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She Ponders How to Tell Her Story, and Attempts to Provide Some Understanding or Guidance for a Possible Reader
I do not know how exactly to express these thoughts.
Yet I have been commanded to ruthless honesty. And I fear that if I did not comply, somehow they would know, as always it seems they do, perhaps from some small cue, perhaps some slight movement, or cast of feature, or shading of complexion, or tremor, or reluctance, unbeknownst even to myself. We are so helpless, so vulnerable. They seem to know so much. I seem to be transparent to them. I am not permitted to hide, even within myself. I do not know if you understand how terrifying that is, to have one's most intimate emotions, feelings and thoughts, one's soul, one's innermost being, so to speak, bared, exposed, even to a casual, even indifferent, scrutiny. How trivial, how inconsequential, compared to this is the mere baring of the body. Only they have known how to make me naked to myself, truly, and to them, sometimes to their amusement, and to my consternation and amazement, my shame, and my misery, as well.
I must decide how to tell this story. They have permitted me that much. It is my story, a very personal story, and so, it seems, one might most naturally use first-person discourse, and say, for example, "I did this," and "I saw that," and so on, and yet I am reluctant, afflicted with a certain timidity, to affect this voice. Perhaps I could speak more straightforwardly, more candidly, if I saw myself as another might see me, and yet, at the same time, saw myself, as well, from within, candidly, openly, hiding nothing, as one within, as I myself, might know me. So then I might say "Shedid this," and "She saw that," knowing that the "she" is myself, my own sentient, so much, sometimes so painfully so, self-aware self. How shall one speak? Perhaps I shall shift my modality of discourse, as seems appropriate, given what I must say, what I must tell. I do not know. How foolish to hesitate before such a small matter you might suppose, but to me it does not seem so small at all. It might seem a simple thing, how to tell a story, but it is not so easy for me. You might, of course, I do not know you, find no difficulty in this. But had you had my experiences, and were you I, were you faced with yourself, and frightened, or disconcerted, or shamed, you might, too, seek to distance yourself from that most sensitive, usually most zealously concealed, of subject matters, yourself. So I thought that I might begin, at least, by speaking in the third person, by considering myself, by seeing myself, from within and without, rather as an object, a particular object. Too, this is, I conjecture, in my current reality, not altogether unfitting; indeed, it is altogether appropriate, for you see that is what I now am, categorically, explicitly, an object, and not merely in the eyes of the law, but such irremediably, incontrovertibly, in the very reality of this world. So perhaps then I should write of myself as an object, for that is what I now am, as a simple matter of fact, an object, no longer a person, that no longer, if I were once that, but an object, to be sure, a very particular object, but one of countless hundreds, perhaps thousands of such, I do not know, in many cities, and towns, and camps and villages, like me, a vital, sentient, so much alive, so vulnerable, essentially helpless, beautiful I am told, object.
Perhaps the next problem that she must solve is how to speak frankly, honestly, of her age. In one world, in one reality, she was in her fifties. It does not make much difference, of course. She might have been in her forties, or in her sixties, or seventies, or such. Such matters, recorded in the routes of a world about a star, calculated in the increments of calendars and clocks, constitute no more in themselves than the memoranda of convenience, taking their true significance only in their application to changes which might be noted with interest, the germination of the seed, the blind struggle from the earth, the response to the lure of light, the birth of the anxious bud, the bursting into beauty of the flower, the glory of the unfolding, exultant petals, and then the loss, the drying, and casting away, of the petals. We count these things in hours, in days, in seasons, in years and years of years. But the clock is indifferent to what it counts; it considers with equanimity the antics of the foolish, the ecstasies of saints, the sweet, lovely nonsense of dreamers, the delusions of realists, the comings and goings of nations and empires, the passing of immortal faiths and eternal truths, life, and death, and suffering, the contumely of armed, belligerent error, the division of cells and the birth of stars. But if these things should begin again time would take no notice. It makes nothing happen; it only watches. You see, the calendar does not determine the flower; it only watches; and it will see what the flower does, and will not, indeed cannot, interfere. I suppose that these things are mysterious, or, perhaps, rather, so simple that it is difficult to speak of them. Obviously time counts the rock and the flower, the atom and the molecule, similarly, and yet the rock may witness the passing of several calendars, and the atom may in itself remain much the same as it was long ago, in the fiery midst of some distant, exploding star. Too, one would suppose that the theorems of geometry have not aged. They are doubtless as young, as fresh, as lovely, as new today, as they once were in a study in Alexandria. And should any beings anywhere, of whatever appearance, or shape, or chemistry, or origin, even after the dissolutions and births of countless worlds, devise such a system, the same, with its definitions and postulates, these theorems will await them, as pristine, as irresistible as ever in their austere, apodictic beauty. They do not hear the tickings of clocks. Too, if things, if processes, were to begin again, or go back, and begin again, or remain much as they were, save for small differences, the clock of time, so to speak, would simply observe, perhaps bemused, but would not interfere. What is being suggested here, or better, I think, noted, is that time does not dictate reality, or life or death, or change, but measures it, and that it is indifferent to what it measures, that it is independent of what it measures. Time imposes no inevitabilities. It guarantees nothing. This may be hard to understand but only, one supposes, because of a habit of mind, in virtue of which, because of natural associations, common experiences, general expectations, and such, one tends to link the thought of process and time together. Even if the clock does not presuppose time as the object it measures; even if one were to think that the clock somehow created time, inventing it ab ovo, on the spot, still that clock would determine only itself, nothing else. She, she of whom I speak, is led into this disquisition, this tiny, uncertain, timid, troubling venture into metaphysics, for a particular reason. What is it, for example, to be of a given age? If one measures years, for example, by the peregrinations of a planetary body about its primary, then the year would obviously differ from body to body. To be sure, these diverse years might be transformed into equivalencies, for example, the year of planetary body A being understood as being twice the year of planetary body B, and so on, but that is not really to the point one would wish to make. Let us suppose, rather, as a matter of speculation, if nothing more, that a given physical process normally, or customarily, takes a given amount of time, say, that it normally proceeds in a given amount of time through phases A, B and C, and so on. Then, let us suppose, as all physical processes are theoretically reversible, that this process is altered in such a way that it moves from phase C back to phase B, where it appears to be stabilized. The question, then, is what is the age of the process, or, better, one supposes, what is the age of that which exhibits the process? Obviously, in one sense, the entity exhibiting the process continues to age according to the calendar, or any clock, just as, in a sense, the theorems of Euclid continue to age, or, better, just as the ebb and flow of tides, the many cycles of nature, the recurrent orbits of planetary bodies, and such, continue to age. In another sense, of course, the entity in question is stabilized in phase B, or something indistinguishable from, and identical to, phase B. In one sense, then, it is x years of age, and, in a more revealing, practical sense, setting aside calendars, which are now for all practical purposes pointless, and simply irrelevant to the facts of the case, it is B years of age, so to speak. Perhaps more simply put, though perhaps too abstractly, it is stabilized in its B phase, or something identical to its B phase, or, perhaps, in a renewed, or different, B or B-like phase.
So it is difficult for her to speak simply and clearly of her age, not because of any personal embarrassment or vanity, which she might once have felt, and would not now be permitted, but because the matter put in one way would be extremely misleading and put in another way might appear at least initially surprising. Her age now then, one supposes, would be least misleadingly, and most informatively, understood as that which it seems to be, and that which, in a very real sense, it actually is. Her age, then, is that which you would suppose, were you to look upon her, were you to see her as she is now. Perhaps, better, it is that which it is, in actuality, biologically and physiologically, in all respects. It is that which it would be determined to be, after a thorough and careful examination by a qualified physician, of any world, even the terribly thorough physicians of this world.
That is the age she is, for better or for worse, on this world.
But it was not so, on another world.
Now let her note that this document is composed with a certain guarded anonymity. The name she bore is, of course, unimportant, and certainly so now, on this world, and it might have been any name, perhaps yours or another's. So we will not give her a name, not until later, when one was given to her. Too, in accordance with the admonitions to which she has been subjected, she will attempt to conceal the names of institutions, and references to streets, and localities, museums, theaters, parks, shops and boulevards, and such things, which might serve to identify or reveal, even tentatively or remotely, the venue of this story's beginning. The purpose of this injunction is not altogether clear to her, as it seems to her that they have the power to come and go, and do, much as they please. Who could stop them? But certainly she will honor it in detail. Doubtless they have their reasons. Perhaps they do not wish you to be on your guard. She does not know. What difference would it make, if you were on your guard? What difference would it have made, had she been on her guard? Would anything, truly, have been different? Perhaps they do not wish you to know the areas, or locales, in which they work. But it is her impression that their doings, their functions or operations, if you prefer, are not limited to a particular city or town, or even nation, or hemisphere, or season, or year. There seem many reasons for supposing that. But she knows, actually, very little of these things. She, and those like her, are commonly little informed, commonly kept much in ignorance. Such things are not their concerns. Their concerns are otherwise, and are commonly supposed, they are told, to be more than ample to occupy their time and attention. Still, of course, they wonder, not that it makes any difference in their own cases. That is the sort of entities, or objects, that they are. So she will speak with care, concealing details which, in the fullness of the case, may not much matter anyway. Too, she dares not be disobedient. She has learned the cost of disobedience, and she shall obey, as she must, instantly, in all things, and with perfection. Yet she would suppose, from her narration, that some will understand more than she has dared to write. She would surmise that the city involved, and such, may be sufficiently obvious, even concealed beneath the cloak of an imposed discretion.
But that, of course, is left to the reader, if there eventually should be such.
She adds that this manuscript is written in English. She was literate, quite so, on her first world. On this world, however, she is illiterate. She cannot read, or write, any of its languages. She can, however, speak what seems to be this world's major language, or, in any event, that spoken almost exclusively in her environment, and she can, of course, understand it. These things are needful for her.
Lastly she might call the reader's attention to what has seemed to her an oddity, or anomaly. On her first world she understood, or knew, little or nothing of this world. She was familiar with, at best, allusions to this world, seldom taken seriously, and most often, it seems incredible to her now, lightly dismissed. She has now wondered if various authorities on her old world did not know something of this world, at least a little something. It seems some of them must have. How could they not know of it? But perhaps they did not. She does not know.
The oddity, or anomaly, has to do in its way with law.
The state, or a source of law, it seems, can decide whether one has a certain status or not, say, whether one is a citizen or not a citizen, licensed or not licensed, an outlaw or not an outlaw, and such. It can simply make these things come about, it seems, by pronouncing them, and then they are simply true, and that, then, is what the person is. It has nothing to do, absolutely nothing to do, with the person's awareness or consent, and yet it is true of the person, categorically and absolutely, in all the majesty of the law. It makes the person something, whether the person understands it, or knows it, or not. The person might be made something or other, you see, and be totally unaware of it. Yet that is what that person, then, would be. It is clear to her now that she must have been watched, and considered, and assessed, perhaps for months, utterly unbeknownst to her. She had no idea. She suspected nothing, absolutely nothing. But her status, her condition, had changed. It seems that decisions were made, and papers signed, and certified, all doubtless with impeccable legality. And then, by law, she, totally unaware, became something she had not been before, or not in explicit legality. And she continued to go about her business, knowing nothing of this, ignorantly, naively, all unsuspecting. But she had become something different from what she had been before. She was no longer the same, but was now different, very different. Her status, her condition, had undergone a remarkable transformation, one of which she was totally unaware. She did not know what, in the laws of another world, one capable of enforcing its decrees and sanctions, one within whose jurisdiction she lay, she had become. That she finds interesting, curious, frightening, in its way, an oddity, and anomalous. She did not know what she had become. She wonders if some of you, too, perhaps even one reading this manuscript, if there should be such, may have become already, too, even now, unbeknownst to yourself, what she had then become. Perhaps you are as ignorant of it as was she. But this reality was later made clear to her, by incontrovertible laws, and deeds, which did not so much confirm the hypothetical strictures of a perhaps hitherto rather speculative law, one extending to a distant world, as replace or supersede them, in an incontrovertible manner, with immediate, undeniable, unmistakable realities, realities not only independently legal, and fully sufficient in their own right, but realities acknowledged, recognized and celebrated, realities understood, and enforced, with all the power, unquestioned commitment and venerated tradition of an entire world, that on which she had found herself.
That world did not long leave her in doubt as to what she was.