homer [laughing]: it was apt.
in "tlön, uqbar, orbis tertius", an encyclopedia article about a mysterious country called uqbar is the first indication of orbis tertius, a massive conspiracy of intellectuals to imagine (and thereby create) a world: tlön. in the course of the story, the narrator encounters increasingly substantive artifacts of orbis tertius and of tlön; by the end of the story, earth is becoming tlön.
the story unfolds as a first-person narrative by a fictive version of borges himself. events and facts are revealed roughly in the order that the narrator becomes aware of them, or becomes aware of their relevance. the bulk of the story is from the point of view of 1940, the year the story was written and published. a postscript is from the point of view of the same narrator, anachronistically writing in 1947. the timing of events in borges's first-person story is approximately from 1935 to 1947; the plot concerns events going back as far as the early 17th century and culminating in 1947.
there in fact exists an anglo-american encyclopaedia, which is a plagiarism, differently paginated, of the tenth edition of the encyclopedia, and in which the 46th volume is TOT-UPS, ending on p. 917 with upsala, and followed by ural-altaic in the next volume; uqbar would fall in between [or more precisely, would appear at the start of the 47th volume]. in the 11th edition of the britannica, borges's favorite, there is an article in between these on "ur"; which may, in some sense, therefore be uqbar. different articles in the 11th edition mention that ur, as the name of a city, means simply "the city", and that ur is also the aurochs, or the evil god of the mandaeans. borges may be punning on the sense of "primaeval" here with his repeated use of ursprache, or on the story's own definition of "ur" in one of tlön's languages as "a thing produced by suggestion, an object elicited by hope."
for some time before his father's death and his own accident, borges had been drifting toward writing fiction. his historia universal de la infamia (universal history of infamy), published in 1935, used a baroque writing style and the techniques of fiction to tell the stories of seven historical rogues. these ranged from "el espantoso redentor lazarus morell" ("the dread redeemer lazarus morell") — who promised liberty to slaves in the american south, but brought them only death — to "el incivil maestro de ceremonias kotsuké no suké" ("the insulting master of etiquette kôtsuké no suké"), the story of the central figure in the japanese tale of the 47 ronin, also known as kira kozuke-no-suke yoshinaka. borges had also written a number of clever literary forgeries disguised as translations from authors such as emanuel swedenborg or from the tales of count lucanor. recovering from his head wound and infection, borges decided it was time to turn to the writing of fiction as such.
* borges, jorge luis. "tlön, uqbar, orbis tertius" trans. alastair reid. borges, a reader. 111–122.
* rodríguez monegal, emir, and alastair reid (eds.). borges, a reader. new york: dutton, 1981. ISBN 0-525-47654-7.
* beatriz sarlo's borges: a writer on the edge provides an analysis of the story and a detailed reconstruction of its (often implicit) plot. however, sarlo wrongly claims (in chapter 5) that the historical figure of john wilkins is an "invented character of one of borges['s] essays."
* (spanish) guía de lectura de ficciones, de jorge luis borges, centro de comunicação e expressão, universidade federal de santa catarina, brazil. the list of real and fictional people above draws heavily on this spanish-language reader's guide. (accessed 26 november 2006.)
* andrew hurley, "the zahir and i", a fictional lecture delivered at the "borges, time, and the millennium" conference, new york city, December 13, 1999. (accessed 4 july 2006.)
* bernard quaritch company website. (accessed 4 july 2006.)
* (spanish) la alquimia del verbo: 'tlön, uqbar, orbis tertius' de j.l. borges y la sociedad de la rosa-cruz. article by santiago juan navarro about borges' story and the rosicrucians. published in hispanófila 120 (1997): 67-80.