The Garden of Forking Paths

by Jorge Luis Borges

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What are some important quotations in "The Garden of Forking Paths"?

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To select the most important quotes from "The Garden of Forking Paths," it is crucial to grasp its main themes. The narrator is a Chinese man working as a spy for the German government during World War I. He is being pursued by a British agent named Richard Madden. While attempting to convey the location of a British artillery park to his superiors, he comes to an isolated estate where a sinologist named Dr. Stephen Albert has been attempting to discover the secret of the elaborate novel and labyrinth of the narrator's ancestor Ts'ui Pen. The most important theme of the story has to do with Ts'ui Pen's labyrinth, not the World War I spy intrigue that serves as a framing device. For this reason, the most important quotes have to do with the novel and the labyrinth.

I am quoting from the translation of Borges's Collected Fictions by Andrew Hurley, which was authorized by the author's estate after his death.

When the narrator is walking through the darkness from the train station to Albert's estate, he ruminates about his ancestor Ts'ui Pen. This is when readers first learn about the novel and the labyrinth.

I am something of a connoisseur of mazes: not for nothing am I the great-grandson of that Ts'ui Pen who was governor of Yunan province and who renounced all temporal power in order to write a novel ... and construct a labyrinth in which all men would lose their way.

In this quote we first discover the existence of Pen's novel and labyrinth. We also learn of the narrator's connection with Pen, and the story first deviates from the spy plot into an intricate analysis of mazes and labyrinths. The next major breakthrough is when Albert reveals to the narrator that the novel and the labyrinth are the same thing.

Everyone pictured two projects: it occurred to no one that book and labyrinth were one and the same.

After this revelation, Albert further reveals to the narrator (and to readers) the true nature of Pen's construction.

The garden of forking paths was the chaotic novel; the phrase "several futures (not all)" suggested to me the image of a forking in time, rather than in space.

Albert goes on to explain that in Pen's elaborate novel "all the outcomes in fact occur"—in other words, everything that can possibly happen does happen in a cyclical pattern. These explanations of the nature of Ts'ui Pen's creative endeavors are at the heart of this story, and that's why these are the most important quotes instead of those that tell of the espionage intrigues that surround them.

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