Just to briefly summarize the plot of the story, the protagonist is Dr. Yu Tsun, a chinese spy working for the Germans during World War II. He's been discovered and is being pursued. Through the narration, we find out Yu Tsun is Ts'ui Pen great-grandson, a great smart man who renounced his job as governor of a province to undertake two tasks: “to write a vast and intricate novel, and to construct an equally vast and intricate labyrinth”. The protagonist goes to Dr Albert house, who explains excitedly that at one stroke he has solved THE MYSTERY: the chaotic and jumbled nature of Ts'ui Pen's unfinished book, and the mystery of his lost labyrinth. Albert's solution is that they are one and the same: we all first think that book and labyrinth were different things, but the truth is that the book is the labyrinth.
So here we have the text's metaphor: the same way we have to choose among several possibilities when we find ourselves in the middle of a maze, we also have this ability to choose when we read a book.
“In all fictional works, each time a man is confronted with several alternatives, he chooses one and eliminates the others; in the fiction of Ts'ui Pên, he chooses -simultaneously- all of them. He creates, in this way, diverse futures, diverse times which themselves also proliferate and fork”
How can we think that may be possible? Well, the answer is that the forking took place in time, and not in space.
“In contrast to Newton and Schopenhauer, your ancestor did not believe in a uniform, absolute time. He believed in an infinite series of times, in a growing, dizzying net of divergent, convergent and parallel times. This network of times which approached one another, forked, broke off, or were unaware of one another for centuries, embraces all possibilities of time”
We finally find out that the main purpose of the novel was to describe a world where all possible outcomes of an event occur at the same time, each one itself leading to further possibilities (using the metaphor of the forking paths in a maze).
Here we have a metalinguistics narration, as long as it is a novel that talks about a novel (we find a mixture of 2 stories in one); the novel itself has the same chaotic structure that labyrinths actually have; and the maze is a metaphor to mean the idea of choice and simultaneous possibilities. Through the links between the different paths we can create as much interpretations as we want.
I think the importance of this text lie in 2 main reasons:
- this text is considered a conceptual precedent of the hyperfiction stories: the stories that combine hypertext and literature, and play with the ideas of chocie, multiple paths, different meanings, no beginning and no ending...