- Archaizing Style
Error opens "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quijote." ERROR, AS IF coincident with death, with Pierre Menard's death, attempts to becloud or to tarnish (empañar) his Memory, as much biographically as bibliographically. Not an error, not this or that error, but el Error, as if to say, Error itself. Allegorical or transcendental, this capital Error is, in any case, not one error among others. Even if "a brief rectification" (Borges 2010, 1:475; 1998, 88)1 is the story's premise. Apparently, the error concerns a certain omission in a catálogo falaz, Menard's bibliography, his life's work. If, however, the rectification does not pertain to the facile obra visible, if the work to be rectified cannot be, like Menard's visible work, "easily and briefly enumerated" (2010, 1:475; 1998, 88), then the brevity of the rectification is not the brevity of an enumeration. As if to suggest, by omission, that the other (la otra is the closest the narrator ever comes to saying "invisible work")2 would not easily fit into even a Borgesian catalogue,3 still less a bibliography or a history of literature, a canon, if history at all counts on calculation, on an enumeration of events, [End Page 101] works, or chronologies. In which case, even if the narrator names a perpetrator (Madame Henri Bachelier), el Error would not amount to an editorial "slip" that turns Error into an errand, a task of calculation and correction, an enumeration of visible work.4 Nothing guarantees, in other words, that Error does not continue to fog la Memoria in its very rectification. The division, accordingly, would no longer appear between "error" and "rectification" but, rather, between modifications of Error: the error of omission (the more or less explicit denial of Menard's other work) or the error of enumeration (the hypostatization or phenomenologization of Menard's other work).
Commentary on "Menard"—Borges's narrator first of all—invariably reproduces one of these two "errors" and often both.5 But neither commentary nor error is limited to the text entitled "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quijote." The story has the curious fate of founding literary strategies, methods, and movements. Even epochs. If el Error motivates not only commentary but also the commentary's approach, then it does not concern a misinterpretation that could be committed or corrected in further commentary. It would touch the very possibility of interpreting or misinterpreting in the first place, the possible impossibility of, to anticipate a few formulations, the "essence" of literature, the literary situation "as such," "literariness itself." Which is not to say that there is never literature but, rather, that there is always error. Error, in other words, might cast a cloud over an entire field (not only literary criticism but also, perhaps, philosophy itself) because a discipline as a discipline must discern its object and because literature cannot be discerned—not absolutely, not certainly, and certainly not as easily as we tend to presume—as an object of study. At least not what the narrator will call Menard's "archaizing style."
This will be the hypothesis tested in the three examples that follow, three examples that are not merely examples, three commentaries that are not merely commentaries. Three paradigms. Three of the most respectful readings that for that very reason, more or less explicitly, more or less willingly, recognize the opening of an era in "Pierre Menard." Three readings of reading itself, of "literariness," of "style." Above all and at the same time, however, three "errors." [End Page 102]
Few have appreciated the complexities involved in discerning art of any medium as an object of study like Arthur Danto. Presented as the modest but first sure steps in the analysis of what differentiates an "artwork" and a "mere object" to all appearances indiscernible from it, Danto's investigations into the ontological essence of art are driven by a question of error, by the possibility of mistaking the "artistic" for the "mere" and, more importantly, the possible impossibility of distinguishing them, hence, of the specification and exhaustion of art in an...