June 28, 2011
The baroness de Bacourt (at whose unforgettable vendredis I had the honor to meet the mourned-for poet) has been so kind as to approve the lines that follow. Likewise, the countess de Bagnoregio, one of the rarest and most cultured spirits of the principality of Monaco (now of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, following her recent marriage to the international philanthropist Simon Kautzsch—a man, it grieves me to say, vilified and slandered by the victims of his disinterested operations), has sacrificed “to truth and to death” (as she herself has phrased it) the noble reserve that is the mark of her distinction, and in an open letter, published in the magazine Luxe, bestows upon me her blessing. Those commendations are sufficient, I should think. (Borges 88)
But are they? The narrator employs gross exaggeration in the praise of his references—they are of “the rarest and most cultured spirits” and so forth– but neither the baroness de Bacourt nor the countess de Bagnoregio has any credentials other than her rank. The Mme. Henri Bachelier whom the narrator vilifies has at least published the book Le jardin du Centaure (Borges 95), but we do not find that these ladies have published anything other than their approbation of the narrator’s remarks. In fact, the countess de Bagnoregio’s husband Simon Kautzsch seems to rather have a tarnished reputation—we can only imagine what the complaints of “the victims of his disinterested operations” might be.
And further, the baroness de Bacourt and the countess de Bagnoregio are fictional. So are the sources the narrator lists, in which Menard’s works were supposedly published. This is not necessarily surprising—after all we are reading a work of fiction—but it leads us to question who it was that fabricated these people and sources. Was it Borges or the narrator? If Borges created them, then they exist in the narrative, and the narrator may be citing them correctly. But the possibility also exists that it was the narrator who created them, in which case they don’t exist in the reality of the story, and the narrator is an out and out liar. Of course, we have no way of telling, and so the truth of this narrative is ambiguous, but, as the narrator himself writes, “ambiguity is richness” (94).