The Garden Of Forking Paths by Jorge Luis Borges, 1941
The magic trick:
Mixing philosophy with a spy story
I love this story. Whereas yesterday’s Borges feature, “The Library Of Babel,” fascinated on an intellectual level as an essay, today’s story, “The Garden Of Forking Paths” is an amazing philosophical essay tied up in a ripping spy thriller.
The spy portion of the story gets interrupted by a bizarre, dreamlike plot twist that results in a lengthy consideration of what amounts to the first Choose Your Own Adventure book of all time. It’s very Borges and very, very interesting. But the really cool thing is just when you think the philosophizing tangent is here to stay, the spy story comes back with a wonderful plot twist to close things out. And that’s quite a trick on Borges’s part.
“The explanation is obvious: The Garden of Forking Paths is an incomplete, but not false, image of the universe as Ts’ui Pên conceived it. In contrast to Newton and Schopenhauer, your ancestor did not believe in a uniform, absolute time. He believed in an infinite series of times, in a growing, dizzying net of divergent, convergent and parallel times. This network of times which approached one another, forked, broke off, or were unaware of one another for centuries, embraces all possibilities of time. We do not exist in the majority of these times; in some you exist, and not I; in others I, and not you; in others, both of us. In the present one, which a favorable fate has granted me, you have arrived at my house; in another, while crossing the garden, you found me dead; in still another, I utter these same words, but I am a mistake, a ghost.”