July 19, 2002

Jorge Luis Borges, "Death and the Compass"

My college roommate Robert Waldmann reminds me that my life is poorer because I have not read anything by Jorge Luis Borges in the past five years:

robert's random thoughts

...One joke in the book caught my attention. A police investigator jokes that Hurcule Poirot is so smart that "I wouldn't be surprised if, one day, you solved the mystery of your own death.... A nice idea no ? One could write a wonderful book about it". Hmmm now that is a challenge. With my limited imagination I tried to think of the brilliant detective who knows he is going to be killed (but as usual can't convince the police) knows that the killer will be one of, say, three enemies, and writes a simple procedure for deciding which of the three depending on how he is killed. That would almost do. Then I realised that someone with an unlimited imagination had already solved the problem.

Warning: Those who have not read "Death and the Compass" by Jorge Luis Borges should read it before reading on. Those who have should re-read it and not waste time on the web.

In this story, Borges writes of a brilliant detective, "It is true that Erik Lonnrot failed to prevent the last murder, but that he foresaw it is indisputable." Lonnrot is the victim of this murder, indeed the whole series of murders in the story was designed to lure him to the scene. He knows this but is so fascinated by the pattern that he goes anyway, thus solving the mystery of his own murder. Could it possibly be that Borges wrote this beautiful story to respond to a challenge in a novel by Agatha Christie ? I should note that he submitted it for possible publication in Ellery Queen's mystery magazine (it was summarily rejected).

Posted by DeLong at July 19, 2002 11:00 AM | TrackBack


note aug 31, 1997 fine ny times review of a biography on borges - titled "man without a life"


Posted by: randall on July 19, 2002 12:07 PM
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