As someone who was moderately obsessed with Jorge Luis Borges as an undergraduate, I am inevitably going to make a bigger deal out of this than I should. Out of my admiration for the cleverness of the rest of the week’s Sterling selection, and for Sterling’s writing generally, I’ll resist the temptation to make a full post about it. But did anyone notice the subtle mistake in Shaping Things in which Sterling refers to the “prescient parable Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” when he clearly means the excessively famous, very short, and very hard-to-find story “On the Exactitude [or “On the Rigor”] of Science” made famous by Baudrillard and others? I suppose you could make the case that “Tlon,” with its fictional encyclopedias and secret societies devoted to imagining an alternate world complete with its own language and philosophy, is also a story about the relationship between “the map” and “the territory” (97). But it’s not really a parable, and I am certain Sterling means the other.
What I find interesting about the moment is the fact that it perfectly represents a point made by V.S. Naipaul about Borges in an essay on Argentina and its literary culture: “The Return of Eva Peron.” Naipaul explains that, in the context of his native literature, Borges is a highly ironic writer and an intellectual gamer, and not a prophet or a mystic. Borges’s American reputation as a literary seer (a la Blake, Yeats, etc.) is not just a misappropriation of his work, but, as Naipaul implies, the result of a Western desire to move too quickly through textual reality to theoretical abstraction, and a quasi-imperialist literary critical situation. Anyhow. I find it endlessly fascinating that one great, imaginative writer who is not a prophet (but can seem like one) would misquote another great, imaginative writer who is not a prophet (but can seem like one) in an essay that, well, attempts to predict the future. I believe there is some embedded point here that could be made about the status of close reading in media theory, and what happens to the literary imagination when it attempts to theorize technology and media. But, like I said, I feel it would be ungenerous to the Sterling reading to take that possible argument too seriously.
Then again, perhaps my reluctance embodies the problem itself.