The Garden of Forking Paths


“Before unearthing this letter, I had questioned myself about the ways in
which a book can be infinite. I could think of nothing other than a cyclic
volume, a circular one. A book whose last page was identical with the first, a
book which had the possibility of continuing indefinitely. I remembered too
that night which is at the middle of the Thousand and One Nights when
Scheherazade (through a magical oversight of the copyist) begins to relate
word for word the story of the Thousand and One Nights, establishing the
risk of coming once again to the night when she must repeat it, and thus on
to infinity. I imagined as well a Platonic. hereditary work. transmitted from
father to son, in which each new individual adds a chapter or corrects with
pious care the pages of his elders. These conjectures diverted me; but none
seemed to correspond, not even remotely, to the contradictory chapters of
Ts’ui Pên. In the midst of this perplexity, I received from Oxford the
manuscript you have examined. I lingered, naturally, on the sentence: I leave to
the various futures (not to all) my garden of forking paths. Almost instantly, I
understood: ‘the garden of forking paths’ was the chaotic novel; the phrase
‘the various futures (not to all)’ suggested to me the forking in time, not in
space. A broad rereading of the work confirmed the theory. In all fictional
works, each time a man is confronted with several alternatives, he chooses
one and eliminates the others; in the fiction of Ts’ui Pên, he chooses–
simultaneously–all of them. He creates, in this way, diverse futures, diverse
times which themselves also proliferate and fork.”

– Borges, “The Garden of Forking Paths”

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