Jorge Luis Borges en la Biblioteca Nacional (1940, E. Comesaña)
Jorge Luis Borges en la Biblioteca Nacional (1940, E. Comesaña)

Argentine writer, Jorge Luis Borges, blind at the end of his days, had a vision of a fictitious planet, Orbis Tertius–a Third World.

It is conjectured that this brave new world is the work of a secret society of astronomers, biologists, engineers, metaphysicians, poets, chemists, algebraists, moralists, painters, geometers… directed by an obscure man of genius… This plan is so vast that each writer’s contribution is infinitesimal… [It] is surely a labyrinth, but it is a labyrinth devised by men, a labyrinth destined to be deciphered by men.

It is an endless labyrinth built in secret by anonymous busy bodies, the self-similar hallways of the Library of Babel, the recursive spirals of Circular Ruins, the bifurcations of the Garden of Forking Paths.

The orb (globe) is the metaphorical sphere in Universal History: it is Xenophanes’ one god, Plato’s geometric perfection, Aristotle’s unmoved mover, Ptolemy’s concentric orbits, Dante’s divine cosmology, Pascal’s infinite sphere, Blake’s fearful symmetry, (and yes, Einstein’s space-time manifold).

It is the Aleph, the iridescent all-seeing eye–a device from which to peer at the world in all its multifarious details, all at once, entire.

I saw the Aleph from every point and angle, and in the Aleph I saw the earth and in the earth the Aleph and in the Aleph the earth…

The metaphor thus circumscribes both the One and the Many.

Orbis Tertius resembles, not so much a physical planet, but a self-consistent body of knowledge that constitutes a fictive world. It resembles, in fact, our cyberspace, a labyrinthine world interconnected by hyperlinks, where nothing is discarded and everything considered–from the sublime to the mundane.

The One turning into Many.

We saunter leisurely in this brave new world, like flâneurs in an arcade of the mind, with no purpose but pleasure. Borges, the obscure man of genius himself, once said: “there is no intellectual exercise which is not ultimately useless.”

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