Jorge Luis Borges
Borges' short story "The Garden
of Forking Paths" about a mythical labyrinth ("El jardin de senderos
que se bifurcan", firts publ. in Buenos Aires, Sur, 1941) is a fascinated
picture of Many Worlds.
"It seemed incredible that
this day, a day without warnings or omens, might be that of my implacable
death. In despite of my dead father, in despite of having been a child
in one of the symmetrical gardens of Hai Feng, was I to die now?
Then I reflected that all things happen, happen to one, precisely now. Century follows century, and things happen only in the present."
"I know something about labyrinths.
Not for nothing am I the great-grandson of Ts'ui Pen. He was Governor of
Yunnan and gave up temporal power to write a novel with more characters
than there are in the Hung Lou Meng, and to create a maze in which
all men would lose themselves. He spent thirteen years on these oddly assorted
tasks before he was assassinated by a stranger. His novel had no sense
to it and nobody ever found his labyrinth.
Under the trees of England I meditated on this lost and perhaps mythical labyrinth. I imagined it untouched and perfect on the secret summit of some mountain; I imagined it drowned under rice paddies or beneath the sea; I imagined it infinite, made not only of eight-sided pavilions and of twisting paths but also of rivers, provinces and kingdoms... I thought of a maze of mazes, of a sinuous, ever growing maze which would take in both past and future and would somehow involve the stars."
""Here is the Labyrinth, "
learned Sinologist Stephen) Albert said, pointing to a tall, lacquered
"An ivory cabinet? " I (Yu Tsun, the great-grandson of Ts'ui Pen) exclaimed. "A tiny labyrinth indeed... !"
"A symbolic labyrinth, " he corrected me. "An invisible labyrinth of time. I, a barbarous Englishman, have been given the key to this transparent mystery. After more than a hundred years most of the details are irrecoverable, lost beyond all recall, but it isn't hard to imagine what must have happened. At one time, Ts'ui Pen must have said: "I am going into seclusion to write a book, " and at another, "I am retiring to construct a maze." Everyone assumed these were separate activities. No one realized that the book and the labyrinth were one and the same... ""
"(Stephen Albert said:)
"... Naturally, my attention was caught by the sentence, "I leave to various
future times, but not to all, my garden of forking paths. " I had no sooner
read this, than I understood. The Garden of Forking Paths was the
chaotic novel itself. The phrase, "to various time futures, but not to
all" suggested the image of bifurcating in time, not in space. Re-reading
the whole work confirmed this theory. In all fiction, when a man is faced
with alternatives he chooses one at the expense of the others. In the almost
unfathomable Ts'ui Pen, he chooses - simultaneously - all of them. He thus
creates various futures, various times which start others that will in
their turn branch out and bifurcate in other times...
... In Ts'ui Pen's work, all the possible solutions occur, each one being the point of departure for other bifurcations. Sometimes the pathways of this labyrinth converge. For example, you come to this house; but in other possible pasts you are my enemy; in others my friend...""
"(Stephen Albert said:)"...
The Garden of Forking Paths is an enormous guessing game, or parable,
in which the subject is time. The rules of the game forbid the use of the
word itself. To eliminate a word completely, to refer to it by means of
inept phrases and obvious paraphrases, is perhaps the best way of drawing
attention to it.... I can state categorically that not once has the word
time been used in the whole book.
The explanation is obvious. The Garden of Forking Paths is a picture, incomplete yet not false, of the universe such as Ts'ui Pen conceived it to be. Differing from Newton and Schopenhauer, your ancestor did not think of time as absolute and uniform. He believed in an infinite series of times, in a dizzily growing, ever spreading network of diverging, converging and parallel times. This web of time - the strands of which approach one another, bifurcate, intersect or ignore each other through the centuries - embraces every possibility. We do not exist in most of them. In some you exist and not I, while in others I do, and you do not, and in yet others both of us exist. In this one, in which chance has favoured me, you have come to my gate. In another, you, crossing the garden, have found me dead. In yet another, I say these very same words, but am an error, a phantom. "
"In all of them, " I enunciated, with a tremor in my voice. "I deeply appreciate and am grateful to you for the restoration of Ts'ui Pen's garden. "
"Not in all, " he murmured with a smile. "Time is forever dividing itself towards innumerable futures and in one of them I am your enemy. "
Once again I sensed the pullulation of which I have already spoken. It seemed to me that the dew-damp garden surrounding the house was infinitely saturated with invisible people. All were Albert and myself, secretive, busy and multiform in other dimensions of time... "
"...it was also hoped that
a clarification of humanity's basic mysteries -- the origin of the Library
(i.e., universe) and of time -- might be found."