The idea for the site is not original. It is based on an article by Stuart Moulthrop (1991). In this article Moulthrop describes his hypertextual adaptation of the short story by Jorge Luis Borges ‘The Garden of Forking Paths’. This site is itself another adaptation of the same story. However its aims and structure are different. On a basic technical difference with the original project the website is constructed using HTML for presentation on the World Wide Web. In this form the Garden is a hyperfictional environment. By hyperfiction we mean the use of hypertext to construct a fictional narrative.
Borges and the particular story have been recognised by current hypertext theorists to be a print precursor of hypertext. The main issue of the Garden is time. Time is not ‘uniform and absolute’. Borges imagines ‘an infinite series of times, a growing, dizzying web of divergent, convergent and parallel times’ (Borges, 1998).
The form of the Garden is that of a detective story. At the centre of the narration is a book written by Chinese philosopher Ts’ui Pen. The book itself comments on the notion of time. Stephen Albert, the Sinologist friend of the narrator Yu Tsun, explains to him that Ts’ui Pen’s two goals, construct a labyrinth and write a book, merge into the published book based on his ‘chaotic manuscripts’. The book’s title is the ‘Garden of Forking Paths’ as well. The book is the labyrinth, the Garden. The construction of the maze is explained by Albert: In all fictions, each time a man meets diverse alternatives, he chooses one and eliminates the others; in the work of the virtually impossible-to-disentangle Ts'ui Pen, the character chooses simultaneously all of them. He creates, thereby, ‘several futures,’ several times, which themselves proliferate and fork .
In the abrupt end of the story Yu Tsun kills Stephen Albert. As commented by Borges ‘the paths of the labyrinth converge’. The secondary issue of the identity of Yu Tsun as a spy for the Germans merges with the main one, Ts’ui Pen’s Garden. In this ending, as Albert predicts, Yu Tsun comes as an enemy, in another he would come as a friend.
Print restricts the depiction of this bifurcation, the forking in time and space, the ‘several futures’ Borges is talking about. Throughout his collection of fictions the themes of labyrinths and mirrors are recurring. Borges is interested in representing multiple existing realities. He constructs narratives that play with the concepts of end and beginning, real and unreal, cause and effect. The labyrinths, the Aleph of his famous story through which one can see everything, are the symbols he utilises to describe this world of multiple possibilities.
The Garden deals with the limited capacity of the narrative to represent time. Borges imagines this book where unlike conventional fiction, the plot evolves in different directions at the same time. Borges’ metaphysical thinking mixes the concepts of multiplicity and uniqueness with reference to time. The textual representation of his aesthetics makes use of non linearity, multi sequentiality and non conclusive endings. One might find himself rereading passages of his stories after reaching the end of them. The Garden is full of words, sentences that seem to relate to other pieces of the story, most of them to the last two paragraphs.
These trails through the text seem to construct the paths of a labyrinth. Borges builds a narrative of a labyrinthine structure to talk about a book that is a labyrinth. This literary game is evident from the title. The short story ‘Garden of Forking Paths’ talks about a book of the same name and itself is one of the eight stories of a collection named ‘Garden of Forking Paths’. Some theorists regard his literary idiom as a comment on the stagnancy of literature. He describes it as being baroque.
The virtues of such a multilayered mental construction are considered to coincide with hypertext. Hypertext, interactive hyperfiction makes use of links and text blocks. It creates a text that is open, unbound and expandable. It can be described as a network with multiple entrances and exits, no specified ends or beginning. In this maze like structure all external and internal references of the text can be visually present, unlike print. Therefore hyperfiction is multilinear and multisequential. It has no central axis on which it develops. Just like Borges’ Garden all possibilities can be realised at the same time. Intertextuality, the dialogue between texts, a single corpus’ allusions and references, can be directly linked as nodes. They are not considered marginal, peripheral pieces of writing, as there is no such hierarchy in hypertextual environments. The various interconnections constitute possible orders, in which the text nodes can be assembled and read. Each order provides a different hierarchy and orders can be infinite if the text is always expanding.
The website’s aim is to recreate the labyrinth illusion of the Borgesian text, by making use of the aforementioned characteristics of hyperfiction. This is achieved by not facilitating navigation. The webpages do not carry any navigational buttons or links except from a link that leads back to the home page (index.htm) and the various linked phrases. The Borges novel has been divided into thematic paragraphs, lexias according to Landow (1997). This division is subjective and it is not base on semantic unity or cohesion. The lexias are connected between them with links. The words and phrases that have been specified as links represent the intratextual references of the text. Again on a subjective judgement passages of the story, lexias, are linked to certain words that seem to relate and refer to. The reader-browser clicks on the links to follow a lead and the next passage appears with more links to follow. As in a labyrinth the paths might lead nowhere, to a dead end, or repetitive circles. A webpage might appear again and again or the browser might not be able to see all of the webpages. The objective is for the user to create his own order of the novel, to practice non-sequentiality. He might even begin with the story’s ending. However there is one trail consisting of one link in every page that leads through the passages in their original print sequence. As in every labyrinth the user has to find the first passage of the linear order (which is not so difficult) and each time choose the ‘correct’ linked word or phrase.
The story of the Garden is supposedly narrated by the hero. The narrator of the first paragraph of the fiction is Borges himself introducing this supposed diary. This excerpt, external to the main story, is separated from the rest of the text and serves as the introduction to the site. The final sentence states that the two first pages of the diary are missing. Therefore it is an appropriate introduction to any of the following paragraphs –webpages because it prepares the reader for an incomplete, headless text.
The text is presented as a GIF image. The image has been divided into areas linked to every webpage of the site. Therefore the reader has the opportunity to return to this page if he wants to see all the webpages. However his choice of paragraphs is random. There is no indication of the original sequence or the name of the HTML document. Also present in the index.htm is a link to a commentary on the site explaining its purpose and functions.
The site has been designed to be viewed in 1024x768. It can be viewed using both MS Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator browsers preferably versions 4, in Windows or Macintosh operating systems. Nevertheless its structure should enable viewing in every platform and with the use of any internet browsing software.
The layout and design of the website is aiming towards two objectives. To contribute to the general objective of creating the illusion of a labyrinth environment, where the user is disorientated, and imitate the structure of a book. To serve the latter purpose all webpages have uniform appearance like the pages of a regular book. The only differentiating element is the text. Text is implemented in the cell of a table. The index.htm file is considered the cover of the ‘book’.
Serving our first purpose, the text has been aligned to the right to signify departure of the conventional left to right direction of reading. More importantly, the layout of the webpages consists of text blending with the background image. The background is a collage of images that mix inseparably with each other. They have no order and no centre. Their unbalanced and random order resembles the hyperfictional network and the Borgesian labyrinth. No element has central position, the text does not dominate the background. It blends with the images and the images intrude in the text area. The title of the webpage, the name of the author merge within the background. They do not hold any central position apart from being on the top. The background images consist of scattered text, letters, Asian characters and geometric objects. The sum is intended to be heterogeneous. The text is treated not only as the carrier of verbal meaning but also as a visual object, typographical characters with aesthetic value.
The primary target audience of the site is people with a specific interest in the story of ‘The Garden of Forking Paths’. Consequently people interested in the works of Borges and perhaps Latin American literature or fiction in general. As the site could be described as hyperfiction, visitors of the site could have an interest in hypertext’s application in narration. The readers of the Moulthrop article, or readers of hypertext theorists such as Landow or Bolter, people with an interest in literary theory and electronic text, students, might be attracted to the site. Relevant keywords have been inserted in the source code to facilitate users of search engines.
We have already mentioned that the site makes use of the text’s self references. These have been highlighted in the form of links between the webpages-paragraphs. However hypertext’s capabilities extend beyond materialisation of intratextuality. The site can be expanded to include documents such as commentaries, criticism, texts that seem to have influenced the author, texts that he explicitly or implicitly refers to, works that he has been an influence for. All the range of the text’s intertextual references can be linked to this corpus. For example hypertext can represent the striking analogies of the Borgesian text and Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose. The library of the Eco novel can be linked to Borges’ Library of Babel’ story, the Garden to the labyrinthine structure of the monastery’s library, the blind librarian Jorge can be linked directly to Jorge Luis Borges. Themes existing in both books such as the mirrors or the burning of a medieval monastery can be linked together. Philosophical and theological documents of the Byzantine and Middle Ages can also be linked, as their influence on both works is evident.
The site does not interfere with the original text. It represents only intratextual references. However there exist two links that represent the site’s connection with both the Web and simultaneously serve as intertextual documents. Borges in the text mentions Tacitus’ Annals and the Chinese novel Hung Lu Meng. A translation of the Annals and the original Chinese version of the ‘Dream of the Red Chambers’, as is the English translation of the novel’s title, are linked to the relevant phrases.