Monday, June 05, 2006


There is something fascinating about a duel, be it with swords or words, out in the open or hidden within social exchanges. But a duel, even if fully witnessed, does not reveal the psyche of the duelists. Borges has a short story called Guayaquil that describes a duel between two scholars. Two scholars get chosen for a travel and a great honor. They meet and discuss. One emerges the victor and proceeds to travel, and the other abdicates. The story describes the entire meeting. The writing provides nuances, academic references and scholarly hints. Still, the reader does not understand why one abdicated. That is it. Now, embedded in the story is a Celtic legend of a duel between two bards in which one bard sings all day, accompanied by his harp and hands it over to the other when the stars and the moon come out; the other bard then lays the harp aside and stands up, a victor! Borges' story itself is the story of a yet another elusive duel. Gen. Jose de San Martin and Simon Bolivar meet at Guayaquil. At the end of the meeting, Gen Martin hands over his army to Bolivar who goes on to defeat the spaniards. What happened at the meeting? Perhaps the answer lies in a letter of Bolivar. The duel between Borges' scholars is for the honor of reading that letter. Borges uses this context to remind us of other duels, none fully explained.


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