In his short story “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote,” Jorge Luis Borges—that miraculous, mind-fucking Argentinian—proposes an unusual premise. The titular Menard is shown to be obsessed with unusual literary feats and, as such, he decides to take it upon himself to rewrite Cervantes’ classic, Don Quixote. He’s not planning to translate the book or simply copy it. He’s not planning to write a new, modern version of it. No. He’s planning to write it. As in, create circumstances in his life that drive him to write a new book. And that new book is exactly, word for word, Don Quixote. I’ll let the story’s narrator explain:
“Those who have insinuated that Menard devoted his life to writing a contemporary Quixote besmirch his illustrious memory. Pierre Menard did not want to compose another Quixote, which surely is easy enough—he wanted to compose the Quixote. Nor, surely, need one be obliged to note that his goal was never a mechanical transcription of the original; he had no intention of copying it. His admirable ambition was to produce a number of pages which coincided—word for word and line for line—with those of Miguel de Cervantes.”
That is an insane plan. Obviously. Writing a book that already exists, let alone one that was written hundreds of years prior in a completely different world and culture is, as plans go, not only ludicrous but also seemingly impossible. At the risk of spoiling an 80-year old story that you’re probably not going to read anyway: Menard doesn’t fully succeed. But, incredibly, he does partially succeed. Through his labors, he generates a few chapters that happen to be identical matches to those of Cervantes. That seems impossible and it probably is but—as with most of Borges’ work—the possible here isn’t meant to reflect the tangible world at hand but rather the intangible world of our minds, the world of imagination.
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