'The God's Script,' also known as 'The Writing of the God,' is a thought-provoking short story written by the acclaimed Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986). Published in 1949, the story delves into quintessentially Borgesian themes, including the infinite nature of existence, the power of writing, and the individual who gains access to esoteric knowledge.
Plot Summary of 'The God's Script'
The story is narrated by Tzinacán, a Mayan magician who served the god Qaholom at the pyramid before it was ravaged by Pedro de Alvarado's fire. Tzinacán finds himself imprisoned in a stone cell, adjacent to which resides a jaguar. Daily, Tzinacán witnesses the jaguar pacing about as food and water are lowered into the cells.
Prior to his capture, Tzinacán was tortured by the conquistadors in an attempt to extract information about the pyramid's hidden treasure. Despite enduring physical deformities and torment, Tzinacán remained steadfast, refusing to reveal the treasure's location. When he fell unconscious, he was thrown into his current cell, aware that his release would never come.
Throughout his years of imprisonment, Tzinacán sought mental stimulation. He recollected an ancient tradition that his god, Qaholom, had written a magical text during the era of creation. This text possessed the power to save the world from destruction, yet its concealment remained a mystery. As the last surviving priest of his god, Tzinacán believes he may be able to uncover its whereabouts.
Tzinacán gradually realizes that the jaguar's skin would be the ideal hiding place for the divine script. The script would persist through generations of jaguars reproducing over thousands of years. He devotes himself to studying the jaguar's fur, searching for signs of the God's script. Ultimately, a dream leads him to envision drowning in multiplying sand grains on the floor of his cell.
Upon waking, Tzinacán notices the light above him, shining through the hole in the roof where his sustenance is delivered. In addition, he sees an enormous wheel composed of water and fire, omnipresent and all-encompassing. This epiphany grants Tzinacán an understanding of the universe's inner workings, enabling him to read the god's script inscribed on the jaguar's skin.
Tzinacán reveals that the script consists of a formula comprising fourteen seemingly random words. Speaking these words aloud would grant him unlimited power. His prison would vanish, he would regain youth and immortality, and the jaguar would attack and devour Alvarado. Tzinacán believes he could resurrect the lost Mayan empire and obliterate the Spanish invaders.
However, Tzinacán states that he will not utter those fourteen words, as he can no longer remember his own identity after deciphering the god's script. He is content to allow 'Tzinacán' to die in his prison cell, recognizing that an individual who has witnessed the universe's vastness cannot be concerned with the trivial fate of one person.
'The God's Script': Analysis
'The God's Script' exhibits several recurring elements found in other stories by Borges. In 'The Zahir,' for instance, Borges expresses the idea that he will no longer know his own identity once consumed by obsession with the Zahir. Similarly, the concept of self-identity plays a significant role in 'Borges and I,' where the narrator distinguishes between the famous writer named Borges and the individual named Borges.
The paradox within 'The God's Script' lies in Tzinacán's desire to free himself from captivity to rebuild his empire. However, once he acquires the necessary knowledge, he becomes indifferent to his own liberation, devoid of consideration for his individual self.
A meta-paradox arises from this situation: the individual becomes unimportant precisely when their survival becomes crucial for the world. In other words, the moment an individual acquires significance, they become unimportant.
One way to interpret this paradox is to view Borges' story as an exploration of the revelation of the universe's importance surpassing the need to save it. Tzinacán allows himself to become a passive observer of a deeper truth when he encounters the wheel composed of water and fire, representing totality in shape and elemental substance. Realizing his insignificance within the grand scheme of things, his continued existence ceases to hold meaning, even for himself.
We might argue that Borges' story taps into religious fervor, where individuals renounce their own lives in favor of a higher purpose. Tzinacán, who previously sacrificed others atop his pyramid, now demonstrates willingness to sacrifice himself.
However, it is important to recognize that Tzinacán's sacrifice is a passive acceptance of a higher power and a refusal to wield great power himself. The wheel of fire and water represents yin and yang, the opposing forces constituting the entirety of the universe. Witnessing these forces manifest before him, Tzinacán experiences an epiphany, a common occurrence in many modern short stories.
While many epiphanies lead to self-enlightenment and call for action, Tzinacán's epiphany leads to passivity and a renunciation of the self. Yet, as his acceptance of the "obliteration" of Tzinacán is a personal choice, another paradox emerges in Borges' story: by choosing passivity and abstaining from self-preservation, does one not become active rather than passive?
Continuing along this line of reasoning, 'The God's Script' can be viewed as a fable addressing the nature of religious belief, particularly pantheism, in which the divine is "written" into all living things, including the jaguar. However, only those with the "eyes to see" can decipher this divine script. Tzinacán's success comes after a prolonged process of waiting and seeking. Upon discovering the divine, this knowledge brings about a form of nirvana—a release from the self—as he recognizes the greater power inscribed within everything and the futility of clinging to earthly power or existence.
Of course, the strength of Borges' story lies in its ability to be interpreted beyond narrow pantheism. The 'God's script' can be seen as any 'word of God,' including actual sacred texts. Those who interpret and comprehend their true meaning realize that as individuals, they possess no power and perhaps no right to claim any power.