Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Smiler With the Knife

Jorge Luis Borges: "From Allegories to Novels." 

Nominalism, once the novelty of a few, today encompasses everyone; its victory is so vast and fundamental that its name is useless. No one declares himself a nominalist because no one is anything else. Let us try to understand, nevertheless, that for the men of the Middle Ages the fundamental thing was not men but humanity, not individuals but the species, not the species but the genus, not the genera but God. From such concepts... allegorical literature, as I understand it, derived. Allegory is a fable of abstractions, as the novel is a fable of individuals....
The passage from allegory to novel, from species to individual, from realism to nominalism, required several centuries, but I shall have the temerity to suggest an ideal date: the day in 1382 when Geoffrey Chaucer, who may not have believed himself to be a nominalist, set out to translate into English a line by Boccaccio -- "E con gli occulti Jerri i Tradimenti" (And Betrayal with hidden weapons) -- and repeated it as "The smyler with the knyf under the cloke."

-- From Other Inquisitions. Washington Square Press, New York, 1966.

No comments: