The Garden Of Forking Paths Essays

Once upon a time a story was a place where we expected to slip into the intimate, to be drawn swiftly but safely through troubled truths, to be tumbled about, roughed up a little, and returned in one piece to the rejuvenated quotidian.Of course we do not expect stories to be that sort of place now. Yu Tsun has a job to do before—indeed, —his surrender to the inevitable: he must communicate to his Chief in Berlin the fact of the precise location of the British artillery park just constructed on the River Ancre.

“It seemed incredible to me that that day without premonitions or symbols should be the one of my inexorable death.” Then he experiences a little epiphany. And “happening”—which gives the reality (“really is happening”) to time and being—withholds it from the “now” we are examining in the story. [is] Captain Richard Madden.” “The future already exists,” I replied." (28) The rest of the story we know: Yu Tsun’s “swarming sensation” is the site of innumerable possibilities of time—indeed, of, as he calls it, “dimensions” of time.

For what is happening to “me” (Yu Tsun)“now” is “happening” of time and being presents “precisely” the kind of “happening” that his death will annihilate. unquestionably that of an old man, but with something unalterable about it, even immortal”(26). This disturbing, “dizzying” sense of innumerable potentialities (“forking paths”), though it belongs to Yu Tsun’s experience as the “now” in Section 3 above did, is not conscious, coherent, articulable, as the “now” was.

We have sensed diversion in the tone and the style of the story. We turn to the point where the story leads and leaves us: the last paragraph.

There is the pacing itself: Yu Tsun’s exaggeratedly laggard lingering over minutiae versus the running clock and the flying-approaching Madden. The story has climaxed in the preceding paragraph with the “lightning stroke” murder of Albert. Yet the plan is the centerpiece and hinge of the story.

Furthermore, the voice that narrates the story has illustrated the principle from the beginning, where it split or splintered, as we shall detail below. That is the tortuous method preferred, in each of the meanderings of the indefatigable novel, by the oblique Ts’ui Pen. “Saying” is not effective or adequate language, or language is not a system of utterances that corresponds to or represents life or that carries a meaning that transcends and connects the two. That is, the “statement” in this document was “dictated,” our narrator claims (then transcribed, we assume), then “reread and signed” by its author Dr. Yates), translator, as it situates the story in (our) “life” adds another to the continuous forkings of paths of genres we are used to traverse without concern until we stumble on irregular, missing, or added steps such as those Borges constructs in this story. The “revelation” after all is that paths of “saying” lead only onto more paths of “saying,” yield no reality, truth, no certainty, no resolution, finality, satisfaction. Something—perhaps the mere vain ostentation of proving my resources were nil—made me look through my pockets. The American watch, the nickel chain and the square coin, the key ring with the incriminating useless keys to Runeberg’s apartment, the notebook, a letter which I resolved to destroy immediately (and which I did not destroy), a crown, two shillings and a few pence, the red and blue pencil, the handkerchief, the revolver with one bullet. Consider the story’s WWI setting and the ironies involved in the story’s personal/racial/national interplay of characters and plot.) On the other hand, as I have promised, we detect a spectral impulse in the movement of Yu Tsun’s story, unarticulated as such, secondary. I thought of a labyrinth of labyrinths, of one sinuous spreading labyrinth that would encompass the past and the future. Whether a bell there invites his call or whether he himself knocks is uncertain (another psychological footfall).

We discover that our protagonist Yu Tsun is no stranger to labyrinths, that long ago his great grandfather Ts’ui Pen, governor of Yunnan, surrendered his “worldly power” and retired “to write a novel that might be even more populous than the Now, as Yu Tsun approaches the house of Stephen Albert, he “meditate[s] on that lost maze.” He imagines his ancestor’s project: “inviolate and perfect . Let us review Borges’ narrator’s forking tongue more closely. Yu Tsun—a sort of acknowledgement or adoption, to be sure, but no guarantee of “original” “authorship” (these terms have no referents in the story). “Saying” has become a “garden of forking paths.” Have we reached the center of the labyrinth . If our first reading of the story found a facile, familiar plot and our second fell into a linguistic enigma, we can find yet another system of paths snaking through the story that tempts us to think that the “plot” of the story is not capricious or vagarious, after all, but may be developing according to an unidentified, unarticulated motivation (or network of motivations) drawing us on—broadcasting its “law” or “nature” or, at least, like a star, its light, locatability, as it moves. it occurred to me that [Richard Madden] did not suspect that I possessed the Secret. To the ear of that sick and hateful man who knew nothing of Runeberg and me save that we were in Staffordshire and who was waiting in vain for our report in his arid office in Berlin, endlessly examining newspapers . Absurdly, I took it in my hand and weighed it in order to inspire courage within myself. The unmotivated mover is hinted in the passage quoted above in the language that suggests that Yu Tsun is unaware or dismissive of whatever “moves” him. What he remembers is his amazing realization that he has arrived at precisely “the garden of forking paths”: the very garden of his famous ancestor Ts’ui Pen.We know that surfaces will repel approach, that we will have to circle again and again, plot an entry, hack our way through with our own equipment, haul ourselves out when and where we can, and claim gains and losses for ourselves without acknowledgement from the story that we have arrived at a conclusion, the “end.” Thus Borges’ “The Garden of Forking Paths” sets up a literary labyrinth, each path of which forks into another forking path until we are lost in a labyrinth of labyrinths, at the center of which lies perhaps an ultimate, all-but-accessible truth: Yu Tsun’s ancestor’s novel’s representation of the labyrinth of time—or, call it, the universe. How can he send word in wartime, outside “regular” channels of communication, to the “sick and hateful” old man poring over newspapers all day, when he is out of resources and all but out of time?accessible,” because the revelation is snatched or chopped off before it can be totally disclosed or grasped—and it is chopped or snatched away, as you shall see, not by jealous fate or fickle fortune, but by a narrative trick of amazing triviality: the hinging of the revelation upon the coincidence of two names (Dr. The answer flares up among his wandering reflections, and in ten minutes he has perfected a plan.Our problem, and perhaps the solution to it, is figured in the story when Yu Tsun, approaching the strange/familiar environs of Ashgrove (the address of Dr. Instead, the paragraph begins with Yu Tsun’s summarily dismissive judgment, “The rest is unreal, insignificant, . If the central point of the story-labyrinth is here, at the “end,” then it is obliquely encrypted, and we cannot recognize, identify, and articulate it. The testimony of his contemporaries proclaims—and his life fully confirms—his metaphysical and mystical interests. These words point to the unsubstantial support structures—the bases, sources—upon which this “incomplete, but not false, image of the universe” depends, compromising our expectation of reliable or sufficient motivation (cause) to lead to logical or actual result (effect).Stephen Albert—note its contradictory-comprehensive name, figuring an end and a beginning), is proffered the fortuitous instructions by the strange/familiar “lads” at the station: “‘The house is a long way from here, but you won’t get lost if you take this road to the left and at every crossroads turn again to your left’” (22)—“the common procedure,” as Yu Tsun recalls, “for discovering the central point of certain labyrinths.” “The central point,” the point to or from which “certain labyrinths” lead, is just the point we readers are seeking in the story—and just what eludes us. And what if this one is not, after all, a “certain” labyrinth? If our first lead has led us astray, let us assay another. Philosophic controversy usurps a good part of the novel. We recall that the story opens with a formal citation from a particular “history” book, a legitimate and legitimizing way to “say” (to express in language, to render visible or knowable) something that has happened, to “say” certain actual wartime events. made me”) and his lack of clarity, attention to detail (“Vaguely . Returning to the quoted passage, we find this disjunction between intention (cause) and act (effect) illustrated in Yu Tsun’s resolution and failure to destroy the letter in his pocket, and suggested in the uses of the term “useless” in the passage itself: Yu Tsun sits up abruptly (instinctively) in a “,” are still in his pocket.This network of times which approached one another, forked, broke off, or were unaware of one another for centuries, embraces possibilities of time. ." and therefore, we must note, embraces also all possibilities of being (“existence”). ) The “swarming” of “potentialities” precedes Yu Tsun’s pistol shot: the resolute act.Of course, the notion of a “network” of times, of parallel times, of existence and re-existence of “you” and “me,” does violence to the notions of time and existence we ordinarily or “realistically” and art (fiction and cinema) began to explore its ramifications, as Borges’ story is doing here. As we have noted, “action” remains merely potential until it is performed.If only my mouth, before a bullet shattered it, could cry out that secret name so it could be heard in Germany . We find a flagrant instance of this secondary, unsuspected intervention when Yu Tsun, leaving his room to carry out his plan, [bids] farewell to [himself] in the mirror" (21). The notion is Yu Tsun’s, and it occurs to him as his train leaves the station, eluding the advancing Madden by seconds (above), and, recovering from the rush, fear, and exhilaration of the race, he argues to himself (fallaciously, as he recognizes) that the prospect for his “adventure” is auspicious.The dramatic irony in this phrase will set off for the reader’s benefit the difference between the “plot” Yu Tsun thinks he intends to carry out and the intrigue he is actually drawing toward. His “argument,” or its specious conclusion, is full of the exaggeration and adventitiousness required to wrest strength from weakness.“The Garden of Forking Paths” presents itself in brazen masquerade: as a spy story. Yu Tsun is in flight from the British intelligence agent Captain Richard Madden, who trails him by an hour, . (Note: The secret of time and the universe lies buried in our protagonist’s own ancestry.) The abstruse discussion that ensues between the spy and the scholar on the subject of the novel—the “forking paths” of time—is interrupted by sounds of the approaching Madden. They bombed it yesterday; I read it in the same papers that offered to England the mystery of the learned Sinologist Stephen Albert who was murdered by a stranger, one Yu Tsun. He knew my problem was to indicate (through the uproar of the war) the city called Albert, and that I had found no other means to do so than to kill a man of that name (29). We note in passing that these labyrinths of Yu Tsun’s musings and his ancestor’s prodigious work are, as he puts it, “illusory images” (23)—as is, of course, the labyrinthine fiction into which we ourselves have wandered.At the last possible moment before Madden breaks in, Yu Tsun takes out his revolver and fires, Albert falls dead—and the newspapers do the rest. But the spy story that has proceeded according to the predictable timing/pacing of the chase—the competition of protagonist and antagonist playing out against the inviolable purity of the clock—is a cloud of dust thrust into the eyes of the reader that temporarily obscures the maze of forking paths the story is inscribing. one sinuous spreading labyrinth that would encompass the past and the future and in some way involve the stars. If the advice of the auspicious “lads” is good, then it should direct us to the central point of the story.


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