Borges & Books: Expanding upon “On the Cult of Books”

While reading “On the Cult of Books” by Jorge Luis Borges, I very quickly noticed a more modern-day example to the first two examples Borges gives in the first couple paragraphs in his piece. The one example comes from Mallarmé, who says that “’the world exists to end up in a book’” no matter how good or bad the event was (Borges, 568). The other, from Book VIII of the Odyssey, states that the world has evil and disasters because a story needs conflict to continue to be told generation after generation (Borges, 358). Borges discusses how these two ideas are contrasted because one originally was created to be read out loud while the other was written to be read in a book. 

On the other hand, I was reminded of the storytelling game of Dungeons and Dragons, and specifically within it, my own character Calypso Mistgrove. Already, Dungeons and Dragons is known both to have written modules to help lead a story and created together by groups of friends telling stories. This helps it be an example both to Borges written and spoken examples. The one that stuck strongest with me though was a connection of these friends to “gods” of The Odyssey. Though I will also mention how it feels like an exaggeration to compare to such a high title as gods, even if technically correct, as this group adds and defeats different conflicts to the story in order to obtain different characters’ goals.  

My own character, Calypso, who I will not go into much detail here, started his adventure with a goal to become part of a heroic tale. In time, he would find out that adventuring is a lot more dangerous than he had imagined, especially after becoming cursed by a Corruption from a sealed off other world. He had gained new worries that maybe his own story would not be so heroic. Instead, maybe his story would end up as one of a villain’s, a destroyer of worlds. Both the heroic and evil stories easily reminded me of how both great and horrible events have used Mallarmé’s beliefs in why events happen. That they happen to then be written down into the books of all history that has ever occurred. 

[Image Description: This is a sketch of Calypso Mistgrove drawn in a red Colorase pencil. This sketch was drawn by Matis Stephens in 2021.]

While perhaps not a perfect representation of these ideas, it was interesting to see how a common game and even my own characters connected with Borges’s examples of books and the spoken word. 

Works Cited 

Borges, Jorge Luis. “On the Cult of Books.” Selected Non-Fictions. Translated by Eliot Weinberger, Penguin, 2000, 358. 

4 thoughts on “Borges & Books: Expanding upon “On the Cult of Books””

  1. I really enjoy how you connect both heroic adventures and more everyday life (such as video games) together in addressing Mallarme’s ideas! This connection seems to only reinforce his idea that it is ALL of life that is destined to end up in a book, not just those parts of it which we deem exciting or unique. It is quite odd to consider that the entirety of life – every life – exists simply to be crafted into a book, but you do a good job linking together aspects that may otherwise seem completely disconnected from each other.

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  2. When you used the example from Mallarmé, who says that “the world exists to end up in a book no matter how good or bad the event was,” that idea really stuck with me throughout the rest of your response as I felt myself being pulled back into that theme. I think this statement poses such a strong notion that centers around the realm of writing and its historical impact. In addition, I like how you incorporated the idea of heroic versus evil in their very different accounts of how they are inscribed in books and subsequently recorded in history.

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  3. When you talk about Mallarme’s idea of everything happening to end up in a book, you mostly spoke of significantly good or significantly evil events. Maybe the world does need conflict between good and evil to be remembered, but I cannot help but wonder about the mediocre ‘details’ that get lost in the shuffle. The good and the evil seem to have stronger links to cultural memory than the ‘ordinary’. Maybe that’s why the Ancient Greeks in literature were so concerned about presentations of conflict: for them, being remembered, even not as heroes or good people, was better than the alternative of being forgotten. How does the book stave off the fear of being forgotten?

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  4. I think that world-building in books, and living in book-worlds through role-playing games, are perfectly up Borges’s alley. Surprising connection here–it would be fun to hear you speculate about it more.


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