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This nOde last updated April 29th, 2003 and is permanently morphing...
(3 Cib (Owl) / 4 Uo - 16/260 - 18.104.22.168.16)
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.
The fantastic order of the planet Tlön is an utopia that criticises the empirical and referential disorder that Borges tries to avoid through the perfect plotting of his fictions. The imaginary order amounts to a fictional response to the philosophical question, but a response couched in aesthetic strategies that adopt some of the forms of this philosophical argument.
Very briefly, the main traits of Tlönic culture can be summarized in the following way: a. Time does not exist. While one Tlönic school of thought affirms that we live in an eternal present, indefinite and not partitioned into past and future, another upholds that all time has already paused and that what we live in is only remembrance. b. Identity, according to this conception, is unimaginable, because no substance extends its being through time: the idea of the Subject, as conceived by modern philosophy since Descartes, is thus profoundly undermined. c. No other general categories could possibly exist in a world where the continuity of time or of substance is denied.
The sages of Tlön favour an idealistic world view and everything in Tlön's culture presupposes philosophical idealism. Borges pays very close attention to the description of Tlönic linguistic and philosophic theories which, in many cases, conform to his own. The sages have imagined that there is no spatial continuity, that space is by definition discontinuous, and that a place or object in space is never the same if considered from the point of view of time. This also affects the logical principle of identity, and the way we are used to perceiving the world and judging its objects (We tend to think that the pencil we are using is the same pencil we used yesterday, because we find it more comfortable to presuppose this identity).
Logically enough the two languages in Tlön have no nouns. One of the languages is based on compound adjectives; the other, on compound verbs. Nouns are, in principle, impossible because there is no continuous substance that can provide the empirical/logical basis for a noun. What we consider nouns come about in Tlön from the accumulation of adjectives, that indicate ephemeral states. Of course, this type of adjective can be used only once, because, by definition, no state can repeat itself in time.
The same happens with certain verbs, like 'to find' and 'to lose'. Both actions are inconceivable in Tlön because, if there is no identity between objects and no continuity in space and time, no object can be lost and much less found again. When something that we would consider 'to be lost' happens to an object, a kind of secondary object (vaguely different to the lost one) begins to proliferate. These simulacra are called Hrönir and they can be usefully employed to invent and modify the past, an activity that occupies and fascinates archeology in Tlön. The existence of the Hrönir, which every man in Tlön is used to, is a practical demonstration of the absence of any basis for the principle of identity that sustains our own culture. In an idealist planet like Tlön, a planet constructed by language, to lose means to forget and to find means to remember: both actions serve to produce Hrönir.
In the story, written in 1947, an American financier underwrites the compiling of a huge encyclopedia about the imaginary planet. Behind the scheme is a secret order called Orbis Tertius. The information about Tlon is made public, but only in small installments. Borges speculates that as belief in Tlon's existence spreads, the myth eventually will displace reality, and Orbis Tertius, in effect, will have conquered the world.
Borges' fantasy planet is reminiscent of descriptions that some UFO "contactees" have provided of other worlds. Time as we understand it is a meaningless concept onTlon. Past, present and future all intermingle. Moreover, on Tlon, every ordinary object has a double, called a "hronier." If the original object is lost, its hronier can be located by a seeker who believes the lost object can be regained. In the story, hronier can be created through the beliefs of their discoverers. In theory, as more and more imaginary hronier are found, their existence will take priority over the real world in the minds of humans, so that eventually Earth will turn into Tlon. Astronomer and UFO investigator Jacques Vallee has pointed out parallels between Borges's story and the UFO phenomenon. Vallee cites the UFFO hoax as a real-life example of hronier being fabricated out of fantasy.
first mention of Tlon in Usenet:
From: Palmer Davis (davisp@marina.CWRU.EDU)
Subject: Re: Alien Aliens
Date: 1989-10-20 06:01:27 PST
In article <gZD_n7W00W0I40jEgF@andrew.cmu.edu> firstname.lastname@example.org (Andrew C. Plotkin) writes:
>...And Mick said, "Do not
>all containers contain themselves? If a container doesn't contain
>itself, what *does* contain it?" If that's not alien, I don't know what
Sounds like a Zen koan to me (from right here on Earth)...
>Vulcans and Klingons -- as developed in some of the books. (My biggest
>complaint about _Star Trek 5_ was that there wasn't a single alien in
>the movie -- just humans with pointy ears, humans with bumpy heads, and
>a human playing god with a big special-effects generator.)
Here, I have to disagree with you. Even the way they've been developed elsewhere, they're still just humans with pointy ears or bumpy heads and interesting cultural philosophies. Many cultures we already know about seem "stranger" from a Western point of view than either of these.
>If you're in a weird mood, check out "Tlon, Ukbar, and Orbis Tertius" by
>Jorge Luis Borges. (It is, I think, in his book _Ficciones_.) (Or
>_Dreamtigers_? One or the other. Maybe other places, too.) Borges is not
>an SF writer, but "TUaOT" describes some *extremely* strange cultures
Was anything ever done about this concept besides Borge's original story? I'd love to get my hands on the encyclopedia he talks about... but then again I'd also like to see the Necronomicon et al... (and I don't mean the paperback imitation they're passing off as the real thing...)
While we're on the subject of alien aliens, I'd like to bring up the Mizari, from the third book of Michael Kube-McDowell's THE TRIGON DISUNITY. THEY were extremely not-human, to the point that nobody could figure out what they were until the D'shanna pointed it out to Merritt Thackery.
And, of course, there are also the Borg...
-- Palmer Davis --
Palmer T. Davis
| The opinions expressed herein are my own
Case Western Reserve University | and do not necessarily represent the truth.
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