Borges : The Garden Of Forking Paths (Summary)

Continuing with my extensive readings on Borges, I read his short story "The Garden of Forking Paths". This is said to be a detective story. The story starts with Dr.Yu Tsun, a German spy in England realizing that he is being pursued by a British agent(Madden). Dr. Yu is privy to information about the location of England's new artillery park which somehow he has to convey to his leader in Germany. We are told that Dr. Yu is doing this not for any love for Germany, but out of desire to prove that a yellow man (whose race his leader so belittles) can save the armies of Germany. Realizing that time is of essence, he scans a telephone book for a name (Dr Stephen Albert) and leaves to meet him on the train. He narrowly misses Madden pursuing him in the station. Yu is elated for he has frustrated his enemy's plan and it has provided him with ample head-start to achieve his goals. He proceeds to Dr Albert home down the solitary road, reflecting on the road that reminded him of labyrinths. It is revealed that Dr Yu is the great grandson of Ts’ui Pen, The governor of Yunnan province who renounced worldly pleasures to undertake two tasks. One to write a vast novel and second to create a labyrinth that no men can solve (practically infinite). Yu lost in these thoughts imagines a labyrinth of rivers and provinces and kingdoms, of past and future and of stars. "He for an unknown period of time, felt as an abstract perceiver of the world." On reaching the gate, a man greets him in his own language and ask if he desires to see the garden that Ts’ui Pen created. Yu discloses that Ts’ui Pen was his ancestor. They both deliberate over chaotic chapters that Ts’ui wrote which no one could understand and the labyrinth which is now untraceable. Dr Stephen reveals that he has solved both these mysteries. The novel was the labyrinth, they were one and the same. To strengthen his argument, Stephen shares a letter written by Ts’ui which says
"I leave to the various futures (not to all) my garden of forking paths."
The Garden of Forking Paths is a un-ordered novel, where the situations fork in time, not in space. In the novel, each time a man is confronted with several alternatives, he chooses simultaneously all of them. He creates, in this way, diverse futures, diverse times which themselves also proliferate and fork. Sometimes, the paths of this labyrinth converge. Stephen explains that the novel is an infinite maze whose theme is time which causes the author to prohibit the use of the word 'time' in its pages. Ts’ui conceived it as an infinite series of times, in a growing, dizzying net of divergent, convergent and parallel times unlike a linear and absolute Time. Time forks perpetually toward innumerable futures. This network of times which approached one another, forked, broke off, or were unaware of one another for centuries, embraces all possibilities of time. Dr Yun shows his gratitude to Stephen for unraveling the mystery.In the garden, he could see Madden approaching. Yu asks for the letter to be shown again. Dr. Yu fires at Stephen in the back killing him immediately. Madden arrests Yu and is later sentenced to be hanged, but we are told that his task was accomplished. He had communicated to Berlin the name of the city. It was revealed as a riddle of murder of noted Sinologist Stephen Albert who was murdered by a stranger, one Yu Tsun. The Chief encrypted the message for he knew the task was to get the the word Albert out, and Yu found no other way to convey this but to kill a man of that name. End.

To think of this as a simple detective story would be an oversight. As with Borges nothing is what it looks. In this story we are told of a novel that has infinite plots and is ever expanding. The novel looks disjointed and non-linear. It is like a labyrinth that is unsolvable. But instead of a physical labyrinth laid out on a garden, this one is written out. Time as we know moves linearly, from yesterday to today and to tomorrow. It has a definite progression, an order of passing. In this novel, “The Garden of Forking Paths” rejects the notion of time itself being linear. In fact, it forks and the new branches exist and continue and represent possibilities of future. All possible results are part of this "future" landscape where time continually forks. (and sometimes diverges). Each moment in Time becomes branches into many possibilities. It is like a "hypertext", like a page on the internet where one can read from top to bottom or he could click on any links available on the page to get into entirely new page and context. Those new pages link to yet new pages or can link back to previously traversed pages. Labyrinth has been a recurring themes in Borges work. But instead of a spatial, this one is spaced out in time. Time is growing out like a ever-growing ripple of water when the stone hits the water surface leading to multiple worlds and multiple realities. In a way each Time is the point of creation for new multiple worlds, but in the same scheme Time looses its significance as there is no singular line of reference now. Time creates Time but Time looses centrality. Any things are possible in these multiple futures, but we are aware and limited by our sequence of time or context. In the story Yu says to Stephen that in all futures, he would be grateful to him for revealing these mysteries, to which Stephen replies that it is not possible as in one possible future we are going to be enemies. It also brings the question of fate & free will as all possibilities exist simultaneously and are being action-ed, so whatever I choose does not matter for there are worlds where I made the other choice. The characters are bound to act on all possible choices hence forking into multiple futures. Choice is not more a choice. It seems uncanny that Yu finds his ancestor's secrets in England's country side (of all the places). Also the killing of an innocent man to convey a encoded message which someone may or may not understand sounds odd. But then aren't these actions one of the countless possibilities that can happen. And we and Borges somehow existed on this plane of time to write and read it.

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