Creating a world: Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius

By Andrew | blog

Dec 27

I recently discovered a short story by Jorge Luis Borges called Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius. It is taken from the book Labyrinths, first published in 1962.

The premise of the short story is that a secret society of conspirators convene to invent a planet called Tlön.  The planet would be described to the minutest detail using, for the most part, a 14 volume encyclopedia that includes every aspect of what you’d expect a planet to contain; including it’s philosophies, it’s terrains and landscapes, it’s zoology, it’s politics, it’s history and poetry… so rich in detail would it be that it would be almost impossible to determine whether the planet really existed or not. To create intrigue and establish the planet’s authenticity with a skeptical public, only parts of the planet’s great and comprehensive descriptions would be leaked to libraries and other locations around the world. It was very important to the creators of this entirely fictional world that the story remain credible; that the planet they invented would gradually become so real as to look as though it had always existed. The intention was to cross the line of invention and establish a commonly held belief (or even truth) that this planet, and all of its inhabitants, had actually existed.

The invention of this new world appears to be the work of a secret society of astronomers, engineers, biologists, metaphysicians and geometricians. The world they have created, Tlön, is a “Berkeleyan and Kierkegaardian world where only inner life exists. OnTlön everyone has his own truth; external objects are whatever each one wants.” The world for them is not a concourse of objects in space; it is a heterogeneous series of independent acts. It is successive and temporal, not spatial. There are no nouns…

In the language of Tlön, “The moon rose above the river” translates as “upward behind the onstreaming is mooned”.

How did they succeed in pulling this off? How did they create a credible planet? People wanted to believe, for want of something better:

In 1959: “Ten years ago any symmetry with a semblence of order- dialectical materialism, anti-Semitism, Nazism- was sufficient to entrance the mind of men. How could one do other than submit to Tlön, to the minute and vast evidence of an orderly planet? It is useless to answer that reality is also orderly. Perhaps it is, but in accordance with divine laws- I translate: inhuman laws- which we never quite grasp. Tlön is surely a labyrinth, but it is a labyrinth devised by men, a labyrinth destined to be deciphered by men.”

The secret society who went about creating Tlön did so over the course of generations, the elders passing on the responsibility to the newer initiates to establish a continuity that was necessary for such a monumental task. They had to do it this way because the technology available only allowed their small group to collaborate in increments that were related to the speed of communication and invention. Creation of a whole world (especially in secret) would take as long as hundreds of years, given the technology and the communication tools available at the time. In addition, the leaking of this world into our own so that it appeared to be real would add to the time taken, the effort involved and the results produced.

Although theoretical, the creation of this fictional planet by a group of secret conspirators all over the world sounds very familiar. Not only that, it sounds like fun. Something we might enjoy doing, were we to give it a go.

Here are a collection of some if not all of the current definitions of transmedia:

From Jeff Gomez (Starlight Runner Entertainment):
Transmedia: The art of conveying  messages, themes or storylines to mass audiences through the artful and well-planned use of multiple platforms.

In Jorge Luis Borges’ story Tlön, anything is possible as it is a made up world. When the central character, a narrator named “J.E.I.” finds a leather bound book entitled Orbis Tertius he is excited to discover that this is the book, the complete rendering of the entire planet of Tlön. Can you imagine how exciting that would be, to be the only one to discover this treasure that you’ve been seeking for years? In his own words:

“Now I held in my hands a vast methodical fragment of an unknown planet’s entire history, with its architecture and its playing cards, with the dread of its mythologies and the murmur of its languages, with its emperors and its seas, with its minerals and its birds and its fish, with its algebra and its fire, with its theological and metaphysical controversy. And all of it articulated, coherent, with no visible doctrinal intent or tone of parody.”

The planet Tlön is so meticulously, majestically, comprehensively “made up” that the reader’s discernment of the real and the unreal is blurred, and we can begin to explore new possibilities for existence, new dimensions of reality- alternative or parallel universes where the normal rules no longer apply.


About the Author

Andrew is a Product Marketing and Sales Enablement consultant who can help you communicate clearly with your customers, so they’re more likely to buy. Over the last 15 years he's worked with some of the best sales and marketing companies in the world (including Google, IBM, Vodafone and Altify).