“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.
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.
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.
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.
Stephen , the name of a city where a new British artillery park is located)—a trifling twist of plot apparently unrelated to the mysteries of the universe. He consults a telephone directory and directly makes his way to a certain address.
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. “His way” leads to the residence of Stephen Albert, who is discovered to be a Sinologist who, as it “happens,” has studied, translated, and interpreted a labyrinthine novel called . I have communicated to Berlin the secret name of the city they must attack.
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.