Sunday, October 18, 2015

On Exactitude in Science (The Quest for Perfection)

"Nothing unessential" is the rule for short story writers. One master of the form is Jorge Luis Borges. I first discovered this very short gem in the Fall-Winter 1970 edition of The Antioch Review, along with five other pearls. If a novel can be compared to the baggy clothes on a scrawny man, perhaps a tightly written story is spandex on a svelte, well-toned athlete.

All that to say I often find it sometimes feels like novelists write simply to fill available space, hence lengthy digressions and tiresome asides. In retrospect I see that I took a few too many such liberties in my first novel The Red Scorpion. Live and learn.

This probably isn't a "real" short story, per se. Falls more into the category of contemporary flash fiction. It's still sweet.

On Exactitude in Science

Jorge Luis Borges, Collected Fictions, translated by Andrew Hurley. 

…In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast Map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography.

—Suarez Miranda,Viajes devarones prudentes, Libro IV,Cap. XLV, Lerida, 1658

Thank you, Swarthmore College, for making this manuscript available online.

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