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In Jorge Luis Borges's The Garden of Forking Paths, before the reader learns that the central issue in the story is going to be the metaphysics of time, the protagonist offers two remarks about the perception of time that don't seem very important when first read, but obviously are important considering the theme of the story. The first is as follows: "Then I reflected that everything happens to a man precisely, precisely now. Centuries of centuries and only in the present do things happen". The second is an advice he gives to anyone planning an atrocious undertaking, that he "ought to imagine that he has already accomplished it, ought to impose upon himself a future as irrevocable as the past". The second comment suggests past and future history all to be determined, and the passage of time as just moving along a prefigured, existant, and unchangeable course, while the first one suggests a conception in which only the present really exists, while the past and the future exist only as recollection and speculation respectively. In either case, the passage of time is linear. These two comments of course, are in contrast to what eventually is revealed to be the thesis of the lost labyrinthine novel authored by the protagonist's ancestor, that time is not moving down a line, but down a branching tree of possible eventualities, like a person walking through a garden down a constantly forking path. In this way, time is both prefigured (the tree of possibilities is prefigured), but constantly happening (as at any moment one branch is gone down and others are not).

All so far is well and good, but what occured to me is that all of this commentary is not necessarily about the metaphysics of time, nor do I find it probable that it it is. It seems to me to have as much to say about literary criticism, a favored subject for deconstruction for Borges. The story responds to two contrasting views of reading texts with a third. One view, authorial intent, holds that the intended reading of a text is encoded in it, and that reading should be an attempt at extracting that intent from the text -- that is, the meaning of the text is predetermined. The second view, reader response, is that the text itself holds no intrinsic meaning and that a meaning is created anew each time the text is read in the reader's mind. Thus, the meaning of the text is constantly being created. The translation of the third conception of time to this arena is therefore that a text inherently holds in it all possible meanings that might be extracted from it, and then in reading it, a reader chooses to follow one path over another and comes up with a corresponding meaning. In fact, this analogy works particularly well for Borges stories! A Borges story typically has a great depth of layers it begs the reader to concider, and in peeling each one of these layers in turn, the reader is forced to make some choice -- Is Tlön a real place or a fabrication? Is even its existence as a fabrication real, or is the narrator making that up as well, or is he just lying about the intrusion of Tlön into the real world? Of course, in making each decision, the reader relies on the text for clues, and there are good reasons to read the text one way instead of another. But as the reader delves to deeper and deeper layers, there are less and less reasons, and the reader's decisions are basically their own. In such a way, Borges stories can be thought to hold all possible readings of themselves. Of course, this here reading I've been expounding of The Garden of Forking Paths is one of many possible, and it might be that I've arrived at it by taking all left turns. You decide.

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