Uqbar

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Uqbar is a fictional place in Jorge Luis Borges's 1940 short story "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius". Uqbar in the story is doubly fictional: even within the world of the story it turns out to be a fictional place. The story turns on the narrator's discovery of a fictitious entry about Uqbar: that is, a false article in an otherwise legitimate reference work. Also, despite its overall fictional nature, "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" is loaded with references to real people and places and it playfully combines reality and fiction.

Consequently, on the one hand hoaxes about Uqbar abound, and on the other, many writers have claimed that Borges's Uqbar is entirely fictional. Nonetheless, there is at least one real place with the name Uqbar, in Algeria, as well as a town called Ukbara in Iraq, each of which seems to have at least some aspects in common with Borges's fictional Uqbar. These places may plausibly have inspired the name and some other aspects of the Borges's Uqbar, although Borges's description of its culture is fictional.

Borges's fictional Uqbar[edit]

Location of Uqbar

The fictitious entry described in the story furnishes deliberately meager indications of Uqbar's location: "Of the fourteen names which figured in the geographical part, we only recognized three – Khorasan, Armenia, Erzerum – interpolated in the text in an ambiguous way." Armenia and Erzerum lie in the eastern highlands of Asia Minor (in and near modern Turkey), while Khorasan is in northeastern Iran. However, it was said to have cited an equally nonexistent book – Lesbare und lesenswerthe Bemerkungen über das Land Ukkbar in Klein-Asien – whose title claims unambiguously that Uqbar was in Asia Minor.

The boundaries of Uqbar were described using equally nonexistent reference points; for instance, "the lowlands of Tsai Khaldun and the Axa Delta marked the southern frontier" (see Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius). This would suggest that the rivers of Borges' Uqbar should rise in highlands to the north; in fact, the mountainous highlands of eastern Turkey are where not one but two Zab Rivers rise, the Great Zab and the Lesser Zab. They run a couple of hundred miles south into the Tigris.

The only points of Uqbar's history mentioned relate to religion, literature, and craft. It was described as the home of a noted heresiarch, and the scene of religious persecutions directed against the orthodox in the thirteenth century; fleeing the latter, its orthodox believers built obelisks in their southerly place of exile, and made mirrors – seen by the heresiarch as abominable – of stone. Crucially for the story, Uqbar's "epics and legends never referred to reality, but to the two imaginary regions of Mlejnas and Tlön."

References[edit]

Notes
Bibliography
  • The Encyclopaedia of Islam, New Edition, Vol. VI "Mahk-Mid" (Leiden, E.J. Brill, 1991), pp. 790b-791a on Al-‘Ukbarî; Vol. X "T-U", page 435a for ‘Uqbâr in the Atlas Mountains of Algeria.
  • Ibn Khordâdhbeh, edited and translated into French by M. J. de Goeje (Leiden, E.J. Brill, 1889, in their series Bibliotheca Geographorum Arabicorum) on the place ‘Ukbarâ.
  • The Jewish Encyclopedia article "Okbara and Okbarites" is simply a cross reference to their article "Meshwi al-‘Ukbari".
  • Isidore Singer and Isaac Broydé, Jewish Encyclopedia article on "Meshwi al-‘Ukbari"