Are we the same persons throughout our lives? Is an old Borges the same person he was when he was young? Are they both real, is just one of them real, or are both of them unreal? The older and younger Borges are very different, but...

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3: Funes, the Memorious

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pp. 37-46

“Funes, the Memorious” is one of Borges’s most obviously philosophical stories. It is concerned with the nature of perception, memory, and thinking. The idea that our thinking is reducible to a great extent to the memory of our perceptions is old, but was perhaps most famously defended by John Locke, to whom Borges refers in the story. Our thoughts are nothing more...

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4: The South

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pp. 47-56

“The South” is one of the most celebrated of Borges’s stories. Indeed, some have thought, perhaps even Borges, that it is Borges’s best story. Regardless of one’s opinion on this matter, it is clear that it is a powerful treatment of identity. However, in contrast with the first two stories in this section, this one adds a different angle to the question of self-identity and memory, namely, the...

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5: The Interloper

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pp. 57-66

“The Interloper” is one of the most brutal stories that Borges ever wrote. Unlike many of his other stories that deal with philosophical problems and conceptual puzzles, this is a classic treatment of the human situation, and most of all of human love and passion, although it is also about identity and the condition of women in society. Also in contrast to his other work,...

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6: The Garden of Forking Paths

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pp. 67-78

“The Garden of Forking Paths” is one of Borges’s most frequently discussed stories. It raises a variety of questions that philosophers, literary critics, and artists have found fascinating. One, for example, concerns the status of the infinite possibilities that open up at every instant of time: Are they real or unreal? Do I drink a cup of coffee or a cup of tea? If I drink a cup of coffee,...

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7: The Circular Ruins

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pp. 79-88

In “The Circular Ruins,” Borges ostensibly discusses two of his favorite topics, the nature of time and the nature of reality, which in turn constitute venues to explore two other constants of his work, freedom and destiny. The imagery of the story and its title evoke the notion that time is cyclical and reality is appearance. The first was popular among pre-Socratic philosophers, some...

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8: The House of Asterion

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pp. 89-98

“The House of Asterion” is one of Borges’s shortest stories but, not for that reason, has it elicited less interest than many of the others. It fits well with Borges’s fascination with labyrinths, because Asterion, whom Borges identifies with the Minotaur, lives in a labyrinth. This is a story of solitude and pain, the tragedy of a god who wants companionship, of man lost in a confusing...

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9: The Immortal

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pp. 99-108

“The Immortal” is one of Borges’s longest stories. It opens with a substantial quotation of a text from Francis Bacon in which he refers to Solomon and Plato and draws an implication: there is no new thing under the sun and all knowledge is but remembrance, so all novelties are but oblivion. This is one of Borges’s favorite themes. Just as in “The Circular Ruins,” we...

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10: The Rose of Paracelsus

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pp. 109-118

The ostensive theme of “The Rose of Paracelsus” is faith. Does faith involve a leap as Søren Kierkegaard suggested? Is it a choice for the absurd, as Tertullian famously prescribed? Or does faith need to accord with facts and rationality, as Peter Abelard argued? At one level, the story seems to favor the first two alternatives, but at another it appears to contradict them, for it is...

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11: The Writing of the God

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pp. 119-128

“The Writing of the God” is one of Borges’s most enigmatic stories. Its ostensive aim is to discover the secret of the universe. The answer is revealed, if at all, only indirectly. The idea that creators leave imprints on their creations is commonplace. Artists and writers have characteristic styles and interests that reveal their identity in their work. It is not surprising, then, that those...

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12: The Secret Miracle

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pp. 129-138

From a philosophical standpoint, Borges’s “The Secret Miracle” presents us with at least two interesting questions, one has to do with the nature of time, the other with divine power and the nature of miracles. Is time relative or absolute? Are miracles produced by divine power possible? Both questions have been the subject of much discussion, and disagreements about...

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13: The Gospel According to Mark

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pp. 139-152

Borges’s “The Gospel According to Mark” stays away from the supernatural, magical, and conceptual puzzles of which Borges is so fond. The story is quite clear and simple; it avoids references to obscure historical events, conceptual or physical labyrinths, paradoxes, and ambiguities. But when it comes to interpreting its meaning, matters are not so clear or simple....

II: Identity and Interpretation

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14: Literature, Art, and Philosophy

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pp. 155-184

The artistic interpretations of Borges’s stories presented in Part I of this book pose a number of interesting conceptual issues. The variety of media, approaches, and strategies they use raises questions that go to the heart of the hermeneutic task. Although all of the interpretations, except one, are versions of what might be called flat art, they differ in significant ways, going from...

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15: Interpretation

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pp. 185-206

The last chapter presented a view concerning the identity of works of philosophy, literature, and visual art. This was a necessary step toward understanding the difficulties involved in the interpretation of literature by works of visual art. Another necessary step has to do with the proper understanding of interpretation, which is the topic of this chapter. I begin with...

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16: Painting Borges

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pp. 207-228

In Chapter 14, I argued that works of art, philosophy, and literature are different in significant ways. Works of visual art include not just the pictures and visual images that compose them, but also the actual physical artefacts in which they are embodied. Works of philosophy do not include the texts, let alone the scripts or the artifacts that express them in the conditions of their...

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17: Limits of Interpretation

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pp. 229-252

The question of whether there are limits to interpretation is one of the most debated issues in hermeneutics today. The issue is not a matter of whether de facto there are limits to what interpreters can do, but rather whether there are any boundaries beyond which interpreters should not go. Are interpreters completely free to understand, and create instruments of understanding...


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pp. 253-258


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pp. 259-290

Painting Borges: Art Interpreting Literature

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pp. 291-294


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pp. 295-bc

E-ISBN-13: 9781438441795
E-ISBN-10: 1438441797
Print-ISBN-13: 9781438441771
Print-ISBN-10: 1438441770

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 24 color photos
Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Art and literature.
  • Art -- Philosophy.
  • Borges, Jorge Luis, -- 1899-1986 -- Themes, motives.
  • Borges, Jorge Luis, 1899-1986 -- Illustrations.
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