Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Garden of the Forking Paths

While preparing to teach a course on the rhetoric of urbanity (focusing the next lecture on the concept of urban labyrinth) I came across a reference to Jorge Luis Borges's short story, "The Garden of the Forking Paths." This story has flitted around me for years, a particle among the infinite yawning buzz of Things I Should Read. Finally today I downloaded a copy and wormed my way through its intricacies.

It'll take many re-readings, I suspect, to ever claim any mastery of this piece, but I can tell you this: "The Garden" is an essential stop for anyone interested in alternative histories, science fiction, hypertext, probability, or simply the mere pleasure of good reading. As with my notes from The Man in the High Castle I offer little guidance here, just some quotes that struck me as especially meaningful:

"Everything happens to a man precisely now. Centuries of centuries and only in the present do things happen; countless men in the air, on the face of the earth and the sea, and all that really is happening is happening to me" (p. 40).

"The author of an atrocious undertaking ought to imagine that he has already accomplished it, ought to impose upon himself a future as irrevocable as the past" (p. 42).

"In all fictional works, each time a man is confronted with several alternatives, he chooses one and eliminates the others; in the [this particular fiction] he chooses - simultaneously - all of them. He creates, in this way, diverse futures, diverse times which themselves also proliferate and fork" (p. 47).

"To omit a word always, to resort to inept metaphors and obvious periphrases, is perhaps the most emphatic way of stressing it" (p. 49).

Hypertext does not invoke "a uniform, absolute time… [but] an infinite series of times . . . a growing, dizzying net of divergent, convergent and parallel times" (p. 49).

Finally, a disturbing and entirely perfect line, considering the shocking way that "The Garden of the Forking Paths" ends: "Time forms perpetually toward innumerable futures. In one of them I am your enemy" (p. 50).

No comments: