short story _Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius_ by Jorge Luis Borges off of _Collected Fictions_
IN JORGE LUIS BORGES' story "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius," a man discovers an essay about the wonders of Tlön, a place that does not appear on any map. Years later, he unearths an encyclopedia with detailed explanations of Tlön's culture. "Now I held in my hands a vast methodical fragment of an unknown planet's entire history," Borges writes, "with its architecture and its playing cards, with the dread of its mythologies and the murmur of its languages, with its emperors and its seas, with its minerals and its birds and its fish, with its algebra and its fire..."But soon enough, he finds that Tlön is a mirage. He has been fooled by the ravings of a brilliant cabal -- a "secret and benevolent society" of men, passing their genius down from 17th century unto today -- that sought to "invent a country."
Evidently, Robyn Miller is next in line. Miller, along with his brother Rand, created the electronic equivalents of Tlön -- the exquisitely detailed and hugely successful computer games, _Myst_ and Riven, released by their company Cyan. But in early 1998, Miller left gaming and created a film production company Land of Point, dedicated to producing entirely computer generated (CG) feature films.
Uqbar is a land vaguely located in Asia whose frontiers are marked by rivers and mountains of the same region (of Uqbar). That amounts to not being defined at all because the boundary landmarks are included in the space they should delimit and refer to no other known country (which is an eloquent spatial presentation of a logical paradox). Tlön is an imaginary and mythical region in a land, Uqbar, that later on proves to be also an imaginary geographical and cultural construction. In the development of the plot, Tlön becomes a planet invented by a sect through the means of language alone. Finally Orbis Tertius is the world described in terms of the language spoken in an imaginary planet, Tlön, that, in turn, has been previously described as a mythical region of a dubious country, Uqbar. This closely-knit sequence of non existing lands and regions evoke the en abîme structure. It is easy to recognize in it the presence of multiple images in a mirror that mirrors a mirror.
At the beginning of the story Borges states: "I owe the discovery of Uqbar to the conjunction of a mirror and an encyclopedia". The mirror was mentioned by his friend Bioy Casares, when he cited a heresiarch from Uqbar as having discovered that mirrors and copulation were "abominable because they increase the number of men". The quotation begins the search for the Anglo-American Cyclopedia (which, as Borges reports, is a reprint of the Encyclopedia Britannica: an exact, or maybe not altogether exact, copy). Here Borges cleverly brings together two objects, the mirror and the encyclopedia, which can construct en abîme images: the encyclopedia is a conceptual mirror of a world, whose classification may also include the notion of an encyclopedia, that can be thought of as a verbal and alphabetical Aleph.
I owe the discovery of Uqbar to the conjunction of a mirror and an encyclopedia. The mirror troubled the depths of a corridor in a country house on Gaona Street in Ramos Mejia; the encyclopedia is fallaciously called The Anglo-American Cyclopaedia (New York, 1917) and is a literal but delinquent reprint of the Encyclopedia Britannica of 1902. The event took place some five years ago. Bioy Casares had had dinner with me that evening and we became lengthily engaged in a vast polemic concerning the composition of a novel in the first person, whose narrator would omit or disfigure the facts and indulge in various contradictions which would permit a few readers - very few readers - to perceive an atrocious or banal reality. From the remote depths of the corridor, the mirror spied upon us. We discovered (such a discovery is inevitable in the late hours of the night) that mirrors hare something monstrous about them. Then Bioy Casares recalled that one of the heresiarchs of Uqbar had declared that mirrors and copulation are abominable, because they increase the number or men. I asked him the origin of this memorable observation and he answered that it was reproduced in The Anglo-American Cyclopaedia, in its article on Uqbar. The house (which we had rented furnished) had a set of this work. On the last pages of Volume XLVI we found an article on Upsala; on the first pages of Volume XLVII, one on Ural-Altaic Languages, but not a word about Uqbar. Bioy, a bit taken aback, consulted the volumes of the index. In vain he exhausted all of the imaginable spellings: Ukbar, Ucbar, Ooqbar, Ookbar, Oukbahr... Before leaving, he told me that it was a region of Iraq of or Asia Minor. I must confess that I agreed with some discomfort. I conjectured that this undocumented country and its anonymous heresiarch were a fiction devised by Bioy's modesty in order to justify a statement. The fruitless examination of one of Justus Perthes' atlases fortified my doubt.
- Jorge Luis Borges, Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius