I became educated to the fact that the greatest pain does not come zooming down from a distant planet, but up from the depths of the heart. --afterword to stories
The old man said, "You will be required to do wrong no matter where you go. It is the basic condition of your life, to be required to violate your own identity. At some time, every creature which loves must do so. It is the ultimate shadow, the defeat of creation; this is the curse at work, the curse that feeds on all life. Everywhere in the universe.
You have to be with other people, he thought. In order to live at all. I mean, before they came here I could stand it, being alone in the building. But now it's changed. You can't go back, he thought. You can't go from people to nonpeople. In panic he thought, I'm dependent on them. Thank god they stayed.
"Everything is true," he said. "Everything anybody has ever thought."
For Mercer everything is easy, he thought, because Mercer accepts everything. Nothing is alien to him. But what I've done, he thought; that's become alien to me. In fact everything about me has become unnatural; I've become an unnatural self.
He walked on, up the hillside, and with each step the weight on him grew. Too tired, he thought, to climb. Stopping, he wiped stinging sweat from his eyes, salt tears produced by his skin, his whole aching body. Then, angry at himself, he spat -- spat with wrath and contempt, for himself, with utter hate, onto the barren ground. Thereupon he resumed his trudge up the slope, the lonely and unfamiliar terrain, remote from everything; nothing lived here except himself.
The heat. It had become hot, now; evidently time had passed. And he felt hunger. He had not eaten for god knew how long. The hunger and heat combined, a poisonous taste resembling defeat; yes, he thought, that's what it is: I've been defeated in some obscure way. By having killed the androids? By Rachael's murder of my goat? He did not know, but as he plodded along a vague and almost hallucinatory pall hazed over his mind; he found himself at one point, with no notion of how it could be, a step from an almost certainly fatal cliffside fall -- falling humiliatingly and helplessly, he thought; on and on, with no one even to witness it. Here there existed no one to record his or anyone else's degradation, and any courage or pride which might manifest itself here at the end would go unmarked -- the dead stones, the dust-stricken weeds dry and dying, perceived nothing, recollected nothing, about him or themselves.
He halted. And then, goaded on -- the goad invisible but real, not to be challenged -- he resumed his climb. Rolling upward, he thought, like the stones; I am doing what stones do, without volition. Without it meaning anything.
He scrambled back down. Once, he fell; clouds of dust obscured everything, and he ran from the dust -- he hurried faster, sliding and tumbling on the loose pebbles. Ahead he saw his parked car. I'm back down, he said to himself. I'm off the hill. He plucked open the car door, squeezed inside. Who threw the stone at me? he asked himself. No one. But why does it bother me? I've undergone it before, during fusion. While using my empathy box, like everyone else. This isn't new. But it was. Because, he thought, I did it alone.
At that moment the first rock--and it was not rubber or soft foam plastic--struck him in the inguinal region. And the pain, the first knowledge of absolute isolation and suffering, touched him throughout in its undisguised actual form.
said, "I don't expect to live long. So what? I don't want to be around
long. Do you? Why? What's in this world? And have you even seen--Shit,
what about Jerry Fabin; look at someone too far into Substance D.
What's there really in this world, Bob? It's a stopping place to the
next where they punish us here because we were born evil--"
"We're being punished here, so if we can get off on a trip now and then, fuck it, do it..."
As silly as this is, he thought, it's frightening. Something is being done to me and by a mere thing, here in my own house. Before my very eyes. Within something's very eyes; within the sight of some thing. Which, unlike little dark-eyed Donna, does not ever blink. What does a scanner see? he asked himself. I mean, really see? Into the head? Down into the heart? Does a passive infrared scanner like they used to use or a cube-type holo-scanner like they use these days, the latest thing, see into me--into us--clearly or darkly? I hope it does, he thought, see clearly, because I can't any longer these days see into myself. I see only murk. Murk outside; murk inside. I hope, for everyone's sake, the scanners do better. Because, he thought, if the scanner sees only darkly, the way I myself do, then we are cursed, cursed again and like we have been continually, and we'll wind up dead this way, knowing very little and getting that little fragment wrong too.
He would be found lying on his back, on his bed, with a copy of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead (which would prove he had been a misunderstood superman rejected by the masses and so, in a sense, murdered by their scorn) and an unfinished letter to Exxon protesting the cancellation of his gas credit card. That way he would indict the system and achieve something by his death, over and above what the death itself achieved. Actually, he was not as sure in his mind what the death achieved as what the two artifacts achieved; but anyhow it all added up, and he began to make ready, like an animal sensing its time has come and acting out its instinctive programming, laid down by nature, when its inevitable end was near.
Silence, then. Between the two joint-smoking men in the cloudy living
room. A long, somber silence. "Bob, you know something. . ." Luckman
said at last. "I used to be the same age as everyone else."
"I think so was I," Arctor said.
"I don't know what did it."
"Sure, Luckman," Arctor said, "you know what did it to all of us."
"Well, let's not talk about it." He continued inhaling noisily, his long face sallow in the dim midday light.
It requires the greatest kind of wisdom, she thought, to know when to apply injustice. How can justice fall victim, even, to what is right? How can this happen? She thought, Because there is a curse on this world, and all this proves it; this is the proof right here. Somewhere, at the deepest level possible, the mechanism, the construction of things, fell apart, and up from what remained swam the need to do all the various sort of unclean wrongs the wisest choice has made us act out. It must have started thousands of years ago. By now it's infiltrated into the nature of everything. And, she thought, into every one of us. We can't turn around on open our mouth and speak, decide at all, without doing it. I don't even care how it got started, when or why. She thought, I just hope it'll end some time. Like with Tony Amsterdam; I just hope one day the shower of brightly colored sparks will return, and this time we'll all see it. The narrow doorway where there's peace on the far side. A statue, the sea, and what looks like moonlight. And nothing stirring, nothing to break the calm. A long, long time ago, she thought. Before the curse, and everything and everyone became this way. The Golden Age, she thought, when wisdom and justice were the same. Before it all shattered into cutting fragments. Into broken bits that don't fit, that can't be put back together, hard as we try. Below her, in the dankness and distribution of urban lights a police siren sounded. A police car in hot pursuit. It sounded like a deranged animal, greedy to kill. And knowing that it soon would. She shivered; the night air had become cold. It was time to go. It isn't the Golden Age now, she thought, with noises like that in the darkness. Do I emit that kind of greedy noise? she asked herself. Am I that thing? Closing in, on having closed in? Having caught? Beside her, the man stirred and moaned as she helped him up. Helped him to his feet and back to her car, step by step, helped him, helped him continue on. Below them, the noise of the police car had abruptly ceased; it had stopped its quarry. Its job was done. Holding Bob Arctor against her, she thought, Mine is done, too.
He heard nothing now. And forgot the meaning of the words, and, finally, the words themselves. Only, he sensed Mike watching him, watching and listening, hearing nothing; he did not know, he did not recall, he felt little, he felt bad, he wanted to leave. The Vacuum in him grew. And he was actually a little glad.
To call Donna back, to seek to find her or possess her . . . I seek what Bob Arctor sought, so maybe he is better off now, this way. The tragedy in his life already existed. To love an atmospheric spirit. That was the real sorrow. Hopelessness itself. Nowhere on the printed page, nowhere in the annals of man, would her name appear: no local habitation, no name. There are girls like that, he thought, and those you love the most, the ones where there is no hope because it has eluded you at the very moment you close your hands around it. So maybe we saved him from something worse, Westaway concluded.
He wondered how it could be that . . .
Ich unglücksel' get Atlas! Eine Welt, Die ganze Welt der Schmerzen muss ich tragen, Ich trage Unerträgliches, und brechen Will mir das Herz im Leibe.
. . . such sadness could exist. He walked away. Behind him she still played. She tripped and fell. How must that feel? he wondered.
Bruce saw only the flat of Donald's hand barring the light, and he
stared at it a thousand years. It locked; it had locked; it will lock
for him, lock forever for dead eyes outside time, eyes that could not
look away and a hand that would not move away. Time ceased as the eyes
gazed and the universe jelled along with him, at least for him, froze
over with him and his understanding, as its inertness became complete.
There was nothing he did not know; there was nothing left to happen.
"Back to work, Bruce," Donald, the Executive Director, said.
"I saw," Bruce said. He thought, I knew. That was it: I saw Substance D growing. I saw death rising from the earth, from the ground itself, in one blue field, in stubbled color.
This has been a novel about some people who were punished entirely too
much for what they did. They wanted to have a good time, but they were
like children playing in the street; they could see one after another
of them being killed--run over, maimed, destroyed--but they continued to
play anyhow. We really all were very happy for a while, sitting around
not toiling but just bullshitting and playing, but it was for such a
terrible brief time, and then the punishment was beyond belief: even
when we could see it, we could not believe it. For example, while I was
writing this I learned that the person on whom the character Jerry
Fabin is based killed himself. My friend on whom I based the character
Ernie Luckman died before I began the novel. For a while I myself was
one of these children playing in the street; I was, like the rest of
them, trying to play instead of being grown up, and I was punished. I
am on the list below, which is a list of those to whom this novel is
dedicated, and what became of each. Drug misuse is not a disease, it is
a decision, like the decision to step out in front of a moving car. You
would call that not a disease but an error in judgment. When a bunch of
people begin to do it, it is a social error, a life-style. In this
particular life-style the motto is "Be happy now because tomorrow you
are dying," but the dying begins almost at once, and the happiness is a
memory. It is, then, only a speeding up, an intensifying, of the
ordinary human existence. It is not different from your life-style, it
is only faster. It all takes place in days or weeks or months instead
of years. "Take the cash and let the credit go," as Villon said in
1460. But that is a mistake if the cash is a penny and the credit a
whole lifetime. There is no moral in this novel; it is not bourgeois;
it does not say they were wrong to play when they should have toiled;
it just tells what the consequences were. In Greek drama they were
beginning, as a society, to discover science, which means causal law.
Here in this novel there is Nemesis: not fate, because any one of us
could have chosen to stop playing in the street, but, as I narrate from
the deepest part of my life and heart, a dreadful Nemesis for those who
kept on playing. I myself, I am not a character in this novel; I am the
novel. So, though, was our entire nation at this time. This novel is
about more people than I knew personally. Some we all read about in the
newspapers. It was, this sitting around with our buddies and
bullshitting while making tape recordings, the bad decision of the
decade, the sixties, both in and out of the establishment. And nature
cracked down on us. We were forced to stop by things dreadful. If there
was any "sin," it was that these people wanted to keep on having a good
time forever, and were punished for that, but, as I say, I feel that,
if so, the punishment was far too great, and I prefer to think of it
only in a Greek or morally neutral way, as mere science, as
deterministic impartial cause-and-effect. I loved them all. Here is the
list, to whom I dedicate my love:
To Gaylene deceased To Ray deceased To Francy permanent psychosis To Kathy permanent brain damage To Jim deceased To Val massive permanent brain damage To Nancy permanent psychosis To Joanne permanent brain damage To Maren deceased To Nick deceased To Terry deceased To Dennis deceased To Phil permanent pancreatic damage To Sue permanent vascular damage To Jerri permanent psychosis and vascular damage
. . . and so forth. In Memoriam. These were comrades whom I had; there are no better. They remain in my mind, and the enemy will never be forgiven. The "enemy" was their mistake in playing. Let them all play again, in some other way, and let them be happy.
And he thought, Strange how paranoia can link up with reality now and then, briefly.
How can days and
happenings and moments so good become so quickly ugly, and for no
reason, for no real reason? Just--change. With nothing causing it.
"Imagine being sentient but not alive. Seeing and even knowing, but not alive. Just looking out. Recognizing but not being alive. A person can die and still go on. Sometimes what looks out at you from a person's eyes maybe died back in childhood. What's dead in there still looks out. It's not just the body looking at you with nothing in it; there's still something in there but it died and just keeps on looking and looking; it can't stop looking."
Donna said, "I think, really, there is nothing more terrible than the sacrifice of someone or something, a living thing, without its ever knowing."
The living, he thought, should never be used to serve the purposes of the dead. But the dead--he glanced at Bruce, the empty shape beside him--should, if possible, serve the purposes of the living. That, he reasoned, is the law of life. And the dead, if they could feel, might feel better doing so. The dead, Mike thought, who can still see, even if they can't understand: they are our camera.
She took his hand, squeezed it, held it, and then, all at once, she let it drop. But the actual touch of her lingered, inside his heart. That remained. In all the years of his life ahead, the long years without her, with never seeing her or hearing from her or knowing anything about her, if she was alive or happy or dead or what, that touch stayed locked within him, sealed in himself, and never went away. That one touch of her hand.
When we do die, we won't feel it because that's what dying is, the loss of all that. So, for example, I'm not at all scared of dying anymore, not after that pot bad trip. But to grieve; it's to die and be alive at the same time. The most absolute, overpowering experience you can feel, therefore. Sometimes I swear we weren't constructed to go through such a thing; it's too much--your body damn near self-destructs with all that heaving and surging. But I want to feel grief. To have tears.
As comprehension came, his attempts to communicate ceased. p.52
I suppose Relativism is cynical. It surely isn't idealist. It's the result of being killed and injured and made poor and working hard for empty words. It's the outgrowth of generations shouting slogans, marching with spades and guns, signing patriotic hymns, chanting and saluting flags. p.33 ibid
What he did not know then is that it is sometimes an appropriate response to reality to go insane.
"Maybe Sherri overrooverrode God," I said. "God wanted her sick and she fought to get well." The thrust of David's impending argument would of course be that Sherri had neurotically gotten cancer due to being fucked up, but God had stepped in and saved her; I had turned it around in anticipation.
In terms of our perpetual theological disputations-brought on by Fat's
supposed encounter with the divine-the two-proposition self-cancelling
structure would appear like this:
1) God does not exist
2) And anyhow he's stupid.
A careful study of Kevin's cynical rantings reveals this structure at every turn. David continually quoted C. S. Lewis; Kevin contradicted himself logically in his zeal to defame God; Fat made obscure references to information fired into his head by a beam of pink light; Sherri, who had suffered dreadfully, wheezed out pious mummeries; I switched my position according to who I was talking to at the time. None of us had a grip on the situation, but we did have a lot of free time to waste in this fashion. By now the epoch of drug-taking had ended, and everyone had begun casting about for a new obsession. For us the new obsession, thanks to Fat, was theology.
We're talking about nihilism. Under everything else, even under death itself and the will toward death, lies something else and that something else is nothing.
Reality is that which when you stop believing in it, it doesn't go away.
Pity has no power. Fat felt vast pity for Gloria and vast pity for Sherri and it didn't do a damn bit of good in either case. Something was lacking. Everyone knows this, everyone who has gazed down helplessly at a sick or dying human or a sick or dying animal, felt terrible pity, overpowering pity, and realized that this pity, however great it might be, is totally useless.
Parsifal is one of those corkscrew artifacts of culture in which you get the subjective sense that you've learned something from it, something valuable or even priceless; but on closer inspection you suddenly begin to scratch your head and say, "Wait a minute. This makes no sense." I can see Richard Wagner standing at the gates of heaven. "You have to let me in," he says. "I wrote Parsifal. It has to do with the Grail, Christ, suffering, pity and healing. Right?" And they answered, "Well, we read it and it makes no sense." SLAM.