Bodying Forth the Impossible: Metamorphosis, Mortality and Aesthetics in the
continued . . .
"The Garden of Forking Paths" tells two stories, each extending language beyond its limits through embodiment. Both stories are framed by a pseudo-historical introduction relating that the text contained within was "dictated, read over, and then signed by Dr. Yu Tsun," and in which "[t]he first two pages are missing" (Ficciones 99). The first story concerns Yu Tsun's espionage. He must deliver a secret message across a continent without actually speaking the words:
Yu Tsun's plan involves killing a manStephen Albertwhose last name matches the name of the site to be bombed. The murder of Stephen Albert both foretells and prescribes the bombingboth mirrors and initiates it, reflecting an unconventional view of temporality and causality not unlike the moment of confrontation between narrator and reader in "The Aleph." The murder and the bombing are intimately, nominally, and in a sense corporeally linkedyet spatially and temporally distant. The murder is also a naming, the naming is also a bombing (and presumably the murder of more people), and the sum of the three acts is an act of espionage. In this sense, Yu Tsun takes to an extreme the idea of performative language.
As in "The Aleph," the mise-en-abÓme structure in "The Garden of Forking Paths" emerges on various levels. Again, Borges doubles the title, so that the name of the story is mirrored in the name of novel (and labyrinth) at its core. In addition, the world that Yu Tsun moves through as he approaches Albert is itself a forking path. Yu Tsun encounters children along the way who advise him that "'[t]he house is a good distance away, but you won't get lost if you take the road to the left, and bear to the left at every crossroad'" (93). This advice always to "bear . . . left" reminds Yu Tsun "that such was the common formula for finding the central courtyard of certain labyrinths." He continues:
While pondering labyrinths and imagining the true form of the maze created by Ts'ui Pen, Yu Tsun loses his way in his own mental labyrinth:
In this final line, the labyrinths that Yu Tsun envisions suddenly take shape in the physical world around him. This is the first hint that Yu Tsun will experience within his own narrative the confusion of the objective and the subjective that disquiets Borges in "Partial Enchantments of the Quixote." Ts'ui PÍn's labyrinth and his novel turn out to be one and the same, a riddle for time. As in "The Aleph," contained and container are reversed, so that Yu Tsun's actions come to appear as part of his ancestor's novel; Yu Tsun is not only a descendant of Ts'ui PÍn, but possibly a character in his novel. Yu Tsun himself becomes lost in somewhere between reality and fiction as the boundary between them loses integrity and definition.
Yu Tsun's conspiratorial manipulations of language and naming invert the blueprint of the novel written by his ancestor, Ts'ui PÍn. Both men signify obliquely, rather than directly naming their object. By murdering Stephen Albert, Yu Tsun delivers to the enemy the name of the site to be bombed; Ts'ui PÍn, by omitting all mention of the word "time," hints that time itself is the theme of his novel. Yu Tsun exploits the ambiguities of language and displaces the namespecifically, the name "Albert." Ts'ui PÍn, on the other hand, omits the name of the concept at the heart of his novel, and through this very omission, suggests it, as Albert explains to Yu Tsun,
The legend of Ts'ui PÍn's dual creationwhich in fact turns out to be singularbears a great deal of similarity to the Emperor Shih Huang Ti's book-burning and wall-building in "The Wall and the Books." In fact, Albert says, Ts'ui PÍn's survivors found his "mess of manuscripts" after his death, and "wanted to consign them to the fire" (96). In both cases, the conjunction of these actsone affecting the textual realm, the other affecting the physical realmconstitutes an attempt to bridge reality and representation, thereby erasing the distinctions between what exists in time, here and now, and what exists in textsbe they historical or fictional (or both). Ts'ui PÍn's labyrinthine novel as a parable for time is the ultimate aesthetic act, an "alephic" act, so to speak, that attempts to be all-encompassing, to emerge out of its binding and wrap itself around the reality that contains it. In describing this impossible task, Borges indirectly achieves the aesthetic act, that "imminence of a revelation that does not take place" (A Personal Anthology 92). The aesthetic act succeeds through its very failure; the message is understood although it cannot be stated outright or transcribed.
Albert explains the true nature of Ts'ui PÍn's enterprise, much as Borges tries to illuminates Shih Huang Ti's actionsby explaining that, at least in motivation, the acts were one and the same:
Albert gives Yu Tsun a letter, in which Ts'ui PÍn has written "'I leave to various future times, but not to all, my garden of forking paths' " (97). Albert explains that he had imagined Ts'ui PÍn's labyrinthine novel to be infinite in the cyclical sense, an infinite regression comparable to The Thousand and One Nights, in which "Scheherezade, through a magical mistake on the part of her copyist, started to tell the story of The Thousand and One Nights, with the risk of again arriving at the night upon which she will relate it, and thus on to infinity" (97). Albert imagines as well "'a Platonic hereditary work, passed on from father to son, in which each individual would add a new chapter or correct, with pious care, the work of his elders" (97).  The phrase "various futures" illuminates Albert's misinterpretation, suggesting that Ts'ui PÍn's novel might be labyrinthine in a temporal, rather than a spatial sense, following not one, but infinite, branching lines.