Is All Unreal?

Jorge Luis Borges describes “The Circular Ruins,” published in The Garden of Forking Paths in 1941, as a tale of fantasy.  He writes, “In ‘The Circular Ruins,’ all is unreal.” A mere five-page story, “The Circular Ruins” raises questions on the nature of reality, knowledge, time, and the self. How does the unreal—thematically and stylistically—throw light on the real? How does Borges use the fantastic to problematize notions of the material world, the possibility of knowledge, linear time, and the existence of the self? In short, how do these philosophical inquiries shape both the themes and techniques of “The Circular Ruins”? Borges presents the fantastic as an alternative to realist literature influenced by 18th-century empiricism. “The Circular Ruins” proposes reality as illusory, human knowledge as contingent and perspectival, time as cyclical, and the self as nonexistent.