On Wandering

Sometimes, I wander in circles. Closed circles. Other times – in forking paths, as those of the garden of J.L. Borges. And other times – in extended spirals that go, further and further, away from the point I’ve started.


While listening to Eyes Wide Open the idea that there’s a loop in anything might become pretty obvious. And when I say loop, I am especially referring to the musical definition of a loop – a finite element of sound which is repeated by technical means.

Repetition, though, even in music, is not exactly the same, as new sounds are constantly added and multiplied upon a simple base that stays the same, to give rhythm. In fact, a loop (in video, as well as in sound) has got to have a very important thing, meaning fluidity – the same beginning and end, so that you don’t feel when the loop is starting again – but, besides that, a loop can turn into several unexpected, unique stories.

Two years ago, I was in Lagos, Portugal, watching the surfers from the beach and wishing I could do the same. Still, I was buying my plane ticket to go back. Now I am again in Portugal, in Lisbon, this time taking my time to learn to surf. And for me, here and now, this is the perfect turn of the loop.

So, thinking of waves, more exactly of the perfect barrel, and how I went back and forth with my surfing, I finally ended this sketch (that I started some years ago).

But where’s the forking path, here? Well, exactly as Borges designed it, in his story, the forking path is in time and not in space. In my case, the forking path is somewhere in the past. Behind the drawing.

On The Paths of Borges

I am deeply fond of the universe of Mr. Jorge Luis Borges, Argentine fantastic short-story writer, essayist, poet and translator. And one of my favorite stories, that of this Garden, starts as a spy noir movie about an MI5 agent of the WW-2, Dr. Tsun,  that is sure he is going to be arrested and, before that happens, he wants to send a message to the agency.

The message comes in an unexpected shape of a murder of the person who has the same name as the location he wants to send the message about (Albert) but, until the end, the story takes us to an unexpected parallel story, that of Ts’ui Pên, Tsun’s ancestor – a learned and famous man who renounced his job as governor of Yunnan in order to undertake two tasks: to write a vast and intricate novel, and to construct an equally vast and intricate labyrinth, one in which all men would lose their way. Ts’ui Pên was murdered before completing his novel, however, and what he did write was a contradictory jumble of irresolute drafts that made no sense to subsequent readers; nor was the labyrinth ever found.

Well, it turns out that the Albert character that is going to be murdered by Tsun (for a good war cause, though) not only solves Tsun’s own dilemma of sending the message to the MI5 but has previously solved Tsun’s ancestors dilemma, as the words of Ts’ui Pên: I leave to several futures (not to all) my garden of forking paths, make Albert realize that the garden of forking paths is the novel, and that the forking took place in time, not in space.*

As compared to most fictions, where the character chooses one alternative at each decision point and thereby eliminates all the others, Ts’ui Pên’s novel attempted to describe a world where all possible outcomes of an event occur simultaneously, each one itself leading to further extensions of possibilities.

These constantly diverging paths do sometimes converge again, though as the result of a different chain of causes; for example, he says, in one possible time-line Tsun has come to his house as an enemy, in another as a friend.

*  ‘…The explanation is obvious: The Garden of Forking Paths is an incomplete, but not false, image of the universe as Ts’ui Pên conceived it. In contrast to Newton and Schopenhauer, your ancestor did not believe in a uniform, absolute time.

He believed in an infinite series of times, in a growing, dizzying net of divergent, convergent and parallel times.

This network of times which approached one another, forked, broke off, or were unaware of one another for centuries, embraces all possibilities of time.

We do not exist in the majority of these times; in some you exist, and not I; in others I, and not you; in others, both of us. In the present one, which a favorable fate has granted me, you have arrived at my house; in another, while crossing the garden, you found me dead; in still another, I utter these same words, but I am a mistake, a ghost.’

The story was published in 1941 in Buenos Aires, by Sur, with the original title of El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan.

Jorge Luis Borges, self-portrait, image source: Ex Libris


All photos and illustrations are mine except when other copyright indicated.


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