It was raining in Rome, foretaste of early spring, when the papal conclave announced yesterday the election of a new pope. In Buenos Aires it was already dark, an autumn night with a touch of winter in the air. The faithful are not
late-night carousers; Argentinians went to bed as normal, but their dreams were likely disturbed by the news and in anticipation of the next day’s celebration of their native pontiff. Come morning, some odd stories began to circulate.
Although the Vatican is no stranger to conspiracy plots and occult fabrication, the Argentine connection gave the stories this morning a peculiar twist. In the dreaming minds of his compatriots, Pope Francisco, or Jorge Mario Bergoglio, was apparently mixed up with that other illustrious Argentinian, whose name he echoes: Jorge Francisco Luis Borges. By 6:00 am this morning in Buenos Aires, Twitter’s #BorgesBergo was trending with speculation about genealogical connections and possible arcane links between the Pope and the Maestro.
Some of these findings: the two names “Bergo” and “Borges” have transposed vowels, suggesting a kind of mirror-play; @qualquier979 claims that the supplemental “s” in Borges’ name is a sign of this inverted reflection. As for the additional “glio” in Bergoglio, @cariño1985 pointed out that the letters spell out a gnomic phrase in Italian: “Gli O,” in other words, “The Os.” But who or what would these “O”s be? Traffic is very heavy at #Os?, where the potential meanings of that suggestive phrase are being feverishly discussed.
The most disturbing hypotheses are inspired by Borges’ “The Garden of Forking Paths.” In that story, Dr. Yu Tsun, a descendent of the illustrious Ts’ui Pên, creator of a famed temporal labyrinth, commits an act of treachery by secretly revealing to Berlin the location of a British military camp, which the Nazis are subsequently able to target with bombs. Yu Tsun’s coded message takes the form of a murder: he kills his friend Dr. Albert, an event Yu Tsun expects to be notorious enough to make the headlines, where, sure enough, it is read by the Nazis as a clue to the place their bombs should strike, a town also named Albert. Francisco’s “Gli O” would apparently serve a similar function.
The comparison is perplexing, as it imputes to the new pope a nefarious purpose in communicating a message with part of his own name, inherited by birth, something he could hardly have predicted could serve that specific use, unless by time travel or preternatural foresight. Alternately, Bergoglio’s choice of the unprecedented “Francisco” would be the analog to Borges’ coded surname. As for his motives, speculations abound, but as the day drew on and the sun set in Rome, discussion turned to more secular topics, chief among them Bergoglio’s alleged complicity in crimes against other priests during the time of the Dirty War, about which there are conflicting versions of events. In this context, Francisco’s coded signs suggest a possible “naming of names” to settle past scores, or even to turn over left-wing suspects to the Argentine junta by some kind of sci-fi papal retroaction. Discussion became more literary even as it delved deeper into politics. Increasingly the new pope was compared to the sinister protagonist of Bolaño’s By Night in Chile, Father Sebastián Urrutia Lacroix.
Borges’ “The Garden of Forking Paths” is credited with the invention of hypertext — a work of infinite dimensions and innumerable possible permutations. If it does not provide a key to the coincidences and enigmas surrounding the new pope, Borges’ tale is prescient in another way; Vatican conspiracies have often taken the shape of bloated and artless films and novels (The Godfather III, The Da Vinci Code…). The frenzy of Argentine tweets this morning resembled instead the multiverse of Borges’ magical labyrinths.