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The Secret Miracle

The Secret Miracle

by Jorge Luis Borges

Analysis: Writing Style

Chock Full o' Information; Visual; Referential

NB: Before we begin, let's not forget that "The Secret Miracle" was originally written in Spanish. But we think our translator did a pretty good job, so we'll take a stab at the style anyway.

We can tell right off the bat that Borges ain't joking around with his sentences. The very first sentence of the story is crazy long and contains a ton of information (literally, it might weigh a ton if you put it on a scale):

On the night of March 14, 1939, in an apartment on Prague's Zeltnergasse, Jaromir Hladik, author of the unfinished tragedy The Enemies, a book titled A Vindication of Eternity, and a study of Jakob Boehme's indirect Jewish sources, dreamed of a long game of chess. The game was played not by two individuals, but by two illustrious families; it had been started many centuries in the past. No one could say what the forgotten prize was to be, but it was rumored to be vast, perhaps even infinite. The chess pieces and the chessboard themselves were in a secret tower. Jaromir (in the dream) was the firstborn son of one of the contending families; the clocks chimed the hour of the inescapable game; the dreamer was running across the sand of a desert in the rain, but he could recall neither the figures nor the rules of chess. (1)

Just in that one sentence, we learn about the protagonist's intellectual career, the setting in both time and place, and Jaromir's dream. Whew.

To make matters even more complicated, Borges is constantly hammering us with references to other works of literature – both real and imaginary – along with historical figures and foreign languages.

The first volume documents the diverse eternities that mankind has invented, from Parmenides' static Being to Hinton's modifiable past; the second denies (with Francis Bradley) that all the events of the universe constitute a temporal series. (4)

Um, Parmenides' static being? Hinton's modifiable past? Francis Bradley? Who and what the stink are these things? It's clear that Borges is an extremely educated author, and we need to make good use of Google just to keep up with him.

But we're willing to put up with Borges' complex turns of phrase and esoteric references because he fills his paragraphs with so much beautiful imagery:

A rhythmic and unanimous sound, punctuated by the barking of orders, rose from the Zeltnergasse. It was sunrise, and the armored vanguard of the Third Reich was rolling into Prague. (1)

This multisensory imagery is flat-out awesome. We can just picture Jaromir's human chess game, his white, aseptic prison, and his search for God in the map of India. What other images popped out to you?

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