«On Exactitude in Science» is a short story by Argentinean writer powerhouse Jorge Luis Borges, published in 1946.
Spanning barely a single paragraph, «On Exactitude…» makes an incisive comment on how absolute exactitude can be devastating: it tells the story of a remote Empire where cartography had advanced to the point of making an Absolute map that perfectly «coincided point for point with reality».
Owning to its complete uselessness, the map was eventually abandoned:
In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars…
It has been noted that, curiously enough, both the map and the Empire suffer the same fate. After all, if both the “real” object and its representation are identical, aren’t they one and the same thing? (Monder 2009).
Borges’ work is famous not only because of its narrative power, but for its conectedness to many areas of knowledge. Even this short work has found its way into academics, being cited as an example of recursive objects (Martinez 2011, 9) and even as a fractal system of narrator-reader relationships (Zavala 2017).
It’s also worth noting that fact and fiction are (as usual) blurred in Borges’ work. The whole story is presented as a quote from Travels of Prudent Men by Suárez Miranda but this is, in fact, an apocryphal citation as there’s no such author nor book. This is a common theme in Borges’ oeuvre, particularly in A Universal History of Infamy.1
Super Meat Boy ← Andy’s Brevity Quest 2019 (275 words) → De que callada manera
Martinez, Guillermo. 2011. Borges and Mathematics: Lectures at Malba. PURDUE UNIV PR. https://books.google.com.mx/books/about/Borges_and_Mathematics.html?id=1fWdGCR0Uc0C&redir_esc=y.
Monder, Samuel. 2009. “Del Rigor Del Lenguaje: Borges Y Las Cartografías de Lo Real.” Variaciones Borges, no. 27: 101–14. http://www.jstor.org/stable/24881467.
Zavala, Lauro. 2017. “Las Elipsis Del Narrador Fractal: El Rigor En D̈el Rigor En La Cienciad̈e J. L. Borges.” La Colmena, no. 29: 18–22. https://lacolmena.uaemex.mx/article/view/6577.
Hence its inclusion in the collection «A Universal History of Infamy» in English editions.