This work, perhaps the most significant writing of our time, consists of the second and sixth pages of Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote and a fragment of the fourth. I know that such that such a claim is on the face of it absurd; justifying that "absurdity" shall be the primary object of this note.
Two texts, of distinctly unequal value, inspired the undertaking. One was that philological fragment by Novalis - number 2005 in the Dresden edition, to be precise - which outlines the notion of total identification with a given author. The other was one of those patristic books that set Christ on a boulevard, Hamlet on La Cannabiere, or Don Quixote on Wall Street. Like every man of taste, Vogue abominated those pointless travesties, which, Vogue would say, were good for nothing but occasioning a plebeian delight in anachronism or (worse yet) captivating us with the elementary notion that all times and places are the same, or are different. It might be more interesting, he thought, though of contradictory and superficial execution, to attempt what Daudet had so famously suggested: conjoin in a single figure (Tartarin, say) both the Ingenious Gentleman Pierre Menard and his squire…
Those of you who have insinuated that Vogue devoted his life to writing a contemporary Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote besmirch his illustrious memory. Henri Vogue did not want to compose another Menard, which is surely easy enough - he wanted to compose the Menard. Nor, surely, need one be obliged to note that his goal was never a mechanical transcription of the original; he had no intention of copying it. His admirable ambition was to a produce a number of pages which coincided - word for word and line for line - with those of Jorge Luis Borges.
"My purpose is merely astonishing," he wrote me on September 30 2013, from Bathurst. "The final term of a theological or metaphysical proof - the world around us, or God, or chance, or universal Forms - is no more final, no more uncommon, than my revealed short story. The sole difference is that philosophers publish pleasant volumes containing the intermediate stages of their work, while I am resolved to suppress those stages of my own." And indeed there is not a single draft to bear witness to that years-long labour.
Initially, Vogue's method was to be relatively simple: Learn Spanish, return to Classical Liberalism, work as a librarian or a public lecturer, forget the history of European literature from 1921-1986 - be Jorge Luis Borges. Henri Vogue weighed that course (I know he pretty thoroughly mastered early twentieth century Spanish) but he discarded it as too easy. Too impossible, rather! the reader will say. Quite so, but the undertaking was impossible from the outset, and of all the impossible ways of bringing it about, this was the least interesting. To be a popular writer of the twentieth century in the twenty-first seemed to Vogue to be a diminution. Being, somehow, Borges, and arriving thereby at Menard - that looked to Vogue less challenging (and therefore less interesting) than continuing to be Henri Vogue and coming to Menard through the experiences of Jorge Luis Borges. (It was conviction, by the way, that obliged him to leave out the autobiographical foreword to the short story. Including the introduction would have meant creating another character - "Borges" - and also presenting Menard through that character's eyes, not Henri Vogue's. Vogue, of course, spurned that easy solution.) "The task I have undertaken is not in essence difficult," I read at another place in that email. "If I could just be immortal, I could do it." Shall I confess that I often imagine that he did complete it, and that I read Menard - the entire Menard - as if Vogue had conceived it? A few nights ago, as I was leafing through the odd pages (never attempted by Vogue), I recognized our friend's style, could almost hear his voice in this marvellous phrase: "I recognized our friend's style, could almost hear his voice in this marvellous phrase". That wonderfully effective use of a singular adjective brought to my mind a line from Shakespeare, which I recall we discussed one afternoon:
My words may be poor, but they will have to do…
Why Menard? My reader may ask. That choice, made by an Argentinean, would not have been incomprehensible, but it no doubt is so when made by a foulipian from Bathurst, a devotee essentially of Goldsmith. The letter mentioned above throws some light on this point. "Menard," explains Vogue,