Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Significance of the Labyrinth in Borges' Works

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The image of the labyrinth is an essential aspect of Jorge Borges’ writings. According to Webster’s dictionary, a labyrinth is correctly defined as “an intricate combination of paths or passages in which it is difficult to find one’s way” (Braham 54). Borges’ works can be described in a similar manner. Each passage through time and ultimately life is interconnected, but with each turn, new opportunities arise creating more options for the future. There are an infinite number of possible outcomes. Borges viewed the world and more importantly the concept of time, as a labyrinth; the character Ts’ui Pên had the same view of the world.


In the short story, “The Garden of Forking Paths”, the narrator’s ancestor, Ts’ui Pên, wrote a book that was in itself a labyrinth and an infinite series, similar to the works of Borges himself. In the short story, Stephen Albert says that the book was “a labyrinth of symbols…an invisible labyrinth of time” (Borges 418). When confronted by a choice in this book, the character chooses all possible alternatives and lives them out simultaneously. “He creates in this way, diverse futures, diverse times which themselves also proliferate and fork” (Borges 41). Every decision is significant. Ts’ui Pên’s view of the universe was that exactly of Borges; Ts’ui Pên’s “Garden of Forking Paths” is Borges’ narrative. Both accounts follow the same concept of infinite possibilities and time.


Every choice that one makes affects the eventual outcome in the labyrinth of life. The paths are ever converging and diverging. As stated by the editor of the Norton Anthology of World Literature, “Borges’s imaginative world is an immense labyrinth, a ‘garden of forking paths’ in which images of mazes and infinite mirroring, cyclical repetition and recall, illustrate the effort of an elusive narrative voice to understand its own significance and that of the world” (Lawall/Mack 41). Borges also aims to show the reader that the future can never be foretold; there are an immeasurable number of potential choices, all of them possibly existing simultaneously. Reality, in itself, is a maze; time creates multiple realities. Through Ts’ui Pên, Borges demonstrates his own view of the world and time as an obscure labyrinth.


Borges, Jorge Luis. “The Garden of Forking Paths”. The Norton Anthology of World Literature. Second Ed. Volume F. New York W.W. Norton & Company. 00.


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Braham, Carol G. (ed.). Webster’s School and Office Dictionary. New York Random House. 15.


Lawall, Sarah (ed.), Maynard Mack (ed.). “Jorge Luis Borges”. The Norton Anthology of World Literature. Second Ed. Volume F. New York W.W. Norton & Company. 00.


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