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Module 1: The Translation Practice and The Postmodern Narrative

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An Introduction To The Work of Jorge Luis Borges

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Good morning everyone. I am happy to welcome you to today's session where we talk about renowned short-story by Borges titled “The Garden of Forking Paths.” (Refer Slide Time: 00:21) Borges was born in 1899 and he lived till 1986. He is considered as one of the best storytellers in the twentieth century and his works have now received much critical acclaim and international attention. He was an Argentine short-story writer, an essayist, a poet and translator. He wrote in Spanish language and the works that are available to us are in the form of the translations from Spanish to English. He is said to have been one of the pioneers of the Magic realist movement in the twentieth-century Latin American literature. Except he went blind at the age of 55. But the kind of output, literary output that he left behind was prolific. By 1960s, he was a well-known figure in the international literary scene. His works began to be translated and published widely in America and Europe. This could also be seen as part of the Latin American boom. It is said about Borges that he, more than anyone, renovated the language of fiction and that has opened the way to a remarkable generation of Spanish American novelists. He is certainly considered as one of the greatest storytellers and the best short-story writers who had ever lived. (Refer Slide Time: 01:34) The story that we are today looking at, The Garden of Forking Paths, it was originally written in 1941. This was republished in 1944 in Borges’ collection of short stories titled Ficciones. It was translated into English by 1948 and the translation was done by Anthony Boucher. The translation appeared first in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine which was not a high-brow literary magazine but it was a pulp fiction periodical. It is just another irony of the literary history and criticism that the work which was initially published as a detective fiction in one of the pulp fiction periodicals went on to become one of the greatest canonical works ever. This incidentally was also first of Borges’ work to be translated into English. (Refer Slide Time: 02:20) The story itself is written in the first-person narrative. It is in the form of the deposition. There are multiple perspectives from which we can access this short story. It has lent itself to a lot of modern critical, theoretical practices. It’s been seen as the work that pre-dated post-modernism even before post-modernism actually began in the 1960s. It is considered as one of the earliest representations of magic realist narrative. Deleuze and Guattari, their framework of the Rhizomes can be used to talk about this work, the fragmentariness with which the story is narrated and the labyrinthine structure in which the plot unfolds, those are the things which have received utmost attention as far as the critical acclaim and response is considered. We however begin taking a look at the story by doing a close reading of this work. It is not the kind of a story which would readily give away its meaning or its summary. When you go through the story yourself, you will realize that it employs an unconventional narrative form. And that is not the form of a conventional story. It does not begin somewhere and it does not have the usual elements which are part of a story. (Refer Slide Time: 03:53) To appreciate this work better I would like you through a close reading of this story. It will also help you to identify different elements and different segments which would, the many parts which would make the whole. Soon after the title The Garden of Forking Paths, we find this: “To Victoria Ocampo”. Victoria Ocampo was a South American herself but she was also the, an activist and also a patron of what is now considered as the Golden period of Argentina's literary age. And the work begins in the form of a historical narrative. There is the reference to the history of the World War; there is a citation from page 212. It talks of certain events which had happened during the First World War. We get to know that through the age, through the year which is given here, 1916 and we know that this, this story is in the form of a deposition and this, like these prefatory remarks would tell us the following deposition dictated by, read over and then signed by Doctor Yu Tsun. He is the one who is narrating this. He is the former teacher of English and it also tells at the outset by way of some details given by the manuscript editor that the first two pages are missing. (Refer Slide Time: 05:19) So the narration begins almost from the middle of the sentence when Yu Tsun, our narrator
Doctor Yu Tsun who was a former English teacher, he begins to narrate this deposition. And he is recalling a telephonic conversation at the outset which is that of Captain Richard Madden. And Richard Madden and we are also being told that Viktor Runeberg, he had been arrested or murdered and there is a footnote, there is an endnote which we can see over here. And this is again n yet another thing which is not really part of a short story, not conventionally part of a short story but when we come towards the end of the story, (Refer Slide Time: 06:05) We find this end note here, just like you would find in a research paper. “A malicious and outlandish statement. In point of fact, Captain Richard Madden had been attacked by the Prussian spy Hans Rabener alias Viktor Runeberg who drew an automatic pistol when Madden appeared with orders for the spy's arrest. Madden, in self-defence, had inflicted wounds of which the spy died later, note by a manuscript editor.” So we also get to know that this entire story in the form of deposition is made available to us by this manuscript editor who is not named. So the story needs to be understood, the facts and the many representations need to be seen in this context. Right at the outset, we get a taste of how unconventional this narrative is and how it presents fiction as if it is real as if it is research material. (Refer Slide Time: 06:58) And at the outset itself Yu Tsun, our narrator is also telling us that he runs the same risk of being arrested or getting arrested or being murdered. And who is Captain Richard Madden? He is an Irishman in the service of England and there is also a reference to agents of Imperial Germany. So we get to know that the one who has already died, Viktor Runeberg and Yu Tsun the narrator both of them are agents of Imperial Germany. They are currently working as a spy in England. Where exactly the location is, we will get to know shortly. (Refer Slide Time: 07:35) Here we also get to know that he has a Chief. He is working, Yu Tsun is working under a Chief and there is certain information that he needs to pass on to the Chief. And this is how the Chief is being described towards the end of the first page. “The ear of that sick and hateful man who knew nothing of Runeberg or me except that we were in Staffordshire.” Staffordshire is in England, so this is the setting in England in Staffordshire and the year is 1916, this is during the period of First World War where our narrator Yu Tsun is working as a spy for Germany. And now he is being pursued by Richard Madden who is an Irishman himself but he is now working for England. And Yu Tsun as the name itself suggests he is Chinese. (Refer Slide Time: 08:28) And knowing that he is being pursued by Richard Madden we find that Yu Tsun is developing a plan. And we do not get to know what the plan exactly is. The entire story is about this plan unfolding. And as the first step of this plan, we find Yu Tsun going through the telephone directory. He picks up the name of one person who is capable of passing on the information. How? We would get to know as the story progresses. (Refer Slide Time: 08:57) And there is a brief reflection about why he is doing this. Why he is doing this spy work. And he says that he is not doing it for Germany. “No! Such a barbarous country is of no importance to me, particularly since it had degraded me by making me become a spy. Furthermore, I knew an Englishman, a modest man, who for me was as great as Goethe. I did not speak with him for more than an hour but during that time he was Goethe.” Towards the end of the story, we will get to know that he is referring to a person whom he would meet and who would become central to the way this story unfolds. And something that we reserve this suspense, something that we hold on to now, it is reserved towards the end of the story. (Refer Slide Time: 09:44) He also pointedly and very directly tells us why he decided to carry out this plan. That is because he wished to prove that a yellow man could save his armies. He is giving us some inside information about the many stereotypical notions that the Germans had of the Chinese and here is Yu Tsuna Chinese man who is working as a German spy in England and he is doing this, he is carrying out this plan to meticulous perfection even at the cost of many things. It is because he wanted to prove to his Chief who is German that yellow man can save his army, that the yellow man could save the German army. So we do find a subtle work of racism and subtle ways in which racial superiority gets asserted here. (Refer Slide Time: 10:35) He decided to go to the village of Ashgrove. That is the detail that he was looking at in the telephone directory we get to know. But just when the train is about to leave the platform, he also realizes much to his shock that Captain Richard Madden is still pursuing him. Though he feels elated that he has won the first encounter, he realizes that Madden is right (Refer Slide Time: 10:59) behind him. And the narrow escape that he had at that point of that time from Richard Madden, he describes that as a precious accident. He reaches (Refer Slide Time: 11:09) Ashgrove station and just when he gets out of the train, much to his surprise, there are a group of children who are playing and one of them walks up to him and asks are yogoing to Doctor Stephen Albert's house? This is something that would take the reader also by surprise because he is a spy. No one knows about his plan. And it is the plan that he made up, that he conceived when he was sitting in that hotel room and going through that telephone directory. And how on earth did those children come to know that he is going to Stephen Albert's house? They also take it for granted that he is going to Stephen Albert's house and without waiting for any response, they give out the directions to Stephen Albert's house. And now we also know that he was actually looking up Doctor Stephen Albert's house address and number when he was going through the telephone directory. Look at the way (Refer Slide Time: 12:04) the directions have been given. He catches on something very significant and seemingly material, from the way the directions are given, one of the children tells him the 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. And this direction which asks him to keep to the left, that provokes, that invokes a different kind of memory in his mind. We find that he associates that immediately with a certain common formula for finding the central courtyard of certain labyrinths as he puts it. And that makes him make another random association of that of Tsui Pen. And he also reveals a little more intimate personal details about him including his reference that not for nothing am I the great-grandson of Tsui Pen. And who was Ts’ui Pen? He was the Governor of Yunan and gave up temporal power to write a novel that more characters than there are in Hung Lou Meng and create a maze in which all men would lose themselves. He spent thirteen years on these oddly assorted tasks before he was assassinated by a stranger. His novel had no sense to it and nobody ever found his labyrinth. This passage is extremely important. It is one of those passages which also gives away the summary of the story in a certain way. There is a certain prophetic nature, a certain foreshadowing of the events that are to follow in this passage. We will certainly come back to it after we go through the entire story to see these connections, which are given to us in different points as the story progresses. It is up to the reader to ultimately make these connections and tie up the loose ends. (Refer Slide Time: 13:58) And this knowledge to which we are made privy to, that he is the grandson of Tsui Pen and that there is a certain obsession with labyrinths, about a certain novel, about a maze which Tsui Pen was supposedly writing. These will become extremely important as the narrative progresses. He spent some time thinking about this mythical labyrinth totally oblivious to the fact that he is actually fleeing now. There is Captain Richard Madden who is pursuing him. He can get arrested. He also runs a risk of getting killed and here we find Yu Tsun despite these meditating about the mythical labyrinth. And suddenly also realizes, lost in these imaginary illusions I forgot my destiny, that of the hunted. He is back to the contemporary. He is trying to find his way to Stephen Albert's house. (Refer Slide Time: 14:52) Given the nature of his work being a spy which is a very uncertain occupation. And given the political, historical background of those times which is the First World War. We also find him ruminating about the idea of how enemies are made and his own thoughts, his own observations on those things. I thought that a man might be an enemy of other men, of the different moments of other men, but never an enemy of a country, not of fireflies, birds, gardens, streams or the West wind. We do find Yu Tsun at least momentarily meditating upon the futility of the task that he is about to embark on. He is there caught at that moment in time because certain countries are being presented as enemies of one another. The spy work that he is doing and the mission that he is about to complete now in Stephen
Albert's house, those are all part of this large creation of countries being enemies of one another. Those are all after-effects and they are all even victims under this circumstance which presents different nations as enemies. And he quite rationally but in a futile way questions what the fundamental basis is of these creations of enmity, these constructions of enmity? And meditating thus
(Refer Slide Time: 16:25) we find him arriving at his destination and he is listening to Chinese music which he is also surprised about. And, and we find him entering (Refer Slide Time: 16:36) the house of Doctor Stephen Albert. “He opened the gate and spoke slowly in my language.” And we find that, again much to the reader’s surprise, Stephen Albert was also expecting Yu Tsun. But of course, he has not really understood who Yu Tsun is; he refers to him as Hsi Peng. “I see that the worthy Hsi Peng has troubled himself, has troubled himself to se relieving my solitude. No doubt you want to see the garden?” And that is the name of one of their consuls, Yu Tsun recognizes. Remember there is a connection that he had already referred to of his great grandfather, Tsui Pen being the governor of a certain province and possession which he also gives up to pursue his certain other things, about a novel and a maze. And there is a reference to the title here, the garden of forking paths. And this may seem very bizarre and surreal to the reader. But we find that it stood something in Yu Tsun's memory. Now we find him referring (Refer Slide Time: 17:46) again to his great grandfather Tsui Pen and this garden, the garden of forking paths; that is what Stephen Albert is referring to, the garden of his ancestor Tsui Pen. And the story takes a complete turn and twist from this point of time onwards. We find a turning point. This moment could be identified as a turning point. And we find Stephen Albert also getting very interested in meeting someone who is the blood relation of this illustrious ancestor. (Refer Slide Time: 18:19) And soon after we get to know a little more detail of Stephen Albert he also introduces him, the story also introduces him as a Sinologist which also explains his interest and his knowledge in what Tsui Pen, a Chinese man had done in one of the earlier decades. (Refer Slide Time: 18:38) As in when they sit down to talk about things which are not even remotely connected to what Yu Tsun does, not related to work; not related to spy work. They are talking about Tsui Pen and a Chinese ancestor. They are talking about novels, gardens and mazes but at the back of his mind, Yu Tsun also realizes that he is actually waiting for his pursuer Richard Madden to arrive and there is barely an hour for him. Now I want you to see this connection with one of the earlier statements that (Refer Slide Time: 19:17) Yu Tsun makes, about an hour that he has spent with an Englishman. And now we get to know that that Englishman is Stephen Albert and he is being equated with Goethe, the greatest literary master from Germany. (Refer Slide Time: 19:33) There is a reference to an irrevocable decision. The decision has already been made. We get to know, we will get to know later that the decision was made the moment he started going through the telephone directory to identify that one person who could pass on a significant piece of information to his chief in Germany.