Enforcing Utopia: Intersections of the Idée Fixe and Camusian Philosophy in Jorge Luis Borges’s “El Zahir” and Hassan Blasim’s “The Nightmares of Carlos Fuentes”
Bi-College (Haverford and Bryn Mawr Colleges). Comparative Literature Program
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My thesis aims to tie together two short stories, Hassan Blasim’s “The Nightmares of Carlos Fuentes” and Jorge Luis Borges’s “El Zahir,” by means of examining their shared themed of the idée fixe. The “persistent idea” that eventually drives the protagonists mad takes different forms but involves the same underlying principle: their deepest desires unfulfilled, they resist the seemingly unjust world and engage in a frantic quest for the impossible, be it fabrication of a new national identity, upward social mobility, or recuperation of a deceased lover. This theme is examined in light of Albert Camus’s theory of the absurd, elaborated in The Myth of Sisyphus. The absurd arises from the contradiction between what we want and what the world gives us, between our desire for meaning and the impartiality of the world. The idée fixe in the two stories is the result of the protagonists’ effort to resolve the absurd that characterizes their lives; their effort is to prove this “unjust” and “contradictory” world wrong, and the obsession becomes exacerbated precisely because they cannot remedy and control the situation with reason. I build the essay around close character analysis and examine the characters’ relationship to various psychological and philosophical concepts, including but not limited to personhood, societal pressure, national identity, hope and free will.