Stanislaw Lem on Borges & genre

To what genre should Borges’ “Tres versiones de Judas” be assigned? In this work Borges invented the fictional heresy of a Scandinavian theologian, according to which Judas, not Jesus, was the true Redeemer. This is not a “marvelous” tale—no more than any genuine heresy such as the Manichean or the Pelagian. It is not an apocryphon, for an apocryphon pretends to be an authentic original, while Borges’ text does not try to conceal its literary nature. It is not an allegory, nor is it poetry, but, since nobody ever proclaimed such an apostasy, the matter cannot be placed in the order of real events. Quite obviously we have to do here with an imaginary heresy, that is with fantastic theology.

Let us generalize this interesting case. Let us recognize unprovable propositions, such as metaphysical, religious or ontological assertions, as forming an “actual religious credo,” a confession of faith, the affirmation of a world view, if they have entered in just this guise into the repository of the historic civilizations. From an immanent standpoint it cannot be discerned from any such proposition whether it was uttered with the conviction that things are really as it claims, or whether it was enunciated non-seriously (in “ludic” fashion, thus non-assertively). If no philosopher named Arthur Schopenhauer had ever existed and if Borges had invented in a story a doctrine called “Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung,” we would, accept this as a bit of fiction, not of the history of philosophy. But of what kind of fiction, indeed? Of fantastic philosophy, because it was published non-assertively. Here is a literature of imaginary ideas, of fictional basic values, of other civilizations—in a word, the fantasy of the “abstract.”

SOURCE: Lem, Stanislaw. “Todorov’s Fantastic Theory of Literature” (Polish 1973, English 1974), Science Fiction Studies, #4 (Volume 1, No. 4), Fall 1974. Reprinted in Microworlds: Writings on Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by Franz Rottensteiner (New York: Harvest / HBJ, 1986), pp. 219-220.

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