The Borges Enigma

Torque, Or the Kingdom of Luceria and the Search for the Absolute Center, does not exist. Purported to be a lost work of the Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges, it is not cited in any catalogue and has never been beheld firsthand by any living source. The sole reference to this work comes from a review by one Chandler Robert Means, who left the typed review on his desk and then promptly disappeared. Means was the book reviewer for Damned Yankee, a now-defunct New York publication. The review spans over two thousand words, nearly four times the allotted wordspace for Means’ column. Why he chose to review the book so expansively, and the nature behind the review’s subject, are lost to time. His coworkers did not observe Means entering or exiting the building, and took the overlong review of a fictitious book as a creative resignation letter.

The contents of the review are thus: Means summarizes the career of Borges, noting a fondness of his earlier works but chastising the wordiness of this book. Torque is written as being nearly 2500 pages. Borges, it should be noted, was primarily a writer of short fiction. Means spares a few words for the cover design, chiding the “low-rent Aubrey Beardsley” that covered the book with an irritating floral scroll.

The summary of the book runs thusly:

Torque, or the main narrative of the book, follows Sigmund Frey on a voyage aboard the fastest known ship in the universe. He is undertaking a journey to Torque, a planet supposedly in the exact center of the universe. Sigmund takes time out to muse on the meaning and origin of his own name in Nordic myth as well as the concept of the hero’s journey, both recurring subjects of Borges. After an altercation with a meteor that appears to bear the face of an old man, Sigmund takes up a novel he found on the ship. Thus begins the second plot of the novel:

The book Sigmund reads concerns the kingdom of Luceria, and the exploits of a knight also named Sigmund. The kingdom has entered into an era of unprecedented peace, and so there has been little room for spiritual growth. The minstrels of the court run dry of material. Historians are reduced to re-recording accounts that have already been committed to print. The king of Luceria charges Sigmund with finding the exact center of the kingdom, alleging that this will bring the glory so lacking in his reign. Sigmund is ambivalent, but relents after he meets with the king’s daughter, a woman so beautiful she must remain veiled at all times. She promises Sigmund her hand if he completes the task, and so he agrees. The next day he rides along the beam of his compass, ignoring roads and thoroughfares to travel in a straight line. After changing horses twice, he reaches a crumbling ruin occupied by an old man. The old man claims the ruins were the first castle of Luceria, and he the first king of Luceria. The princess is not the king’s daughter, but the old man’s, stolen during his defeat. When Sigmund asks after the center of the kingdom, the old man leads him to an iron door which he unlocks with a key that is shaped like a sword.

Through the door he finds yet another country, this one shining brighter than Luceria. Sigmund examines the portal and finds that things that should rightly exist on the other side of the door, such as the wall of the castle, do not. The old man tells him that the country is the “inner” Luceria, and that if he is to find the center, he must ride through. Seeing little other choice, Sigmund does. He follows his compass in a straight line until he comes to another door, which opens to reveal another impossible country. He does this innumerable times, and slowly comes to realize two things: that Luceria bears the same root as the name Lucifer, and that he is in fact in hell, dispatched by Satan in the guise of the king’s beautiful daughter.

Sigmund Frey reflects on the book’s parallel to his own situation, realizing that his own quest is likewise doomed to failure. For if the universe is truly infinite, consisting of an infinite number of circles, then every point is the center of the universe. He also muses on the possibility that the book was included as an act of sabotage, intended to demoralize him from his journey’s goal.

The nesting of narratives, the meta-narrative, and the geometry of infinity are all favorite subjects of Borges. But no record of the novel exists anywhere but in the review.

Means ends the unusually lengthy review with a complaint that the book ends abruptly, without so much as a philosophical conclusion, let alone a satisfying narrative climax.

The existence of the review as a fond tribute to the author is ponderable. Borges himself was known to review books that did not exist, and his use of the meta-narrative to show fiction’s effect on real life and vice-versa is well observed. The plot appears to borrow heavily from several of his more well-known short stories, the most glaring of which is The Library of Babylon and its description of infinity as a circle. But the question remains why Means would choose such a subject for his last review. What was his intent? Where did he go? And what was his ultimate fate?

Means was never seen again. The review currently rests in the collection of one Reginald Lucero, the former owner of the Damned Yankee. Never appearing in print, the review serves only as Means’ epitaph, one last enigma for an enigmatic man.

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