As for many, my first encounter with Borges – in my case with the incredible collection Labyrinths – changed everything. He cracks open the very idea of what a story might be and reading for him for the first time is a dizzying experience of extraordinary possibility. But the truth is that some of Borges’s best stories are not really ‘stories’ as such. There is little narrative; they are instead philosophical exercises, paradoxical vignettes, speculations, puzzles, prose poems. But of course, all those things are ‘stories’ too, or at least they are now that Borges has shown us so.
‘The Aleph’ contains one of Borges’s most dazzling metaphysical inventions. It is a curious tale of lost love and the narrator’s (Borges, himself) uneasy relationship with the poet Carlos Argentino. It is not until the story is almost done that we have the first mention of the Aleph itself; which Borges calls “the ineffable center of my tale.” The passage in which he finally gazes upon it, “a small iridescent sphere of almost unbearable brightness”, and sees everything that has passed, everywhere and in all times, is justly renowned, and is not unlike the experience of encountering Borges’s work for the first time; after, nothing can be the same again.
First published in the Argentine journal Sur in 1945. First published in English in The Aleph and Other Stories, Jonathan Cape, 1971. Currently available in The Aleph, Penguin Modern Classics, 2000 and Collected Fictions, Viking, 1998