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An Unpopular Opinion on Borges June 7, 2007

Posted by KG in Books.

Fully intending to give the gift of Borges, I bought a copy of Labyrinths recently.  And thus found myself getting sucked back in to a Borgesian labyrinth of my own.  I suppose it has been a few years since I’ve had my head thoroughly twisted by ProtoPoMoLit.

Having gone on Borges kicks before, I was adequately prepared for the density of the stories and their meta-narratives.  The suspicion that I’d probably need a dictionary at crucial moments was humbling — and has thus far been on point (opprobrium).  What I was unprepared for was re-reading The Garden of Forking Paths and realizing that I have absolutely no idea what the initial paragraph from the first-layer narrator means.  After reading the story about four times more, I grew weary of trying to figure it out.  A cursory bit of research offered no adequate answers, focusing instead on the hypertextual meat of the story’s spy narrative and the multiple-worlds hypothesis.  I’m coming around to the opinion that the early lines may be a way for the reader to consider (in)significant forks in the road.   But in the end, I struggle with the added value — the core narrative stands on its own without any frame.  The existence of the frame suggests either that the short anecdote was Borges’ inspiration, or that he didn’t know how to start his actual story.  I quote the relevant below. 

On page 22 of Liddell Hart’s History of World War I you will read that an attack against the Serre-Montauban line by thirteen British divisions (supported by 1,400 artillery pieces), planned for the 24th of July, 1916, had to be postponed until the morning of the 29th. The torrential rains, Captain Liddell Hart comments, caused this delay, an insignificant one, to be sure.

The Garden of Forking Paths is a favorite of Borges acolytes, the popular reason being that it was the first modern(ish) work to conceive of multiple worlds.  But in 2007, any basic comic book or Star Trek fan could give you a basic lecture on how geek favorite concepts like hypertime and the multiverse work.  And being the first isn’t a valid reason for being lauded.  Compared to other Borges short stories (for example, The Circular Ruins), The Garden of Forking Paths has never struck me as particularly interesting or praiseworthy.  The frame is clumsy, the writing is tedious, and the plot is about as clear as mud.  Maybe I’m just too dumb to get it, but I suspect what’s more likely is that it just isn’t that good.  



1. Amie - June 10, 2007

Completely OT, but thought I’d share. Mrs. Plum is retiring in a couple of days. Her husband has a big billboard on Bel Air rd by Putty Hill announcing her retirement after 38 years of teaching.

I wonder how many bottles of temper paint that woman has purchased through the years.

A quick game, just for fun. Get a stopwatch.


Time yourself to see how long it takes you to remember all of:


..and Go!

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