The Garden of Forking Paths
|"The Garden of Forking Paths"|
|Author||Jorge Luis Borges|
|Original title||"El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan"|
|Genre(s)||Fantasy, short story|
|Published in||El Jardín de senderos que se bifurcan (1941)
|Published in English||1948|
"The Garden of Forking Paths" (original Spanish title: "El Jardín de senderos que se bifurcan") is a 1941 short story by Argentine writer and poet Jorge Luis Borges. It is the title story in the collection El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan (1941), which was republished in its entirety in Ficciones (Fictions) in 1944. It was the first of Borges's works to be translated into English when it appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine in August 1948.
According to Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort, "The concept Borges described in 'The Garden of Forking Paths'—in several layers of the story, but most directly in the combination book and maze of Ts'ui Pên—is that of a novel that can be read in multiple ways, a hypertext novel. Borges described this in 1941, prior to the invention (or at least the public disclosure) of the electromagnetic digital computer. Not only did he arguably invent the hypertext novel—Borges went on to describe a theory of the universe based upon the structure of such a novel." Borges's vision of "forking paths" has been cited as inspiration by numerous new media scholars, in particular within the field of hypertext fiction.
Plot summary 
The story takes the form of a signed statement by a Chinese professor of English named Dr. Yu Tsun who is living in the United Kingdom during World War I. Tsun is a spy for the German Empire. He has also realized that the MI5 agent pursuing him, Captain Richard Madden, has entered the apartment of his handler Viktor Runeberg and has either captured or killed him. Dr. Tsun is certain that his own arrest is next. He has just discovered the location of a new British artillery park and wishes to convey that knowledge to his German handlers before he is captured. He at last hits upon a desperate plan in order to achieve this.
Dr. Tsun explains that his spying has never been for the sake of Imperial Germany, which he considers "a barbarous country." Rather, he says, he did it because he wanted to prove to his racist masters that an Asian is intelligent enough to obtain the information needed to save their soldiers' lives. Tsun suspects that Capt. Madden, an Irishman in the employ of the British Empire, might be similarly motivated.
Taking his few possessions, Tsun boards a train to the village of Ashgrove. Narrowly avoiding the pursuing Capt. Madden at the train station, he goes to the house of Dr. Stephen Albert, an eminent Sinologist. As he walks up the road to Dr. Albert's house, Tsun reflects on his great ancestor, Ts'ui Pên, a learnèd and famous man who renounced his job as governor of Yunnan in order to undertake two tasks: to write a vast and intricate novel, and to construct an equally vast and intricate labyrinth, one "in which all men would lose their way." Ts'ui Pên was murdered before completing his novel, however, and what he did write was a "contradictory jumble of irresolute drafts" that made no sense to subsequent readers; nor was the labyrinth ever found.
Dr. Tsun arrives at the house of Dr. Albert, who is deeply excited to have met a descendant of Ts'ui Pên. Dr. Albert reveals that he has himself been engaged in a longtime study of Ts'ui Pên's novel. Albert explains excitedly that at one stroke he has solved both mysteries—the chaotic and jumbled nature of Ts'ui Pên's unfinished book and the mystery of his lost labyrinth. Albert's solution is that they are one and the same: the book is the labyrinth.
Basing his work on the strange legend that Ts'ui Pên had intended to construct an infinite labyrinth, as well as a cryptic letter from Ts'ui Pên himself stating, "I leave to several futures (not to all) my garden of forking paths". Dr. Albert realized that the "garden of forking paths" was the novel, and that the forking took place in time, not in space. As compared to most fictions, where the character chooses one alternative at each decision point and thereby eliminates all the others, Ts'ui Pên's novel attempted to describe a world where all possible outcomes of an event occur simultaneously, each one itself leading to further proliferations of possibilities. Albert further explains that these constantly diverging paths do sometimes converge again, though as the result of a different chain of causes; for example, he says, in one possible time-line Dr. Tsun has come to his house as an enemy, in another as a friend.
Though trembling with gratitude at Albert's revelation and in awe of his ancestor's literary genius, Tsun glances up the path to see Capt. Madden approaching the house. He asks Albert to see Ts'ui Pên's letter again. Dr. Albert turns to retrieve it, Tsun draws a revolver, and declares his friendship before murdering him in cold blood.
Dr. Tsun is arrested, convicted of murder, and sentenced to death by hanging. However, he has, "most abhorrently triumphed," as he has revealed to Berlin the location of the artillery park. Indeed the park is bombed as Tsun goes on trial. The location of the artillery park was in Albert. Dr. Tsun had realized that the only way to convey that information was to murder a person of that name, so that the news of the murder would appear in British newspapers connected with his name.
Borges and hypertext 
Beyond its façade as a spy narrative, "The Garden of Forking Paths" has similarities to today's digital media and hypertext projects. Borges conceives of "a labyrinth that folds back upon itself in infinite regression", asking the reader to "become aware of all the possible choices we might make." The elaborate hypertext is much like the book which Borges suggests to be the labyrinth, ("Every one imagined two works; to no one did it occur that the book and the maze were one and the same thing...the confusion of the novel suggested to me that it was the maze") in a sense of how the site offers different approaches to how you may interpret the information provided, yet you're not trapped in the dilemma of choosing one and eliminating others; you may choose to unfold all possibilities. You "create, in this way, diverse futures, diverse times which themselves also proliferate and fork" (Wardrip-Fruin, 33). Although the story appeared before the advent of modern computers, Borges seems to have invented the hypertext narrative structure. Wardrip-Fruin and Montfort write: "Our use of computers is ... based on the visions of those who like Borges—pronouncing [The Garden of Forking Paths] from the growing dark of his blindness—saw those courses that future artists, scientists and hackers might take."
In 1987 Stuart Moulthrop created a hypertextual version of the "The Garden of Forking Paths". This name was given to relate the Gulf War setting of his novel and Borges: Victory Garden. This work would never be published but is highly discussed in academic literature.
Modern hypertext 
Some modern reflexes of the Borgesian hypertext format include:
- The Choose Your Own Adventure genre, which allows the reader to make decisions that affect the outcome of the story.
- Hopscotch, a 1962 "hypertext novel (in codex form)" by Argentine author Julio Cortázar.
- Soft Cinema by Lev Manovich, a form of non-linear media that demonstrates flexibility within narrative forms, whereby movies are created through algorithm software that determines the ordering of film fragments, and for which there is no final, intended product.
- Forward Anywhere, another form of non-linear narrative by Malloy and Marshall.
- Jodi, a puzzling hypertext project which reflects upon Borges' idea of this attribute of complexity linking the novel to the labyrinth.
- Superbad (website) by Ben Benjamin, similar concept as the work of Jodi.
- Patchwork Girl (hypertext) by Shelley Jackson is a hypertext fiction where a story is told through the use of text and images that link together in a narrative fashion. The user has to piece together the structure of the Patchwork Girl.
In modern culture 
- In homage to the story, the TV series FlashForward made an episode entitled "The Garden of Forking Paths". In the episode, the character Dyson Frost referred to a map of the possible futures as his "Garden of Forking Paths."
- Some theories in modern physics propose a similar concept: See Many-worlds interpretation.
See also 
- Gilles Deleuze's use of this story to illustrate the Leibnizian concept of several impossible worlds simultaneously existing and the problem of future contingents.
- Ayssar Arida's linking of "The Garden of Forking Paths" and quantum theory's sum over histories concept for an event-driven urbanism project.
- Wardrip-Fruin, Noah, and Nick Montfort, eds. The New Media Reader. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003.
- Bolter, Jay David; Joyce, Michael (1987). "Hypertext and Creative Writing". Hypertext '87 Papers. ACM. pp. 41–50.
- Moulthrop, Stuart (1991). "Reading From the Map: Metonymy and Metaphor in the Fiction of 'Forking Paths'". In Delany, Paul; Landow, George P. Hypermedia and Literary Studies. Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: The MIT Press.
- Murray, Janet H. "Inventing the Medium" The New Media Reader. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003.
- "The Garden of Forking Paths" Full text
- Stuart Moulthrop, "Concerning 'forking paths'"
- Silvio Gaggi, "Hyperrealities and Hypertexts"
- Lev Manovich, "New Media from Borges to HTML"
- Nick Montfort introduction to "The Garden of Forking Paths" in "The New Media Reader."