Borges wants his reader to use imagination to participate in his fiction, to imagine the vision of the universe as an Aleph. The vision of the Aleph is paradoxical, impossible, inexpressible—a point in space, in the basement of a house in Buenos Aires, where all other points in the universe are simultaneously present. The reader sees the Aleph—or the illusion of the Aleph, watching it emerge as if through Borges’ own eyes, as an unrequited lover and frustrated poet gradually accommodating the infinite vision to the limitations of actual perception. The illusion of actual presence the reader evokes seems to include the reader as both a subject reading and an object in the vision. The reader mirrors himself in the enumeration as the reader imaginatively projects associations and expectations into the images in order to make sense of them. The reader tries to avoid involving himself in the vision, but the images the writer presents the reader with are ambiguous, schematic, demanding intervention to try to resolve apparently unresolved contradictions by trying out the different interpretations that may make sense of them. Over and over again in reading the enumeration the reader encounters images that allow him to convert sequence into simultaneity, part into whole. Other images suggest the presence of infinite, multiple, perspectives on each object converging in the Aleph and reveal insights into hidden designs and into secret interiors of structures. The vision the reader reads must seem to exceed the limits of language and perception. Opposed to images of disintegration and chaotic dispersal are microcosmic images that suggest a whole reflected or contained in its parts, worlds reflected within worlds by infinite regress. Infinite regress undermines the assumption of a subject and object dichotomy in the act of reading and enhances the illusion of participation in the vision. Infinite regress, image within image, world within world, is a symmetry that asserts itself against the illusion of the enumeration as apparently random and chaotic and reinforces the illusion of infinite convergence on one point in space. The success of this illusion depends partly on Borges’ success in finding a stylistic formula that encourages the reader to evoke a total, simultaneous vision from a partial, sequential listing of images. The I saw...I saw...I saw formula provides a minimal formal order for referring each separate image to the concept of a total vision without interfering with the illusion of actual participation by calling attention too much to the artifice that holds the vision together. Just as the separate images of the enumeration threaten to break loose from their minimal syntactical frame and assume autonomy of their own, so the enumeration itself seems to assume autonomy from its narrative context. Within the context of a story of failed mediation in which every attempt at communication is interrupted, aborted, or comically transformed into unanticipated consequences, the reader seems to have resolved the problem of poetics Borges the writer poses to him as a reader. The reader’s reading of Borges’ fiction is a kind of hypothesis the reader projects into his words in response to a problem of inexpressibility the writer poses for the reader just before he attempts to describe the Aleph. Similarly this fiction requires a certain kind of reader and reading—a reader who intervenes in the fiction to complete with our imagination what the writer only hints at or denies, and a reader who seeks out those contradictions or refutations in our interpretation that indicates our reading is only partial and falsifying, a hypothesis we propose in response to a problem of inexpressibility the writer has posed.
McAllister, R. (2017). Infinite regress and the illusion of actuality and participation in Borges's The Aleph. Journal of Literature and Art Studies, 7(6), 656-662. doi:10.17265/2159-5836/2017.06.003