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In “Avatars of the Tortoise,” Jorge Luis Borges describes the world as a “fabrication of the will,” a highly convincing hallucination that nevertheless retains “crevices of unreason” that hint at its falseness. In this course, we’ll examine how Borges tests this claim with works that examine the tenuous distinction between the imaginative and real. There will be two or three short readings per week, including “The Library of Babel,” “The Book of Sand,” “Funes, the Memorious,” and others.
Week 1 – Choice and Chance
“Avatars of the Tortoise,” “The Garden of Forking Paths,” and “The Lottery in Babylon”
Week 2 – Bibliographic Labyrinths
“The Library of Babel” and “The Book of Sand”
Week 3 – Unlimited Sense and Memory
“The Aleph,” “Funes, the Memorious,” and “Shakespeare’s Memory”
Week 4 – False History and Biography
“Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” and “The Other Death”
Week 5 – Recursive Ruins
“The Circular Ruins” and “Ibn-Hakkan al-Bokhari, Dead in His Labyrinth”
Week 6 – Author Meets Writer
“Borges and Myself,” “The Other,” and “August 25, 1983”
Jeff Encke taught writing and criticism at Columbia University for several years, serving as writer-in-residence for the Program in Narrative Medicine while completing his PhD in English. His poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Barrow Street, Black Warrior Review, Boston Review, Colorado Review, Fence, Kenyon Review Online, and Salt Hill. In 2004, he published Most Wanted: A Gamble in Verse, a series of love poems addressed to Saddam Hussein and other Iraqi war criminals printed on a deck of playing cards.