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Pierre Menard

Pierre Menard is a fictional 20th century writer, created by Jorge Luis Borges.

Borges's story "Pierre Menard, Author of The Quixote" ("Pierre Menard, autor del Quixote") originally appeared in Spanish in the Argentine journal Sur, May 1939. The Spanish-language original was first published in book form in Borges's 1941 collection El Jardín de senderos que se bifurcan (The Garden of Forking Paths). That entire book was, in turn, included within his much-reprinted Ficciones (1944). Two English-language translations were published more or less simultaneously in 1962, one by James E. Irby in a diverse collection of Borges works entitled Labyrinths, the other by Anthony Bonner as part of a collaborative translation of the entirety of Ficciones published in 1962. The Bonner translation is reprinted in Borges, a Reader (1981, ISBN 0525466547). Quotations in this article follow that translation.

"Pierre Menard, Author of The Quixote" is written in the form of a review or literary critical piece about the (non-existent) Pierre Menard. Borges' "review" describes this 20th century French writer who has made an effort to go further than mere "translation" of Don Quixote, but to immerse himself so thoroughly as to be able to actually "re-create" it, line for line, in the original 16th century Spanish. Thus, Pierre Menard is often used to raise questions and discussion about the nature of accurate translation.

Borges' work is indeed literary criticism, but through the medium of fantasy, irony, and humor. Borges's narrator/reviewer considers Menard's fragmentary Quixote (which is line-for-line identical to portions of the original) to be much richer than Cervantes's "original" work, because the Menard's work must be considered in light of world events since 1602, and thus is richer in allusion. Cervantes "...indulges in a rather coarse opposition between tales of knighthood and the meager, provincial reality of his country." Menard writes of the, to him, distant past, "the land of Carmen during the century of Lepanto and Lope," but "in his work there are neither bands of gypsies, conquistadors, ... nor autos de fe." Effectively, Borges is commenting on how much richer Don Quixote is when read through the filter of over three centuries of intervening history than in its own time. In this, Borges anticipates the post-modern theory that gives centrality to reader response.

Borges wrote this story while recovering from a head injury. If it is to be counted as a work of fiction, then it was the first such published under his own name. (The 1933 "Hombre de la esquina rosada" was published under the pseudonym F. Bustos). As so often in his writings, the story abounds in clever references and subtle jokes. His narrator/reviewer is an arch-Catholic who remarks of the readers of a rival journal that they are "few and Calvinist, if not Masonic and circumcised". According to Emir Rodriguez Monegal and Alastair Reed (Borges, a Reader, p. 346) Menard is in part "a caricature of (Stéphane) Mallarmé and (Paul) Valéry ... or (Miguel de) Unamuno and Enrique Laretta."

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There was a historical Pierre Menard, the first Lieutenant Governor of Illinois. Given Borges's extensive reading, it is likely that he was aware that he was using the name of a real person for his fictional character.