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  • Mystical Laws:Borges and Kabbalah
  • Virginia Gutiérrez Berner (bio)

The connection between Borges's fiction and Kabbalah is not a hard one to make, in the sense that Borges's style and themes seem powerfully indebted to Kabbalistic conceptions. The notion of an infinite book, of a book that contains the universe, a book that is equal to the world, a text that can magically operate in reality, and the possibility of endless interpretation (an endless interpretation that deals with the world as text, as much as with written texts) are all recurrent themes in Borges's writings. These notions are also among the best known aspects of Kabbalah.

Criticism has not ignored this link; Saúl Sosnowski declares in Borges y Cábala that "This work attempts to show the connection between some Borges texts, and Kabbalah, with regard to understanding the Verb as an instrument for creation, and not merely as an arbitrary symbol to name the elements of reality" (1976, 16-17, my translation). Similarly, although performing a closer reading, Jaime Alazraki's Borges and Kabbalah (1988) emphasizes the connections between Kabbalistic symbols and hermeneutical [End Page 137] methods, and thematic and structural elements that abound in Borges's fiction. Also, Alazraki considers the interpretative approach of Kabbalah as closely connected to literary criticism. Thus, he applies certain Kabbalistic interpretative conceptions to Borges's own work. Edna Aizenberg has also studied Kabbalah and Borges; she devotes The Aleph Weaver (1984) first to studying Borges's biographical and intellectual links to Jewish culture and then, like Alazraki and Sosnowski, to finding parallels between Borges's work and Kabbalistic conceptions. Also like Alazraki, Aizenberg points out the connection between Kabbalah and contemporary criticism: "Borges's view of literature as the revisionist glossing of traditional texts, a view which Bloom ultimately traces to a medieval model, the Kabbalah, has become the dernier cri in critical thinking about actors and their texts" (106). Aizenberg also quotes Claudia Hoffer Gosselin's explanation of intertextuality theory to explain that Hoffer Gosselin considers intertextuality as a recent, "profane restatement of the Kabbalah's literary theory" (107). Thus, contemporary interpretation and Kabbalistic hermeneutics seem to meet in Borges's work, provoking interpretations that study the connection between Borges's work and Kabbalah, while also allowing such connection to shape the notion of interpretation itself.

Borges wrote two nonfiction texts that explicitly deal with Kabbalah, "A Defense of the Kabbalah" and "The Kabbalah." Both state the Kabbalistic dimensions in which Borges is interested, especially the notion of the Scriptures as a text that demands endless interpretation because of its supernatural origin, which makes it impervious to error and accident. This interest can be productively read in connection to his rewriting of Christian themes in "The Gospel According to Mark" and "Three versions of Judas." Rather than dwelling on the similarities between Borges's writing and Kabbalistic symbols and interpretative methods, it is interesting to understand how Borges's view of Kabbalah (regardless of the accuracy of his understanding of its doc-trine) shapes the interpretations of Christian history, law, and Messianism that these two short stories entail. The fact that, according to Kabbalistic hermeneutics and to Borges's understanding of it, it is necessary to interpret the Torah endlessly—including interpretations that differ, conflict, and ultimately threaten to cancel one another—implies that all possible law has [End Page 138] room within the law of the Torah: that there is nothing outside the law, since it becomes part of it from the moment it comes to exist. Conceiving Judas as someone who fulfills the law rather than transgressing it, as in "Three versions of Judas," or rewriting the event of a contemporary crucifixion as an extreme interpretation of the Gospel (thus playing with the idea of prophecy and law in the event of Christ's own crucifixion, as well as questioning the very notion of misreading), as in "The Gospel According to Mark," shapes and undermines Christian history from the perspective of Kabbalistic interpretation. Everything that occurs determines the law, expands its limits, rewrites it; and at the same time, everything is already in the law, operating within it, and structured by it. Thus, the...


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