A Garden of Forking Paths

“The Garden of Forking Paths,” a short story in the novel “Labyrinths,” by Jorge Luis Borges, was the subject of the WCC’s Great Books Forum Series on Thursday night, October 4th. Encountering classic and modern literature in company, discussions focused on issues of context and interpretation.

The discussion was run by Craig Padawer, professor and curriculum chair of Digital Film and Photography along with Professor Ellen Wasserman. At the forum, ten to fifteen non-students chimed in with their own opinions on what exactly the author, Borges was saying.

Padawar lives in Pound Ridge, NY. With an over forty minute drive to the city, light pollution is hardly an issue. Every clear night yields an incredible night sky, which may be foreign to those of lower Westchester and New York City. Padawar said that the complexity of the Garden of Forking Paths absorbs him more than the night sky of his hometown.

The story follows Dr. Yu Tsung, an English professor living in England.  He is in fact a spy for the German empire and is being pursued by foreign agents. Tsun explains that he has no real allegiance to Germany, but he simply wishes to prove to his employers that a chinese man has the intelligence to obtain the information necessary to save lives.      

He suspects that Captain Madden, an Irishman working for the British with similar intentions, is after him. Traveling to the home of Dr. Albert, a professor of Chinese studies, Tsun reflects on his ancient ancestor who renounced his job as governor to undertake the writing of an intricate novel, simultaneously constructing an equally intricate labyrinth. Unfortunately, his ancestor was murdered before it’s completion.

When Tsun arrives at Alberts home, they engage in conversation about Tsun’s ancestor, where they talk about what the novel really means.

They conclude that the novel and the labyrinth are one and the same, describing a world where all possible outcomes of an event occur at the same time, each leading to infinite possible paths. The ending gives us a real world example of this concept but, we won’t spoil the ending.

“The story raises the concepts of time, space, eternity, infinity, and reality,” said one woman in the forum. “Asking us to explore from many different perspectives, Borges is actively trying to make us think by putting forth the concept of infinite possibilities; a figurative “garden of forking paths” that we enter when reading this story.”

The forum left the attendants with more to think about when reading other texts from Borges.

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