Have you ever wondered about what could have happened? Perhaps you could have avoided rush hour by leaving your house five minutes earlier. Or maybe you would have been five inches taller if your mother had married Jean from fifth period instead of John from study hall because Jean’s genetics are much stealthier, but he was wearing strong cologne the day your mom met him. Except, he didn’t wear the cologne, he walked
through it when he left the locker room and shower-less Shane doused himself in it. There is a constant weaving of alternate scenarios that come to fruition when a decision is made. There is a true art behind this though, one discussed in The Garden of Forking Paths by Jorge Luis Borges.
Borges is best known for his Borgesian Conundrum that inquires whether the writer writes the story, or it writes him. This Argentine poet, essayist, and short story writer focused on speculative fiction and began to explore existential questions that shaped his litterae. Often seen in his works is the nature of a labyrinth.
As a symbol, the labyrinth’s model attempts to conceptualize “free will and fate.” According to an anonymous source, “From within a labyrinth, it is virtually impossible to conceive of the maze’s overall structure; one can take many different paths which lead to the same place, even if there are some dead ends.” All of the alternate paths allow the reader to consider exactly what autonomy means, and if free will and fate are mutually exclusive.
You can see this type of labyrinth in pop culture in David Bowie’s 1986 film, “Labyrinth.”
In the film, the main character Sarah is forced to retrieve her brother from the Goblin King (Bowie) who lives at the center of the labyrinth. The idea behind the plot is to use the “what if” factor seen in Borges’ work, when Sarah wishes her brother to be taken away. The literal labyrinth in the film plays to the magical realism elements we read in the story.
Students often reach forks in the road of their academic career, each prong directing them into a different life, and at the risk of sounding grandiose, a different universe. How can this idea of magical realism be explained to them? An interesting approach might be to give every student in the classroom a government role. Then, have students to each grab hold of different ends of string. Each student then walks to the edge of the classroom, creating a weaved assessment of string in the middle. The students will then have to direct the teacher (you) to cut a string.
However, whichever string they decide to cut, they lose that person in their government. Before they cut the string, they must assess the person’s role they are willing to lose and what that means for their new government. They will have to do this until there are only three members of government left standing. What kind of world would exist with only three people in power of a large republic?
The power of labyrinth ideals used in literature help allow students to become deep thinkers, having them involved first hand will help to develop their critical thinking skills as well.
Borges, Jorge Luis. “The Garden of Forking Paths.” The Norton Anthology of World Literature, edited by Martin Puchner, 3rd ed., W. W. Norton & Company Ltd., Inc., 2014, pp. 1337-1344.