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Module 1: The Translation Practice and The Postmodern Narrative

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The Pioneering Work of Magical Realism

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And he is again referring (Refer Slide Time: 19:54) to that irrevocable decision, what irrevocable decision we will get to know only towards the end. We find Stephen Albert and Yu Tsun speaking at length about Tsui Pen, how he left his highly successful life and career to pursue something seemingly absurd to write a novel, to create a maze. And this novel was totally incomprehensive. And in the words of Yu Tsun, those of the blood of Tsui Pen, they still curse the memory of that monk who had in fact; you know revived one of the manuscripts which were found. Such a publication was madness. The book was the shapeless mass of contradictory rough drafts. I examined it once upon a time. The hero dies in the third chapter, while in the fourth he is alive. This is the clear reference to the post-modern narrative form which Borges himself was very fascinated in exploring. As mentioned in the outset of the lecture, this about predates the event of post-modernism. Within the critical ambience, there was not much discussion of post-modernism when Borges was writing this short story but we get to know that this is the story which gets conveniently situated in the post-modern rhetoric. And this is one of the giveaways in this short story where there is a reference to another work which is written in a post-modern way. There is a reference to another work which is totally incomprehensible because contradictory things are happening because it is a series of narration which defies all kinds of logical reason. And we find them continuing to talk about (Refer Slide Time: 21:45) the labyrinth. The labyrinth is the key image and a symbol in most of Borges’ short stories. He likes to playfully use the idea of the labyrinth to situate his fictional enterprises. And we find this continuing obsession getting exemplified in this story The Garden of Forking Paths as well. And Stephen Albert, he refers to himself as a barbarous Englishman, who has been given the key to solving the mystery of this labyrinth which Tsui Pen created in the first place. And we are also being given certain important information such as Tsui Pen's book and the labyrinth being the same. How this (Refer Slide Time: 22:35) implies this narration and the larger scheme of things is something we shall come back to look at, at a later point. (Refer Slide Time: 22:44) And there is a letter, a fragment of a letter rather which Stephen Albert refers to and he identifies that fragment of a letter written by Tsui Pen as keying this novel and also the maze, the garden that Tsui Pen initially wanted to create. We have reference to Tsui Pen's calligraphy being justly famous, which also implies that he was perhaps a very well-known statesman initially and a well-known artist in his Province and if you remember, recall the way Tsui Pen was initially introduced. He was a Governor of Yunan, a province in China. He gives that up, he gives that position, he gives that status to pursue certain meaningless things and he is seen as a crazy fellow. He is seen as someone who went down deep into madness, because the product, the novel that he created was in a deep mess of incomprehensible things. And Tsui Pen, whether Tsui Pen was famous for his achievements, all for these seemingly erratic choices that he made in his life that is something that we do not get to know. But we do find that in the course of this story we find Yu Tsun, the narrator finding a newfound respect for his ancestor whom he had referred to, dismissively in, at the outset of the narration. And here we come to look at this letter which Steven Albert is referring to. It has these significant words. “I leave to various future times, but not to all, my garden of forking paths.” This is another key which can be used to open and reveal the meaning of the text; if at all the text has the central meaning. And this is an oft-quoted statement from Borges’ writings as well, and the next few (Refer Slide Time: 24:55) passages, they tell us about the painstaking efforts that Stephen Albert had undertaken to understand this text. There is a reference to The Thousand and One Nights, a text which Steven Albert thinks is useful in trying to analyze the works that of Tsui Pen. He also refers to the manuscripts that he received from Oxford indicating the scholarly attention that he had been paying for this work. And again (Refer Slide Time: 25:27) the reiteration of the point that he had made earlier, The Garden of Forking Paths was a chaotic novel itself. The maze and the novel, the garden and the novel, they are one. They are not two separate things. The significance of this identification is something that we need to take a look at in detail shortly and he begins to unpack this phrase to various future times but not to all. And Stephen Albert is trying to explain to Yu Tsun that this refers to the image of bifurcating in time and not in space. He is talking about the possibility of choosing different time slots at the same time. And this perhaps is the cause of contradictions in the novel. These kinds of narrations are certainly part of many post-modern narratives. We do have novels which do not begin anywhere, storylines which contradict each other and it is a certain kind of a foreshadowing in that sense that this story and the story that it is referring to, is doing over here. Stephen Albert also (Refer Slide Time: 26:39) refers to the various possible outcomes. When you come to the end of the story we will know that this by extension can be used to talk about the many choices that the narrator Yu Tsun is also taking at different points of time. From the moment he realizes that he needs to flee, from the moment that he realizes that Richard Madden is pursuing him, there is a set of choice; there are a series of choices that he takes. And based on the choices he takes the outcome could be different. But the real-life scenario like that of Yu Tsun's, one can only make one choice. Only that one single choice is available to you. Only that, only the implications of the choice which is made is available to you. But the story that Stephen Albert is referring to, the story that Yu Tsun's ancestor Tsui Pen attempted to write refers to, they are talking about the possibility of inhabiting different futures and had all futures at the same time. And engage with all possible outcomes at the same time. And this is what perhaps differentiates the life that narrator Yu Tsun is leading from that of a fictional narrative that his ancestor Tsui Pen had tried to create and recreate. (Refer Slide Time: 28:01) We go through a section where Stephen Albert is reading out certain segments from this, the older novel, the one written by Tsui Pen and we find him, Yu Tsun (Refer Slide Time: 28:14) attentively listening to this narration, this rendition and Stephen Albert also refers (Refer Slide Time: 28:22) to a brief history of the novel in China. He talks about the thirteen years which the others think Tsui Pen had wasted in writing a novel. And he also refers to how in your country the novel is an inferior genre. In Tsui Pen's period, it was a despised one. Here we also need to be attentive to the genre under which this work, The Garden of Forking Paths was also initially labelled. It was seen as common detective fiction. And detective fiction was considered as an inferior genre for a long time. It was not considered as the kind of writing which would require a profound depth and philosophical nature wh part of the other well-known, well-written works. So detective fiction was the kind of genre with which The Garden of Forking Paths was associated with. Despite that, we find that the novel, the short story went on to become one of the canonical works. So here is the reference to the history of the novel in different parts of the world and we do find these scholarly discussions also enriching the understanding of this short story. And now Stephen (Refer Slide Time: 29:37) Albert is referring to The Garden of Forking Paths, the original work by Tsui Pen as an enormous guessing game. He asks Yu Tsun this important question which also resolved the riddle that the story is. “In a guessing game to which the answer is chess, which word is the only one prohibited? I thought for a moment and then replied the word is chess.” And he uses this as a key to unlock the meaning of this text and then he goes on to say “I have translated the whole work. I can state categorically that not once has the word time been used in the whole book.” He is referring to this whole book, the whole novel which he has been researching on for the last many years. And he states categorically that the one word (Refer Slide Time: 30:30) that is not mentioned in this entire work is time. And time becomes the significant thing to unlock the meaning of this work as well. And there are references to Newton and Schopenhauer, and this is a certain thing that we shall come back to later, look at to understand (Refer Slide Time: 30:47) the meaning of this text in a more, in a better way and also to situate (Refer Slide Time: 30:52) it in a certain context of historical times. Stephen Albert discusses with Yu Tsun the possibilities of them, Stephen Albert and Yu Tsun sharing different relations in different possible futures. Nevertheless, Yu Tsun responds to him in gratitude and says, in all of them, in all that futures that I possibly share with you I deeply appreciate and I am grateful to you for the restoration of Tsui Pen's (Refer Slide Time: 31:23) garden. And as and when (Refer Slide Time: 31:25) this profound discussion is going on, about past, about history, about novels, about time, about the meaning-making process which is extremely important as far as an ancient text like Tsui Pen's Garden of Forking Paths is concerned. In the middle of this discussion again we find Yu Tsun getting jolted back into reality where Captain Richard Madden is pursuing him. (Refer Slide Time: 32:33) So this is, this is the kind of magical realism that Borges is using. We are being transformed from one kind of narration to a totally different kind of one, from a surreal magical realist kind of narration to a more realist grounded thing in a very seamless fashion. We do not even know, we do not, the reader does not get to feel that the shifts were random or absurd. And here Yu Tsun is jolted back to this reality that Captain Richard Madden is pursuing him and what happens next will take the reader with a shocking surprise. “Albert rose from his seat. He stood up tall as he opened the top drawer of the high writing cabinet. For a moment his back was again turned to me. I had the revolver ready. I fired with the utmost care. Albert fell without murmur at once. I swear that his death was instantaneous as if he has been struck by a lightning.” What an anticlimax a reader would make! Here we are in the middle of the discussion which talks about a certain ancestor, a certain work on which Stephen Albert was researching and we all of a sudden find, after expressing his gratitude to Stephen Albert we find Yu Tsun killing Stephen Albert. And we do not have any context for this killing, we think. But now again I want you to go back and look at the first part of the story where at the beginning, Yu Tsun is looking for a name, a name, a person who would pass on this significant information to the Chief. And he is talking about a certain mission that he needs to complete, a plan that he needs to execute (Refer Slide Time: 33:54) so that he can convey certain information and also prove to the Chief, to the German Chief that a yellow man can save the German armies. So how does this plan work out? And towards the end (Refer Slide Time: 34:10) we do not find any more riddles. And now we find after the death of Stephen Albert, the story comes to almost an abrupt end. I read to you the final paragraph. “What remains is unreal and unimportant. Madden broke in and arrested me. I have been condemned to hang. Abominably, I had yet triumphed! The secret name of the city to be attacked got through to Berlin. Yesterday it was bombed. I read the news in the same English newspapers which were trying to resolve the riddle of the murder of the learned Sinologist Stephen Albert by the unknown Yu Tsun. The Chief however had already solved this mystery. He knew that my problem was to shout, with my feeble voice, above the tumult of war the name of the city called Albert and that another course open to me than to kill someone of that name. He does not know, for no one can, of my infinite penitence and sickness of the heart.” In this final paragraph, we get to know that it is such a brilliantly crafted story. Now many of the things which appeared to have happened at random, it begins to make sense to us. The entire puzzle begins to fit into its place. When Yu Tsun was going through the telephone directory he had in this mind this piece of information which needed to be passed on to his Chief. That was the name of this city named Albert. Albert is a city. And this, how he passed this information on to the Chief. The one plan that he had in mind was to find the name of, to find a person of the same name Albert and then kill him. Captain Madden is already pursuing him. And Richard Madden will certainly either kill him or get him arrested. So in that case, since he already knows that there is no escape for him. The least he could do is to shout out the name of this city through the name of the person that he assassinates and make this a major event, news so that it will also reach his Chief. The things that happened in between, the brief encounter that Stephen Albert had with Yu Tsun; that perhaps was not within the plan. But we do find that also sitting in very well to take the plot ahead and also allowing us to engage in a lot of discussions which are not otherwise part of this story which is about spy work, about murder, about wars, about giving information, the information of the spy to the one who had commissioned him. So it is a kind of story which brings in these otherwise disconnected elements in a seemingly connected fashion. (Refer Slide Time: 37:09) Looking at the story we will realize that there are many authorial voices here. That anonymous historian, the manuscript editor, Yu Tsun the narrator and even the author himself, so how reliable are these many voices given that this is in the form of deposition? There is, one cannot ignore even this possibility that being a spy, Yu Tsun is perhaps trying to make up some of those things? Maybe those are figments of his imagination? But still given that Yu Tsun is a dying man, he is awaiting his death sentence, he knows his certain future which is perhaps you know few more hours or days, given that he knows that he is about to die, perhaps we also need to take him more seriously given that it is also a note from a dying man. We also need to take a look at some of the important aspects which have been critically looked at from the context of this work. That we shall be doing in the following session. We wrap up the discussion for today. I thank you for listening and I look forward to seeing you in the next session. Hello everyone. Welcome to today's session. Today we are continuing to discuss Borges’ short story, The Garden of Forking Paths. We had done a close reading of the short story in the previous session. Today we continue to look at some of the other important aspects which have also informed our understanding of the story. (Refer Slide Time: 00:27) If you ask what kind of the story this is, it is difficult to find a single straightforward answer. It is at large, a self-referential and deceptive text, the ambiguity which is part of the text whether it is on purpose or whether it has been built in inadvertently is perhaps not easy to decipher. And the ambiguity rests right from the basic question about who the narrator is? Whether the narrator is the manuscript editor or Yu Tsun or the author figure of Borges, it is difficult for us to know. And how the elements of history and fiction fuse; and how the elements of history and fiction fuse in this story together, that also becomes another source of ambiguity. And there are no, there is no single meaning that this story gives out. We only have multiple interpretations. Which version is right? Whose story is right? Who is telling the truth and who is not? These are some of the questions that would continue to haunt us even after we finish reading the story. There are several layers that this story has. There is a straight forward spy story which is a part of it and that could be seen as the outer box or outer layer of the story. There are multiple boxes and layers inside. Tsui Pen’s novel and the many things which are part of its narration, in the beginning, its resurrection by Stephen Albert. Those are many, many layers and many, many boxes with which we can find multiple narrative possibilities. And certain personal details that our narrator Yu Tsun shares with us about the choice of his profession, and how he is embarking on such a mission. And towards the end, the, about the infinite penitence and grief that he is facing which is unknown to the rest of the world, those are certain other things which would perhaps give us other layers and other possibilities of looking at the story. This has also been seen as one of the earliest hypertext kind of narration. And interestingly this is the story which can be easily translated to hypertext version as well. And we had mentioned in the earlier lecture this is a story which is said to have pre-dated the event of post-modernism. So we do find the number of post-modern elements, there are ambiguity and fragmentation and hypertextual references as part of this narration. There are several elements of uncertainty which we find from beginning till the end of the text. There are certain kinds of, certain elements of uncertainty which are built into the storyline. For example, the kind of uncertainty that Yu Tsun faces about his life, even when he begins to tell us about the series of events that began to follow after his cover as a spy was exposed. The uncertainty that Yu Tsun feels when he is being pursued by Madden or the uncertainty that he feels when he is making the choice and after having made the choice when he is awaiting his death sentence. There are many ambiguous feelings that he has within him. These are certain uncertain elements which are built-in into the story. And even otherwise there are many uncertain things, many ambiguous things even bordering on to certain absurdity. For instance, the ethnicity of Yu Tsun and the fact that he is working for the Germans, those are certain absurd magic realist things which critics have noticed in this story. This is a story which expects the reader's co-participation. Without the reader participating in this story as someone who is trying to solve the puzzle or as someone who is trying to make sense the many layers and many boxes which are part of the story this is, the reading of the story is not complete. This is definitely the kind of story that expects a reader, there is an implied reader who is either participating in the making of the story or trying to unravel the mystery that story is. Borges himself had referred to the story as the detective story. (Refer Slide Time: 05:01) In one of his interviews titled Conversations, the interviewer asked him about this story of The Garden of Forking Paths. And he says I think it is quite good as a detective story. The interviewer says it is more than a detective story, though. And this is the ambiguous explanation that Borges gives. “Well, it should be because after all, I had Chesterton behind me and Chesterton knew how to make the most of a detective story.” He sticks to this notion that this is a detective story but just like the interviewer knows, the reader, as well as Borges himself, knows that there is more to this than a mere detective story. But this outer layer of a detective story, this outer layer of a spy story makes the mystery all the more profound, may accentuate the notion of mystery, accentuates the ki the mystery which is part of this story. (Refer Slide Time: 05:50) We had noted earlier that the genre of detective fiction, though it was a popular medium, it was often looked down upon as a literary inferior. It did not have the literary merit or the philosophical profoundness like most other well-known canonical fiction had. And what made this kind of writing; the genre of detective fiction extremely popular was that it was easy to read and it also required the clue gathering and puzzle-solving skills. So as a medium, as a genre, it was something that challenged the reader. Here we find Borges making use of this medium, the genre of a detective story to narrate a tale which would be challenging for the reader, where the reader is required to gather the clues and solve the puzzle that is part of the story. The reader is the detective here and that is what makes The Garden of Forking Paths a different kind of a detective story. We do not have a detective within the story trying to solve the puzzle or trying to resolve the mystery. Right at the outset when we find this yellow man working as a spy for the Germans and that he is currently being pursued by an Irishman in England. When we are given this setting the reader automatically assumes the position of a detective and the reader goes on to solve this puzzle, solve the mystery. And what is the nature of the mystery over here? When we look at the story as a whole, in totality the way it is presented tells us that there is no mystery over here. It is in the form of a deposition. It is not in the form, it is not in the conventional form of a detective story where there is a form of suspense which is there hanging in the air right at the outset of the narration. So we are given to understand by the interventions of the manuscript editor or the history writer that this is the story, the solution, the resolution of which we already know of. So the nature of mystery itself is challenging and ambiguous over here and towards the end, when brief suspense, a brief spell of suspense is broken, we can together make sense of the many things that Yu Tsun had been feeling or even perhaps question some of the things that Yu Tsun had been trying to share with us. And how would you classify the different details that you find, find in this story? Is it part of fiction? Is it history? Or is it a manuscript editor? Remember the footnote that we find at the end of the story where there is brief, corrective information given about the death of a Viktor Runeberg. Is this tale the form of narration? Is it something else than fiction, history, or a manuscript? Is it like a research paper? Again there is no single answer to it. This story The Garden of Forking Paths, it is at some level all of these rolled together into one and at another level none of these. When the story is being positioned as a detective story, when multiple elements of suspense and mystery are introduced into it, we are also given to understand this is not just about time and the mystery that is part of the narrative. It is also about making fiction. Here in the form of a detective story, within the frameworks of the detective story when Borges is introducing to us certain elements of fiction, some elements of history, some elements of the manuscript and some elements of research he is actually questioning the rules of fiction. It is very typically post-modern. Hey, this is a self-referential text which is consciously questioning how the stories are written. And deliberately trying to write a story which does not present itself as a story but carries a label of detective fiction. So in terms of this questioning that Borges does, it is slightly complicated. And some critics even wondered whether this is, this can be seen more like a philosophical treatise masquerading as a detective story, because we do find a lot of discussions about future, about time, about choices, about certain relationships within which men and women are required to make difficult decisions. And the impossibility of making two different decisions at the same time. And the fictional possibility of occupying or inhabiting different physical spaces and different time slots at the same time. So it is many things rolled into one but for convenience’s sake, for simplifying the nature of the story perhaps it is also called as a detective story by Borges himself. (Refer Slide Time: 11:20) Let us quickly recall the plotline and the main things that we discussed when we read the story closely in the previous session. So we have (Refer Slide Time: 11:31) at the centre of our narration, Yu Tsun who can be considered as a narrator and the protagonist of this story. There are multiple identities which he possessed. He is a Chinese, (Refer Slide Time: 11:45) he was an English Professor, he is currently (Refer Slide Time: 11:47) working as a German spy. He is also the ancestor and the great-grandson o That is his connection with Tsui (Refer Slide Time: 11:55) Pen and The Garden of Forking Paths, also the title of the story. Garden of forking paths, we get to know, it is a novel written by Tsui Pen, so through Yu Tsun, we are introduced to Tsui Pen and also The Garden of Forking Paths which is the name of (Refer Slide Time: 12:14) the novel (Refer Slide Time: 12:15) and we are also introduced to a letter (Refer Slide Time: 12:18) which Albert has, which Doctor Albert has but it is written by Tsui Pen and there is an idea of this garden itself (Refer Slide Time: 12:28) which Albert recreates which originally was a brainchild of Tsui Pen. (Refer Slide Time: 12:37) And there is Albert, Albert sort of functions as a mediator between and Yu Tsun and Tsui Pen and he serves multiple roles here. One, he is the person who introduces Tsui Pen's ambiguous scheme of things, scheme of this novel and garden to Yu Tsun. He is the one who demystifies what this garden signifies and at the same time he is chosen, not for any profound reasons but for the simple reason that his name is Albert. And this is how the story oscillates between very profound, philosophical things and certain simple things which just act as happy accidents or as certain conveniences. And when we talk about Albert, he also has different slots that he occupies. It is a name of the town (Refer Slide Time: 13:39) because of which he gets chosen because Yu Tsun had to convey the name of a town by murdering this man.