Borgesian Illuminations in
Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Handsomest Drowned Man

Paul M Willenberg

Marquez writes in The Handsomest Drowned Man, “They were wandering through the maze of fantasy” (232). By choosing the word wandering Marquez attaches a tangibility to fantasy. He characterizes the people as active wanderers through the maze. Borges similarly proposes that dreams are essential as a tool to perceive our external reality. We wander through our imagined possibilities to find explanations for our confusing sensory perceptions. Like Funes, we strive to use our imagination to navigate, categorize, simplify our reality. Marquez uses the word maze. Like Marquez, Borges sees the onslaught of sensory perceptions we receive at any given instant as a maze. So many things confront us that we cannot fully comprehend any of it. The librarians in Babel try to focus their attention through book burning and by only reading books that make sense to them. Antithetically, Funes tries to generalize, but he too fails. We are left to navigate ourselves in a maze that is at its essence labrynthian: centerless, directionless, infinite.

The identity that the women create for this drown man is Esteban. Esteban, the boy in the Circular Ruins, Aunt Jamima, are a projection of an external consciousness. Marquez, however, provides a different twist. The identity, and perhaps reality, created around and for Esteban is created by multiple people. He is a product of an almost collective consciousness. Marquez, then, sets up a window to read the collective desires of these women. Marquez links the common desires of these women to create an identity for Esteban. Marquez then begs us to ask what the desires represent. Do they fill a void in the lives of these women? Why is the identity the create so magical? Marquez finds the essence of a God. People create, just as these women, an entity, an identity, that fills a void. So if desire manifests a void, then Marquez has shown us their souls. Marquez brings us back to a very Borgesian view of identity. Esteban is a projection of these women’s wills. His identity is not his real identity nor does he own it. Marquez shows that our identity is what people perceive and imagine for us. He raises an interesting corollary to Borges: if our identity is solely defined in relation to and by others, then without others there is no self. Certainement, l’enfer c’est les autres!