The Garden of Forking Paths
by Jorge Luis Borges
The Garden of Forking Paths Theme of Literature and Writing
One of the most confusing and most enriching aspects of "The Garden of Forking Paths" is the way Borges includes excerpts from and references to other texts within the text of the story – in other words, its "intertextuality." Not only does a novel serve as the central element of the story, but the story itself is framed as a fragment of a deposition (oral testimony given by a witness to be used in a trial) within a larger history text. Borges forces us to consider the questions of authorship, publication, and the nature of writing, especially when confronted with a footnote from an anonymous "manuscript editor."
Questions About Literature and Writing
- How many different texts appear within this story? Draw a diagram of the way in which the texts intersect, overlap, and nest within each other.
- How many of the texts that Borges mentions are imaginary? What are the advantages of writing about an imaginary text?
- Who is the "manuscript editor" who leaves the footnote on page one? Whose side is he or she on? And who writes the annotation "note from the manuscript editor"?
- What is the role of publication in the story in relation to the various texts presented? What does publication mean, for the characters? Which texts are published, and which ones aren't?
Chew on This
Borges' use of intertextuality causes the story to resemble the structure of Ts'ui Pen's novel The Garden of Forking Paths, sending out forks and branches to other works like the links of a Wikipedia article.
The act of writing in the story is a task that must be accomplished in seclusion, even though the product – writing itself – opens up infinite links and connections to other texts.