Navigating in the Garden

Navigating in the Garden

Borges in New York City

The Garden of Forking Paths is an incomplete, but not false, image of the universe as Ts'ui Pen 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. -- (Borges 28)

Jorge Luis Borges' The Garden of Forking Paths is also pseudo-hypertextual, but in a much different way than Calvino's If On a Winter's Night a Traveler. Rather than over accentuating a specific writing technique, Borges couches the concept of hypertextuality within his own linear narrative. At the same time, Borges explicitly calls attention to the metamorphosis of the reader into a creator who most literally choose paths in order for the hypertext narrative to continue. The character Albert states that "...each time a man is confronted with several alternatives, he chooses one...He creates, in this way, diverse futures, diverse times which themselves proliferate and fork...each [possible outcome] is the point of departure for other forkings" (Borges 26). The limited choices a reader has within a linear work (i.e. to turn the pages; proceed from paragraph to paragraph according to the author's preconceived organization of the work, to close the book) expands into active choice making and creating an individualized narrative.

This concept of creation goes beyond the mere act of writing down words. By creating, the reader's point of view or perspective is developed beyond the mere comprehension of text. The reader must actively seek information in the attempt to alter not only the text's development but the reader herself. The function of the reader changes from that of a consumer, who must digest a work in chronological fashion, to that of a producer, who possesses the option to stop creating simply through the refusal to make any more decisions within the hypertext. In addition to terminating a read at any point, a hypertextual fiction allows entrance into the text through a multitude of paths. In re-starting a hypertextual work the reader has a plethora of options to follow:

To start the work and choose different paths than chosen from before
To start at the last saved or bookmarked point and either continue forward
To start at the last saved or bookmarked point and retrace steps to other points of decision
To start the work over and try to recreate past decisions

While one of the linear readers of Calvino's If On a Winter's Night a Traveler states, " I, too, feel the need to reread the books I have already read...but at every rereading I seem to be reading a new book, for the first time" (Calvino, 255) her statement refers to a newness encountered with the actual rereading of the same exact book in the same linear fashion in a fixed and static text. In hypertext readings, the rereading of a work not only encompasses a similar feeling of virtual newness, but allows an actual change in the words read and/or a difference in the organization of individual lexias. When Wolfgan Iser states, "It is a common enough experience for a person to say that on a second reading he notice things he had missed when he read the book for first time" (Iser The Reading Process 217) he had no idea how true his words would ring in the realm of hypertext. By following links from lexia to lexia often other paths or links are left behind with the potential to either surface or remain unseen - in this case Iser's words are true in at least two different senses: 1)the reader may have missed a referent that adumbrates a later even and 2)the reader may have literally missed an entire series of lexias by simply by choosing one fork in the hypertextual road over another. Far from being static, the hypertextual work is constantly in a state of transition. Rather than being a slave to the linear progression of a book, the reader now has the option to navigate amongst a variety of "forking paths."

The word navigate in this context is particularly appropriate. The OED defines the word "navigate" as follows:

1 tr. manage or direct the course of ( a ship, aircraft, etc.).
2 tr. a sail on (a sea, river, etc.). b travel or fly through (the air).
3 intr. (of a passenger in a vehicle) assist the drive by map-reading etc.
4 tr. (often refl) colloq. steer (oneself, a course, etc.) through a crowd etc.
The etc. of the above definition can just as easily be replaced by the words hypertext document,: 1 manage or direct the course of (a hypertext document); 2a sail on a hypertext document;4steer (onself/a hypertextual document/vice versa) through (a hypertextual document/oneself/vice versa) . The sensation of navigating through a hypertextual work compares favorably to the ideas of sailing, flying, managing, steering and driving while accentuating the reader's ability to assert a guiding control over the text. However, while it is easy to get caught up in the notion of more liberties for the reader, the definition of navigation contains within it the limitations of hypertext -- 3(of a passenger in a vehicle) assist the drive by map-reading.

Calvino's notion of the reader as jockey comes full circle. While it certainly remains true that the hypertextual reader maintains the ability to drive, paradoxically, the reader serves as a passenger circumscribed by the specified choices offered by the text. While certain hypertextual works, such as, Michael Joyce's Afternoon, a Story and Stuart Moulthrop's Victory Garden, utilize a tool bar that contains a Yes/No button and a Text Entry box for further reader interaction, these innovations have yet to realize their full potential. At this point, these options predominantly provide the reader with the illusion of selecting her own pathway outside the ones offered by the text, when in fact the use of these options typically lead the reader to a default section of the hypertext document. While the use and development of such innovations are in the continual process of improvement, the evolution of the reader entity keeps pace. During this evolutionary process, the reader continually increases the range and scope of reader responsibilities