When I began reading the text assigned for this week, I did not anticipate it being a riveting first-person account of a World War I spy’s misadventure. The short story ‘The Garden of Forking Paths‘ comes from an anthology of the same name written by Argentine writer and poet Jorge Luis Borges. The text was translated from Spanish by Anthony Boucher. I had the pleasure of reading this book before and it was quite serendipitous that I would have the good fortune to read it again. While it was a thoroughly enjoyable and captivating read, I realize the purpose of this assignment was not to analyze German espionage during World War I. Rather it was to have a closer look at the Book/Labyrinth that the character Ts’ui Pên designed in solitude after renouncing his job as governor of Yunan.
The Book/Labyrinth is the result of an exploration into the idea of a narrative that branches into multiple threads. These threads consist of possible outcomes of the choices made by characters in the narrative. In the short story, the titular forking paths are described as forks in time, as opposed to physical space. This idea is deeply rooted in causality and probability. In physics, a similar theory exists by the name of ‘The Many-world Interpretation’. The hypothesis states there is a very large—perhaps infinite—number of universes, and everything that could possibly have happened in our past, but did not, has occurred in the past of some other universe or universes.
In the text, Ts’ui Pên’s book is described as a chain of possibilities, each begetting its own possible outcomes. This description brings us squarely to the discussion of non-linear narratives. When a plot or narrative structure appears to disregard the humanly perception of linear time, it is said to be a non-linear piece of work. Famous examples of such non-linear plots include the movie ‘Memento’ directed by Christopher Nolan, and ‘Mulholland Drive’ by David Lynch. The supposed incongruent time structure actually aids the telling of the story in a way that ends up being more visceral, than should it have been told linearly. Non-linearity is often exploited to create a sense of confusion in the viewer, allowing the story-teller to withhold the revelation of the mystery for as long as possible.
However, in ‘The Garden of Forking Paths’, the non-linear bifurcation of the narrative is something more akin to a hypertext novel, or a classic choose-your-own-adventure story, where the power of choice determines the ending of the story. Interactivity then, becomes a key component of Ts’ui Pên’s Book/Labyrinth, where the conscious decision and active participation of reader is directly responsible for where the story goes.
In closing, the reading was an interesting inquiry into the parallel nature of time. The proposed concept of a novel where every choice diverges into many more possible endings creates the space for an interesting interactive narrative experience that I will further explore in my project. I have decided to work with the web as my medium and this concept seems extremely apt for this purpose.
After speaking in class about the text with Issac, I realized I failed to address another key point that was mentioned in the text. There is a line that states that the only word prohibited in a guessing game where the answer is ‘chess’, is the word ‘chess’ itself. This particular line struck me when I first read the text, but for some reason, its significance faded from memory as I was writing this reflection.
The line is quite thought provoking. The author seems to suggest that the power of suggestion and hiding things between the line may be more powerful and satisfying for the audience when they are left to uncover the mystery, or tie the loose end, themselves. When looking at the scope of our interactive narrative project, the power of suggestion and allusion would be much appreciated in comparison to an overhanded approach in delivering the narrative.