online: may 2003?
modified: 27 november 2004
in the electric book, part 1
I wrote a draft version of electric book in several short volumes between 1985 and I think 1992. One a year.
It began as the life story of j-921, the second earth, but rapidly became something less easily described... (see the print version of
the internet and everyone
pages 434 to 443 for the opening chapter and one other).
The following chapter is one of my favourites though I don't understand it. It shocked me a bit.
life in volume 2 (of part 1)
I am the caretaker of this place. I provide accommodation for travelling minds and tell stories to entertain them. There is a character called I, or eye. In the last chapter two women, also without proper names, tried to discover who they were and I brought them nourishment.
The caretaker dances the fetching of breakfast.
Before they found their names they went to bed and exchanged intimacies. One discovered that she was Miranda and the other decided she was Sasha. Ever since then the caretaker has just brooded, writing these words, and has refused to attend to other characters. I'm not interested in the realism of the story, he writes, only in the realism of my thoughts as I hope you are in yours, writes Gertrude Stein (does he know who she is?), which is why we are sharing these, not our previous names and roles. Everything is changing. Thank goodness.
Today I'd resolved to get rid of the caretaker once again but now I find that he is me.
The mask was deceptive (and it set off a psychic explosion).
Give me the mask. Give me the mask. This is unlike anything I've so far written I hope you like it. Give me the mask (is this a play?). I'm furious. Go. Go. I don't want you.
He stamps his feet and he kicks and kicks. He throws away the telephone. Several times. He throws away the improvements. Progress is finished.
Sasha (from the bed):
The world is an uncertainty, how often has that been said! But the lot of a woman is the hardest to bear ... you're lucky. Take care take care.
The hardest to bear
say Miranda and the Cardinal.
The hardest to bear.
This is a convention.
Our clothes are soaked in tears.
Now we must leave the village.
The village, the village,
Is that where we are,
writes the Cardinal, returning to the keyboard,
The village or the city,
the village or the city,
you can forget both for it is no longer the question.
Now we forget them.
Now we are literature.
Literature has no place only its time.
This is literature.
We wash our hands in reputation, our hands are clean.
Our fingers press the keys.
We live in the light.
We do not thrive in cities and villages.
We do not thrive in darkness.
Look at my clothes, where are they?
Sasha continues. She gets out of bed and she puts on the mask. The mask of the caretaker and nothing else.
How painful that I must linger in this guise, disguise, not knowing who I am. Mine is the universal self, the universe itself, I am the universe, why not? Why not?
She exits laughing.
The cardinal and Miranda get up and walk about the floor, singing:
We wander aimlessly
Our clothes are soaked in tears
Now we must leave the village
Leave the city. We must live in the light.
How painful that we must be everywhere
Unable to vanish like the dew.
Vanisch, vanisch, schschhhhhhh
The page is now empty
Except for this.
Henry James enters alone.
It is summertime of course.
A novel is
in its broadest definition
Impression of life:
To begin with,
Constitutes its value,
Which is greater or less
According to the intensity
(Do you mean the brightness asked the Cardinal)
Of the impression.
(No I don't.
Turn down the brightness
The world is dark
So is the soul
But neither exist.)
(The Cardinal bows
also in parenthesis.
Is he really the Cardinal?)
Don't adjust your perceptions
This is a normal chapter.
Experience is never limited
It is the very atmosphere of the mind
It takes to itself
The faintest hints of life
The very pulses of the air
surprisingly lightly for so large a man,
and then he turns round
To look for the notebook
In which he wrote of the clergyman
Who sent his wife straight back
To her parents.
This is the life we live, he says,
Or a form of it (laughing)
We cannot make it.
It is there. It is here.
This is the song of the novel.
Henry continues dancing.
The Cardinal and Miranda and the caretaker re-appear.
Frankly we like it
They say in chorus
Reaching for the moon
Reaching for the moon.
The three of them set out on a journey.
The day is dull
Apart from the light
The day is dull.
Where are we going says the cardinal
I don't perceive the continuity
At this point the performance ceases
While we wait for the storylines
To be reconstructed
If that's what you want.
No I don't and I cannot find them.
Continuity is lost lost...
This is an error message.
Miranda and Sasha enter the dressing room and slowly they put on the costumes of fear. They dance the dances of retribution, in fits of laughter. The music is You Are My Sunshine Or Somesuch. They were very old people but now they are young.
As Miranda and Sasha we no longer exist, they sing, we are not ourselves today, or any day, we are Sylvia and Perpetua... we arrived in volume 1. Those who are curious can rush to the library. Those who remain in their seats will not be disadvantaged. Disadvantages are gone.
But to return to the present. No. To the theatre, for this is where we are. This is meant to be enjoyed. There are no messages today except to say that messages are over. I am with you, he types, remembering his role, I am taking care. What is happening here before us? Who are these two women and what do they want? I've not yet decided.
Sylvia and Perpetua walk vividly across the page. Sylvia is still wearing the mask and Perpetua is carrying the empty hatbox. They need time to get adjusted to all this and so do some of the readers. The writer also. We are visiting the scenes of our previous lives - we sing of the places where we began and where we ended. This is the plaza. This is where we came in. Could Miranda and Sasha be our ghosts? Let us have some coffee.
They sit at one of the tables. It looks as if we are in Zurich - not the real one perhaps but we cannot be sure which. Things look the same but all the sounds seem artificial...
This description is too dull for me says Sylvia where is the action?
The waiter brings them hot coffee. They relax and look around. They can't see any of last year's characters and they feel like strangers to all this.
Where is Steve asks Sylvia, the last time I heard he was in chapter four.
Kakuso won't be re-appearing says Perpetua - this is where he took his life.
She listens to whispering voices... I don't expect to meet anyone like him again she thinks as she types this part of the text.
They both get up again and dance across the plaza.
Nothing happens. The caretaker looks anxious. The picture begins to fade. Increase the brightness says the cardinal from another page but nobody does. This is the wrong channel, types the caretaker, but no one knows how to change it. We didn't learn the basics. The images of Sylvia and Perpetua get faint in the distance and the music gets slower and slower becoming almost a single unchanging note. Soon the page is in darkness and the plaza also. The readers are entirely alone. The...
...released from that performance she crept back to the beginning. The time has not changed - it is the time of volume one. This is the second chance, she thinks, I knew there was to be one. She moves easily in the moonlight enjoying this imagined freedom. She is walking alone over a plateau, there is nothing else in sight. Just the clouds and the moonlight casting shadows on the ground. Here at last she is herself.
No, that's wrong, she thinks (or even types), we are no longer ourselves, the words lead us on and on into other dimensions of movement, other periods of life, but here there is no church. There is no money either. No law, no extenuating circumstances. Each of us is responsible for what happens, is what happens... that bush it is me as I am in this page or this moment... no, it's not a bush sublime fuck what is it it's an owl. It seems to move... She can feel her hair turning black, her body swelling and swelling, her metaboloism surging as she recreates the form of her existence... This isn't a dream though there's no one to vouch for it, but THIS. This. I am becoming two [perseons! - persons, help...
Gradually her legs her arms her breasts even her head become doubled and suddenly the second self detaches and walks alongside. It's fully clothed. The second self is thinking also, and even typing, independently, intelligently, and in a raging temper. She strikes the first self, she strikes her again and again, until the first responds and they fight and wrestle in the dark, crashing onto rocks until they are all bruises and bleeding. Then they lie breathless side by side.
She the first one turns to look, rubs the blood from her eyes - it looks black in the moonlight - and she tries to speak but no words come no words her voice and throat won't function. She shakes, she shakes, and then she lies still.
Overhead there are birds, eagles and owls, several of them, flying back and fore, back and fore, between them and a small building at the edge of the plateau. That's the owl house says the second one (the second person) , we must follow. Come.
They crawl slowly over the ground, scratching their knees and hands on the brambles and on the sharp stones. They pause before the house - it is only one room. It used to be a powder house, it's the one I used to dream about, she thinks, the first one. Is she Sylvia, is she Sasha, is she herself? Who AM I? I am not IT.
None of us is whom we think, says the owl in grammatical English, just forget about identity, this is reality. We're lucky to be in it. The fighting is normal. The first one puts out her hand. We're in the same time as before but we're also outside it says the owl, I'm sorry I can't take your hand.
They find that they can stand now and they walk slowly towards the owl house. They open the door.
Inside: the dog.
Inside the space is enormous. I can't tell you where you are, he writes between barks, you don't have to believe me. This is not any kind of impression - it is life itself. We are the source of life, we are the source. I guess you know that.
They feel no fear as they listen to the dog, no, as they read what it writes. The screen is almost black and the letters are dazzling. Switch to anti-glare says the eye - there's too much light, I've had enough... But I have to go now I'll see you later. Wait here until sunrise.
But the sunrise didn't come. There was something wrong with the mechanism. They were stuck in the penumbra. j-921 had stopped rotating.
Do you mean the umbra, said the first one.
Let's simply accept the darkness says the second. May I suggest we go to bed.
As the creep into the darkness they feel the fur of the dog and they can smell him also. Don't be put off he says - I'm here to recover and so are you. There has been too much change for the moment we all have to recuperate. Excuse me if I bark. There's plenty of space here - you can do what you like. But first I'm going to sleep.
As the two women move towards each other they find they are totally familiar with each other's bodies and with their reactions. This is marvellous says the first I never guessed that it could be so pleasant. They made love for hours while the engineers worked like demons, demons. While the dog slept.
There was no war. They tore themselves to pieces. The tv audience was enthralled.