A short story by Jorge Luis Borges.

The story is based upon the same idea as The NodeShell World Fiction Project. A group of shadowy conspirators decide to make up an entire country by writing bogus entries in an encyclopedia, thinking it a high joke. As they continue to embellish on the mythical culture of Tlon, they derive much enjoyment out of watching credulous academics and geographers refer to Tlon as though it were fact, without blinking an eye.

That is, until knowledge of Tlon starts to enter popular culture. And then more stories of Tlon appear -- tourist guides, anthropology studies things which were never written by the conspirators.

And then real Tlon currency is found...

An interesting theory proposed by Umberto Eco speculates that the short story by Borges is itself a diversionary tactic to make any copies of the Encyclopaedia of Tlön seem the work of a Borges imitator and consequentially perceived as fiction. Naturally, to refute this theory is to become contaminated with unreality.

The story draws heavily on the history of the Rosicrucian Order (or Brotherhood, or Society), in which both Borges and Umberto Eco show a repeated interest in their writings.

In brief, the history of the Rosy Cross started with an anonymous pamphlet, appearing out of nowhere towards the end of the Renaissance and calling for spiritual regeneration, political house cleaning, redistribution of wealth and above all complete and utter anonimity and secrecy on the part of its members. For a good summary of that and subsequent publications see the excellent node on the subject.

It was claimed at the time, and is pretty much accepted as fact today, that the whole Rosicrucian thing was an elaborate prank. Nevertheless the two original pamphlets led to a deluge of supportive publication, outraged criticism and any amount of speculation re who these people were and how they were going to bring about the social revolutions they were preaching from the shadows of anonimity. Very much in the same way that Tlon transmogrified from a joke to a popular "fact", so the Rosicrucian Order became the conspiracy theory that wouldn't die - traces of it are claimed to be found in modern day Masonry and shades of it can certainly be seen in the myth of the Illuminati. Borges is essentially parodying the human capacity for believing the unbelievable, as long as it makes sense. Paradox? Borges...

Dan Brown is heavily, if probably unknowingly, indebted to this rather fogeyish little scholarly joke: after the phenomenal success of The Da Vinci Code, he could not resist the temptation to cite his inspirations as "factual sources", thereby giving rise - and credence - to a whole industry dedicated to retroactively "proving" the sources right, thereby justifying the factual integrity of a work of fiction. Remarkable.

Borges toys with the idea of a tongue-in-cheek academic conspiracy involving the creation of a non-factual encyclopedia. The fictional realms of Tlön, Uqbar and Orbis Tertius supposedly only exist within the volumes of this text, however, evidence slowly surfaces that this may not be the case. Borges raises questions about the nature of the creative act: can imagination, to some extent, manifest reality?

This peculiar unreality was further explored by writer Mark Danielewski. His recent novel House of Leaves applies Borges' idea of invented, non-existant references, and is chock full of imaginary yet convincing footnotes. Danielewski's admiration of Borges is beyond doubt, as he literally has written the blind Argentinian into his novel, much like Umberto Eco did in The Name of the Rose.

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