Discussion Notes: The Circular Ruins

Next week’s story is Eminence by Caroline Casper

This podcast is available on iTunes, Stitcher and podcatchers. If you can take a few moments to leave an iTunes and/or Stitcher review, it would help us immensely.

On today’s episode, we had a great discussion of The Circular Ruins by Jorge Luís Borges. This story proved divisive, in many ways highlighting how each of us views reality though our personal experiences and beliefs. It was also our first translated story. Make sure you listen to this episode if you haven’t already. The crazy messy version is on the Youtube page, and the glistening audio version will be available by morning.

We do have a rating scale. For the history of this goofy system, see Anais’s post “Read Short Stories or Ray Bradbury Cries.” For last week’s story, you gave “The Cheater’s Guide to Love” by Junot Diaz 3.6 Bradberries.

On a scale of 1-6 Bradberries, how do you rate “The Circular Ruins”? Tell us in the comments and we will give you the final tally on the next episode.

Next week’s story is Eminence by Caroline Casper.  This is our first Pushcart Prize nominee! The Pushcart Prize is an American literary award by Pushcart Press that honors the best “poetry, short fiction, essays or literary whatnot” published in the small presses over the previous year.

We hope you’ll enjoy the read and join us next Tuesday for the live discussion. The podcast will be available on iTunes and other podcatchers by Wednesday morning.

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24 comments on The Circular Ruins – Jorge Luis Borges – Literary Roadhouse Ep: 3

  1. EmergingWriter says:

    Another fabulous discussion. Personally, as I read this one, I had the nagging feeling that something was being quite literally “lost in translation.” Interesting to have that confirmed by a native speaker.

    Anais, where can I read your fiction? I went to http://www.anaisconcepcion.com, but couldn’t find anything there. Cue frowny face emoticon.

    1. Hey! Yea, I need to start publishing some work and take it out of private writing circles. Please hold me too it, and welcome to the Literary Roadhouse community! I’m skimming your comments and loving them.

      1. EmergingWriter says:

        Thanks, Anais! I very much look forward to reading your work at some point.

        I’ve been enjoying this podcast and also The Bradbury Challenge very much. Just need more hours in the day to read and listen! A good problem to have… 🙂

        1. I am really glad you like it! I’m getting a kick out of reading your comments.

          And I know what you mean about limited time to listen to podcasts. I am a heavy podcast listener too and cannot keep up with my subscriptions feed.

  2. Cathy Pelham says:

    Just catching up, now that I have unlimited data back. This was a challenging discussion. Outside of the story itself and the points about reality, the idea of the impact of translation is one that I find intriguing. One of my favorite authors acknowledges his Engish translator in every book and comments on how difficult that process can be.

    Off to binge listening and reading.

      1. Studyfrnd says:

        You did a amazing review about episode 3. Thanks

  3. Maria Concepcion says:

    Forgot to give it a rating… 5 bradberries from me!

  4. Maria Concepcion says:

    I focused on two themes, the writer as the creator, and the religious undertones, and religious symbolisms.

    The writer is the magus, the dreamer, the Creator giving life to characters. "The purpose which guided him was not impossible, though supernatural. He wanted to dream a man; he wanted to dream him in minute entirety and impose him on reality. This magic project had exhausted the entire expanse of his mind." Magic project, supernatural. He wanted to create him in "minute entirety". The writer gives characters their quality, they exist exactly as the writer has imagined it, dreamed it, conceived it. To dream a man, to create from an idea, perhaps from your subconscious, but are we not part of the creation?

    Here are some of the religious overtones as I see them, given my Christian beliefs "Unanimous night" – from the book of genesis – in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep….and God said let there be light, and he separated the light from the darkness, and the light became day, and the darkness became night." "Unanimous night", the night agreed upon by everyone. "Sacred mud" also an element in the bible, from dust, to dust. "Zend language", this makes reference to the Persian religion, Zoroastrianism, older than Judaism and Christianity, scriptures of this religion are the Zend-Avesta (the language survives in isolated parts of Iran and India) " where the Zend language has not been contaminated by Greek, and where leprosy is infrequent." This ancient religion influenced other monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The dreamer, the creator is someone else’s creation.

    There is the circle, represented by the circular temple.

    1. Yea, we didn’t have time to get into the Creationism aspect too much on the podcast, which is a shame cause I had a lot of notes. Just goes to show how much can be derived from one short story!

      I agree with your comment, and would add that the dreamer couldn’t breathe life into his son without the help of the multiple god named Fire. The gift of life was still divine, outside the grasp of the dreamer. He needed a god to do it, which is a significant point. Also, the god is named Fire, from which so much is forged. Fire often symbolizes the duality of creation and destruction, and that’s certainly present in this story. Fire gives like to the son, and fire destroys the temple.

      A second point I didn’t have a chance to get into in the podcast is the circular ruins don’t only describe the ruined temple within which the dreamer dreams. The circular ruin also refers to the cycle of temples and dreamers. The dreamer sends his son downstream to the next temple to dream the next son. When he does this, he destroys his son’s memory of how he was created – he ruins it.

      The dreamer himself came from a temple upstream. He just didn’t remember this because his own creator ruined his memory of that. That process of creation and ruin is also cyclical, circular.

      And my final note, just to dump it all here, is that the mention of Gnosticism was purposeful. I don’t think Borges is championing one religion. It has the Judeo-Christian elements (reference to Adam), but also the cyclical Buddhist elements, as well as pagan elements (with the multiple god who looks like a bastardization of horse and tiger and is named Fire). He doesn’t pick one, then appeals to Gnosticism, basically saying that whatever your religion, it has some divine element in its creation tale, whatever that may be, and that spiritual element is being extracted and reduced here.

      1. Maria Concepcion says:

        Very good points! What you said about the circle of dreamer and the dreamed one is true, and these are clues to the end. I also agree Borges is letting you apply whatever idea, or belief you have about God and Creation, by not favoring any one religion. This is why Maya can related it to Buddhism, and I can relate it to you Christianity, and someone that rejects the whole idea of Creationism may not quite get it.

  5. Maria Concepcion says:

    I really enjoyed the podcast, wether you like the story or not, I’m glad the story started a deeper kind of conversation. This is why I love the story because there are many universal themes, and depending on one’s own beliefs and philosophical views, everyone can contribute something different to the conversation, and also take away from it in very different ways.

  6. Douglas Concepcion says:

    I originally read the story in English using the link provided, and after the podcast I went back and read it in Spanish. I Agree with Anais that the translation was too literal, and takes away from the flow of the language. In Spanish there is a constant rhythm to the story, almost like an underlying heartbeat.

    I was surprised how the likes and dislikes broke down via gender. That was a little surprising to me, considering the subject matter. I would expect this more in regard to Science Fiction and Fantasy a like for men, and Danielle Steel a like for women.

    I really enjoyed the philosophical discussion, specially when the question was placed on what is reality… a very simple question, that most have never even considered, but almost impossible to explain. In Quantum Mechanics the famous "Double Split" experiment throws this question for a loop. Basically when photons are shot through two slits simultaneously and are observed they create a pattern, if they are not observed but only measured the pattern is random, also know as the "Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle". This would indicate that our interaction with the particles changes their behavior. Another way to interpret this is that we shape our reality as we interact with it.

    In regard to the story, I’m with the guys I couldn’t really get into it… blame it on the genes.

    I give it a three.

    1. I think you’d like this article exploring the theory that our universe may be a virtual reality: http://gizmodo.com/5-reasons-our-universe-might-actually-be-a-virtual-real-1665353513

      They talk about quantum entanglement in that article too, which touches upon what you’re talking about (that a particle behaves differently when it is observed as opposed to when it isn’t observed).

      I didn’t answer on the podcast what I think reality is, but to me, if you observe it, it exists. This idea that things we conjure in our mind aren’t real (that dreams aren’t real, for example, or opinions) never resonated with me. Dreams exist in the universe – as do our individual perspectives.

      1. Douglas Concepcion says:

        I had read that article, and how I see it is that we tend to put reality into our present state. In this case, the proliferation of computers in our modern day lives lead to seeing our reality from that point of view. This is one of the points of the story, that even in the most basic of beliefs, in this case based on the four elements with fire being one, shape their reality.

        I don’t fully agree that just because you observe it, it makes it real. An example of this is that we see the world as flat, and except for save the last 500 years it was so… but it’s not. This is indicative of the limitations we have, just like in the story each creation destroyed knowledge of the last one.

  7. Maya Goode says:

    I’m having a horrific picture in my head of a bradberry pie with hundreds of bradberry faces staring it me! shivers

  8. Maya Goode says:

    Honestly, I loved your review. It was honest, humorous and I am sure it was shared by many. It wasn’t an easy read and yours was an important voice that needed heard for this podcast. Besides, you are so jolly when you’re grumpy lol

  9. Jeremy Polo says:

    after this conversation I’m wondering if the bradberries taste like bradberries. good show

    1. Maya Goode says:

      I’m having a horrific picture in my head of a bradberry pie with hundreds of bradberry faces staring it me! shivers

    2. How many bradberries would you eat for this story? Out of 6.

  10. Gerald Hornsby says:

    Sorry for my grumpy review of this one. I really find it hard to connect to things which are this … indistinct.

    1. I like’d your review. I think quite a few readers/listeners may feel the same way as you do.

    2. Maya Goode says:

      Honestly, I loved your review. It was honest, humorous and I am sure it was shared by many. It wasn’t an easy read and yours was an important voice that needed heard for this podcast. Besides, you are so jolly when you’re grumpy lol

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