There is no intellectual exercise which is not ultimately useless.


Frequently Asked Questions
The following questions are some of the more common things visitors ask about the Garden of Forking Paths. If you’d like to know more about TheModernWord.com and the Libyrinth, feel free to visit the Site Information page, accessible from the button in the upper right corner.

What is the name of the Borges piece that goes: “On those remote pages it is written that animals are divided into (a) those that belong to the Emperor, (b) embalmed ones, (c) those that are trained, (d) suckling pigs, (e) mermaids...” Etc.
I get a lot of people asking for the source of this passage, which has been famously used in the preface to Michel Foucault’s The Order of Things, as well as a few other works. It is an excerpt from the essay “The Analytical Language of John Wilkins,” which originally appeared in La Nación, 8 February 1942, and has been collected in both Other Inquisitions and Selected Non-Fictions.

What is the name of the Borges satire that describes a map that eventually becomes the size of the entire Empire, and is then abandoned?
Another popular request, this short fiction is called “On Exactitude in Science.” (Or sometimes “On Rigor in Science.”) It appears in several books, including A Universal History of Infamy, Extraordinary Tales by Borges and Bioy-Casares, Dreamtigers, and Collected Fictions.

Who runs this site?
My name is Allen B. Ruch, although I tend to use my online nickname of the Quail. I am the Editorial Director of TheModernWord.com, and I run the Garden of Forking Paths as its site editor as well.

Do you speak Spanish?
Unfortunately, no I do not speak Spanish. I speak only English and a bit of German. I add this to my FAQ file because I tend to get a lot of letters written to me in Spanish. I can usually have them translated, but they do not receive high priority.

Do you accept submissions?
Absolutely! The Garden of Forking Paths is meant to be a community effort, and I gladly accept quality submissions such as reviews, papers, essays, or Borgesian projects. Just drop me a line and we can discuss your idea. Feel free to check out the Submission Page for details.

Do you answer all your email?
Yes. I run quite a few sites and I get over 50 email messages a day. I try to answer most of the letters that people send me; but it usually takes me a few days. Don’t let this discourage you from dropping me a note; I place a tremendous value on feedback of any sort, especially corrections, suggestions, and shameless flattery. Just understand that it may take a bit of time for me to reply. If it is very important and/or time sensitive, such as a request for permission to use Garden materials for an upcoming project, or an offer to take Tori Amos out on a date next Saturday night, please write IMPORTANT in capital letters in the subject line. I will try to get to it immediately.

How do I cite this Web site on a report?
That usually depends on your instructor. Usually it is appropriate to give the site name – The Garden of Forking Paths – with the URL, a date, and the name of the site’s editor: Allen B. Ruch. You may want to cite an individual page, in which case the URL is appropriate, along with the name of that page’s author.

Can you offer me help on a school project or a research paper?
I often get asked to provide facts, ideas, topics, and other assistance on a research paper, and occasionally someone asks if I can email them some additional material on Borges. As much as I would like to, I simply do not have the time to offer individualized help on research papers. All the information I have I eventually place online at an appropriate location, and I try to feature various books of criticism and links to other sites that may be of assistance to students.

Can you send me extra criticism or information about Borges or his work?
No – quite simply, because if you don’t see it on my site, I don’t have it. I put everything I can online; sometimes it may take awhile, but it’ll get there. I swear I’m not holding out – I’m not privy to the lost sequel to “El Aleph” or pictures of Borges having lunch with Italo Calvino. (Or so I say, heh heh.)

Boy, you sound grumpy. Do you ever answer any questions?
Sure! As a matter of fact, I enjoy some of the more offbeat questions. I just won’t answer the kind of questions that can very easily be answered by, say, a nearby encyclopedia. (Like when people ask me, “Was Borges ever married?” or something like that.) Again, I am not trying to be rude, I just need to conserve my time.

The links on your pages sure do have long, funny names! Are those quotes from Borges’ works?
Yes. One of the joys of creating this site is finding quotes that set off my different subsections – I try to select quotes with a certain degree of appropriateness or irony; but occasionally I just choose one because I like the sound of it. On a related note, I absently failed to write down the exact source of each quote, and I have discovered that I no longer remember where I found some of them! So I am sorry to say that I cannot provide that information.

Do you do all the graphics yourself?
With the exception of the buttons and general framework, I do all the banner images myself – except, of course, for the untouched photographs and any pictures of bookcovers and such. I love playing around with Adobe Photoshop, and I have a wide range of filters, fonts, and effect generators that provide me with endless hours of amusement. I usually start with a stock image – gathered from the Web or scanned in – and then I throw on some music, fire up the coffee-maker, and get to work. To create a standard image – like what I use in the title banners to many of my pages – usually takes between two and five hours, through which I go through many alternate versions and rejects, some of which occasionally find their way elsewhere on the site.

Where do you get your ideas for the images?
I usually start with a picture of the author and try to conceptualize a visual representation of a certain aspect of his work. I then start slamming back the coffee and begin working him over in Photoshop. Music, however, is just as important as my coffee and software; and the type of music that I’m listening to as I futz around with an image greatly influences the eventual outcome. My standard favorites are Philip Glass for detail work, Phish for experimental explorations, and Dead Can Dance for more arcane creations. Besides being something of a Beethoven nut, I’m also very partial to opera, and I find that four hours of Wagner can be wonderful to set a mood. Some of my other favorite “work music” includes Robyn Hitchcock, Brian Eno, Robert Fripp and King Crimson, and the composers Steve Reich, György Ligeti, James MacMillan, Christopher Rouse, Michael Nyman, Tan Dun, and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. Other musical inspirations include music related to an author’s work (Gregorian chanting, Baroque, or jazz for Eco) and music contemporary with an author’s time period or background. Laugh if you will, but I listened to a lot of Astor Piazzolla and three different versions of Evita when I was designing this Borges page....


–Allen B. Ruch
21 April 2004


How easy it would be not to think of a Quail! – Send email to the Great Quail – comments, suggestions, corrections, criticisms, submissions . . . all are welcome!

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