The Garden of Forking Paths  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

"I remembered too that night which is at the middle of the Thousand and One Nights when Scheherazade (through a magical oversight of the copyist) begins to relate word for word the story of the Thousand and One Nights, establishing the risk of coming once again to the night when she must repeat it, and thus on to infinity…" --"The Garden of Forking Paths", Jorge Luis Borges

Related e

Google
Wikipedia
Wiktionary
Wiki Commons
Wikisource
YouTube
Shop


Featured:
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Enlarge
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

"The Garden of Forking Paths" (Spanish: "El Jardín de senderos que se bifurcan") is a short story by Argentine writer and poet Jorge Luis Borges.

It was first published as the title story in the collection El Jardín de senderos que se bifurcan (The Garden of Forking Paths) in 1941; that collection was republished in its entirety in the 1944 collection Ficciones ("Fictions").

Plot summary

The story takes the form of a signed statement by a Chinese professor of English named Doctor Yu Tsun who is living in the United Kingdom during World War I. Tsun is a spy for the German Empire who has realized that an MI5 agent called Captain Richard Madden is pursuing him, has entered the apartment of his handler Viktor Runeberg, and either captured or killed him. Doctor Tsun is certain that his own arrest is next. He has just discovered the location of a new British artillery park and wishes to convey that knowledge to his German handlers before he is captured. He at last hits upon a desperate plan in order to achieve this.

Doctor Tsun explains that his spying has never been for the sake of Imperial Germany, which he considers "a barbarous country". Rather, he says, he did it because he wanted to prove to his racist masters that an Asian is intelligent enough to obtain the information needed to save their soldiers' lives. Tsun suspects that Captain Madden, an Irishman in the employ of the British Empire, might be similarly motivated.

Taking his few possessions, Tsun boards a train to the village of Ashgrove. Narrowly avoiding the pursuing Captain Madden at the train station, he goes to the house of Doctor Stephen Albert, an eminent Sinologist. As he walks up the road to Doctor Albert's house, Tsun reflects on his great ancestor, Ts'ui Pên, a learned and famous man who renounced his job as governor of Yunnan in order to undertake two tasks: to write a vast and intricate novel, and to construct an equally vast and intricate labyrinth, one "in which all men would lose their way". Ts'ui Pên was murdered before completing his novel, however, and what he did write was a "contradictory jumble of irresolute drafts" that made no sense to subsequent readers; nor was the labyrinth ever found.

Doctor Tsun arrives at the house of Doctor Albert, who is deeply excited to have met a descendant of Ts'ui Pên. Doctor Albert reveals that he has himself been engaged in a longtime study of Ts'ui Pên's novel. Albert explains excitedly that at one stroke he has solved both mysteries—the chaotic and jumbled nature of Ts'ui Pên's unfinished book and the mystery of his lost labyrinth. Albert's solution is that they are one and the same: the book is the labyrinth.

Basing his work on the strange legend that Ts'ui Pên had intended to construct an infinite labyrinth, as well as a cryptic letter from Ts'ui Pên himself stating, "I leave to several futures (not to all) my garden of forking paths", Doctor Albert realized that the "garden of forking paths" was the novel, and that the forking took place in time, not in space. As compared to most fictions, where the character chooses one alternative at each decision point and thereby eliminates all the others, Ts'ui Pên's novel attempted to describe a world where all possible outcomes of an event occur simultaneously, each one itself leading to further proliferations of possibilities. Albert further explains that these constantly diverging paths do sometimes converge again, though as the result of a different chain of causes; for example, he says, in one possible timeline Doctor Tsun has come to his house as an enemy, in another as a friend.

Though trembling with gratitude at Albert's revelation and in awe of his ancestor's literary genius, Tsun glances up the path to see Captain Madden approaching the house. He asks Albert to see Ts'ui Pên's letter again. As Albert turns to retrieve it, Tsun draws a revolver, and declares his friendship before murdering him in cold blood.

Doctor Tsun is arrested, convicted of murder, and sentenced to death by hanging. However, he has "most abhorrently triumphed", as he has revealed to Berlin the location of the artillery park. Indeed, the park is bombed as Tsun goes on trial. The location of the artillery park was in Albert. Doctor Tsun had realized that the only way to convey that information was to murder a person of that name, so that the news of the murder would appear in British newspapers connected with his name.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Garden of Forking Paths" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools