Unthinking Thinking: Jorge Luis Borges, Mathematics and the New Physics

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Purdue University Press
Professional & Scholarly


This authoritative study explores the scientific and mathematical cultural milieu that patterns much of the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges's narrative design.  Although criticism of Borges's fiction and essays has long emphasized philosophical traditions, Merrell expands the context of this interrogation of traditions by revealing how early twentieth-century and contemporary mathematics and physics also participated in a similar exploration.  In this light, Merrell's study provides materials that greatly contribute to a reevaluation of Borges's writings as more than parodies, satires, or metaphysical jokes.

Topics treated include the semiotic flows of paradox and contradiction, the patterns of of infinities, the limits of natural and mathematical languages, and the narrative fiction in scientific theory.  Against this background, Merrell provides incisive readings of Borges's complex fiction and essays.

Merrell establishes a series of parallels among Borges, mathematics and physics that suggests a large cultural project in the "thinking" of the first half of the twentieth century to "unthink" the closure of traditional models of reality and to press the limits of how the "real" can be described, modeled, and defined.  The result is an integrative study of the relationship between aesthetic and scientific narratives.