Raine Koskimaa: Reading Victory Garden 

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Frame stories - conspiracy, virtual reality, dream as hypertext

The obvious explanation for Victory Garden's structure of alternative story paths is Borges' story "The Garden of Forking Paths" - the title refers to that story, Borges is mentioned in the credits "for seeing it all before" and there are instances in the text itself explaining that relation:

At the time of the last great War, Jorge Luis Borges imagined a fiction that would not conform to lines of determinism or destiny -- a fantastic Chinese novel called The Garden of Forking Paths. Now we find ourselves living once more through world conflict, admittedly of a very different kind from the events of 1914-18 or 1939-45. 

There is also one lexia including a dense summary of the idea of the "garden of forking paths":

All the Above 

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 Pen, he chooses - simultaneously - all of them. He creates, in this way, diverse futures, diverse times which themselves also proliferate and fork.

- Borges his Garden 

In this sense Victory Garden can be seen as a follow up for Moulthrop's early work "Forking Paths" - he says that explicitly on his web site:"Victory Garden is an original work based partly on the structure of 'The Garden of Forking Paths'" (from the menu in the left frame, choose "forking paths"). Robert Coover has interpreted the map in the beginning as an illustration of either a garden with paths and benches, or, a graveyard (rectangles being not benches but graves) - the garden referring to Borges' story, the graveyard to Gulf War casualties. 

Even though the idea of forking paths must be seen as the dominant metaphor for the overall structure of Victory Garden, it is not the only possibility. Following the proper paths the reader will confront a sequence where it is explained that the research Boris Urquhart is doing is about transforming a person's dreams into text. But that is not all - other persons may pick up things in the transcript and give related feedback to the dreamer, thus "directing" the flow of her dream:


"The transaction loop is simple," Urquhart told them. "NVACS compiles its transcript, which is displayed in real time on the monitor here." Indicating the western wall. "The transcript takes the form of a simple constructive hypertext with unconstrained possibilities for branching." 

Tate smiled indulgently. "What's that you say, Boris?" 

"Transcript contains many words. Pick a word, any word; pass it to the computer. NVACS specifies its semantic and iconolectic correlatives then formulates an appropriate Subliminal Suggestion Holoform (SSH), which it feeds back to the human interactor through his personal listening device." 

Tate pointed quizzically at his ears as if to say, you mean headphones ? Urquhart nodded. "Ah," said Tate. "Thanks."(1)

There are several lexias which clearly describe a dream, or other dreamlike experiences - these are clearly typographically marked to differ from other lexias. A "minimal" interpretation could be that these dream sequences represent Urquhart's dreams-as-hypertexts experiments, or, simulate them (the reader's choices imitating feedback from fictional observers of the experiment). But the general logic of interpretation works so that once we detect the dream-as-hypertext structure in one part of the work, there is always the possibility to widen that interpretation to go with the whole work - so the frame number two is this dream-as-hypertext version, in which we can either read Victory Garden as a record of one such experiment (or several experiments), or, as a simulation of that kind of experiment, the reader assuming the position of the observer of the fictional experiment. 

There are also several places stating that Urquhart is studying Virtual Reality - and there is even a description of a course he is (should be) giving on the topic: 


CS/HUM 8088 - Special Topics in Cybernetic Arts and Sciences: Simulation and Subversion 

B. Urquhart * Tu&F 2000-2130 * Tower 606

Do you suffer from frequent headaches? Believe in extraterrestrial life? Have you ever had an out-of-body experience, with or without the use of drugs? Do you watch a lot of television? Are you a proficient COBOL programmer?

This is a graduate research seminar concentrating on aesthetic and political implications of virtual reality and cyberspace technologies. Readings in cybernetics, informatics, communications theory, detective fiction. Frequent quizzes.

Note: This course is not available on interactive videodisc.  

It is possible that Boris is studying both virtual realities and dreams-as-hypertexts, but is also possible that, since his work is classified, the virtual reality is merely a cover. And of course, we can take the truly forking paths type approach and determine that in some possible story he is dealing with dreams and hypertexts, in others with virtual realities, and still, in some with both. Whatever the solution, the fact remains that there are several mentions of Boris' interest in virtual realities. Also, there are some passages which strongly suggest that at least some of the scenes in Victory Garden are representations of virtual reality experiments; there are some lexias which clearly allude to such cyberpunk classics as Vernor Vinge's "True Names" or William Gibson's Neuromancer, or the not-so-classic motion picture Lawnmover Man:


What makes you think of me as paranoid? Could be the way everyone spends his time plotting against you.

Let me tell you about my vision, Tate relates, a vision of the End of History: All the experience of humankind, Tate orates, is a huge cosmic riddle whose answer is - whose answer is Something Out Of Nothing 

...and we have only now entered into the age of autonomous and self-modifying simulacra, the moment of convergence between the IS and the COULD BE. Which is where you come in. 

U must engineer a System - or be enraged by another man's. […]


Tate Reboots~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
You find the nearest rheostat and twist it till the room dims down to near blackness. This takes Tate by surprise and he's caught up in the state-change algorithm, before he knows what's going on he's been redefined down to a nearly immobile pair Tate of eyes. 

- Dirty trick, Tate protests, trying furiously to invoke a subroutine. 

You allow your palm to linger over the switch. - Don't tempt me. Now what was that about a mysterious speaker? 

Tate winks his left eye three times. - ESCAPE-PF13? he tries. Command-period? 

- Talk, you insist. 

- CONTROL-ALT-DELETE! he cries and vanishes in a flash of blue light. 

Once again, we are left with the feeling that possibly all we have encountered so far is just some kind of virtual reality - possibly all of Tara, and everything else, including the Gulf War, is virtual reality simulation created for some purpose not known to us. This would be very much like the plot in Philip K. Dick's novel Time Out of Joint (1959), or more recently, in the film Truman Show). This interpretation would also explain the structure of forking paths - with simulation it is always possible to change some variables and make another run mapping an alternative course of events. There could be a sub-experiment going on trying to find out how Boris would react to different scenarios like Emily's death in Saudi Arabia. 

And finally, we can never forget the old conspiracy-paranoia solution. There are clear evidences of Boris believing in some kind of conspiracy; belief in different orders of conspiracies (or paranoias) could be possibly attached to several other characters too:

Coincidence[…]Tate opened his hands, palms up. "History, Agent Madden. Human affairs. The struggles of nations. What do you suppose the odds are of such a rare astronomical event happening just as the industrialized world enters its most significant military conflict since the Second World War?" 

As would most of us, Madden immediately heard music: the four-note signature of theTwilight Zone theme, cycling over and over in his head. He knew the spy business had had its share of eccentrics in the old days, but Tate was something special. Not wishing to show disrepect, he kept these thoughts to himself. "Coincidence," he said. 

Big Games"Big games and nasty games, kiddo. The war's just for starters. There's some major changes in store, especially for those of us without a penis. You know what they're thinking. For ten years we tried to teach you Family Values, but you wouldn't toe the line, bitch. So now we'll have to try some new rules. Yeah. They'll come after abortion, affirmative action, and free speech early in the day, but why stop there - why not go all the way? Why not give up this pretense of equality and accept a society with different levels of entitlement, different classes of citizenship? It's their economic policy, after all. So why not go all the way and repeal the 19th Amendment?"  

"Whoa," Veronica responded. "Sounds like you've been on the Western Civ warpath too long." 

"Bingo," Thea cried. "Everything fucking well connects." 

There is one hint of what the supposed bigger plot behind all might be about. It is related to Japanese Master Johndan's ideas of "Shadow Economy" and its systematic application as a huge simulation:

We Can Work It Out 

"I'm talking about a systematic application of Master Johdan's vision. Think about it, Boris. A vast simulation embracing all aspects of economic activity, a gigantic competitive structure with hundreds of millions of players - or are they workers? - who would in fact derive their livelihood from subsidies paid out according to their performance in the game. A game involving technologies, politics, laws, regulations, ideas, trends, fashions, philosophies, belief systems. I'm talking about greatest imaginative endeavor in human history." […] 

So, after all, all or some of the forking story paths may be fabrications of paranoid minds. All in all, we have four different frames with which to motivate the structure in Victory Garden: the forking paths idea (which is closely linked to possible worlds semantics), the dream-as-hypertext, the virtual reality simulation, and, conspiracy paranoia. It should be stressed that none of the above excludes any other frame. Thus, Boris may be a real paranoiac used in a virtual reality experiment being a part of some larger plot etc. In this aspect it differs from Afternoon and Patchwork Girl, both of which are built around one central concept: in Afternoon (according to a paradigmatic interpretation of Jane Y. Douglas [Douglas 1992, 118-150]). the sense of guilt of the protagonist is the cause for delaying the final revelation, leading to all kinds of digressions; in Patchwork Girl, more explicitly, the equivalence of Frankenstein's Monster and a text (both being patchworks of their kind).

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(1) Michael Joyce's term "constructive hypertext" is used here, and in another lexia there is a quite a long citation of Joyce's definition for the term. Another important cybertext author could be mentioned here, John Cayley. In his Book Unbound the reader may choose a word or a passage from the text she is reading, which is then fed back to the program and used as a factor in generating the continuation for the text - a procedure which closely resembles Urquhart's explanation of what's happening in his experiment.