The Aleph (short story)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

For other uses, see Aleph (disambiguation)

"The Aleph"
Author Jorge Luis Borges
Original title "El Aleph"
Country Argentina
Language Spanish
Genre(s) Short story
Published in Sur
Publication date September 1945

"The Aleph" is a short story by the Argentine writer and poet Jorge Luis Borges. First published in September 1945, it was reprinted in the short story collection, The Aleph and Other Stories, in 1949, and revised by the author in 1974.

Plot summary[edit]

In Borges' story, the Aleph is a point in space that contains all other points. Anyone who gazes into it can see everything in the universe from every angle simultaneously, without distortion, overlapping or confusion. The story continues the theme of infinity found in several of Borges' other works, such as The Book of Sand.

As in many of Borges' short stories, the protagonist is a fictionalized version of the author. At the beginning of the story, he is mourning the recent death of a woman whom he loved, named Beatriz Viterbo, and resolves to stop by the house of her family to pay his respects. Over time, he comes to know her first cousin, Carlos Argentino Daneri, a mediocre poet with a vastly exaggerated view of his own talent who has made it his lifelong quest to write an epic poem that describes every single location on the planet in excruciatingly fine detail.

Later in the story, a business on the same street attempts to tear down Daneri's house in the course of its expansion. Daneri becomes enraged, explaining to the narrator that he must keep the house in order to finish his poem, because the cellar contains an Aleph which he is using to write it. Though by now he believes Daneri to be quite insane, the narrator proposes without waiting for an answer to come to the house and see the Aleph for himself.

Left alone in the darkness of the cellar, the narrator begins to fear that Daneri is conspiring to kill him, and then he sees the Aleph for himself.

Though staggered by the experience of seeing the Aleph, the narrator pretends to have seen nothing in order to get revenge on Daneri, whom he hates, by giving him reason to doubt his own sanity.

In a postscript to the story, Borges explains that Daneri's house was ultimately demolished, but that Daneri himself won second place in the Argentine National Prize for Literature. He also states his belief that the Aleph in Daneri's house was not the only one that exists, based on a report he has discovered, written by Captain Burton when he was British consul in Brazil, describing the Amr mosque in Cairo, within which there is said to be a stone pillar that contains the entire universe; although this Aleph cannot be seen, it is said that those who put their ear to the pillar can hear it.

Background[edit]

Aleph or Alef, א, is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet and the number 1 in Hebrew. Its esoteric meaning in Judaic Kabbalah, as denoted in the theological treatise Sefer-ha-Bahir, relates to the origin of the universe, the "primordial one that contains all numbers". The aleph (ﺍ, or ʼalif) is also the first letter of the Arabic alphabet, as well as the Phoenician, Aramaic and Syriac alphabets. Aleph is also the first letter of the Persian alphabet.

This story is one of several which display Borges's fascination with Judaism. Other such stories include "Death and the Compass", "The Secret Miracle", and his poem "El Golem". In one version of the story of the Golem, from Jewish mythology, writing the letter aleph on the Golem's forehead is what brings it to life. Borges writes in the collection's afterword that the story owes something to H. G. Wells' The Crystal Egg.

In mathematics, aleph numbers denote the cardinality (or size) of infinite sets. This relates to the theme of infinity present in Borges's story.

There are also references to Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy, including the poet Daneri's name ("Dan" from Dante and "eri from Alighieri, "Daneri") and in Beatriz' name.

The aleph also recalls the monad as conceptualized by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, the 17th-century philosopher and mathematician. Just as Borges's aleph registers the traces of everything else in the universe, so Leibniz's monad is a mirror onto every other object of the world.

External links[edit]