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The Metaphysical Touch

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 15, 2001

    A philosophical novel about love and loss on the Internet

    'The thought of suicide is a powerful comfort: it helps one through many a dreadful night.--Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil The poet Robert Hass once wrote: 'All the new thinking is about loss / In this it resembles all the old thinking.' THE METAPHYSICAL TOUCH is a novel about loss, and about how one copes with loss and survives in the face of purposelessness. The year is 1991, when the Internet is still in its infancy. Emily 'Pi' Piper, a second-year graduate student at the Univ. of California, Berkeley, is working on her doctoral dissertation on the metaphysics of Immanuel Kant. It is the year of the devastating Berkeley-Oakland fire that destroyed over 3,000 homes, and left Pi's possessions, and her dreams of academic glory, in ashes. Traumatized by her loss, Pi retreats to Mendocino, a small Pacific coast resort town 200 miles north of San Francisco, where she stays with Abbie, the aunt of her friend Fran, and with Martha, Abbie's precocious eight-year-old daughter. Meanwhile, on the East Coast, a man who signs his Internet postings simply as 'JD' is severely depressed over the loss of his job. JD's mental disturbance goes deeper than his career setback. He has been deeply wounded by his father's rejection. He is suffering from angst, an inchoate existential crisis. He teeters on the edge of spiritual bankruptcy. Although the title of this novel, THE METAPHYSICAL TOUCH, suggests that Kant, or some such idealist philosopher, grounds this story, actually it is the genius of Shakespeare that underpins the plot. Floundering in his desperate attempts at a 'writing cure,' JD posts his suicidal thoughts on the Internet in a document he calls his 'Diery' (salutations from the diary of one who is about to 'die'). Signing his cyberspace chronicles as 'Hamlet,{ JD cries out for Horatio, his long-sought-after spiritual brother. Hamlet indeed finds Horatio, but his soulmate turns out to be a woman rather than a man. Shakespeare would have smiled, for he was the original gender-bender. Indulging in some gender-bending of her own, Brownrigg creates a sapphic interlude between Pi and Abbie, an equal-opportunity erotic encounter. As Nietzsche puts it, 'Whatever happens out of love always happens beyond good and evil.' 'The only real philosophical question,' wrote Albert Camus in THE MYTH OF SISYPHUS, 'is suicide.' And the original Hamlet, in his famous soliloquy, mused, 'To be or not to be: that is the question.' And Mark Twain, whether seriously or tongue-in-cheek, quipped: 'But we are all insane, anyway. The suicides seem to be the only sane people. Suicide is the only sane thing the young or old ever do in this life.' The gloom-mongering JD is in elite company. A cult following soon develops around JD's Diery, as eager computer junkies and weird websurfers hand on the latter-day Hamlet's every discouraging word. Meanwhile, back in Mendocino, Pi is stirred out of her malaise by JD's cry for help. Although JD and Pi make a connection in cyberspace, Pi longs for the 'pressing of flesh,' a physical encounter that transcends the (mere) metaphysical touch. Alas, such is not to be. JD and Pi never meet face to face. Not every love story hask a happy ending, nor need it have one. The last chapter of this novel, however, is not only an offense against realism but an insult to our intelligence. The final installment of JD's Diery is written AFTER JD's death, and is forwarded to us by Pi, whom JD (from his new home on 'The Other Side') describes as his 'channeler.{ Please, Ms. Brownrigg, give us a break! Brownrigg solves the perennial problem of voice by introducing onstage the omniscient author--a veritable DEUS EX MACHINA. Thumbs up or thumbs down? Neither. This novel could have been worse, but it could have been much better. Like our star-crossed lovers, THE METAPHYSICAL TOUCH exists in a murky, surreal limbo between potentiality and actuality.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2000

    A Deeper Connection

    An interesting and beautifully-written story of two ungrounded people connecting in the only medium possible for them at this stage in both their lives. Their 'cyber-relationship' helps JD reconsider suicide and satisfies his need for a soulmate, and renews a sense of life and purpose in Pi. The book underscores the basic truth, as I've experienced, of how you can become so intimate with a total stranger through words alone, without the distraction of the physical self and everyday life. The ending was sad and ironic but isn't life, more often than not?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 4, 2000

    So this is what the 90s were all about!

    Just as the 60s were just a blur to anyone who lived them, the 1990s, through the advent of the internet, are illuminated in this smart and sophisticated romance. If you liked the movie 'You've Got Mail,' but thought it a bit sappy, you'll love this novel. Is is really 'Hamlet,' updated? This novel was chosen from the new fiction section of the Boston Public Library. It's ending is heartbreaking and has changed the way I look at people on the street.

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