- Cy-Borges: Memories of the Posthuman in the Work of Jorge Luis Borges
Borges is known for his distinctive way of incorporating the authors he read into his own literary creation, a practice that has influenced many. Whereas the Argentine ventriloquizes Homer in the short story “The Immortal” or invokes Spinoza in an eponymous sonnet, subsequent writers and critics weave Borges into the fabric of their own texts: in fiction, witness Ricardo Piglia’s masterful Artificial Respiration (1981, trans. 1994), and in theory, Michel Foucault’s introduction to The Order of Things (1966, trans. 1970). The book under review here comes to this constellation from the relatively novel register of critical posthumanism. As others before them, Herbrechter and Callus cite Borges on how writers create their own precursors, for new work “modifies our conception of the past, as it will modify the future” (18). Along with Gregory Ulmer’s notion of the “puncept”—in short, a pun of heuristic value—this paradoxical take on intellectual genealogy invites the contributors in this volume to conceive of Borges as an unsuspecting forefather of the posthuman. Hence the witty title and the purposefully anachronistic subtitle, which signal the task of creating a precursor to present-day concerns.
In terms of modifying the future, one can anticipate that scholars will look back at this book as an insightful appropriation of Borges for the cause of posthumanism. As for modifying our conception of the past, it is less apparent that the book should contribute in meaningful ways to our understanding of Borges. Cy-Borges takes a well-known leap of faith. With reason, Borges scholarship has embraced radical hermeneutical operations, as exemplified, most recently, by the timely collection edited by William Egginton [End Page 593] and David Johnson, Thinking with Borges (2009) and by Perla Sassón-Henry’s monographic study Borges 2.0: From Texts to Virtual Worlds (2007), an important antecedent to Herbrechter and Callus’ pursuits. The charter of Variaciones Borges, a multilingual journal of high standing in the field established in 1996, calls for “reaching beyond pure exegeses of Borges’s writings, [exploring] the special style of thinking, writing and reading in which Borges excelled. Fantastic ontologies, synchronic genealogies . . ., nostalgic geometries and invented remembrances converge to justify the epithet ‘Borgesian’ for a special area of academic research” (http://www.borges.pitt.edu/journal). The list of justifications to the epithet, longer that would be fit to cite here, does not, alas, include the posthuman, but it speaks to a consolidated argumentative mode that the book is likely to exert but a limited impact on.
The introduction to the volume defines the posthuman, broadly, as “that which reconfigures the actual and the possible once human potential is reengineered and new orders instituted” (35). The editors underscore the idea that Borges anticipates a posthuman realm before the advent of digital or cybernetic technology, allowing the reader to conceive the posthuman as unclouded by its particular instantiations in contemporary imagination. And yet Gordon Calleja’s contribution goes in the opposite direction by claiming that “the weaving of the real and the imaginary” that takes place in Borges’s writings is akin to “the virtual”—the article goes on to address such technologies as massive multiplayer online games, or MMOGs (88–89), and compares hrönir, imaginary objects that become real in “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” to the virtual goods that gamers exchange for real money (102). Similarly, Floyd Merrell calls into question the project of artificial intelligence by noting, with Borges, the wealth of experience that is left out of the picture when one embraces a narrowly mechanistic worldview (57). The gap between these positions and the stated goals of the collection suggests the lack of a cohesive purpose, but it also speaks to the intense conceptual experimentation that takes place in the book’s pages.
The method of choice embraces circularity at various levels: several articles read Borges closely through the lens of posthumanist criticism in...