Borges: Influence and References


Gabriel Gárcia Márquez

The 1982 Nobel laureate for literature, Gabriel García Márquez was born in Colombia and now lives in Mexico City. The author of the masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude, García Márquez is often cited as being a pioneer of "magical realism," a term which he disdains, and has been called by more than a few the inheritor of Borges's legacy. Although there may be some truth to this, I believe that though they share some things in common, their differences are much greater than their similarities. Still, it is impossible to deny the influence of Borges in García Márquez's work, where the fantastic mingles with the mundane in a very beautiful -- but matter-of-fact -- fashion. Both writers create characters soaked in the mysterious, characters whom often attempt to explore the infinite and the eternal from the labyrinths of their own solitude. Both also tend to include themselves in their works of fiction, translating their own identity into their narrative through the alchemy of their prose. Interestingly, the book that García Márquez credits as being his main literary inspiration is Kafka's Metamorphosis, which he read as a student -- in the Spanish translation by Borges.
Perhaps the main Borgesian "reference" or "influence" in García Márquez's prose occurs in the inclusion of a rather interesting character in the novel One Hundred Years of Solitude. This character, Melquíades, is a gypsy who visits the town of Macondo early on in the novel, bringing magic, wonders, and books. It is also Melquíades who chronicles the history -- and the future -- of Macondo, meticulously penning the secrets of its cyclical nature in a cryptic code. Although García Márquez has never made this explicit, it is the belief of many that Melquíades represents Borges. Roberto Gonzáles Echevarría puts it well in his essay, "Cien años de soledad: The Novel as Myth and Archive." Here is an excerpt from that essay:

In Macondo's Archive, there are in addition two key works: the so-called English Encyclopedia and The Thousand and One Nights. These two books play an important role in Melquíades writing, and the Encyclopedia is instrumental in the decoding of his manuscripts. The existence in Melquíades's fiction of precisely these two books adds a peculiar twist to the Archive, one that points to its own literary filiation.

I do not think that it would be too farfetched to say that The Thousand and One Nights and the so-called English Encyclopedia together are illusions to that master of fictions called Borges. In fact, Melquíades is a figure of the Argentine writer. Old beyond age, enigmatic, blind, entirely devoted to fiction, Melquíades stands for Borges, the librarian and keeper of the Archive. There is something whimsical in García Márquez's inclusion of such a figure in the novel, but there is a good deal more. It is not too difficult to fathom what this Borgesian figure means. Planted in the middle of the special abode of books and manuscripts, a reader of one of the oldest and most influential collections of stories in the history of literature, Melquíades and his Archive stand for literature; more specifically, for Borges's kind of literature: ironic, critical, a demolisher of all delusions, the sort of thing we encounter at the end of the novel, when Aureliano finishes translating Melquíades's manuscript. There are in that ending further allusions to several stories by Borges: to "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius," in that Macondo is a verbal construct, to "The Secret Miracle," in that Aureliano, like the condemned poet, perishes in the moment he finishes his work; to "The Aleph," in that Aureliano Babilonia's glimpse of the history of Macondo is instantaneous and all-encompassing; and particularly to "Death and the Compass," for the moment of anagnorisis is linked to death. Like Lönnrot, Aureliano only understands the workings of his fate at the moment of death.

This excellent essay originally appeared in MLN 99, no. 2, March 1984. It has been reprinted in the book Gabriel García Márquez, which is a volume of Harold Bloom's "Modern Critical Views" series.
Another item of interest is one of García Márquez's comments upon winning the Nobel Prize in 1982, in reference to Borges: "I hope he receives it . . . And I still don't understand why they haven't given it to him."

Additional Information

Macondo -- The Libyrinth runs the Web's most comprehensive site on Gabriel García Márquez.

Macondo Bookstore -- Here you may order books by and about García Márquez from Amazon.com.


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