‘‘The Aleph’’ begins in 1943 with Borges (the narrator) informing the reader of his love for Beatriz Viterbo, who (we are told) died in 1929. In an effort to devote himself ‘‘to her memory,’’ Borges began visiting Beatriz’s father and cousin, Carlos Argentino Daneri, every April thirtieth—Beatriz’s birthday. These visits occurred every year, and Borges gradually ingratiated himself with Beatriz’s father and cousin to the point where they began asking him to dinner.
At the conclusion of one such dinner (on Sunday, April 30, 1941), Daneri begins pontiﬁcating to Borges about subjects such as ‘‘the gloriﬁcation of modern man’’ and the idea that, at this date, ‘‘actual travel was superﬂuous,’’ since modern man enjoys a number of ways to experience the pleasures of the world without leaving his home. Thinking his host a fool but not wanting to insult him, Borges suggests to him that he record his observations for posterity; Daneri explains that he has already begun to do so and then shows Borges the poem upon which he has been working for years. Simply titled The Earth, Daneri’s poem is an attempt to encapsulate the entire planet into verse. He reads a passage to Borges and praises his own merits as a poet; Borges, however, ﬁnds the poem uninteresting and even thinks that Daneri’s reasons for why his poem should be admired are actually more clever and artistic than the poem itself.
Two Sundays later, Daneri telephones Borges and asks him to meet at Zunino and Zungri’s salon, located next to his house. After reading him some additional fragments of the poem and telling of his plan to publish some of its initial cantos, Daneri asks Borges a favor: will he use his inﬂuence as a writer to contact his fellow author Alvaro Melian Laﬁnur and ask him to pen an introduction? And will Borges himself offer to attach his name to a blurb (that Daneri himself had already composed) about the poem’s greatness? Borges agrees, but thinks, on his way home, that he will do nothing, partly because of his own laziness and partly because he has found Daneri a self-important fool.
Borges expects Daneri to telephone him again and rail against his ‘‘indolence’’ in not securing Laﬁnur’s preface, but Daneri never does. Months pass until one day in October Daneri telephones the narrator and complains that Zunino and Zungri are planning to expand their salon—and knock down his house in the process. This seems reason enough for concern, but Daneri further explains that the real reason he was so upset was that there was an Aleph in his basement. An Aleph, he explains, ‘‘is one of the points in space that contains all other points,’’ and he needs the Aleph to help him compose his poem. Because the Aleph is ‘‘the only place on earth where all places are—seen from every angle, each standing clear, without confusion or blending,’’ its loss will mean an end to Daneri’s poem. Borges tells Daneri that he will come to see it, convinced that Daneri is a madman but also ﬁlled with ‘‘spiteful elation,’’ since he and Daneri have, ‘‘deep down,’’ always ‘‘detested each other.’’
Once there, Borges speaks tenderly to a portrait of Beatriz until Daneri interrupts, offering Borges a glass of cognac and leading him to the cellar, giving him instructions to lay on the ﬂoor at the base of the stairs and look at the nineteenth step. Daneri leaves and shuts the door; Borges worries that Daneri has poisoned the cognac and then locked him in the cellar to die. These fears, however, are dispelled once Borges sees the Aleph, a point of space no larger than an inch but which contains the entire universe.
Borges then breaks the narrative by describing the ‘‘despair’’ he faces in using language to replicate the experience of seeing the Aleph. Because language is apprehended sequentially, a reader cannot fully grasp the nature of seeing the Aleph, where all images are seen simultaneously. Having no tools other than words, however, Borges proceeds and offers a selective list of some of the things he saw in the Aleph: the sea, London, bunches of grapes, a Scottish woman, horses’ manes, armies, tigers, Beatriz’s ‘‘obscene’’ letters to Daneri, and his own face.
Daneri returns and asks Borges if he saw everything, but to spite him, Borges evades the question and advises Daneri to let his house be demolished so that he can ‘‘get away from the pernicious metropolis’’ and live in the fresh air of the country. Once on the street, Borges fears that ‘‘not a single thing on earth’’ will ever again surprise him; after a few ‘‘sleepless nights,’’ however, he is ‘‘visited once more by oblivion.’’ The story then returns to the present (March 1, 1943), where Borges explains that Daneri’s house was pulled down and that his poem was published to great acclaim, wining the Second National Prize for Literature. After a discussion of the etymology of the word ‘‘aleph,’’ Borges states his belief that the Aleph he saw in Daneri’s basement was a ‘‘false Aleph.’’ Citing the author and traveler Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton, Borges tells of other ‘‘Alephs’’ throughout literature and concludes with the thought that ‘‘our minds are porous and forgetfulness seeps in.’’ Because he can no longer say for certain whether or not he did, indeed, see all things in Daneri’s cellar, he is doubtful of all human memory, including that of the face of his beloved Beatriz.
David Galens – Short Stories for Students_ Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories (Volume 17)-Gale (2003)