Jorge Luis Borges, "The Garden of the Forking Paths"
from Everything and Nothing

An analysis by English 495

Ts'ui Pen's "novel" extended beyond literary pages and into a labyrinth that is actually life itself. Life is a "garden of forking paths." Pen's great life work was life itself. . . . . "To omit a word always, to resort to inept metaphors and obvious periphrases, is perhaps the most emphatic way of stressing something" (49).

Perhaps the ommited word, what this story is about is the Pen. (The hidden word indicating that the story's theme is writing is right there on the surface, it turns out.) The narrator, Yu Tsun, is writing a message through the medium of his own actions in the world: he shoots a man in order to get the man's name printed in the paper, as a way of saying to a German commandant, "Attack the city called Albert," which the commandant then did.

"The concept of plagiarism does not exist: it has been established that all works are a creation of one author, who is atemporal and anonymous" (24).

On one model (the "Forking Paths" model), we see endless possibilities, limitless realities. . . . Another, conflicting conceptual construction in the story is that of the "now." The assasin contemplates "That everything happens to a man precisely, precisely, now" (40). When he shoots Albert, the assassin creates a now that relegates all possibility of Albert not being shot to the realm of what can only be imagined or envisioned, never realized. The now is a sort of destoyer of possibilities in a sense. As soon as an event happens, a contradictory event is no longer possible.

Perhaps a writer, in selecting one plot line over limitless possibilities, in some sense murders time, murders all the other possibilities.

The story ends with Yu Tsun speaking about his "innumerable contrition and weariness," as if the actions he commits aren't so much chosen paths but rather the result of being forced to follow a tale that he (or someone) is writing. It is as if all of us, you too, were simply being written.

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