Notebook on Jorge Luis Borges

The Garden of Forking Paths

Borges frames his story with a third person narrator discussing a world war I history by Capt. Liddel Hart, who casually explains the Brits' rain delay in staging an attack for five days during the Battle of the Somme. The narrator offers another theory and hands off narrative duties to a second narrator, Yu Tsun, who in a deposition speaks in the first person. The story breaks into mid stream.

It is a story about the nature of time, and I'd like to introduce some of the important ideas that pop up at different moments:

All things happen now, simultaneously. You (the individual) are the culmination of all the ancestral lines who have led to you.

If you want to take on an "atrocious enterprise", you must act as if it were already done; you must impose upon yourself a future as definite as the past.

The future, though, is multiform, a garden of forking paths. There are multiple futures and they exist simultaneously. Time infinitely bifurcates, splits off into a multitude of paths. Sometimes the paths converge, sometimes they diverge.

Yu Tsun's ancestor confronted the problem of time. Time is not absolute and uniform. It is not a straight line. It is an infinite series of times, a spreading network or web, and the lines merge, intersect and parallel one another. Time is multidimensional. The question here is, how does the story manifest this theme?

Borges realizes, on the other hand, that although time is multidimensional, our experience of time is anchored in the now. Time is coat you can't take off your back. It is unavoidably present before us, and it forces us into situations we'd rather avoid (like being pursued by an enemy spy) and into decisons we'd rather not have to make (like killing an innocent man). This explains the dread felt by Yu Tsun when he has to kill his new found friend Stephen Albert, as his foe Madden fast approaches.

There are ways in which Borges weaves these themes into his characters and plot lines. He does it through parallels and overlapping likenesses. For instance, Yu Tsun, the hunted, is a foreigner serving as a spy for another country, just like his pursuer, Richard Madden, an Irishman in the service of England. They are playing similar roles. Also, the hunted (Tsun) is also the hunter of Stephen Albert. Albert has been picked from the phonebook because his name is the name of the location of the British artillery position. Albert it so turns out is a Chinese scholar and knows a lot about Tsun's ancestor. He in fact has discovered the secret labyrinth of Ts'ui Pen. The book and the labyrinth are the same thing. Borges's story is a manifestation of its very own theory of multidimensionality.


critical bibliography of works about Borges

Marcelo Abadi: Spinoza in Borges' looking-glass

Ageana, Ian T. The Meaning of Experience in the Prose of Jorge Luis Borges.
New York: Peter Lang, 1988.

Aizenberg, Edna, ed. Borges and His Sucessors: The Borgesian Impact on Literature and the Arts.
Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press, 1989.

Aizenberg, Edna. The Aleph Weaver, 1984.

Alazraki, Jaime. Jorge Luis Borges.
New York: Columbia University Press, 1971.

Alazraki, J. La prosa narrativa de Jorge Luis Borges, 1968.

Ivan Almeida: Borges o los laberintos de la inmanencia (4/6/00) (Needs Acrobat Reader)

Ivan Almeida: Borges. "Avelino Arredondo" o la complejidad de los hechos. Ensayo de interpretación abductiva.

Ivan Almeida: Jorge Luis Borges, autor del poema 'Instantes' (10/5/00)

Ivan Almeida & Cristina Parodi. Editar a Borges. (7/4/00)

Daniel Balderston: El precursor velado: R. L. Stevenson en la obra de Borges (complete edition)

Balderston, Daniel. El precursor velado: R. L. Stevenson en la obra de Borges.
Buenos Aires: Editorial Sudamericana, 1985.

Balderston, Daniel. The Literary Universe of Jorge Luis Borges: An Index to References and Allusions to Persons, Titles, and Places in his Writings.
New York, Westport, London: Greenwood, 1986.

Balderston, Daniel. Out of Context: Historical Reference and the Representation of Reality in Borges.
Durham: Duke University Press, 1993.
(Spanish version, Fuera de contexto?, Rosario: Beatriz Viterbo Editora, 1997)

Daniel Balderston: The "Fecal Dialectic": Homosexual Panic and the Origin of Writing in Borges.

Barnstone, Willis. Borges at Eighty: Conversations.
Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982.

Barrenechea, A.M. Borges, the Labyrinth Maker.
New York: New York University Press, 1965.

Barrenechea, A.M. La expression de la irrealidad en la obra de Jorge Luis Borges, 1957.

Bell-Villada, Gene H. Borges and His Fiction: A Guide to His Mind and Art.
Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1981.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Modern Critical Views: Jorge Luis Borges.
New York: Chelsea House, 1986.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Major Short Story Writers: Jorge Luis Borges.
New York: Chelsea House, 2002.

Bloom, Harold, ed. BioCritiques: Jorge Luis Borges.
New York: Chelsea House, 2004.

Burgin, Richard. Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges.
New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1969.

Canto, Estela. Borges a contraluz 1989.

Vicente Cervera Salinas: Las horas y los siglos de Borges.

Eliana Lorentz Chaves: Desejo masculino de maternidade en "Las ruinas circulares" (05.01.02)

Cheselka, Paul. The Poetry and Poetics of Jorge Luis Borges.
New York: Peter Lang, 1987.

Christ, Ronald. The Narrow Act: Borges' Art of Allusion.
New York: Lumen Books, 1995.

Jorgelina Corbatta: Ecos de Borges en la literatura argentina actual (14.04.01)

Carla Cordua: "Borges y los servicios de la palabra" (19.01.03)

Cortinez, Carlos, ed. Borges the Poet.
Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1986.

Cozrinsky, Edgardo. Borges In/And/On Film
New York: Lumen Books, 1988.

Crossan, John Dominic. Raid on the Articulate: Comic eschatology in Jesus and Borges.
New York: Harper & Row, 1976.

Dunham, Lowell, and Ivar Ivask. The Cardinal Points of Borges
Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1971.

Fishburn, Evelyn & Psiche Hughes. A Dictionary of Borges.
London: Duckworth, 1990. [facsimile version

Evelyn Fishburn. "Álgebra y fuego" in the Fiction of Borges (22.07.01. two versions: www  / pdf)

Evelyn Fishburn. Borges, Cabbala and "Creative Misreading" (22.07.01. two versions: www  / pdf)

Daniel Freidemberg. El poeta imposible. (21.01.00

de Garayalde, Giovanna. Jorge Luis Borges: Sources and Illuminations.
Octagon Press, 1978.

Irwin, John T. The Mystery to a Solution: Poe, Borges, and the Analytic Detective Story.
Baltimore and London: John Hopkins University Press, 1994.

Isbister, Rob & Peter Standish. A Concordance to the Works of Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986).
Lewinston/Queenston/Lampter: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1991. Seven volumes.

Lennon, Adrian. Hispanics of Achievement: Jorge Luis Borges.
New York: Chelsea House, 1992.

Lima, Robert, ed. Borges and the Esoteric. (Special edition of Cri­tica Hispanica.) Pittsburgh: Duquesne University, 1993.

Newman, Charles & Mary Kinzie, editors. Prose for Borges.
Northwestern University Press, Evanston, 1974.

Manquel, Alberto. Into the Looking Glass Wood: Essays on Books, Reading, and the World.
Harvest Books, 2000.

McMurray, George R. Jorge Luis Borges.
New York: Ungar, 1980.

Merrell, Floyd. Unthinking Thinking: Jorge Luis Borges, Mathematics and the New Physics.
West Laffayete: Purdue University Press, 1991.

Molloy, Sylvia. Signs of Borges.
Durham: Duke University Press, 1994.

Monegal, Emir Rodriguez. Jorge Luis Borges: A Literary Biography.
New York: Paragon House, 1978.

Sergio Pastormerlo: Bibliografi­a de los textos cri­ticos de J. L. Borges.

Rodriguez-Luis, Julio. The Contemporary Praxis of the Fantastic: Borges and Cortazar.
New York: Garland Publishing, 1991.

Beatriz Sarlo: Borges en su laberinto.

Beatriz Sarlo: Borges: tradition and the avant-garde.

Beatriz Sarlo: Fantastic invention and cultural nationality: the case of Xul Solar

Beatriz Sarlo: Historia personal.

Sarlo, Beatriz. Jorge Luis Borges: the Writer on the Edge.
London: Verso, 1993 [complete edition in English]

Beatriz Sarlo: Borges, un escritor en las orillas. (complete edition)

Sarle, Beatriz. Jorge Luis Borges, 1993.
Sorrentino, Fernando. Seven Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges.
Troy, NY: Whitson, 1981.

Fernando Sorrentino: Tres hermosas supercherías borgeanas.

Fernando Sorrentino: "Erratas en textos de Borges" (4/6/00)

Sturrock, John. Paper Tigers: The Ideal Fictions of Jorge Luis Borges.
New York: Oxford University Press, 1978.

Sucre, G. Borges el poeta 1968.


Yates, Donald. Jorge Luis Borges, 1985.