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YYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY WRITING ABSENCE: HISTORY AND DEATH IN BORGES’S “TEMA DEL TRAIDOR Y DEL HÉROE” JOSÉ LUIS VENEGAS BORGES’S short story, “Tema del traidor y del héroe,” manifests a marked concern with the intersections of history and literature, thus anticipating later postmodernist debates on history-writing as a purely fictional act.1 Theorists such as Hayden White and Linda Hutcheon have emphasized the self-referential nature of historiography, showing how history follows the narrative conventions of literary texts for its construction . “Tema” certainly effaces the boundaries between history and literature, underlining how we can only know the past through artificially -constructed texts. However, Borges’s story not only questions the autonomy of history as discourse, but also its representational limits, especially in contexts of cultural decolonization. By saying that history is merely a textual phenomenon we expose the rhetorical mechanisms behind its construction, but can these mechanisms turn any aspect of reality into textual matter? Can history as text represent any event (including anti-colonial revolutions), inserting it within a coherent narrative ? “Tema” is punctuated by conspicuous informational gaps and narrative ellipses related to the central enigma of the story, the death of the Irish rebel Fergus Kilpatrick. This paper argues that Borges incites us to read in these gaps an ineffable absence that resists textual representation , whether historiographic or literary. Death is used as a compelling trope to signal this absence and to pose a radical critique of the limits of history as a totalizing and colonizing regime of representation. 1 Whiston underscores Borges’s ironic attitude toward the authority of official history and the objectivity of history-writing. Juan-Navarro reads this ironic stance in light of Hayden White’s theories of history as a self-reflective discourse. YYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY 281 “Tema” is presented as a preliminary draft, as an initial version of what should later become a final rendition of the story it recounts. The narrator underscores the unfinished nature of his work by highlighting its incompleteness, its lack of closure, as if his main concern was to invite the reader to concentrate on what escapes the narrative – on what cannot be put into words or explained in logical terms: “Faltan pormenores, rectificaciones , ajustes; hay zonas de la historia que no me fueron reveladas aún” (531). This sense of indeterminacy permeates the rest of the story. The plot revolves around the predicament of the Irish historian Ryan to reveal the truth about the tragic murder of his great-grandfather, the revolutionary hero Fergus Kilpatrick. As Ryan sets out to write a biography of his illustrious relative, he finds himself in a position analogous to that of the narrator of “Tema,” for he quickly realizes that there are some “zonas de la historia” – particularly the circumstances surrounding Kilpatrick’s death – that have not been revealed to him yet. A hundred years after Kilpatrick’s death, these circumstances remain an enigmatic mystery, as the identity of the murderer is still unknown. We are told that historians have consistently disregarded this missing piece of information, claiming that it does not really affect the legitimacy of their discourse. Whereas official accounts of the event simply ignore this informational gap for the sake of consistency and credibility, Ryan realizes that he cannot proceed with his projected biography until the enigma of Kilpatrick’s death is solved. His investigations eventually solve the mystery, but they also make it obvious that the events leading to the assassination resist the conventional methods of representation of official history. Despite extensive research, Kilpatrick’s death emerges as an ineffable, though conspicuous, absence that dislocates those regulative mechanisms of authoritative narratives that the official historians in the story strive to preserve so zealously. Since one of the most arresting aspects of Kilpatrick’s murder is its similarity to that of Julius Caesar, Ryan initially turns to established theories of history for answers. Hesiod and Plato, Condorcet, Hegel, Spengler and Vico, had all, in different ways, posited universal models of history , patterns that organize time into coherent narratives. Ryan reasons that the repetition of the same momentous event centuries apart would demonstrate the universality of a circular historical scheme, while it would also explain the puzzle...


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pp. 281-289
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