The Garden of Forking Paths

Magical Realism

A paper by Joanna  D.

Spring ’10

In his Garden of Forking Paths collection, Jorge Luis Borges imposes his own universe on us. He seldom strays from his characteristic first person narration, and though his identity may change, his purpose never wavers. To introduce a new element amongst the debrie of the modern universe Borges surrounds fiction and exaggeration with fact so inviolable that one wonders whether the entire universe has changed without one’s notice. This is called magical realism and it is the hallmark of Borge’s work.

The first way in which Borges disorients the reader is by speaking in the first person. His writing sounds almost like a personal testimony by one who has lived through the ages. Yes, witnesses have been known to lie. Yes, the reader picks up fiction with the intent of reading a made up story. One does not, however, expect it the narrator and the author to seem one, nor the author to speak verifiable truth with the same assurance as lie. If the author is the narrator, one reasons, than the world of the book is the real world. First person is the tense used in everyday speech by ourselves. We only abide long sections of text such as those in this book in dialog by ourselves and our close friends and teachers. If we cannot trust ourselves who can we trust?

The second way in which Borges disorients is the seeming validity of his facts.  The liberal use of authentic-sounding dates, names, publications, and quotes leads us to suspect that these are real, albeit obscure events and people. Coupled with contemporary, as well as ancient, names, dates, and publications it becomes a real labor to separate fact from fiction, especially because many of the events listed, such as his personal experience of finding four additional pages in his friend’s copy of Volume XLVI of the Anglo-American Cyclopaedia, are impossible to verify. Fiction intrudes on fact, not only in the encyclopedia, but as time goes on, the fictitious country introduced in those four additional pages begins to intrude in the author’s daily life even in the form of tangible artifacts.

The third method Borges uses to sound credible is his style. I have already mentioned his penchant for first person and authentic sounding dates. These would be used in vain without the accompanying style. Borges writes like a researcher. On many occasions he adopts the style of a book critic, pouring out both praise and diatribes on nonexistent works of fiction.  He uses numerous footnotes, references the numerous sources consulted and is, above all, fair-handed. Of course, it is easy to reference one book that never existed on another book that never existed, or to invent a false quote to back a point, but it is not easy to come up with the idea of referencing such books or such quotes. In the Internet Age, of course, such quotes can be easily discredited, but when they are stated with such authority and mixed with so many other verifiable references, who will bother to try, even in the Internet Age?

This is magical realism: to impinge on reality, to incite us to affirm the existence of fantasy in reality, and to cite such existence in our support of magical realism. It creates a whole other world supported, and indeed enlarged for our desire for this other world to exist. Perhaps this is Borges’s way of proving that our trust, our desires, and our beliefs create reality.


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