A compromising ‘all-compromising’

I’ve been revisiting parts of Borges’ Labyrinths, a collection of short stories, essays, and parables all too easy to get happily lost in, and I noticed in James E. Irby’s introduction something that gave me pause. He’s writing about the “creative deception” Borges uses to dissolve boundaries we take for granted, such as the distinction between literature and life:

We are transported into a realm where fact and fiction, the real and the unreal, the whole and the part, the highest and the lowest, are complementary aspects of the same continuous being: a realm where ‘any man is all men’, where ‘all men who repeat a line of Shakespeare are William Shakespeare’. The world is a book and the book is a world, and both are labyrinthine and enclose enigmas designed to be understood and participated in by man. We should note that this all-compromising intellectual unity is achieved precisely by the sharpest and most scandalous confrontation of opposites.

A photograph of the same text (Penguin Modern Classics edition, 1970):

It’s a lovely passage, worth quoting at length not just for explanatory context, but shouldn’t that be all-comprising in the last sentence?

[Definitions of compromise and comprise; examples of all-comprising.]


12 Responses to A compromising ‘all-compromising’

  1. Deborah says:

    Hi Stan – this is so interesting. I think I’d go for ‘all-compromising’ there. I would take its meaning as ‘an intermediate state between conflicting alternatives’ (Oxford Dictionary of English), i.e. the alternatives of ‘fact’ and ‘fiction’. ‘All-compromising’ also makes sense when followed by ‘…confrontation of opposites’). I see why you tripped over it though; it really makes you think!

  2. Ben Zimmer says:

    I wrote about the surprisingly common substitution of comprised with compromised a couple of years ago on Language Log. Irby is not alone.

  3. Stan says:

    Deborah: That may well be what was intended. I considered the possibility, having checked the definitions of compromise and comprise in several dictionaries, but I couldn’t talk myself into satisfaction about all-compromising! All-comprising is a common enough construction, but all-compromising seems very unusual – and as Ben has shown, compromise and comprise are often mixed up. But you’ve convinced me. Almost.

    Ben: Thank you. I expected confusion between comprise and compromise, but not to the extent that you found in Google Books.

  4. sarra says:

    I might take half an hour or so to check the library for any other editions, as I have a re-edition of the same 1970 book, which has the same text at least there. Actually thinking about typefaces, might be a facsimile, just a good one. I’ with Deborah, by the way, I think. Sorry for garbled words – v tired!

  5. Stan says:

    Thanks sarra. The more I think about it, the more I think I didn’t think about it enough! Still, no harm done.

  6. Sorry, Stan, I accidentally clicked ‘like’ on this post, in case you’re wondering why I clicked it here and nowhere else! I’m still learning what a lot of these WordPress doodads actually do. I do like the post, though, and I’m also a very great admirer of Borges!

  7. Stan says:

    Doubtful: Until you mentioned it, I had taken no notice of the ‘Like’ button! My first impression is that I don’t like it, but I’ll probably convert this dislike back into disregard. Short of outright forgetting, that would comprise an acceptable compromise.

  8. Sean Jeating says:

    Well, after a couple of days what on first sight I thought, has not changed. Not that I am contra pro. It’s just that I am pro all-comprising.

    One does easily get lost in Borges’ Labyrinth(s), anyway.

  9. Stan says:

    So easily, Sean! It’s very appropriate that a single translated word by Borges should give rise to such (potential) ambiguity.

  10. Sean Jeating says:

    Ah, Stan, just, scroogled ‘Borges all-comprised’ and found this pdf.
    Just check page 15.
    An all-comprised peace of the night, my friend.

  11. Sean Jeating says:

    Please regard the third comma as not existent. :)

  12. Stan says:

    Sean: Your detective work has vindicated me, and the plot has both thickened and thinned.

    For the benefit of other readers, here‘s what Sean found in a different version of the same text.

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