Friday, January 17, 2020

The Garden of Forking Paths

This morning I re-read The Garden of Forking Paths, perhaps the archetypal Borgesian metaphysical enigma, written in 1941. 

It should perhaps be read as a companion piece to any more contemporary piece of popular scientific explanation, say The Order of Time, by Carlo Rovelli, in the interests of constructive bafflement over deceptive clarity. 

It’s one of those stories stacked with juiced-up sentences, not all of which will ignite the synapses on any given reading. 

My take-out today was as follows. The garden is, physically at least, an English garden, located in the fictional town or village of Ashgrove. When the train arrives at the station, nobody announces its name. 

Twice narrator Dr Tsun makes the point that the path he follows is on an incline, downwards. 

At the heart of the garden there’s a structure, which houses an even greater labyrinth, an infinite novel. And a man called Albert. Dr Tsun’s encounter with him is at once apposite and arbitrary. 

The nature of this novel is a riddle about Time, a word that it is careful never to mention during the course of this ‘guessing game’. 

Not all possible futures can be reached from a given location on the path. 

Borges had a solid, very modern grasp of the relationship of consciousness to the ‘flow’ of time. "Century follows century, and things happen only in the present. There are countless men in the air, on land and at sea, and all that really happens, happens to me."

This part of the story suggests an additional riddle for me, that may not even be ‘in’ the text. 

Consciousness is our subjective experience of the path, of the absence that is time, but is it always the same track that we are descending?  At times in my life I’ve had a strong sense of being on a specific and connotative path and at other times very much off it, lost in the labyrinth. 

Gregory Norminton once quipped that 'If God is truth, Satan was the first storyteller.' Put less theologically, the conscious mind is the universe's storyteller, stringing together those moments where we sense that the present is happening to us into a beaten path of apparent continuity. Yet is this just an analogue version of an objective path or indeed paths?

Both the English version of the title and the Spanish (El Jardín de Senderos que se Bifurcan) give us a plurality of paths through the maze. My intuition is that might encompass not just the bifurcations, but different originating paths. 

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