Berlinski imagines Borges imagining literary “evolution”

Berlinski imagines Borges imagining literary “evolution” December 5, 2020


A square in the capital of Argentina
A view of modern Buenos Aires, the principal city in which the dialogue below, between David Berlinski and Jorge Luis Borges, never actually took place.  (Wikimedia Commons public domain image)


From the staff of Book of Mormon Central and the Interpreter Foundation’s Jeffrey Mark Bradshaw:


“Book of Moses Essays #32: Moses 1 in Its Ancient Context: The Two-Part Pattern of Heavenly and Ritual Ascent (Moses 1)”




I think that this allegorical spoof of orthodox Darwinian evolutionary doctrine, which can be found in David Berlinski, The Deniable Darwin and Other Essays, edited by David Klinghoffer (Seattle: Center for Science and Culture, Discovery Institute, 2009), 63-64, is absolutely hilarious.  As you read it, think of the idea that one kind of biological organism gives rise to another kind on the basis of random genetic mutations or copying errors, which are policed and constrained, of course, by the environmentally-imposed limitation of survival to the fittest and best adapted.  Berlinski’s allegory, of course, omits the principle of “survival of the fittest” and confines itself to random mutations.


I suspect that I may have particularly enjoyed the parable not only because I’m a fan of the great Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986)  but because, rather curiously and largely owing to sheer dumb luck, I was able to meet him briefly when he visited Brigham Young University shortly before my mission.  Dr. Berlinski has captured the peculiar style of Borges quite well, I think:


Imagine this story being told to me by Jorge Luis Borges one evening in a Buenos Aires café.

His voice dry and infinitely ironic, the aging, nearly blind literary master observes that “the Ulysses,” mistakenly attributed to the Irishman James Joyce, is in fact derived from “the Quixote.”

I raise my eyebrows.

Borges pauses to sip discreetly at the bitter coffee our waiter has placed in front of him, guiding his hands to the saucer.

“The details of the remarkable series of events in question may be found at the University of Leiden,” he says.  “They were conveyed to me by the Freemason Alejandro Ferri in Montevideo.”

Borges wipes his thin lips with a linen handkerchief that he has withdrawn from his breast pocket.

“As you know,” he continues, “the original handwritten text of the Quixote was given to an order of French Cistercians in the autumn of 1576.”

I hold up my hand to signify to our waiter that no further service is needed.

“Curiously enough, for none of the brothers could read Spanish, the Order was charged by the Papal Nuncio, Hoyo dos Monterrey (a man of great refinement and implacable will), with the responsibility for copying the Quixote, the printing press having then gained no currency in the wilderness of what is now known as the department of Auvergne.  Unable to speak or read Spanish, a language they not unreasonably detested, the brothers copied the Quixote over and over again, re-creating the text but, of course, compromising it as well, and so inadvertently discovering the true nature of authorship.  Thus they created Fernando Lor’s Los Hombres d’Estado in 1585 by means of a singular series of copying errors, and then in 1564 Juan Luis Samorza’s remarkable epistolary novel Por Favor by the same means, and then in 1685, the errors having accumulated sufficiently to change Spanish into French, Molière’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, their copying continuous and indefatigable, the work handed down from generation to generation as a sacred but secret trust, so that in time the brothers of the monastery, known only to members of the Bourbon house and, rumor has it, the Englishman and psychic Conan Doyle, copied into creation Stendahl’s The Red and the Black and Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, and then as a result of a particularly significant series of errors, in which French changed into Russian, Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Anna Karenina.  Late in the last decade of the nineteenth century there suddenly emerged, in English, Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, and then the brothers, their numbers reduced by an infectious disease of mysterious origin, finally copied the Ulysses into creation in 1902, the manuscript lying neglected for almost thirteen years and then mysteriously making its way to Paris in 1915, just months before the British attack on the Somme, a circumstance whose significance remains to be determined.”

I sit there, amazed at what Borges has recounted.  “Is it your understanding, then,” I ask, “that every novel in the West was created in this way?”

“Of course,” replies Borges imperturbably.  Then he adds: “Although every novel is derived directly from another novel, there is really only one novel, the Quixote.”




I like this very much:


“Former Presidents Obama, Bush and Clinton volunteer to get coronavirus vaccine publicly to prove it’s safe”




“Peter,” over at the invaluable Neville-Neville Land blog, has a bit of fun with the quasi-schismatic pretensions of Mr. Jonathan Neville, who seems to have undertaken a kind of personal vendetta against those who don’t accept his theories regarding the precise GPS coordinates of places and events in the Book of Mormon:


“President Russell M. Nelson, SITH intellectual”




Here’s a piece from the Christopher Hitchens Memorial “How Religion Poisons Everything” File:


“Missionaries volunteer 10K-plus hours to help feed the San Jose community”


I very much enjoyed this article by Gayle Boyd, who was once, rather briefly, a member of my ward congregation.  It also comes from the Hitchens File:


“Reckoning with the Generational Estrangement of the the COVID Age: Covid is setting generations against each other. But it doesn’t have to. Latter-day Saint practices have helped prevent much of the present generational angst.”




And this one, which appeared quite a while ago, just after President Russell Nelson had called upon Latter-day Saints and others to express their gratitude more fully and intentionally.  I’m not sure that it belongs in the Christopher Hitchens Memorial “How Religion Poisons Everything” File, but I think that an argument can be made for its inclusion:


“What science and the Bible say about gratitude (spoiler: They agree): Modern research shows that gratitude is a sixth component to emotional resilience that helps people to fight negative rumination, to accept their situation even when it may be harsh”



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