The Garden of Forking Paths by Jorge Luis Borges Collection first edition Original title "El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan" Translator Anthony Boucher Country Argentina Language Spanish Genre(s) Spy fiction, war fiction Published in El Jardín de senderos que se bifurcan (1941)."The Garden of Forking Paths" (original Spanish title: "El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan") is a 1941 short story by Argentine writer and poet Jorge Luis Borges.It is the title story in the collection El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan (1941), which was republished in its entirety in Ficciones (Fictions) in 1944.It was the first of Borges's works to be translated into English by Anthony Boucher when it appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine in August 1948.Borges's vision of "forking paths" has been cited as inspiration by numerous new media scholars, in particular within the field of hypertext fiction.[3][4][5] Other stories by Borges that express the idea of infinite texts include "The Library of Babel" and "The Book of Sand".As the story begins, Doctor Tsun has realized that an MI5 agent called Captain Richard Madden is pursuing him, has entered the apartment of his handler, Viktor Runeberg, and has either captured or killed him.Rather, he says, he knows that Germany's intelligence chief, Lieutenant-Colonel Walter Nicolai, believes the Chinese people to be racially inferior.Doctor Tsun is, therefore, determined to be more intelligent than any White spy and to obtain the information Nicolai needs to save the lives of German soldiers.Doctor Tsun suspects that Captain Madden, an Irish Catholic in the employ of the British Empire, is similarly motivated.Narrowly avoiding the pursuing Captain Madden at the railway station, he goes to the house of Doctor Stephen Albert, an eminent Sinologist.As he walks up the road to Doctor Albert's house, Doctor Tsun reflects on his great ancestor, Ts'ui Pên, a learned and famous civil servant who renounced his post as governor of Yunnan Province to undertake two tasks: write a vast and intricate novel and construct an equally-vast and intricate labyrinth "in which all men would lose their way.".Ts'ui Pên was murdered before he could complete his novel, however, and wrote a "contradictory jumble of irresolute drafts" that made no sense to subsequent readers, and the labyrinth was never found.Hap shares his hypothesis, opposed to Leon's, about multiple dimensions citing “a garden of forking paths” used by his subjects.Hap shares his hypothesis, opposed to Leon's, about multiple dimensions citing “a garden of forking paths” used by his subjects. .

The Garden of Forking Paths Summary

He must escape from Captain Richard Madden, the Irishman who has murdered his co-conspirator in espionage, and complete his mission by delivering the location of a secret cache of British weapons to his boss in Germany, whom he refers to as The Chief.He checks the contents of his pockets – revealing a revolver with only one bullet – locates the address of the one person capable of passing on his missive, and runs to catch a train to the suburbs.Dr. Albert tells Tsun the story of his ancestor, Ts'ui Pen, a former governor who abandoned his political position to write a novel and build a labyrinth, or maze.Seeing Captain Madden approach, Yu Tsun expresses his gratitude to Dr. Albert for resolving the mystery of Ts'ui Pen's garden, then shoots him in the back.


A Summary and Analysis of Jorge Luis Borges' 'The Garden of

‘The Garden of Forking Paths’, first published in the collection of that name in 1941, is one of the most famous stories by the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges.Perhaps surprisingly given Borges’ reputation and the difficulties of categorising his work into a particular genre, this story was the runner-up in the Ellery Queen mystery fiction prize in 1948.As he journeys to the man’s home, Yu reflects upon his grandfather, who withdrew from public life in order to write a novel and to construct a labyrinth.Arriving at his destination, the home of Stephen Albert (a scholar of all things Chinese), Yu is surprised to discover that this stranger seems to have been expecting him.He tells Yu that his grandfather, Ts’ui Pen, never managed to finish the novel he planned to write, but when he died he left behind a draft containing all of the various possible plot lines and discarded ideas.Yu ends his narrative by confirming that, because the town of Albert has just been bombed, he knows the Germans got his ‘message’.(Although Borges wrote in Spanish, he was bilingual and knew English very well, so it’s worth reflecting that the Chinese name of his maze-building author, Pen, suggests both a writing implement and a cage or prison for restricting people: not unlike a labyrinth, then, when we go back to classical myth and Daedalus’ construction of the original Labyrinth.Indeed, the idea of Daedalus as a cunning craftsman but also an avatar the writer or novelist is one that James Joyce had already explored when he named the protagonist of his 1916 novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Stephen Dedalus.). .

The Infinite Labyrinth of Time in Borges' “The Garden of Forking Paths”

In his story, “The Garden of Forking Paths,” Jorge Luis Borges explores the labyrinth, the writer, and perhaps above all, the nature of time.Upon close inspection it becomes clear that Pen’s theories, which argue that there are infinite dimensions of time, both convince Tsun and accurately describe the nature of reality in the story, which causes despair for Tsun, even as he completes an act he thinks to be heroic, because it means that he has not, and cannot prove, that his people are heroic in every possible reality.Tsun is largely motivated to kill Albert to serve the Chief, ostensibly a high-ranking German officer, to show that Chinese people can be heroic.Thus, he has killed Albert as he intended to do, which, as he predicts, leads to death, yet feels regret for doing so, which invites the following question: what motivated the change?Albert explains that in most novels “each time a man is confronted with several alternatives, he chooses one and eliminates the others; in the fiction of Ts’ui Pen, he chooses—simultaneously—all of them.He thinks later: “It seemed to me that the humid garden that surrounded the house was infinitely saturated with invisible persons.A sort of shift has thus taken place in Tsun’s mind, so that he no longer believes that Pen’s book “is an indeterminate heap of contradictory drafts” (4-5), but rather, that it perhaps accurately describes reality.This change in Tsun’s perception is important, for it seems to explain the despair he feels at the end of the story.This connection suggests that Tsun feels regret and weariness because he believes that there are an infinite number of alternative dimensions of time, which means that his act of heroism, intended to impress his Chief, is insignificant because in a near-infinite number of realities he did not prove his people were capable of heroism.Before Tsun heard about Pen, he believed that time was linear and singular, meaning that he could and would prove himself and his people in the only reality that existed making his task both achievable.Then, against his belief at the beginning of the story – that killing Albert was worth dying for – Tsun despairs because he recognizes the insignificance of himself, his actions, and his reality, in light of the near infinite number of alternate dimensions of time.Of course, he could have just as easily said, “In some realities your grandfather wrote this, in others he did not; still in others I was not named Albert; still in others the British did not exist” (Nelson, “The Infinite Labyrinth of Time”).This omission also seems important at it relates to Albert’s statements that an infinite story embraces all possible outcomes (6).It seems then, that the narrator introduces a quotation mark without ever resolving it, in order to demonstrate that the story, like Pen’s novel, is both textual and infinite. .

Borges: “The Garden of Forking Paths”

A story is a place where we once 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.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 choose, and claim gains and losses for ourselves without acknowledgement from the story that we have arrived at a conclusion, the “end.”.The Garden of Forking Paths [the novel] is an incomplete, but not false, image of the universe as Ts’ui Pen conceived it” (28).But we have fallen too abruptly into the pit of the story where the secret of time lies buried, hidden, and we must return to the beginning to attempt a more legitimate, more leisurely, entry.German Reich agent Dr. Yu Tsun is in flight from the British spycatcher* Captain Richard Madden, who trails him by seconds, by forty minutes, an hour.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.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?He consults a telephone directory and makes his way to a certain address; “his way” just happens to lead to the residence of Stephen Albert, a Sinologist who has studied, translated, and interpreted a labyrinthine novel called The Garden of Forking Paths, written and abandoned–by whom but a famous ancestor of Yu Tsun himself.The abstruse discussion that ensues 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).But the spy story that proceeds 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.We have sensed diversion in the very pacing itself: Yu Tsun’s exaggeratedly-laggardly lingering over minutiae versus the running clock and the flying-approaching Madden.Suspicious, we reread the story now, resisting the suspense of the surface plot to submerge in the “swarming” world beneath.Our problem, and perhaps the solution to it, is figured in the story when Yu Tsun, approaching the strange/familiar environs of Ashgrove (note the comprehensive-contradictory name figuring an end and a beginning), is instructed by the strange/familiar “lads”: “‘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.”.His great grandfather Ts’ui Pen, governor of Yunnan, surrendered his “worldly power” and retired to write a novel that he expected to be perhaps “even more populous than the Hung Lu Meng"and to build a labyrinth”in which all men would become lost" (22).We note in passing that these labyrinths of Yu Tsun’s musings and his ancestor’s prodigious work “are” in the imagination–i.e., are, as he puts it, “illusory images” (23)–as is, of course, the labyrinthine fiction into which we have wandered.The last paragraph, which follows the murder and to which the story has led us, does indeed synopsize the plot of the story: that is, Yu Tsun’s success in communicating to the Chief via an oblique, encrypted medium the name of the city where the new British artillery park is located, (projected newspaper accounts of his murder of a man with the same name).But the point here in the ultimate paragraph is not that the act of murder was the consummation of communication, a success; for the paragraph begins with the summarily dismissive judgment, “The rest is unreal, insignificant,” and ends with Yu Tsun’s plaintive “innumerable contrition and weariness.” If the central point of the story-labyrinth is here, where the story has led us, then it is (shall we say, emphasize) obliquely encrypted here, and we cannot yet identify it.‘The Garden of Forking Paths is an enormous riddle, or parable, whose theme is time; this recondite cause prohibits its mention.To omit a word always, to resort to inept metaphors and obvious periphrases [emphasis mine], is perhaps the most emphatic way of stressing it.The “history” (what actually happened in the past) has passed through translation, shall we say–passing from “life” through “history” and commentary, etc., continuing through the complex of genres the story will assume (note as well the literary formalities of the footnote, the dedication, and even the translator’s signature)–through, in fine, an exquisitely complex business of getting something “real” or “actual”: said.To summarize, then, one aspect of saying (which we our tentative attempt to locate the center of our labyrinth/novel/riddle) that we note from the first lines of the story is that saying is not a pure delivering of “life” over from a “happening” into language.caused this delay, an insignificant one, to be sure”) or even to the promise in the second paragraph that the “statement” that follows “throws an unsuspected light over the whole affair.” Like the history, this document that shall elucidate “the whole affair” is submitted only partially; the first two pages are missing and, as Inoted above, the quotation marks that open the account are never closed.If the “fact” that the two documents are offered without beginnings and endings does not unsettle the presumption that they are authentic and complete (reliable), the “whole affair” becomes even more doubtful when we consider that the history and the historian’s comment are reported indirectly and are critiqued or corrected by our own narrator and by the “Editor” (who interjects an emotional objection and a correction to the “statement,” 19), whose comments on these histories and the characters in them are gratuitous and anonymous, and that the quoted document itself describes a traceable forking, as we have suggested: i.e., the “statement” in this document was “dictated,” our narrator claims (then transcribed, we assume), then “reread and signed” by its author Dr.

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).If our first reading of the story finds a facile familiar plot, and if the second falls into a bewildering linguistic snare, there is still another system of paths snaking through the story that tempts us to consider the possibility that the plot of the story is not altogether capricious or vagarious, but may be developing according to an unidentified, unarticulated motivation (or network of motivations) drawing tantalizingly and fatally toward the “center” of the labyrinth–scattering its “law” or “nature” or at least, like a star, its light, locatability, about it a it moves.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 ovvice in Berlin, endlessly examining newspapers . .

The Garden of Forking Paths

First published in 1941, “The Garden of Forking Paths” (“El jardin de senderos que se bifurcan”) marked a turning point in the literary career of Jorge Luis Borges.His fiction received immediate critical acclaim in Argentina, even though he failed to win an important prize the year of the book’s release.Outraged, other Argentinean writers and critics devoted an entire issue of the prominent literary journal, Sur, to Borges and his work.Born on August 24,1899, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Borges was a poet, an essayist, and a short story writer, and his career spanned six decades.In 1938 the death of his father and subsequent financial difficulties forced Borges into accepting a position as a municipal librarian.Although Borges’ stories garnered critical acclaim, the jury charged with selecting the 1941 National Literary Prize did not choose The Garden of Forking Paths as the recipient of the award.Many Argentinean writers and critics were outraged, and they subsequently dedicated an entire issue of Sur, an important literary magazine, to a consideration of his work.Borges continued to write poetry, short stories, and essays despite the blindness that plagued him during his final twenty-five years.Although Borges published little new work after 1977, he remained actively involved in literary life until his death in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1986.Yu Tsun then recounts how he travels to Dr. Albert’s house, pursued by Captain Richard Madden, an Irishman in service to the English.singular, but rather a “dizzying net of divergent, convergent, and parallel times.” Like the labyrinth, each turn leads to different possible futures.By shooting a man of the same name without apparent motive, Yu Tsun was sure that the information would appear in newspapers the Germans would read.Yu Tsun, in order to get vital information to the Germans after his contact is killed, describes how he devises a plan to relay the site of the British artillery park in Belgium.Yu Tsun is also the great-grandson of a Chinese writer, Ts’ui Pen, whose goal it was to write a huge novel and a build a great labyrinth.Dr. Stephen Albert tells Yu Tsun, “The Garden of Forking Paths is an enormous riddle, or parable, whose theme is time....” Likewise, Borges seems to be implying that the major theme of the short story “The Garden of Forking Paths” is also time.For a moment, Yu Tsun experiences time as Albert describes it: “It seemed to me that the humid garden that surrounded the house was infinitely saturated with invisible persons.Those persons were Albert and I, secret, busy, and multiform in other dimensions of time.” The appearance of Madden, however, pulls Yu Tsun into the future he.“The Garden of Forking Paths” was recorded on an audiocassette collection of Borges’ stories titled Selected Fictions.In addition to the consideration of time in “The Garden of Forking Paths,” Borges also seems to be exploring the concepts of order and disorder.The novel is described variously as “incoherent,” “chaotic,” “an indeterminate heap of contradictory drafts,” and “confused.” In short, the novel appears to represent the very essence of disorder.He argues that if one assumes that the novel itself is the labyrinth, and is the author’s attempt to represent the webbing nature of time, the novel is not an example of chaos, but of order.He says, “I have compared hundreds of manuscripts, I have corrected the errors that the negligence of the copyists has introduced, I have guessed the plan of this chaos, I have re-established ... the primordial organization.”.The effect of this is to disconcert readers momentarily as they try to piece together the missing portion of the text and to absorb the sudden introduction of a new narrator.Although superficially the footnote helps to preserve the fiction that this is a factual report, its presence offers yet another troubling detail for the reader to absorb: throughout Yu Tsun’s long statement, there is a narrator standing behind him, ready to edit or excise or add bits of text.Sometimes, the resolution of a detective story requires some small bit of information that the writer withholds from the reader until the very last moment.During the 1920s, Argentina flourished; both mining and oil exploration were well under way, and Buenos Aires even had subway system for the city.1940s: World War II rages all over Europe as England, France and the Allied Powers fight Hitler’s Nazi regime.World War II rages all over Europe as England, France and the Allied Powers fight Hitler’s Nazi regime.1940s: Philosophical existentialism, developed in the works of writers like Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and Franz Kafka, becomes an important movement.Existentialists believe that existence is of the greatest importance; however, an individual’s understanding of him or herself as alone in the universe results in a sense of meaninglessness, alienation, and anxiety.When Borges’ collection of short stories, The Garden of Forking Paths, initially appeared in Argentina in 1941, reviewers were quick to recognize something new.In the years since its initial publication and subsequent translation into English, Borges’ work in general and “The Garden of Forking Paths” in particular have continued to inspire critical attention.Many commentators point to the influence he has had on a whole generation of South and North American writers, including Gabriel Garcia-Marquez and John Barth, among others.Andre Maurois, in a preface to Donald A.

Yates and James E. Irby’s edition of Labyrinths directly addresses his sources.He cites H. G. Wells, Edgar Allan Poe, G.

K. Chesterton, and Franz Kafka as important influences on Borges’ writing.As James Woodall indicates in The Man in the Mirror of the Book, “Chesterton’s compact, witty-short-story style was to have a lasting influence on the way Borges structured his stories over twenty years later.” Kafka’s influence seems also clear to many critics; Borges was largely responsible for introducing Kafka into Argentina through his translations of the Czech writer.Borges’ choice of detective fiction as his favorite genre recalls both the stories of Poe and Chester ton’s Father Brown mysteries.John Irwin, for example, examines his construction of an analytic detective story in his article, “A Clew to a Clue: Locked Rooms and Labyrinths in Poe and Borges.” In so doing, he also suggests that Borges associates the word “clue” with the word “thread,” and in so doing, makes an allusion to the story of Theseus and the Minotaur in the labyrinth.John Fraser examines the stories of Ficciones, including “The Garden of Forking Paths,” maintaining that Borges both creates the threat of nihilism in the character of Pierre Menard in an early story, “Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote” and overcomes it through “his concern to connect rather than disjoin values, fictions, and action....”.In her Jorge Luis Borges: A Study of the Short Fiction, Naomi Lindstrom, for example, argues that the “spy plot is tangled with a second narrative concerning the reading and appreciation of literature.”.Finally, several recent critics view Borges as a writer who, years before the postmodernist era, prefigures both postmodernism and chaos theory.Because Borges created a large body of highly esoteric, allusive prose, as well as poetry, it is likely that critical attention will continue to focus on his work.Before the publication of his first collection of short stories, El jardin de senderos que se bifurcan [The Garden of Forking Paths] in 1941, Argentine readers knew Jorge Luis Borges as a writer of poetry and essays.There are those who find his work overly cerebral and erudite, too filled with esoteric allusions and philosophical argument to qualify as literature at all.Detective Fiction, (1996) edited by James Robert Smith, offers a collection of classic detective stories, including Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Murders at the Rue Morgue” and “The Purloined Letter.” The collection offers students a good opportunity to examine the genre closely.Thomas Weissert identifies Borges as “a transitional figure between modern and postmodern literature,” and it is through his use of metafiction that this seems most clear.The unnamed narrator corrects a statement made by Yu Tsun that Richard Madden murdered Viktor Runeberg.At the first level, there is the unnamed narrator who instructs the reader to connect Yu Tsun’s statement with a passage from a history text.At the innermost level is the novel itself, “an indeterminate heap of contradictory drafts,” according to Yu Tsun, or according to Dr.

Albert, a brilliant novel that reveals the labyrinthine nature of time.Borges violates another unspoken agreement between writer and reader that the text will follow in a linear fashion from start to finish.According to Albert, “In the work of Ts’ui Pen, all possible outcomes occur; each one is the point of departure for other forkings.”.As Peter Stoicheff argues, “This is one way of saying that within the finite space of any text are an infinite number of possible meanings, whose hierarchy metafiction refuses to arbitrate.”.However, in a metafictional text like “The Garden of Forking Paths,” the coincidental nature of many of the events forces the reader to accept that the story has no connection to reality.What a story like “The Garden of Forking Paths” reveals, then, is that all fiction, whether realistic or fantastic, is a product of language.Consequently, the implications that a metafictional text like “The Garden of Forking Paths” finally introduce are profoundly disturbing.Looking at what happens when reading a story by Borges, one sees that the work necessarily and openly accepts the commitment made by the reader in entering the fictional sphere.Thus the satisfaction gained from reading a book in its entirety has as much, if not more, to do with a grasping of pattern and plan, as with the simple knowledge of “what happens in the end.”.A book draws, then, on two kinds of rather crucial awareness—about the nature of reality, and about the way in which relating to it is a matter of perceiving a growth of plan and order.So, in fact, Borges and others may not be making totally new demands, but rather attempting to reestablish the fundamental issues of reading; a “revolution” in the sense of returning to something.Readers must be made aware of the fact that they are reading, otherwise they will never perceive the extraordinary richness and importance of this old and familiar process.So Borges’s work, like that of Robbe-Grillet and Gombrowicz, hovers incessantly around the borders of the “normal” and the “abnormal,” constantly interrelating and juxtaposing the two.Like other Borges stories, it offers a prospect of mystery but also suggests the opposite of a closed or simple solution.Getting caught up in the forking paths is a kind of Baudelairean invitation au voyage, leading readers to engage both narrative and mental processes, and the ways in which they may interact.The story advertises its dubious wares clearly enough; it lays them out more fully in the combination of seductive and suggestive settings, themes, and appellations which follow.A summarization of the narrative in linear fashion is unnecessary, but the ingredients are clearly chosen for their effect: a Chinese spy for the Germans; a sinologist holding the key to the labyrinthine work of the spy’s ancestor; a plot involving murder, attempted killing, and a message that will result in many deaths; the conjunction of modern (1916) war and Chinese culture; the sending of a secret message.The structure of the narrative is a typical (for Borges, as for Robbe-Grillet) “Chinese-box” affair, moving from the apparent neutrality of the opening paragraph [“On page 22 of Liddell Hart’s History of World War I you will read ...” (Labyrinths)] to a statement by the Chinese spy-cum-professor, to the English sinologist Albert’s outline of Ts’ui Pen’s work, to direct quotation from and involvement in that work.The interference of the narratives incites reference back and forth, setting up analogies between contemporary historical events and cultural reflections, betwen the various levels of personal existence of Dr. Yu Tsun, between nationalities, beliefs, and codes.It is apparent even at the simple level of names and nationalities, with a Chinese-German spy, an English-Chinese expert, and an Irish-English secret service agent (who speaks German at the outset).This confusion of nationality and identity can suggest various aspects: the complexity of political interaction and its implications for national identity; the increasing difficulty of simplistic notions about culture and genealogy; twentieth-century doubts about the singleness and stability of personality; the issue of how much our behavior is affected by the language we speak.What happens, in general terms, is that each notation (here and in other Borges stories) works less as an attempt to “clarify” someone’s identity and role than as a kind of magnetic field for associations.In this respect, the brevity of Borges’ stories produces a highly-charged symbolism of doubt and possibility, which is intensified by many other techniques including the switch between narrative levels—realism and fantasy, for instance, or the confessional and the exegetic.Or the shifting or playing between psychological exploration and fantastic inventiveness; or the typical Borges mixture of genuine quotation and “spurious” scholarship.He, by a combination of historical necessity and psychological condition, opts for a single solution, which will inevitably result in his death as a murderer.Mentioned also is that Yu Tsun’s ancestor was murdered, and Albert refers to excerpts from his book concerned with a battle and with the various possible outcomes of a meeting between a man with a secret and a stranger.Albert claims that Ts’ui Pen meant the reader to choose not one alternative outcome, but all of them: the book is intended as a demonstration of what Valery called noeuds and contemporary critical theory describes as generateurs.Any path is a potential murder/death because it can lead to closure; but the dominating single-mindedness (obsession or terrorism, for Robbe-Grillet) of each textual departure can always be arrested, and hauled back to any point from which the plurality of possibility becomes available again.Borges’s story teases us with its secretive atmosphere and offers a few clues (some helpful but hidden, others unhelpful and overt) as the reader is put in the position of trying to figure out what Yu Tsun is trying to do.As an Oriental, he despises the Western conflict in which he finds himself caught up, but he needs to complete his mission to justify himself (and by implication his family and his race) in the eyes of his narrow-minded German boss (described as a “sick and hateful man—in his arid office’’—Labyrinths).The import of the secrets is that in messages, in wisdom, and in all encoded texts (as shown by the successive frames of the story) reside not closed “answers” but structures of possibility.That kind of structure is represented by Albert’s proposition (fascinating to Yu Tsun and frequent in Borges) stating Ts’ui Pen’s work reveals a conjunction of all time and identity.Borges’s games are not trivial, because as L.

A. Murillo contends, “The conjecture is about radical questions of human existence, time, personal will, consciousness, and destiny.” Such questions are pertinent to the protagonist (Yu Tsun) of “The Garden of Forking Paths,” and are mediated through him, and through the structure of interlocking narratives Borges builds around him, to the reader.Thus “The Garden” is a “representation of the very process by which ... events acquire their symbolical significance in the consciousness of the protagonist and ...

reader.” The games, then, are centrally “about” the exploration by the reader (where else can the story “take place”?).Murillo, in The Cyclical Night, suggests that Yu Tsun is presented as being in an ethical vacuum: existentially aware of his responsibility in a world whose political, social, and psychological upheaval has negated a priori values, and conscious of his need to locate himself and make a choice that endows being and acting with meaning.The “vacuum,” also presented to the reader through the mystery, paradox, and symbolic condensation of the narrative, demands to be grasped and developed as text, as another way of pinpointing the source of moral choice.Yu Tsun tries, by recalling his murder of Albert, to construct around the event a narrative that gives it the status of irrevocability (all incidents seem restrospectively compelling and essential).In addition to his grasp of the fluid dynamism of the labyrinth, he seems to Yu Tsun a person of Goethean stature, endowed with wisdom and easy grace.The “hesitation” (Todorov’s term)—characteristic of postmodernist texts and here instilled by the confusions and paradoxes, the ironic juxtaposition of versions, and so on—produced in protagonist and reader is the moment of absence (of choice, significance) that impels selection of world and action.But the contradictions, blocks, and ironic perspectives of the story’s structure, together with its repeated indications about the plural significance of secrets, and the balance of forces harmonized in Albert, offer an alternative mode of response.Beckett’s world, for example, in Molloy, is one in which objects are cherished precisely because they are “en voie de disparition”: the protagonists are in the process of ridding themselves of inherited assumptions about reality and its relationship with language.What we have is a curious kind of precise vagueness, a very persistent and subtle attempt to render a state in which “meaning” is loosening its hold, dissolving the links between word and experience.(Everything dissolves or disintegrates in Beckett: bicycles, limbs, relationships—the onions in Moran’s Irish stew in Molloy: “On n’est pas liel” is what the tramps in Godot ask each other.).He is integrated with his surroundings, acting spontaneously, and feeling at home (he instinctively accepts the music and does not remember whether he knocks at Albert’s gate or rings a bell).He is, in short, in a condition of very lively and expanded awareness in which his doubts about identity are replaced by a kind of oneness with nature as the source of order and mobility—“fireflies, words, gardens, streams of water, sunsets.” Yu Tsun’s state is what brings him to the center of the labyrinth, and Albert comes to open the gate, holding a symbolic lantern.That is to say, in this situation where he becomes aware of himself as a center of possibility, an organizing potential, a consciousness which can shape and form, he is not able to pin Albert down as a limited and thus expendable identity.Thus the two versions of the battle in Ts’ui Pen’s book offer as reasons for victory apparently contrary states of mind: the warriors experience situations that make them feel either existential angst or joy.So what is said is frequently contradicted or revealed to be inadequate, in order that it may be seen to have those other possibilities lurking behind or within it, as linguistic history for example, or as association, or as alternative readings.In the one “direct quote,” Borges gives us from Ts’ui Pen’s text, the warriors are referred to as “heroes, tranquil their admirable hearts, violent their swords, resigned to kill and to die” (Labyrinths).Taking a leaf out of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s commentary on the Gita, Borges would probably interpret the quotation something like this: “swords” refer to the “outer” organs of action, “hearts” to the inner state of mind.“Negative” or “positive” outcomes (apparent surrender or destruction of one “side”) are balanced, or perhaps perceived to be equally false.At this point one is the master of the opposites (as Thomas Mann puts it in The Magic Mountain), as is the figure of Stephen Albert and his interpretation of Ts’ui Pen’s narrative, and as is Borges with his construction of interlocking versions, and as the reader may be.Useful parallels may be drawn between what occurs in reading and in certain states of consciousness closely analyzed in psycho-physiological terms by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.His theory, together with experimental evidence derived from scientific investigation, can provide some interesting angles on the nature of aesthetic experience.I think this happens in “The Garden of Forking Paths” and in other Borges texts as a result of what Murillo calls “displacement.” In a phenomenological reading of the story, the narrator is realized via the narrative as a process; that is, as a succession of different vantage points, perceptions, or versions: the various styles and readings are a record of successive states of consciousness.(They move from the “outer” historical account of the war, through the deceptively confessional spy story, to Yu Tsun’s more intimate sensations on approaching Albert’s house, to Albert’s gloss of Ts’ui Pen’s work, and finally to the “direct quotation” given above: a graded progression towards the condition described and which Yu Tsun then reluctantly rejects.).The movement is something like closing and opening a pair of nutcrackers, as each possibility is grasped, then released as its kernel is found to be generative rather than final.Murillo neatly explains Borges’ semi-invented locality for the 1916 battle in this vein: Serre-Montauhan suggests a tension between “compulsion” and “freedom”—which is both that of Yu Tsun’s moral dilemma and of the reader’s progress through the text.Interestingly, Ludovic Janvier describes Robbe-Grillet’s narrative as built around the “couple fascination-liberte.” This “disengaging compulsion toward ironical displacement” allows the reader both to experience and to judge the progress of the protagonist/narrator.It further allows the reader to locate the source of creative and moral action, but forces him or her to return again and again to its nature as potential, and not to get carried away into one-sided choice.The reader becomes both active—in that she or he continues to read and to weigh up further possible additions and outcomes—and nonactive, in that everything is somehow held in abeyance, given a kind of nonfinite status, its seeming definitiveness undermined in advance by the “let’s wait and see” mood established at the center of our consciousness.As a parallel to Yu Tsun’s exposition of his state, with its moral and psychological implications, the text operates its own aesthetic procedure upon us.The state which Yu Tsun enters, in the labyrinthine center of Albert’s enclave, but never fully explores, is offered as the means by which the thematic and structural development of Borges’s tale can be most completely judged.“Critical distance,” so often held up as the aim of literary study, does not mean a kind of owlish glare that reduces a text to the status of a dead mouse.Borges’s narratives weave their spell of mystery, symbolic density, suggestiveness, and disruption in order to propel the reader into the area, the kind of mental activity, where dream and memory and imagination operate.The reader must learn to manipulate symbol, metaphor, strange registers, and rhythms; to familiarize himself or herself with the most powerful properties, the generative structures of language.Playing this sort of game—especially if engaged in repeatedly—could very well serve as useful training for everyday activity, even if authors—and critics—tend to overplay the game for its own sake and forget the application.“Ah, bear in mind this garden was enchanted.” -E. A. Poe “...

Magic is not the contradiction of the law of cause and effect but its crown, or nightmare.” —Borges.Animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the Emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) suckling pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the above classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (1) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies.Foucault’s exegesis of this passage leads him to conclude that Borges is here creating a “heterotopia,” a place that is an impossible and frightening nonplace, a place of language and of mind which manages to contain words “in sites so very different from one another that it is impossible to find a place of residence for them, to define a common locus.” This procedure, according to Foucault, “destroys ... that less apparent syntax which causes words and things (next to and also opposite one another) to ‘hold together.’” I think it could be argued that what Foucault finds Borges doing with words in general, we find the same writer doing with plots in “The Garden of Forking Paths,” a story from the celebrated collection Ficciones.The first paragraph of “The Garden of Forking Paths” acts as a frame to the body of the text, a first-person confessional “document” written by Yu Tsun, a Chinese spy for the German Empire operating in England during the First World War.Ostensibly this framing paragraph serves to ground the confessional narrative in historical fact and provides the question to which Yu Tsun’s “deposition” is supposedly an answer.Borges (or more exactly, the “editor”) cities Captain Liddell Hart’s A History of the World War to the effect that “torrential rain caused this delay—which lacked any special significance.” The reader assumes that Yu Tsun’s “deposition” will prove (a) that “torrential rains” were not the decisive factor in the delay and—perhaps—(b) that the delay did have significance.This seems innocent enough if the reader is unaware, as no doubt he is, that the action on the Somme took place a month earlier than Borges quotes Liddell Hart, falsely, as having stated.Yet Borges’ intention in introducing us to the story via history is not simply to give his fiction an innocent motivation, that of answering the “official” account of a historical event, of attempting, on.,’ one can see clearly how essential a role details play in cementing the two plots together in line with Borges’ aesthetics of ‘anticipation’ and‘prefiguration.’”.Borges understandbly likes Conrad’s thought “that when one wrote, even in a realistic way about the world, one was writing a fantastic story because the world itself is fantastic and unfathomable and mysterious.”) The historian Liddell Hart, who is of a positivistic bent to say the least, admits of his enterprise that “it is difficult to pick out salient features where there are either none, or else so many that they tend to merge into a formless mass.” Nevertheless, he plods along, sorting out causes and effects, making judgments, interpolating the various “factors” of chance involved in a given battle (with the thoroughness of an Avalon-Hill war game)—and ends up with a fantastic narrative.Borges takes the model of this fantastic but literal narration of “real events” as his starting point: he will correct Liddell Hart (ostensibly in the interests of historical truth), outdoing the very concept of cause and effect to the point that it turns on itself, and all notions of history, causal time, and truth are overthrown by the “unfathomable.”.As Ronald Christ, in his excellent book The NarrowAct, states: “On the one hand Borges taints the reality which his sources describe; on the other he corrupts the authenticity of those sources themselves; in both cases the motive is to penetrate the metaphysical world which lies beyond fact and substance....” In view of this critic’s fine understanding of the meaningful distortion which even the simplest quoted text undergoes in Borges’ hands, it is surprising that he completely misses the point of the reference to Liddell Hart in “The Garden...,” the opening of which, in his view, “shows Borges operating out of an historical background, grafting his fiction, once again, on the stock of fact ’ (italics mine).This is certainly the overt purpose of the opening paragraph of “The Garden....” (This purpose is further served by the presentation of Yu Tsun’s narrative as a “deposition,” i.e., a genuine, if personal, account of an actual event, by its naturalistic fragmentation [“the first two pages are missing”], and by the “editor’s note,” which cantankerously corrects a supposedly slanderous accusation voiced in the deposition.).For the expectation of a “factual” type of narrative which the frame sets up is destroyed by Borges’ play with two parallel yet incompatible plots, one of a detective, the other of a metaphysical, nature.The reader learns early in the story that Yu Tsun has a secret—the site of a new British artillery park on the Ancre—to communicate to his Chief, a “sick and hateful man ... sitting in his arid Berlin office,” and that his message will result in the bombing of the site by the Germans and a consequent delay in the British offensive.The reader also learns that Yu Tsun is being pursued by his arch-enemy, the British secret-service agent Madden, and is desperate, and that he is contemplating, and then has planned, a crime—viz., the emphasis on the “revolver with a single bullet” and his various meditations of the sort, “Whosever would undertake some atrocious enterprise....” Furthermore, this planned crime is somehow connected with his communicating the necessary information to his Chief, but all we learn relative to the means of the communication is that “the telephone directory gave [Yu Tsun] the name of the one person capable of passing on the information.” Only in the last paragraph of the story do we learn that the crime is the murder of a man named Albert, whose elimination will signal to the Chief the necessity of eliminating the depot at Albert on the Ancre River.This message is Ts’ui Pen’s will (just as the newspaper article on Albert’s murder is in some sense Yu Tsun’s will), which is decoded on the basis of the key word time, which Ts’ui Pen eliminated from his novel (just as the key word Albert was “eliminated” by proxy to insure the success of Yu Tsun’s plan).The unique novel left by Ts’ui Pen, considered by posterity to be “a shapeless mass of contradictory drafts” and decoded by the ingenious Albert, is actually a symbolic labyrinth of time in which the various possible futures of the characters are depicted simultaneously.Before exploring the devices by which the first and second plot are linked, let us turn briefly to one of Borges’ most famous theoretical statements on narrative, which is of relevance for an understanding of the overall structure of “The Garden....”.His statements refer primarily to the genre of the novel, but are actually of little critical use in approaching that domain; they read more like a manifesto for the future poetics of the short stories in Ficciones.It is not surprising that Borges supports his argument with references to the adventure novel, the detective story, and the “endless spectacular fictions made up in Hollywood.” The first two, despite the primitiveness of many of their practitioners, offer manifold possibilities for intricate plotting, in which characters act as “functions” (much as they do in the folk tale) rather than as determiners of the action.The role of detail is most obvious on the level of imagery, where the emphasis on the circle reinforces the theory of cyclical time advanced in the metaphysical plot; as Ronald Christ has pointed out, “cyclical time is evinced in the portentous detail.” On the level of plot Yu Tsun’s meditation on his ancestor’s labyrinth before meeting by “accident” the man who has solved its riddle—a meditation which would seem initially to be a mere “digression”—motivates the meeting with Albert, which does not in the least surprise Yu Tsun.The details embodied in Albert’s discussion of Ts’ui Pen’s novel also serve to link the detective and metaphysical plots.In describing the novel’s structure, besides the rather portentous example of the character Fang, a stranger, and a murder, Albert has recourse to an illustration based on the present situation, Yu Tsun’s appearance at his house: “Sometimes the pathways of the labyrinth converge.I deeply appreciate and am grateful to you for the restoration of Ts’ui Pen’s garden.” Albert’s response, his last words before being assassinated by Yu Tsun, seem to reveal an intuition of his death at the spy’s hands:‘“ Not in all,’ he murmured with a smile.‘Time is forever dividing itself toward innumerable futures and in one of them I am your enemy.’” In terms of the metaphysics of repetition, Albert’s death may be interpreted as a reenactment of Ts’ui Pen’s “assassination by a stranger” centuries before.Yu Tsun experiences the “pullulation” of past and future identities, a state in which he becomes an “abstract spectator” of his own life, which seems directed by a will other than his own.We are abruptly returned to the detective plot by the sudden appearance of Madden, whom Yu Tsun sees coming through the garden (as if emerging out of his vague hallucinations) to arrest him.The disjunction of the two plots, the impossible distance which separates the realms to which each pertains, is so startling precisely because of their apparent and less obvious parallelisms.Labyrinths, preface by Andre Maurois, edited by Donald A. Yates, and James E.

Irby, New York: New Directions Books, 1964.Seven Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges, translated by Clark M. Zlotchew, Troy, NY: The Whitson Publishing Company, 1982. .


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