The Garden Of Forking Paths Essays

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It is unlikely that without his former resolve he could have enacted the deed.

Yu Tsun is [all but drunk] on the “swarming” potentialities that pervade his consciousness as he chooses [remembers] to pull the trigger—as he determines “what-happens.” This tiny work of art with its selective, resolute brushstrokes brings into focus one character’s deliberate intention, resolution, and deed among competing, conflicting, compelling possibilities, and presents this choice in relief on a map of a maze of practical, historical, and psychological relations to which it belongs.

We may carry the notion of “epiphanic vision” further to note that the narrative which we are reading is fiction, shares art’s peculiar access to being and time, yields richly its own rich “truth.” But setting aside the nature of narrative and of fiction (ignoring Kant’s beckoning finger), we take up the story’s of time buried in Hs’ui Pen’s labyrinth of time—which we descry at last in the passages that recount the final moments of Yu Tsun’s meeting with the learned scholar Stephen Albert (pp. If it is illumination that Yu Tsun has promised us, note the face of Albert as he reads from his work “within the vivid circle of the lamplight, . The riddle of time as represented in the labyrinth of Ts’ui Pen—that is, as it has been resurrected, reconstructed, and translated (re-encoded? In contrast to Newton and Schopenhauer, your ancestor did not believe in a uniform, absolute time. It is the “more inaccessible, more intimate agitation” that Ts’ui Pen’s fiction “prefigured” (27) in the quotation above.

) by Albert—is that time forks from every action/event into . He believed in an absolute series of times, in a growing, dizzying net of divergent, convergent and parallel times. (The work of fiction: to prefigure the inaccessible!

There is the familiar Borges tone: arch, pseudo-formal (ironic). The final paragraph does indeed synopsize the plot of the story: the tale of Yu Tsun’s improbable feat, his perilous attempt and astonishing achievement to communicate to the Chief in Berlin the name of the city where the new British artillery park is located—and to do so by means of an oblique, encrypted medium of his own devising, i.e., via newspaper accounts of his own murder of a man with the same name. I have won out abominably,” and ends with his plaintive “innumerable contrition and weariness” (29). Later we find the same uncertain, indefinite causality operating in the project of Stephen Albert to resurrect, reconstruct, and translate Ts’ui Pen’s representation of time.

Arrested now, we reread the story, resisting the suspense of the surface plot to submerge in the “swarming” world beneath. But the somber denouement encapsulated in the ultimate paragraph does not cast this amazing accomplishment as an heroic wartime . Here, at the “center” of the (story-) labyrinth, where we had anticipated the answer to our riddle, we have found instead: Yu Tsun’s success and his failure bound fast together in stark contradiction and disparaged in a dirge. Albert describes his work in terms such as, “[It] is not hard to the correct solution of the problem” (25, emphases mine).

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.

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.

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