Negative capability and truth in Borges's 'Emma Zunz'

Beatriz Priel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


The author's main contention is that Borges's short story 'Emma Zunz' not only includes psychoanalytic themes, but also succeeds in effecting, through the fictional text's form, a reading akin to a psychoanalytic approach to the vicissitudes of truth and meaning. This is an approach named by Bion, after Keats, 'negative capability'; for example, an openness, not to the (impossible) knowledge of truth, but to its effects. The effect of reading Borges's story is analyzed as conveyed through three main narrative strategies: (a) the minute description of Emma's falsities and her fabrication of lies, as processes through which the awareness of internal reality is thoroughly transformed; (b) the subversion of the detective narrative genre making obsolete its conventions; (c) the introduction of a narrator who paradoxically knows and doesn't know crucial aspects of Emma's internal and external reality, who is both close to and distant from the reader, and who never decides among the diverse alternatives be proposes. These narrative strategies transform the story into a perplexing playground for the reader's expectations. Borges's peculiar way of narrating the story of 'Emma Zunz' powerfully appeals to the reader's capability not to search for the truth, but to allow herself to be affected by it; not to decipher, but to follow the patient's discourse or the story in the written text.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)935-949
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Journal of Psychoanalysis
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2004


  • 'Emma Zunz'
  • Bion
  • Borges
  • Falsities
  • Lies
  • Negative capability
  • Reading effect
  • Truth

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


Dive into the research topics of 'Negative capability and truth in Borges's 'Emma Zunz''. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this