Funes the Memorious (Funes el Memorioso)
Genre: Short Story
- Ratzan, Richard M.
- Date of entry: Oct-12-2004
- Last revised: Aug-21-2006
The unnamed narrator recalls--he hesitates to use "this ghostly verb" (107) in the presence of Funes’s memory, in every sense of the word--the dialogue he had with Funes, a young man from Fray Bentos (in present day Uruguay), "a half century ago," (111) as an invited written dithyramb in his memory.
The narrator’s initial encounter with Funes, a tough living and working on a ranch, was to hear him give the time, in the middle of the afternoon, immediately and accurately as an innate skill. Later, when the narrator inquired what had become of Funes, he was told that the latter "had been thrown by a wild horse at the San Francisco ranch, and that he been hopelessly crippled" (109). It is at this point that the saga of Funes the memorious begins.
When the narrator visits Funes to recover some Latin texts the crippled and housebound Funes had requested, he enters to hear the autodidact Funes reciting from memory the section of Pliny’s Natural History relating to memory. For Funes, with only these texts and a dictionary, has learned Latin and memorized the texts. In fact, Funes, as a result of his injury, has learned to live in the present, a present that "was almost intolerable it was so rich and bright; the same was true of the most ancient and most trivial memories" (112).
His memory is so precise, so individual in detail that he develops a unique numbering system and that "in a very few days he had gone beyond twenty-four thousand" (113). Funes had ascribed to each number from 1 to 24,000 a unique name so that, "In place of seven thousand thirteen, he would say (for example) Máximo Perez [italicized in original]; in place of seven thousand fourteen, The Train [italicized in original]. . . . In lieu of five hundred, he would say nine [italicized in original]" (113). In mathematical terms, Funes had treated each number as a prime, a unique integer without relation to other unique integers.
The narrator points this out to Funes, i.e., that "this rhapsody of unconnected terms was precisely the contrary of a system of enumeration. . . . Funes did not understand me, or did not wish to understand me" (113). [The reader would do well to remember that the Spanish for "rhapsody" is "rapsodia" and thus suggests "rhapsode," a singer of the Homeric poems, poems written by a blind story-teller (like Borges), and poems that required prodigious memories to recite.]