The Matryoshka Doll of Dreams: The Adam of the Divinity and the Golem of Mankind in Jorge Luis Borges’ “The Circular Ruins”

© Pablo Picasso, Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, oil on canvas, 1932

Many postmodern writers convey the inadequacy of mankind’s imagination to the infinity of the universe with endless repetitions of sublime imageries. In Jorge Luis Borges’ Ficciones (1944), the imagery of an exitless labyrinth is often employed in his short stories to expose men’s roles as God’s prisoners under the notion of Pantheism. One of the stories, “The Circular Ruins”, creates a matryoshka doll of dreams in which the man who creates another man finds himself just another artificial creation by mankind. Trapped in infinite layers of falsehoods, the final realisation of the sorcerer mocks the attempt of men to create golems to imitate God’s Adam is doomed to failure.


© Grove Press

To put mankind’s creation in an inferior position to the divine creation, Borges compares the sorcerer’s making of a man to that of the Gnostic demiurges. The red Adam “cannot manage to stand; as rude and inept and elementary as that Adam of dust was the Adam of dream wrought from the sorcerer’s nights” – the creation is flawed because a golem is muted and has no free will in Jewish myths. In this story, the creation cannot stand, which reminds human being that artificial life must always be inferior to God’s creation. The sorcerer thinks himself to be the one who is closest to the divinity because the God of Fire instructs him to create a man through dreams, he fears that his creation will find out that he is just a phantasm, but eventually he also wakes and finds himself another phantasm that cannot be engulfed by fire. Because Pantheists see the cosmos and the God as one, the universe and all its substances are divine. Therefore, to create a life that is equal to natural creation is simply impossible as men can only create what is artificial but not divine. The ending of the sorcerer finds himself just like the ‘son’ he dreams of signifies that all reality imagined by mankind is simply a dream. Through introducing mental ‘creations’ to the reader, the dreams contained in the multiple layers of phantasmagoria break down the boundaries between human perceptions and reality. In this sense, all we see as tangible and real is just an apparition. Because our minds are inadequate to the imagination of the divinity, our mortality unites all human destinies in an inferior position to God.


Borges portrays the ‘reality’ known to us as a matryoshka doll of phantasmagoria, the repetition of dreams reduce human destinies to one. What we imagine and claim as real is nothing more than an artificial being because our minds are inadequate to the imagination of the divinity. In this notion, we are only one of the substances in the cosmos that is governed by the divine God. The sorcerer’s failure in creating an Adam and realisation of himself being another golem leaves the reader to question his own condition of being – is he a real being like the divine Adam or just a ‘dreamt’ golem?

By Chan Tsz Yan Audrey

Categories: Books, Fantasy and Sci-fi, Modernism and Postmodernism

Tags: , , , , ,

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