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Karnival is a bit like a circus, a bit like a bacchanalia, a bit like a Beaux Arts ball, a bit like a mass orgy, a bit like a slave market, and nothing at all like a university. It was invented as an excuse for doing in public what everyone else does in private. The students call it honesty, and the professors call it lewd, but what it really is is an affirmation of the students' devotion to sensuality and their disinterest in education. In other words, it is a completely appropriate beginning to a new academic year.
Gavin dopedrifted through the sensemadness of Karnival like a molecule enslaved in one of the Savages' amplifiers, vibrating with the chords of the bass guitar, beaten from side to side by the hammering drum, darting with the stringplay of the lead, in unrelenting, irrelevant motion... Throb, boom-boom, tinkle, twinkle, plink...
Someone, somewhere, had slipped him a hallucinogen. In the hideyholes of his mind he tried to remember what he had eaten or drunk or smoked, tried to decide what friend had meant him well or what enemy had wanted him neutralized, and for what purpose, on this most important day of the school year. But, care-released, he floated above that central core of concern, like a red balloon over a lava pit, and reveled in his liberation from the demon that sat on his shoulders, riding him this way and that, while its metalstudded whip lashed down through skin and muscle and heart and liver to his guts.
He gave himself to the slugbeat and the kaleidoscene with an emotion that resembled joy. The familiar arena of thefieldhouse was strange tonight, the roofreach fading into night, the balcony glittering with flickerlights and swirlpools, the air thick with burncense and leafsmoke and mansweat. Some of the effect, he was sure, was sensetwist, the strange swim and shimmer of passing students, their aura, their iridescence, but how to explain the grotesqueries of their faces and the way their proteanskins melted into motley?
And then Gavin remembered: Tonight was Karnival, with masks and costumes, Truce, the suspensions of all conflicts, freedom from fear and license to do those things which position or timidity or reason ordinarily prevented.
"Hi, Gavin," said one mask as it loomed out of colored mists, and a firm hand to his shoulder staggered him before the mask disappeared.
"Hello, Gavin," said another mask, more lightly, more meaningfully, and lips like burning snakes writhed upon his lips before the crowd swept from him the figure that his hands yearned toward.
He held his hands in front of his face, looking at them as if they were strange and new, while the crowd buffeted him, and then blindlifted them to his cheeks. His cheeks felt stiff but not like a mask, more like skin rigid from shock or rigor mortis.
He did not feel in shock, only disoriented by the hallucinogenic, deafened by the screamsound, battered by the slugbeat that seemed to originate in his bowels and radiate outward to jar the mobscene and rattle the roofreach.
He looked up and saw the Savages, naked save for loincloths, surrounded by amplifiers, seemingly hooked into them umbilically, pounding madsweat at their instruments, swaying on their precarious platform suspended by a cable from invisible heights. He didn't know what they were playing, maybe nobody did except the Savages, but it was update and gutlow.
Dazzled and deafened, Gavin let himself be buffeted, moved Brownian around hugespace, surrendering his senses to the violence that raped them. And in that brightnoise crazysea, bits of flotjet bumped against him...
A tall lean man in hardhat and bluecollar in pursuit of...
A scaredeyed girl in nunhabit...
A Jesusfreak with crown of thorns and stigmata that left blood smears on Gavin's hand...
An acidhead with pupils black and vague...
A longhaired straight with mortarboard and gown...
A towering black with an incredible erection...
A nearly naked girl who lashed...
The bleeding back of the naked man who walked in front of her...
A weeping clown who tried to press joints into everybody's hands...
A girl with three bare breasts...
A Kampuskop with upraised club who pounded indiscriminately each head he passed...
A Roman emperor carried on a litter, who scattered candy bars among the mob...
A naked girl with strapped-on dildo who carried a sign Gavin couldn't read...
A tall lean man in hardhat and bluecollar...
A scaredeyed girl...
A revolutionary with bomb in either hand and greasegun bandoliered across his back...
A Jesusfreak with crown of thorns and stigmata...
A longhaired straight with mortarboard...
A janitor with pushbroom that had no bristles...
Two strolling gaylibs...
An acidhead with pupils...
A weeping clown who tried to press... A girl with three...
A longhaired straight...
A towering black...
A nearly naked girl...
The bleeding back...
A tall lean man...
A scaredeyed girl...
A naked girl...
Christ! thought Gavin. What are patterns for?
Gavin found himself mobtossed into one of the booths that lined the underside of the balcony. Here, somewhat sheltered from the screamsound, people could make themselves heard. Dazed, Gavin felt hands upon each arm, heard voices alternately in each ear like a stereo demonstration tape:
Left: "Find Jesus. Be saved."
Right: "I was a sinner. Like you."
Left: "I shot dope."
Right: "I screwed girls."
Left: "I cheated."
Right: "I fuckedover people."
Left: "I spit upon my fellow man."
Right: "Until I found Jesus."
Left: "You're a sinner."
Right: "Just like us."
Left: "If you ain't saved by the blood of Jesus, man, forget it!"
Right: "You're damned to the pits of hell!"
Gavin's head cleared for a moment and his eyes confirmed what his ears had learned; he was in the grasp of two Jesuspeople determined to save him.
Left: "Burning forever."
Left: "And ever."
"Amen," Gavin said, and broke away before he was dragged farther into the den of iquity. As he dopedrifted on, he saw that the Jesuspeople had soulgrabbed another student, a scaredeyed girl in nunhabit...
Gavin's feet were not as light as his head. He stumbled through heavy curtains into another booth where men and women sat crosslegged in midair, his bedazzled eyes told him, their eyes focused on a distant, invisible reality, their faces and bodies forgotten and relaxed as though empty, and, Gavin thought, perhaps growing transparent.
A low, omnipresent voice said, "Ooom." And then again, "Ooom."
Between "Oooms," which seemed to resonate like prolonged chords, a voice said, "Come in. Meditate. Discover the true nature of reality. Liberate yourself from temporal passions. Release the true power of the self. Become all that you can be. Unite yourself with the universal. Meditate. Control your body. Release the self. Unfetter the soul. Ooom."
But Gavin thought he had tried that path once, and as he remembered it, or recalled his dream of it, the self was fascinating and the powers that seemed to be released were strange and exhilarating, but the process and even the results were personally unsatisfying.
He staggered back through the heavy curtains into the equally hypnotic and compelling ambience of the Savages. Before he could recover control over his own destiny, he was swept into another booth where quietly efficient young men and women were persuading students to place their identity cards against one of three translucent reading plates under labels spelling out Radicals, Revolutionaries, and Nihilists. Under the first label was the simplified drawing of a student carrying a placard; under the second, a student mounting a barricade and waving for others to follow; and under the third, a bomb and a torch.
"Join the political party of your choice," one of the young women called to Gavin. "You aren't truly serious unless you're prepared to put your body on the line for what you believe. Join up and discover what politics is all about. Learn the truth about government. Get three credit hours for fieldwork in political science."
"But which one?" Gavin asked.
"This is a nonpartisan booth, brother. They're all equally good. The differences are matters of tactics. The important thing is to get committed. Don't drift, brother. Get involved in the age-old struggle for justice. Free the slaves. Topple the establishment. Let's get things moving again..."
But it was too much for Gavin. The whole scene seemed too fraught with religious intensity, and he had not yet discovered a cause for which he would put his life on the line.
The next booth had a ceiling full of stars. A masked astrologer in a peaked cap and a black cloak glittering with zodiac signs offered to cast his horoscope for a dollar and a blood sample. "Guess your weight?" he called after Gavin. "Read your fortune? Love charms? Amulets?..."
In the next booth, as Gavin was weakswept, a magnificently figured girl was tied with silken ropes, face-up and naked, on a black-draped altar. A high priest stood behind the altar, spectral hands outspread above the girl, and a double-handful of monkhooded students surrounded the tableau and pleaded for a thirteenth to complete the coven.
"Master the dark arts," one said.
"Get in touch with the real powers in the world," said another.
"Exorcise God... Name the Nameless... Evil without guilt... Be yourself... Enjoy ceremony without boredom... Join the Brotherhood of Blood..."
The next booth offered a prosaic computerlist of communal living opportunities, with pictures and psychological indices of all the present communists. Students were invited to register for rush week by punching out the proper holes in a computercard while a terminal asked a long series of personal questions. If student cards matched communal needs, a student would be invited to spend a couple of days in the commune, and if the eating, working, and sleeping arrangements suited him and if the commune members wanted him, he would be invited to move in permanently, as permanence went.
So many more booths followed that Gavin lost count and track as he was mobtossed around the perimeter of the lower floor over the burn-marred, spit-stained manturf. It was Karnival, the semiannual festival held on the Friday before classes started on Monday. It was a time for joy and a time for commitments. All student groups offered their opportunities for service or for pleasure, for serious avocation or for extracurricular activity. New students could sample the attractions of student life; former students, who were not soliciting in the booths themselves, could swap interests, switch lifestyles, pick up new mates, or enjoy a casual experience. The more predatory males seized their chance to annex a new student before he or she had an opportunity to canvass the field, and the womanlibs were almost as active...
Even the faculty were on display, course-touting in the upper corridors... and Gavin knew then why he was lost, why he had dopedrifted around the scene, why he had mobfloated. He belonged on another floor.
Gathering together his volition, he edged his way toward an exit, let himself be eddied toward the stairs, and mobsurged up to the second floor. Released at last, he heard voices and found himself outside the doorway of a small auditorium. A short, fat student was making a politspeech to some fifty students packed into dilapidated theater seats. Gavin admired how the words came rolling off his tongue like marbles off an assembly line.
"The time is come," the speaker said, "...no, let us be honest with ourselves -- if nothing else, let us be honest -- the time is long past when we should have destroyed a system that has not abolished unemployment, exploitation, and war." At each keyword -- "unemployment," "exploitation," and "war," carefully spaced to allow response time -- the audience growled in sympathy.
"What war?" Gavin asked, but nobody heard him.
"The lackeys of the establishment ask what we will put in its place." Again the growls. "That ain't our responsibility. First we'll make the revolution -- then we'll find out what for."
"This society is concerned only about higher prices and higher profits." Growl. "A rational new system will stress production for use." Cheers. "Instead of a heartless Amerikkka in which the poor get poorer and the rich get richer" -- growls -- "in which the middle class exploits the workers, we will build a nation with a heart." Cheers. "Democracy has failed. This slow, inefficient system which has been seduced into the embrace of big money and corporate power must be junked in favor of participatory democracy, where what the people want and need will be provided: security" -- yeah! -- "opportunity" -- yeah! -- "freedom" -- yeah! -- "and power." Yeah, yeah! Gavin backed away from the groupritual, hearing fragments of speech and antiphonal response as he went.
"...leaders crazed with power..." Rannh!
"...deceive the people..." Rannh!
Until there were only growls and cheers like a response without a reading, like counterpoint without a point or a scoreboard without a game, or... or, he thought more wildly, like a grin without a cat. " 'I've often seen a cat without a grin,' thought Alice; 'but a grin without a cat!' "
Gavin backed into an object that moved and then clutched his shoulders to keep him from falling.
"Ah," said a precise, monotonous voice, "here we have someone in need of elementary mathematics..."
"Sorry," Gavin said.
"You see? He is sorry that he cannot add, subtract, multiply, and divide. Simple arithmetic is what we offer here. What you need to get by in this world -- or to progress to algebra, geometry, and eventually to the calculus itself and the entire range of disciplines dependent upon them, such as engineering, chemistry, physics, yes, and even economics."
Gavin struggled free from the hands that held him and turned to look at the small thin man who stood in blue cap and gown outside a booth faced with blackboards. The teacher was covered with chalkdust and the blackboards were covered with simple additions and subtractions, by multiplicands, multipliers, and products, by dividends, divisors, and quotients. The professor, who was barking for his own course, had in his hand a mechanized collapsible pointer with which he tapped the blackboards for emphasis, as the pointer kept shooting out and returning to its pencil size.
"How many students know their times tables? How many have to waste time punching eight times seven on their pocket calculators? Eight times seven is fifty-six, ladies and gentlemen, a fact that would require twice as long to discover electronically -- while the rest of the class has gone on and left you behind. I can teach you new methods of multiplication and division which do not require laborious memorization. I have pills which are guaranteed to encapsulate the entire development of mathematical thought since the Arabs invented numerals, pills which need only be triggered by lecture and brief exercise. Sleep learning, of course. Free tutoring if necessary. Absolute guarantee. Success or your money back. Step right up..."
Gavin noticed that a student who had been nodding vigorously throughout the spiel and making approving noises strode forward to place his identification card against a reading, but he was clearly a shill, and only one or two doubtful students followed.
In front of the next booth stood two heroic lucite figures of the naked human body, male and female, and between them a fat man in a white coat. The fat man looked like an obscene caricature of the kind of human ideal represented by the figures that flanked him. The sign over the booth, also in lucite, and like the figures infused with cold flame, announced: HUMAN ANATOMY AND DISSECTION.
"Learn the marvels and delights of the human body," the fat man shouted. "A requirement for students who wish to go on into medicine, nursing, pharmacy, physical therapy, and physical education, as well as altered states of consciousness, and a pleasant diversion for those who wish to astonish their friends with a scientist's knowledge of musculature, nerve stimulation, and amatory skill."
As he spoke, the statues seemed to shift on their pedestals like alien shapechangers; their original internal flame became daylight yellow, the lucite skin disappeared, and they became articulated skeletons; when that color faded into pink, the skeletons were overlaid with muscles, and when pink became green, the body was reticulated with nerves; blue, underlaid with veins; red, with arteries; and purple, with obscenely throbbing internal organs. As the colors shifted more rapidly, the statues seemed to pulse with their own lewd life like ultimate perverts.
"Visual aids such as you see before you now make memory work easy -- of course, learning pills are keyed to every lesson. And we will not depend upon models alone. We will dissect real cadavers, authentic preserved dead people, men and women. For this reason laboratory fees must be charged; bodies -- particularly youthful bodies -- are hard to come by. But we will have fun. When we come to reproduction" -- the statues seemed to move lasciviously, and Gavin thought he saw something twisting into shape in the female figure's lower abdomen -- "we will have live demonstrations as well as the opportunity for personal experimentation by lab partners, who will be appropriately and congenially paired. For only seven hundred and fifty dollars, students, you can have a great time this semester and learn something that will always be useful..."
Students rushed to the counter; anatomy was always popular.
Beyond the surgeon was an English teacher. His visual display was a large screen upon which scattered words were shaping themselves into phrases, clauses, and sentences. "Learn to read and write," he said wistfully. He was dressed shabbily, in a kind of tweedy suit that was old twenty years ago. His hair had grown thin on top, and his face, like his clothes, drooped with the expectation of defeat.
"You think now that you will never need these skills," he said. "Everything you will ever need to know will be available in visual form; everything you will ever need to communicate can be spoken or taped... Not so, ladies and gentlemen. Many works of literature, many exciting -- yes, even pornographic -- passages have never been translated into visual form. Imagine the delight of reading Fanny Hill in the original or Justine or The Story of O! Even the best of translations leaves much to be desired; you cannot imagine, if you have never experienced it, the exquisite pleasure of summoning up your own images instead of having someone else's ideas thrust upon you."
A single word formed upon the screen and grew into a monstrous shape. "This is a word some of you can recognize. The word is 'you.' You! The person to whom you are talking. And this is 'I.' Easy, isn't it? Now, something more difficult -- a four-letter word. 'Love.' Put them together" -- the words reappeared and swam around until they formed a straight line -- "and you have a simple sentence: 'I... love... you.' A statement of delightful meaning, of infinite application." The "I" began to caress the "you"; the "you" writhed with pleasure until the "I" concluded its performance by diving into the middle of the "o" and disappeared.
"Imagine being able to write that to your lover. Imagine the depth of the response. There are, of course, other uses. Astonish your friends by signing your name instead of presenting your identification card to an anonymous readin. Write down your thoughts where they cannot be heard; be immune to bugging and eavesdropping. Perform research into documents which few can read; read that which few can share. Secrets of a thousand sorts lie hidden in books which never have been coded into a computer..."
But nobody rushed to the English teacher's counter.
The next booth was labeled: PSYCHOLOGY. In front of the booth was a clear crystal pillar which supported a glistening, spinning apparatus; it shattered light and scattered it in beams and glitters across the wide corridor and the faces of the students who stood watching. On one side of the pillar was a dapper, youngish man with a line of smooth patter and a sleek seal look; on the other side was a slender girl with large breasts crossed by bikinistrips. Her eyes, like those of the students standing in front of the booth, were fixed upon the spinning apparatus; Gavin noticed that they did not seem to blink.
"Psychology, my friends," said the huckster, "is the now science. Learn how to predict the behavior of others! Eminently useful in salesmanship, politics, group dynamics of all kinds, as well as personal relations." The professor dug a knowing elbow into Gavin's ribs. "And we all want personal relations, right?
"Learn not only to predict but to influence. Once you can predict how people will behave, influence is but a small step beyond. Without your apparent intervention, people will behave as you wish them to do. On a large scale the science of psychology is applied most obviously in advertising and motivational research; on the smaller scale of the community or the group, it provides a pleasant environment for the individual who knows his subject -- things happen to satisfy his or her desires." Gavin's ribs received another blow from the psychologist's elbow. "And the satisfaction of our desires is what the game is all about, right?
"Learn not only to influence but to control. This young lady of such exquisite proportions is completely under my control. She will do whatever I command. For instance" -- the elbow swung toward Gavin, but he evaded it -- "I could tell Helen to go into the booth with you and make passionate love, and she would do it. Is that right, Helen?"
"Yes," the girl said.
"Are you under my control?"
"Yes," the girl said.
"Tell these students your name."
"My name is Janice."
"Helen, Janice." The psychologist shrugged. "Have we ever met before tonight?"
"Have you ever stripped for an audience before?"
"I want you to remove your clothes for these wonderful people," the psychologist said.
Automatically the girl's hands went behind her back and twisted twice. The bikinistrips fell away. Her body was more magnificent than before.
The psychologist turned toward the student audience with his hands thrown out, palms upward, in a gesture of simplicity. "These, of course, are parlor games that anyone can learn. Beyond control of the individual is the serious business of social control, of shaping an entire society into a rational, reasonable, desirable arrangement in which satisfactions are maximized and frustrations are minimized, in which such sicknesses as war, murder, and other crimes cannot exist. Skinnerism is not yet a science, ladies and gentlemen, but we are working on it.
"In addition, we will devote some of our time in this course to the study of altered states of consciousness, the proper use of drugs, and their effects. Now," he said to the students in the same tone he had used with the still-naked girl, "you will sign up for my course. Janice will help with your enrollments." The students lined up mechanically in front of the counter. "Cash, of course, will be accepted, as well as credit cards if they have been co-signed by your parents. Please have your identification cards ready..."
Copyright © 1977 by James E. Gunn