reading notes for Gnomon By Nick Harkaway
a radical experiment in personal transparency and ambient direct democracy
Gnomon, a sociopathic human intelligence from a distant future, falling backwards in time to conduct four assassinations.
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limited vantage point inside the flow of events
Machines these days are somewhat perfected; a visible glitch in a high profile space such as this has been found to project a reassuring fallibility and evoke a sense of wellbeing which endures for several days.
‘GNOMON’ is there to avoid any kind of confusion: an incontrovertible statement of identity. Beyond that, it apparently means an early geometer’s tool for marking right angles, a set square made of metal. By extension it means something perpendicular to everything else, such as the upright part of a sundial.
If she was, in fact, a dangerous terrorist, her cover was as fully realised and performed as any in the long and unglamorous history of subversion. More likely she was the lonely algorithmic victim of a perfect storm – and yet despite its improbability, the notion that she may somehow have been more than she appeared is ineradicable.
Statistical analysis and even soft logic can only take machine learning so far into the quirked and sideways landscape of human irrationality. What a given thing means may vary not only between two individuals but from moment to moment
the System and the Witness.
Over five hundred million cameras, microphones and other sensors taking information from everywhere, not one instant of it accessed initially by any human being. Instead, the impartial, self-teaching algorithms of the Witness review and classify it and do nothing unless public safety requires it. The Witness is not prurient. The machine cannot be bribed to hand over images of actresses in their baths to tabloid journalists. It cannot be hacked, cracked, disabled or distorted. It sees, it understands, and very occasionally it acts, but otherwise it is resolutely invisible.
The Witness does not ignore a rising tide, a pattern of behaviour. It does not take refuge behind the lace curtain of non-interference in personal business. No one now shall live in fear of those they also love. Everyone is equally seen.
For shorter recordings and less complex emotional and cognitive states, the machine can simply impose the flow of a recorded mind over its user’s in real time, which is quick and effective but leads to a kind of double vision that many people – the Inspector included – find somewhat nauseating. In any situation which requires the investigator to get to know their subject, or where nuance might be important, it’s more usual to shunt the whole file, in compressed form, into local storage in the brain. Neith imagines its subsequent unfolding to resemble a jasmine flower tea opening in hot water, or a kind of retrograde origami in which the foreign mind resumes its original shape to whatever degree it can inside its new physical environment. The origami method affords a far greater intimacy with the subject – which of course is useful in important cases like this one – but can compromise your sleep as the file unwinds. There’s no danger of the memory taking over the investigator’s, any more than you can drive to Brighton in the back half of an automobile. It’s a set of experiences, not a viral person, though that does not stop London’s film industry from depicting any number of lurid scenarios premised on the idea, ranging from sinister to comedic, but tending in most cases to an element of the erotic.
The machine can perform the function, but it is not actually alive. It is not appropriate that something dead have governance of something living. In the end, there must be oversight not because the Witness makes mistakes, but because the watcher must itself be watched, and be seen to be watched. The System exists for the people, not the other way around, and in the end it is the people who are empowered – and required – by the machine to take any and all of the hard decisions that arise.
This is not okay. I do not consent. I do not consider the intrusion legitimate, and I do not accept the argument that it is in the interest of the nation as a whole, nor that if it were in the nation’s interest that would make what is happening to me acceptable. Just because something is done according to the law does not mean that it is lawful. Law is made in the image of an ideal. One can make a law that does not reflect that image, and that law may be a law without being lawful. I consider what is happening here a grotesque violation. If I get the chance, I will hurt you for doing what you are doing, hurt you badly. This is my head and you should not be in it.
"On the left there’s a feed from my optic nerve. It’s like being in a hall of mirrors because I see the image of what I’m looking at and the screen displays the image of the image and then the image of the image of the image and then a second technician puts his fingers in front of my face.
‘Don’t,’ he says. ‘You’ll get feedback.’
‘What happens then?’ I ask him.
‘Your head explodes.’
I can tell it’s an old joke."
In my case, as in almost all of them, the Witness is actually quite correct. I am a traitor to the System, to the society we have constructed around it. I have hidden from the Witness, which is in itself antisocial and grounds for closer examination. I have used paper and ink to send private messages, bartered to conceal my transactions, done favours and had them returned in order to avoid listing my transactions on an accessible database. I have taught these skills: writing, hiding, haggling, the ad hoc measurement of value. I have proselytised about their use, advocated opacity. Shame on me.
Sadly, washing machines these days are as wired as everything else. They are set up to tell you how to save money and water and electricity. More recently they started measuring water quality. Of course, they package those data anonymously and send them to the central hub for analysis. By doing that the System can manage water flow and know about any dangerous impurities before they jeopardise the public health. When my father was a child, he got blisters on his tongue from drinking water with aluminium in it – an error at a local water plant. That can’t happen now, and indeed there are biosensors in the pipes that pick up various waterborne infections and trigger alerts. But nothing is free: the reality is that anonymisation is no more effective than one of those hilarious nose-moustache-and-spectacle sets that are a staple of office parties. With the right parsing, your washing machine can know all sorts of things about you that are private. It can tell from your clothes whether you drink too much, whether you have eczema, whether you use drugs. Whether you are pregnant. A new model has come on the market with an olfactory sensor patterned on the nose of a particular breed of pig: it can tell whether you have an early stage cancer and refer you to a doctor. That is a little miraculous and wonderful, isn’t it? If only the information didn’t also automatically go to your local health trust so that they can manage their year-on-year needs more accurately. If only they didn’t market their needs list to health insurers. If only everything wasn’t quite so obsessively joined up.
I had all those tools once: the car that drove itself, the office chair that warned me when I was sitting badly. And then bit by bit I got rid of them. It was not a grand decision, just a slow shift I didn’t understand until it was done. I got tired of voices in my head and eyes peering over my shoulder.
I allow people to borrow books and I keep no records of the loans. Do you know, in fourteen years I have never once had a book stolen? How remarkable, that people will behave so well without being indexed. It’s not scalable, apparently; not realistic in the wider world. Above a certain threshold, it’s no longer a personal trust governed by the rules of friendship, but a tragedy of the commons, and people just steal. That’s always been the problem, I’m told: we need a better sort of human being, not a more just law. We need to change the way people think.
I teach them reading and disrespect for authority, and I consider my work well done.
Yes, I know, I am a witch and I traffic in dark magic. I warp the fragile grey matter of vulnerable infants
They will learn the language of my neurons, although more properly it should be called a dialect, because it turns out that in general when you and I each see the colour blue, we do indeed see much the same thing, to the endless disappointment of philosophers. Would you believe, though, that men and women process depth perception differently? So that if a man reviews my experience, he will likely get nauseous. Good riddance, of course, but still: I find that intriguing.
Perhaps there should be a unit of identity against time. How many human-hours will this take? And by the answer you could know how real I am.
. I am said to possess a list of reactionaries and bad elements, and I suppose in a way I do, I just don’t think of it as a list. I call it my life. It is everyone I know who is like me, who chooses not to participate in the network of binding plebiscites and bank loans and credit cards and locatively discursive spimes. They are the small remnant or rebirth of a culture of analogue people who do not entirely believe that this version of life is perfect, who feel constrained rather than liberated by the world which has emerged as much from our heedlessness as from any decision.
Mystery allows for dreams and uncertainty for romance, forgetfulness opens the door for forgiveness and even redemption. In my house the hearth is unbroken by the endless torrent of the outer world.
The machine will make any necessary adjustments for my well-being: deal with physical deformities to the brain matter, ensure there is no bleeding or swelling that might endanger me, take preventative and curative measures against sociopathy, psychosis, depression, aggressive social narcissism, sadism, masochism, low self-esteem, undiagnosed neuroatypicality, attention deficit, in other words all the known issues of our complex biological processing, even unto the insidious and alienating cognitive dissonance and maladjustment syndrome. (You really have to watch for that one. Almost anyone can have it.)
We will be remade in the image of a creation I once believed was the only way to avoid horror, but which by a ridiculous string of errors and confusions of the mind is now a horror in itself.
These three tests are intended for those learning to recognise and even control the direction of their dreams. Text is unstable in the envisioned unconscious, and either cannot be read or changes itself between breaths. Mechanical objects and light switches tend not to work, and physical laws – such as gravity – are undependable.
unknown and undefinable flavours of fruit, vanishingly small worlds stacked with coincidence to the point of inevitability, the power to read menus in other languages or arm-wrestle a man twice your mass. The dream state is wily, and it learns as you do.
In the absence of a strategic goal, it takes a particularly tragic sort of refusenik to hold out right down to the wire.
she makes toast and honey, as always bewildered and a little creeped out by the origin of the sweet comb. On the other hand, once you start down that road you won’t be drinking milk, either, and then you might wonder about cheese, or wine, and if you’re in that headspace then to be honest all food – meat or vegetable – takes on the alien tinge of life ingested, the spectre of uninvited growth inside the body. It’s an old, old horror, that notion of something alive under one’s own skin, something touching the interior surfaces of the body where only oneself should go; old – and discredited, because a human being is the sum of many parts, not excluding a great flora and fauna of microbiological co-corporealists necessary to the balance of guts and blood. No one is a single thing; everyone is a network, or a mosaic.
Every person under the System is encouraged – though not compelled – to spend a certain amount of time each week voting, and is semi-randomly assigned to decision-making bodies for the duration of their session. Each body will most likely be around two hundred individuals strong, and will deal either collectively or in subcommittee jury group with anything from asylum requests or the allocation of medical resources to commercial disputes. It is the most nuanced and democratic system of direct governance ever devised, and it requires genuine participation from the polity. For the body of the state to perform its function properly, each person must make his or her own decision in the light of their personal experience and opinion without being influenced by others at the formative stage, so sessions are initially private and remain anonymous throughout. Each problem is proposed to each person in a way that is fractionally different, tailored precisely to pique their interest and understanding, their self-interest and their altruism, so that every choice is made with the greatest awareness of consequence and meaning.
In cases where a person serving on the panel has particular, relevant knowledge or experience, verified expertise markers may be deployed to indicate locus to speak on the topic, although the weight given to these by other citizens is variable in line with perception. Non-voting experts can also be sought by quora to explain or give context. The whole gamut of responses is then averaged using an advanced Bayesian mathematics. Certainly even the losing side in most judgements will acknowledge a fairness and balance to the outcome, and as verdicts need not invoke prescribed solutions but can, within certain limits, be creative, the result of litigation can often be profitable to both sides. The System is the will of the plebiscite, and the plebiscite genuinely reflects the people.
The score doesn’t affect anything in your life except your self-esteem; the only person who looks accusingly at Neith when she doesn’t hit her target is Neith – although the involvement of law enforcement professionals at an early stage in governance has been found to be beneficial in many ways, as they are inevitably the ones who must tidy up when the wrong choice leads to negative local realities.
Several months ago, taking into account the likely advances in technology over the next decade, the System posed the question of whether it was appropriate to install a permanent remote access in the skull of a recidivist or compulsive criminal. This has now culminated in a draft bill being put before the polity.
The points against permanent implanted monitoring are compelling: it is a considerable conceptual and legal step to go from external surveillance to the direct constant observation of the brain; it pre-empts a future crime rather than preventing crime in progress, and this involves an element of prejudging the subject; once deployed in this way the technology will inevitably spread to other uses, and the consequences of those should also be considered; and finally and most significantly, such a device entails the possibility of real-time correction of recidivist brain function, and this being arguably a form of mind control is ethically repellent to many. There is an instinctual argument, with respectable intellectual backing, that the System and the Witness should monitor the external world only, and the boundary of the body should be respected until there is a specific reason to do otherwise – as in a non-consensual interview – and even then such interference should be as brief as possible, and proportionate
“On the other hand, the technology has the potential to allow those with, for example, certain forms of severe mental illness to re-enter society in the certain knowledge that they will not hurt anyone, which could be immensely therapeutic.
There is a moral dimension, too, which the Inspector finds compelling. As a matter of societal identity, the System is supposed to provide the best combination of personal security and personal freedom, and there is an argument that this achieves that by allowing the constitutionally violent access to the world without compromising the safety of the majority.”
Overall, sensible liberal opinion favours a compromise: a starkly limited programme in which the technology is used voluntarily, in combination with robust technical and legal safeguards against inappropriate pseudo-medical alteration of the subject’s thinking. The Inspector mistrusts the idea in concept, but respects the medical use-case. In the end, she also suspects that general adoption of implant technology of some sort is a societal and commercial inevitability. The advantages of having permanent access to the System are many, and public morality follows the trend of public desire. Still, due scrutiny is healthy.
Full polling will take a week or more, and votes can be changed until the deadline to allow for evolutions in personal perspective during the ongoing debate
This thing is no longer a thing which acts. A corpse is not haunted or residually inhabited save by the implications of the living. All the same, it once was alive, and in its inertness is a kind of malediction, or prophecy.
Hinde wears a badge with a rainbow on it. A few decades ago this would have meant something about her sexual orientation, but now it’s a polite signal to Neith and anyone else Hinde interacts with that she is not neurotypical. Her brain touches a particular peak of the modern medical taxonomy that includes some autisms and various perceptual and processing functions such as synaesthesia, and structural (rather than acquired) hypervigilance. It is not actually a spectrum in the linear sense, more a graph on several axes.
When Hinde is not dancing, the badge alerts people to the context of their interaction. This is not mandated or even recommended by the System. It’s just an outgrowth of everyone being able to query things about one another through a data connection: rather than make people go through the business of getting offended and then doing a search on her, and then being embarrassed for not realising or remembering that her consciousness is a bit different from theirs, Hinde chooses – as many or most people in her situation now do – to identify her status in advance. There are many advantages to the end of privacy, and one of them is the obsolescence of social awkwardness. The Inspector finds this outcome both efficient and laudable.
Diana Hunter was opposed to the Witness, and indeed to the society that hinges upon it. The philosophical argument the System advances in its own favour – safety and empowerment in exchange for total personal transparency – did not persuade her. Quite apparently, she saw an irreducible virtue in the right to be unobserved. Such people exist, of course
The true refusenik problem – the use of analogue and concealed methods of imparting information between motivated paramilitaries – is quite another thing, and almost unheard of.
A moving tram is a bubble in space, profoundly separated from everything else. Time passes inside at a fractionally different rate, and no physical interaction is possible between passengers and people on the outside.
She feels a flicker of attention. Her eyes skitter across the landscape, chasing something almost certainly inside her head. What has her subconscious picked up on, in that brief reverie, that is trying to elbow its way into her thoughts? (Speed limit sign. Newsagent. Community centre, run down and covered in graffiti tags. Rubbish bin, overfull.) Investigation is a webwork rather than a line. A crowd rather than a single individual. (Parked cars. Parked bikes. Vandalised public access terminal. Blood on the pavement: a nosebleed, a fist fight, certainly nothing serious.) What thread is she looking at that, viewed from another angle, might be a net? And a net to do what? To catch whom?
Modern rates of clinical paranoia have decreased significantly from pre-System levels. It transpires that many instances of the condition used to result from a horror of personal smallness; a deep, almost existential fear that the pattern of a given life had no meaning against the tide and chatter of the majority, or the vast indifference of the universe beyond. But part of what is remarkable about the System is that no one is insignificant to it. Every action; every choice, worry, question; every bold or idiotic inspiration can be acknowledged by the tranquil and endless machine. There is no silence into which the lonely fall. The System is quite genuinely interested in everyone.
If Neith has one quarrel with the age in which she lives, it is the fascination with laminate and plastic over the resinous, organic solidity of wood. Doors should be a part of the home that speaks of life rather than engineering.
A pop idol, now retired; a would-be vampire; a club owner. A sociopath. A method actor. A classic Warhol image come to life.
Uncanny valley: the place where simulation is too close to reality to be comfortable, but too far away to be mistakable. She wonders if the whole face is prosthetic, and what might be underneath.
The Fire Judges, in medieval tradition, are the five men and women living on earth whose task is to reveal – literally to de-crypt – the mysterious choices of God. To unhide and demystify the divine. Like Orpheus or Prometheus, they are the gateway to the heavenly city, the spinal conduit between the mundane world and the divine one.
Not a question that can be answered or indeed asked in so many words. It is expressed in stages, because the answer to each section opens the door to the next. The truth is rotational: it is a pattern of responses arranged around a core.
You have the right to representation and to appeal your detention to a random sample of your peers. At this time I am advising you of my intention to apply for a warrant to investigate your involvement through direct interrogation of your memory and sense impressions. You do not have to say anything, but frank verbal disclosure of the full extent of your involvement may be preferable to you and is acceptable so long as the immediate security needs can be addressed.’
‘Professional courtesy.’ That’s the joke, isn’t it? A shark sees a banker in the water, doesn’t eat him. You know why? Professional courtesy!
I am reconsidering everything in my life. I have been changed. Annealed. I need time to reflect, to go mad, to get sane, to drink, to be sober. I am a new person.
This is my advice to parents: teach your son the language of football, at least in some measure, so that he knows enough to parlay with the enemy.
“‘Show your working.’
I have. (Thinking: Are you an idiot?)
‘Show your working.’
It’s here. (Exactly where have I missed a step?)
‘What is this number?’
It’s a moon number. (What can I tell you? There are ordinary numbers and moon numbers and this one is a moon number. Moon numbers are good for making long multiplication simple.)
‘Don’t do that. If you don’t know how it works, you can’t depend on it.’
I do know how it works. You don’t. That’s not the same thing.
‘Don’t be rude. And no moon numbers. Do it properly.’”
Well, if I was going to be unhappy – or at least not happy, because a mathematician knows the difference between the absence of x and its negation – then I chose to be unhappy like this. I chose to be unhappy and rich, rather than unhappy and poor. I was reasonably sure at the time that unhappy and poor was a lot unhappier, although since then I’ve seen the very rich get themselves into states of sorrow and horror which are inaccessible without vast fortunes: with insane money comes insanity. This business of billions – what the fuck can you buy with a billion that will fill the hole? Nothing. I know. I’ve seen it. There’s nothing. Not all the Edvard Munch paintings and white truffles and Bentleys will do the job. A year later you just need another one. Honestly, it’s worse than iPhones.
It’s not always easy, being Greek. Even the mud has gods in it.
Was it really the way it says in the paper? Was it amazing? Was it spontaneous or did I pay someone to make it happen? (People in my circle tend to believe that anything can be arranged, and therefore that anything amazing that happens probably has been. It does not occur to them to admire serendipity, or to court it.
Augustine died of old age and barely performed any miracles, for all that his Confessions are so renowned, and St Spyridon is basically famous for setting his own beard on fire as part of an explanation of the Holy Trinity. Perhaps two slightly substandard saints put them on a par with, say, the Franciscans, who can lay claim to one of the real zingers, a guy who talked to birds and healed practically everyone in Tuscany at one time or another
Perhaps the Order of St Augustine and St Spyridon has a secret fight club, the way banks do these days.
Use your head: no idea that proposes free money is ever a good idea, because money is mathematics and mathematics does not allow you to add something to one side of the equation without balancing it on the other
The real disasters are only possible when you bring politics into it, because politics is about pretending to care.
Good rules make good games. Games without rules degenerate.
‘Nothing lasts for ever.’ I lift my palms to the ceiling in a gesture which my Cultural Semiotics in Business trainer tells me could signify helplessness or honesty and generosity
Rather, Immortals cannot die because the role supersedes the man. When a body falls, another steps into its place – so the Immortal goes on. A person living in this way is not the sum of their experience, of fallible human memory, but the expression of a permanent identity. It is not a convention or even a magic. It is a truth, as simple as the sunrise.
The Greece we inhabit now is a shadow. We must rediscover a way of being in which the divine is everywhere, in which we move through a world where theology is literally true. If we can do that, we will indeed return to the days of Plato and our greatness.
‘Torn no longer, Nikolaos Megalos.’
Torn no longer, Constantine Kyriakos.’
You should not be distracted by anything, you infant. When you work, you work. Does fucking SEAL Team Six get distracted by Twitter? No. Why not? Because they focus. They have discipline. They know that what they do has consequences. People will die. Well, here is the news: the same is true of us. Money is life. Poverty kills. If you are going to get distracted by your computer, you don’t deserve your job.
Harrison has everyone thinking that the answer is to cut down on your distractions, not your tendency to get distracted.
The human mind is a device for seeing patterns. We can see faces in clouds, myths in the stars. My mind has a sort of dent, and that dent is shaped like a shark,
If you venture twenty-two million nine hundred and thirty-one thousand or so digits into the digits of Pi, you will find 4 occurring eight times in succession. Should I attribute significance to that as well?
You live in a world of signs as well as things. In that world, Actaeon fed his lust by gazing upon the goddess Artemis as she bathed; she fed her hounds upon his flesh. Desire and hunger: one body merges with another.
The mouth is the gate of life and death. We desire it, are devoured by it, emerge from it. Gods do not die, they are transformed. They are sundered, reforged, slain, reborn, eaten and regurgitated. The debts of our legends are never cancelled, because the seed of their renewal is contained in each payment
the overlapping Jungian disciplines of alchemy, poetry, theology and branding.
Consciousness, I once read in a book, is a complexly convoluted loop of information that can observe itself. What does it say about a person, then, if they cannot manage the trick? When Cosmatos is like this, is he a person, or a piece of stupid stone, walking and talking like a man?
You have a shark in your head that eats corporations and shits money. You know what that means?’
The overturning of things, the approach of apocatastasis. A return to the beginning.
You have contracted a god, Constantine. It does not matter if you think it is a brain lesion or a space alien or whatever you are telling yourself. When you do the bidding of your god, your enemies fall and you rise.
the ghost of an irrelevant way of being in the world.
“In the purest bullshit of an industry founded on it, what I have just done is the kind of thing careers are made on. This morning I was a very good banker. Now I am touching the edges of financial godhead. I have entered the special space set aside for prophets and savants who understand where the money world is going before it goes there, for Michael Burry and George Soros, for others who don’t choose to be known by the wider public. Join that club and you almost automatically join another one, the one that has fifteen hundred members and more power, acting collectively, than any other force on earth. It’s not a conspiracy, it’s simply such a concentration of access and resource that it cannot help but carry weight. It requires no oaths of allegiance, because all that is already implied. It’s just wealth, but on a level that is to all intents and purposes an evolutionary change.
I can feel it, waiting for me: the new nationality that takes you when you have become pure money.”
I use the money to buy art. Art right now is a better bet in many ways than a bank, so long as you buy the right art and buy enough of it to avoid paying a ridiculous commission. It’s also a bullshit-based economy, so the terms of engagement are very familiar
I thought about wine, but you know what? I care about wine. Wine should not get shoehorned and abused by the market. Wine is old and respectable and erotic and human. I know Goldman once thought about buying Bordeaux – not the wine, the region, so they’d control supply – but they didn’t, and that is a good thing. Wine should not be a value counter in this game, no more than food. No more than healthcare or clean water. There are things that should be immune, and the people who don’t understand that distinction, the distinction between what is fair game and what is not: those are the people who should go to jail.
The first thing I unwrap is a quipu, what people sometimes call a ‘talking knot’. This is evidently a sort of Inca necklace-cum-tax return, and, presumably on the basis that I am a mathematician by training, she includes a sheaf of paperwork I do not read about how remarkable it is that it’s patterned in base 12 rather than base 10. The quipu itself, for all that someone has spread it out like a condor’s wing, looks like a neolithic two-way. I send it back and tell her to store it. Quipus are apparently hard currency to collectors, real blue-chip property, so it isn’t a poor choice financially, it’s just not my thing.
‘Gnomon’ means ‘one in the know
Unboxing art is even better than unboxing a new phone. It is bigger, more physical, and what is underneath has a rich oil and turpentine stink that is earthy and mouth-watering.
Over the next week I drink Armagnac from the sacroiliac crest of an heiress and Yquem from the suprasternal notch of a heptathlete.
Bekele’s must-have video game – it’s called Witnessed, a sort of Orwellian Lara Croft tunnel-trawler with bleak, hypnotic landscapes that seem to watch you right back
Everything is a camera in Witnessed, and the designer has done this creepy-as-shit thing where the software looks at your calendar and your recent emails and asks about them if you leave it alone for too long: surveillance simulating surveillance
Where once there was the little blue pill there is now a feedback-regulated injectable dispenser, a little electronic capsule they put in your gluteus muscle that really does the business. You can customise response times and various other aspects of your experience from an iPhone app. I put my code key on the main screen and invite my guests to choose my level of arousal, rating another mention in the gossip pages. Satisfaction – for all concerned – is positively guaranteed. I am RoboKyriakos. My genitals emit a low amp electrical wang pulse, as Charles Dance memorably said.
the same dog whistles, the same humblebrags, the same pleas for tolerance that somehow make intolerance seem quite reasonable.
I don’t seem to be losing my shark. She’s come with me on to the land by some crazy shark magic, something primal and weird that can’t be undone. I’m tied to her.
I thought of Watches of Switzerland, but the most expensive thing they had was a TAG Heuer, a ridiculous effort made of carbon fibre. If I want a fighter jet, I’ll buy one, I won’t buy a watch in the style of a MiG. In the end I go for a Ulysse Nardin, because the guy in Jaeger-LeCoultre almost makes me wait, and while I’d love to get Breguet to sell the Marie-Antoinette, they’re just never going to put out. I know someone who offered them $22 million for it and they said no. They keep that thing just to fuck with you. I’m guessing they believe one day they’ll give it to a street urchin, and this one selfless anti-capitalist act will upset the axis of the world and usher in a new era of analogue watches, that Breguet are art-prank crypto-communists.
Ben Teasdale, the Arizona technologist who owns half the fibre-optic cable in the US and supplies connectivity to the whole of Asia. He’s a transhumanist, famously: when he dies he will try to squirt his consciousness into a computer, then freeze his brain in case there’s any of himself left inside. He funds research into weird technologies: man–machine interfaces and artificial telepathy. He holds patents in things which will probably drive the next hundred years of economic growth.
He asks if I play Go. Go, he says, is a good metaphor, although that is a vast understatement of its beauty. Go is not a simulation of anything. Go is Go. It possesses – he hesitates – atsumi. He waves his hands. Atsumi, like the walls of a castle. Thickness and dominion. Mass
We play Go. It turns out that my ignorance of the game does not make me a tedious opponent because one of the ways in which Go is not like chess is that there are no prescribed openings as such. There are familiar patterns that quickly yield to uniquenesses, and what appears to be a mistake may become a fulcrum whose existence and position enables something remarkable. It is about identity as much as strategy.
Effectively, the digital Go master is not a machine at all, but a simulated person whose consciousness only extends to Go.
The Chinese don’t like the number 4, he says. It whispers of the trap of birth, that it is accompanied by the inexorability of death. But that is a homophony, not identity. It is a shadow in the code. Do I see a 4?
International finance is not done in boardrooms, it’s done here, in these liminal spaces that are made out of money. Governance is in the private terminals at global aviation hubs, in occasional palaces and ubiquity, in sharing a limo because you have nothing to prove. The merely rich talk about their other homes, their other houses. The gods do not. If they need somewhere, they acquire it, or someone else provides it. They do not keep track of nations or properties, because they are at home everywhere.
‘Myoushu,’ he says. ‘And plenty of kiai.’
There’s a wild moment coming, a day of misrule. We can all feel the riots waiting behind the hills. It’s like a weather forecast: today, fine with bankruptcies, some rain. Tomorrow: high pressure zone moving in, torrential downpour of shit; and over the weekend: civil unrest, burning cars.
the Red Cross is already talking about a continental network of food banks, and the left coalition in France has called for the nationalisation of the energy companies and the transport infrastructure. It’s a terrible idea in the context of the financial community and how they will treat France hereafter, but it’s not a bad one in terms of keeping as many French people alive as possible through the winter. Perhaps the crazy communists have just recognised a little bit ahead of everyone else how bad this is really going to be. Certainly some of my erstwhile colleagues are being rather rash about it. They have not yet taken on board the level of desperation this has created, and are still talking rather arrogantly about riding the problem out. Say rather, they will ride it down, and at the bottom they will find people who are quite likely to use their Maseratis for bonfires and cook their manicured dogs for food.
“I think I’ll go to the Bahamas. There’s a short list of countries you’d actually want to go to which will not be adversely affected by this situation, and very few of them have decent food or fine weather. There’s a much longer list of countries you wouldn’t really want to go to under normal circumstances which will either not be affected or will not notice one more appalling nightmare in the crowd.
I’m not going to apply for residency in Norway, and I’m definitely not going to Afghanistan, Colombia or Western Sahara.”
If they knew what I know, they would tear me apart and eat me.
It had never occurred to me that a riot was a community, but it is. It is a spontaneous, weirdly self-organising thing that is, within certain very specific and obvious limits, kindly and helpful.
“When the mob’s in town, everyone gets a turn.
I touch nothing. I throw nothing, steal nothing, hurt no one. I am washed around in the body of the beast. Everyone smiles at me. Everyone cheers. I’m a brother, a fellow traveller, because I’m here and I don’t object.
I want to be sick.
We wander, we thrash and we burn. We beat. The outer limbs do the dirty work, but the body of the beast is ballast and refuge and support. Even washed along, I am culpable to some degree. I do not raise my voice for reason and tolerance, because I am afraid. And then somehow I am spat out, in a little knot of tired people going home as if from the office, and it’s all very polite. We’re off shift, see you later, break a few windows for me.”
I start to pack a bag and then realise that there’s no need. Packing belongs to oId me. The only things I need are the things that matter, that exist in only one place.
She recalls reading about the early experiments in aural interfaces, a German car manufacturer working through different tones for a satnav persona to please its clients. The hearty executives of the Rhineland did not enjoy being addressed by a superior male. The company tested a soothing feminine voice, and established that they liked this even less. Apparently felt they were being babied. A sultry tone translated as mocking, a professional one as nagging. In the end, it wasn’t the tone that mattered, but the humanity of the voice. It needed to be, very clearly, a machine.
She’s never comfortable with that ‘I’ – not because she thinks it augurs some sort of awakening, but because she knows it does not. The Chinese room is empty. There is no god in the machine, just a very sophisticated card index. It should not pretend to experience.
‘What about non-volitional playback of an implanted memory?’
Magic is the invocation of names, just as miracles are acts of faith and technology is the application of mind to stone. The names of human persons are sacks to bind up the fragments of our selves
Five is a sacred number to the followers of Pythagoras. Two is woman and three is man, thus five is marriage. The number four, defining a triangle-based pyramid which is the simplest of three-dimensional shapes, is their way of denoting space, but add to four a single unit – the One that is the beginning of everything – and you get five. Space and divinity: five is their great mystery, because it denotes hieros gamos, the combination of godhead and matter, whose product is mortality and the flow of time. Five is also the number of secret places of the Pentemychos, in which it is well known, in this syncretic empire of Rome in Africa, that Jupiter Ahura Mazda concealed the seeds of a new creation, in case Angra Mainyu should destroy what is. There are five books in the Torah, five fingers on the Hand of Miriam; there are five elements and five Wounds of Christ from which flow the five rivers in the kingdom of Hades, and five bad angels that watch over them until at last they run into the lower ocean and rise again to the beginning. The Goddess slew five demons and wove their skins to make a cloak that turned all blades. Five becoming one: rivers becoming seas, time becoming God. What lies beneath the lower ocean? Perhaps the upper. Perhaps the world wraps around the world like the serpent Ouroboros.
It’s not good for an alchemist to believe in things. You perform what works and speak the words, and leave the pretension of knowledge to priests.
But now my son is dead and I am inclined to a less ebullient way of being in the world. A woman without her husband is a widow, a daughter without parents is an orphan, but there is no word for what I am because it should not be, or perhaps because it comes so often to so many that it is unworthy of mention. He was my son: I need no word to frame what I am now. It is with me always.
Perhaps God is an object with an infinite number of faces only a limited few of which can be viewed from a single point, but each of which may view us from all sides at once. That would sit well with the discipline of alchemy, in which almost everything is representative of something else: a cavalcade of masks behind masks, gods revealed in elements and geometry in gods.
There is something here,’ I tell him, which has the advantage of being both obviously true and potentially spiritual.
Am I a fraud, then, or a scholar? I am both, of course, as we all are. Half of what I know I do not believe. Half of what I believe I cannot prove. For the rest, I hope to muddle through and my mistakes go without comment.
With the right knowledge, an alchemist working within the Chamber might produce an elixir to offset age and return youth to one who drinks it; transform sickness into abundance; heal any injury and even raise the dead; but the greatest gift of the Chamber is the eternal Alkahest, the Universal Solvent that will free any prisoner and dissolve not only all solid matter but also oaths, curses, kingdoms, years and centuries, even damnation itself. In a very real sense, the Alkahest is the power of God. Armed with it, one might undo the first sin and make the world a new heaven, pull down the sky, or seal the abyss forever and preserve What Is from What Is To Come. The Alkahest is the ink in which Isis writes the book of destiny. It is the tears that fell from the Virgin’s eyes on the day of the Crucifixion.
The Scroll is a ghost book, a summoner of phantasms and dreams. It is a dream itself, that I should never have written down.
It is nonsense given form and weight to work upon the world.
The artist is very talented, and he or she has embellished my words, put symbols and secrets to unlock into the work. Whatever you might look for, you will find echoes of it, hints and allegations of occulted truths. Mystical texts are inscribed here almost profligately, offering their meanings like fruit trees in late summer.
There must be a door between the real world and the godly one, and if there is it must be found in desperation and love. It is known to all of us, that feeling of immanence: the certainty that there is a missing limb, invisible and ineluctable, that answers the need of the soul.
They say that God is merciful, and His mercy is like agony because we are inverted by sin. I know all the arguments, and each more empty than the last. The world is what we make.
Pentemychos. Pherecydes. Brine.
cannot see it, but I know it’s there: a glass flower growing towards me through the air.
“I cannot see it, but I know it’s there: a glass flower growing towards me through the air.
It whispers, like a lover: ‘I am torn.’”
part of the reason they believed the Scroll was real was that it was so shamelessly bad. No respectable forger would ever string words together in such a self-important slurry. Forgery is a quiet discipline that doesn’t put itself forward – indeed, it wants very much to fade into the scenery.
Did I play my divine inspiration? Or did such inspiration play me?
Where nothing makes sense, one must put sense aside and acknowledge only what is possible.
detections, erections and exorcisms
I am an alchemist. We live to make things explode. And even if we did not, there really is no other choice.
There is a doctrine in Orphic magic called the attraction of souls. It proposes that certain persons are fated to be together, for good or ill, and that their souls will move through the world, across as many lives as they need to find one another. The moment of conjunction will yield a shift in the nature of the world, for better or worse, and it is the duty of the wise and of the initiated to identify such moments of unison and prepare the participants, so that the scales of life are balanced towards the benign and the earth – little by little – is made a paradise. To the Orphics, the attraction is a literal force and not a metaphor: it is a power of nature that tugs and hauls upon these sundered ones the way a river flows to the sea. The reunification of disconnected parts cannot be stopped.
The ritual is not a prayer, but a species of geometry which opens the doors of the universe to what lies outside it.
dreams use precisely the recollection of habit to construct a facade of the real.
– The mythical Universal Solvent, a transcendent medical and theological substance.
‘What about the Chamber of Isis?’
– String not found.
‘It’s a figment?’
– There is no mention of it in the literature. It does not follow that no such place ever existed. Our knowledge of the ancient world is incomplete.
– The classical Egyptian mother and wife goddess, patron of magic. Sometimes considered as a benign iteration of the Trickster deity. She was an ally to slaves, artists and the demi-monde, hence her occasional invocation in the art nouveau and even art deco periods. Also the name sometimes given to a short-lived twenty-first-century militarised pseudo-nation in Syria. Also the section of the river Thames that is close to Oxford, and by proximity a linear particle accelerator at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. Also—
She has engaged the rolling kinesic assistant for this interview; Smith is under essentially the same scrutiny he would be if he were strapped into a lie detector, the local observation cameras and audio pickups feeding the Witness, along with Smith’s own devices, with more than enough data to give a precise assessment of his levels of stress and excitement. Based on these perceptions, the Witness will instruct Neith on the timing of her questioning, the pace, the flow. The conversation will feel to Smith as if he has met a deeply interesting and sympathetic person and is sharing only what he always meant to.
The city is tidal,
So we’re a hotchpotch. Behavioural economics, mathematics, of course neuroscience. Self-organising criticality. They hate us at university departments, because everything we publish is interdisciplinary and doesn’t fit their models, but it’s evidence-based so they have to pay attention. Models are never quite good enough. The territory is always new.
We turn broadly unconnected data into narratives, narratives into data we can understand and work with. We investigate, and strive to influence, the sense of the world people invest in every morning when they choose their route to work, so that they actually get there sometime before noon. We have to know what they’re thinking and then give them the information they haven’t yet realised they want, so that they know which method will serve them best. Quite often, of course, they take one route over and over again, out of habit. Not much to be done there. But there are what you might call floating voters, people who are actively looking for the most efficient journey, or the most relaxed. I always envy those ones: soft seat commuters. It strikes me as a very good way to live. They’re generally employed by newer firms with flexible hours, they take their work home with them, show a high index of satisfaction. They live longer, too, and there’s no measurable difference in income distribution across the group
We help people in their chosen direction. We remind them to ask themselves where they want to go and how they want to get there, and then we help them do it the right way. But the important thing is the how: by creating and understanding narratives and what they are inside the brain and where they touch the real world.
“‘You have the serendipity flag active,’ Smith says. ‘Do you enjoy it?’
I wonder if you are aware that The Mad Cartographer’s Garden – all of her writings, I think – they are not merely “hard to find” in the commercial sense. They are impossible to find. They are ghost books.’
‘In the trade, something between an irritation and a great curiosity. There are not many – perhaps a hundred in all. They are books that are only catalogued, never actually sold. They seem to appear in auction lots and collections, but if you should buy that lot, the book will be missing, and when you complain you will find no mention of it in the detail.”
‘I can speculate, if you wish. Some ghost books, I have always assumed, are created or adopted by criminal organisations for their traffic. In a global context, what travels in the boxes marked to that title is something quite different, something illegal and perhaps even terrible.
a pile of limited edition magical realist novels allegedly containing a human mind
“Once, in Addis Ababa long ago, I walked through the walls of my prison and escaped.
I wish I could remember how.”
The building looked like a future I could live with, but not one I’d live in.
Welcome to the Fire Judges,’ she said
‘Benevolent ghost geographers,’
A historical reference, apparently – after the Great Fire in 1666, twenty-two judges were empowered to demark the lost property boundaries of London. This was necessary because so much of the city had been destroyed that even the reference points that might have been used to establish a rough outline had been reduced to rubble. Half the time they were just drawing lines in the air, and when that happened it wasn’t impossible that they took the opportunity to improve the flow of the city just a little, to root out dead ends and bad alleys and turn them inwards on themselves.
He explained that the digestive systems of vultures are purgative of disease. The birds’ excreta are pure fertiliser, even the most revolting diseases burned out by their fierce internal chemistry – for which reason the killing of vultures across the world represents an unprecedented risk to global public health. In many areas where they are almost extinct, bad old germs are resurgent in their place. He wished to introduce the vulture’s happy trait into urban rodent populations, a giant leap towards the eradication of serious infections – and crucial in a world that is rapidly losing its grip on resistant bacteria.
The company called Fire Judges: they drew lines in the air, and made them real.
These kids, they simply did not accept that the world as it is has any special gravity, any hold upon us. If something was wrong, if it was bad, then that something was to be fixed, not endured. Where my generation reached for philosophy and the virtue of suffering, they reached instead for science and technology and they actually did something about the beggar in the street, the woman in the wheelchair. They got on with it. It wasn’t that they had no sense of spirit or depth. Rather they reserved it for the truly wondrous, and for everything else they made tools.
Ordinary celluloid film was optimised for white north-western European skin. The chemical composition was not intended for non-whites, so it didn’t capture us well. We were either over-lit and sweating or shadowy and indistinct. Do you remember Sidney Poitier in In the Heat of the Night? I mean, okay: it’s supposed to be hot, I get that. But he’s awash – they’ve got the lights dialled all the way up because the film can’t see his skin. Until around the year 2000 they still used white-skinned models for colour balance during processing. Digital cameras changed that, but I wondered how much. I started wondering if there was still a bias – in the chip design or the imaging software’s basic presumptions.’
Anyway, I poked around a bit and it actually turns out that eight per cent of white males are colourblind, as against only four per cent of African males and about one per cent of Inuit and related populations, although I’m a bit sceptical of the broad data there given the ethnic variety inside all the populations we’re talking about and I suspect the research we’re seeing may have been a bit basic. So it’s not just about race, it’s also about a given white male relationship to the physical perception of colour.’
A small fraction of the female population is tetrachromatic. They have an additional receptor in the eye that theoretically allows them to see colours that are not available to the rest of us, although because the tetrachromat population is so small we don’t have words for those colours, or even concepts for them. They exist only as something felt and experienced.’
I wanted to go back to celluloid and create the opposite sort of celluloid film stock: film stock that favoured black people.’ She pointed at the images. ‘It worked. I think we’ll use it when we create the character types for this project, maybe the architecture. Blackness will be ordinary, whiteness will look odd. It’ll be part of the experience. A little truth, hidden in the game: the people most often referred to as minority populations in this country are the global majority, so their vision is arguably the normative one.’
‘So, okay,’ she went on, ‘next question: did you also know that there’s a private prison firm working on a house arrest system that allows judges to impose permanent surveillance? They call it SDORP – pronounced “stop!” – for sub-dermal observation and restraint platform. It’s a unit that goes in your gluteus muscle and if you do something the supervisor doesn’t like it can knock you out and call a team to come and pick you up. It’s perfect. Any environment can be a prison.’
‘There are dozens of these ideas floating around. And the thing about them is that none of them is actually evil, they’re only sinister if you see them in one particular direction. Imagine that instead of prison you could resocialise someone, put them in a human environment and yet protect that environment from their lapses. Occupational therapy, impulse control, an awareness of place and connectedness. By many readings it’s the optimal reform environment – the only thing it needs is a positive context to grow in, a place where people can respect you, which is much easier if they know you can’t hurt them. Recidivism rates could be slashed. Except that, I mean: hey. It’s putting control chips in people. Why not go the whole way and run a wire into a given bit of the brain, stimulate a given response directly when you need to? Pavlovian reconditioning – for medical purposes only, of course. Maybe for rapists and so on. I mean, that’s protecting society, right? It’s never just that, of course, and sooner or later you’ve got a chipped human population which is an appreciable fraction of the whole. So very, very not cool. Except that it’s so much better than just locking them up to make ash trays. Except that it’s worse. Or is it?’
We have to think about this stuff now, before we build it, otherwise we’ll just find it happening around us. If it’s a bad thing and it’s already invested, money and power on the line, it’s much harder to roll something back.
distributed real time voting. Infrastructurally it’s hard.
What are we saying here? What have we made? Have we made the most democratic network in the world, or have we just reduced law and government to the level of a talent show?
What if surveillance was the government? What would that nation feel like? Would it work? For most people, for most of the time, it would probably be great. But it would have a capacity for monstrousness. And there’d be, inevitably, these opaque places where something could go so very wrong.
‘In this environment, there’s simply no such thing as privacy any more. Every action is visible to the System, and it can call you in, demand an accounting. In the midst of a perfect world, where power is in a way truly held by the people and government has almost entirely gone away, there’s a thin strand of horror, of interrogation machines mandated by the majority and algorithms that see everything you do and want to know why you did it, that understand your actions according to an actuarial chart and analyse you as an aspect of behavioural economics. The system applies numbers and probabilities to your life and knows what you will do, what you might do, even what you would-do-if-only, before it has ever occurred to you. Perhaps you have a latent streak of revolution in consequence of your unhappy upbringing. One day you do something that has just a hint of that rebellion in it – so then you’re brought in and adjusted to make you better before you can break the rules. And in the centre of this maze: a monster.’
More doors, more rooms, all that rather ugly modern rental beige that estate agents seem to believe is ‘neutral’ but which to me bespeaks an absence of humanity and the presence of a lifestyle photographer.
I wondered whether, if I spent long enough with it, the machine would distil the essence of my work out of me the way I had never quite managed for myself. And if it could, was that a perfect artistic tool or the violent intervention of technology into my most human heart? How would I feel if it worked, and the machine’s version of my work was better than mine?
spectrum as an arbitrary designation
Paint, I realised, had a secret history bound to language and thought, and as I began to read about it, I understood that it was among other things my history, because woven through it was the strange journey of the different colours that are called black.
The old northern Europeans had swart and blaek: the wicked and elf-filled matte black, and the fertile luminosity of a darkness that filled the night with shapes and benign magic. Likewise the Romans had ater and niger, and that first word now forgotten is the root of ‘atrocious’, while the other, originally the same happy, effulgent black the Teutons knew, bequeaths us our modern ‘Negro’ and its associated racial slurs, as well as the country of Nigeria.
White – wite and blank or albus and candidus – could be just as dangerous as black, or just as godly, in the ancient world: a leprous sickness or a guide in the storm. The Christian Bible must carry some blame for the slow shift to a more binary view of black and white, unequivocal as it is about the role of light in the Creation and the place of darkness in sin – but so too must the entrenchment of profit as a new god, for black was the colour of working men, where white was for the nobility.
but was there a sense of a brightness in ጥቁር, or a sickly flavour to ነጭ?
Perhaps the work would be done better in ten years, after I had unravelled more of this fascinating digression – but art is never pure and commerce, like mortality, is uncompromising in its adherence to schedules.
Spine. This was a box in an attic somewhere (‘Actually it’s an old nuclear shelter in Belsize Park’)
“We’re trialling microbial cloud analysis. The sensor in the dongle is actually patterned after canine nasal cells, which always sounds a little bit weird.’ Yes. To these silicon children, biology is outré. ‘Anyway: everyone has a distinct collection of biomass on and around the skin. Recognition is about ninety-six per cent accurate, so not perfect, but it’s incredibly hard to fake. For full-access login, we have predictive neural modelling and response.’
‘Loyalty-based access. It’s the automation of the merger of a religion of the state with corporate power in the form of information.’
“‘Five requirements. It’s like putting ingredients in a cauldron for a magic spell. A significant object, your name, a secret word, your body. Then eventually, connectome: your soul.’
‘Your mind,’ Colson growled.
‘Magic,’ Annie reminded him.”
There’s nothing better in the professional life of an artist than the moment of seeing one’s work kindle in someone that look of enlightened obsession
Annie’s world was one derived from a heedless benignancy that based its assumptions on fine ideas rather than messy truths, and in the process birthed not a Utopia but a kind of great Procrustean bed on which the whole of Britain must lie.
I imagined that we might lose the vote, despite the obvious absurdity of that outcome, and from there I conjured a Europe made weak by division in the face of predatory Russia, and limping along just offshore, a Great Britain buckling under rising debt and the asinine policies of a Conservative administration hostage to its more ridiculous fantasists. I pictured a rising authoritarianism on both the Left and the Right, and internationally a flagging centrist instinct struggling to find a voice that could not be shouted down.
What if, I asked myself, the great liberal project that was the underpinning of all British political parties was truly not stuttering but collapsing under the weight of its own Victorian contradictions?
It’s not a nightmare, it’s a truth. It already exists in the overlap of our technologies and our fears. It only needs the right flow of events for us to act the dream and make it real.
when something is physically possible in this new age, it gets done sooner rather than later.
It must have been a profoundly nervous existence, to be Solomon Kedir or one of those other ministers, but I think that what it did to us who had no such prominence, was more terrible, if more diffuse. We lived in the Panopticon, and Bentham was entirely wrong about how it works. The watchers, watching one another, became increasingly desperate and paranoid lest they miss something, while we, constantly observed, became almost exhibitionistic of our sins. We flaunted them and dared our master to take offence at our juvenile conspiracies and excesses of the flesh. One way and another, we were frantic with designs. The Emperor should have taken counsel from those founding fathers of America, who knew that the sacrifice of freedom for security is a devil’s compact.
What actually happened that night, I still do not honestly know. I should call it hallucination – except that, later, I had cause to believe it had a large component either of truth or of something else whose untruthfulness did not hinder its power to work upon the world.
The words were unclear, as if from a radio tuned improperly to the station, and the greater part of what was said escaped me in a river of noise: FA LA JI RO JI JA. All the same, it came to me perfectly that my correspondent was the extranoematic masque of the great Anaximander of Miletos, now part of a galactic consciousness and here imparting to me the knowledge that the true reality is a series of five concentric branes or skeins, arranged as spheres, the inner kernel of which is wrapped tightly around the uttermost crystalline circumference in such a manner as to defy Newtonian physics.
Out of Ethiopia would come an art that demanded a new mode of perception to be understood: the mind of the viewer would not only be changed by the work itself but would undergo willing modification simply in order to appreciate that work on its own terms. To reach the new world I would express, my audience would have to make a commitment, to cross a small but significant Rubicon of the self and meet me halfway.
Each piece was composed of five separate canvases, and to see the whole work one must look at them in whatever order and hold in the mind the impression and image of each. To look at a single one alone, or to look at all of them as if they were a panorama, was to misunderstand. The work did not – could not – exist in paint: it existed in the mind as a conjunction, and all five parts must be apprehended at once. Part of the experience was the stretching of the mind, the tearing and repairing of the remembered images.
To hear the fearmongers these days, you’d think a human mind was as easily shaped as water, but in my experience the business of changing perception is more like carrying a donkey up a hill. If I did it just a few times, amid all that passion and noise and paint, perhaps I did not do so badly, indeed.
Clotho at her work, lifting a boy from a stark, Italian Futurist coffin that might have been the headquarters of an international bank; a great crowd of identical women laying siege to a white stone castle; a dead man lying murdered in the street of a city whose new architecture sprouts cancerous and optical from homely London redbricks; a nest of wires becoming roots becoming roads, penetrating the sleeping skull of a goddess; a lonely detective pursuing or fleeing a killer along a film noir alleyway whose shadows were cast not by dressed neo-Gothic stone but by the steel and glass of tomorrow’s skid row.
Little by little, over the map of London, our new territory grew, dipping in and out of what was there and becoming something that was no longer grafted on but supporting and penetrating, so that our illusion became the substrate upon which the old city sustained itself and without which it would wither and die. The infection became the host.
There was a subclass of gamers, Annie said, who existed as ludic spelunkers, interested only in going where no digital foot had gone before, and they would abandon the main history and work their way through every subsidiary tunnel and hidden door and find whatever we left. Let two disparate characters be reading the same book, she said, or let their homes have the same plan, and no sooner was the game released than there would sprout a jungle of secondary interpretations to make villains of heroes and saints of monsters. Woven about the spine of events, there must be truths and implications, revealed in asides and recurrent symbols. They would make meaning out of everything.
I wasn’t connected very strongly with the world of games. I had an Instagram account I used to show details of my new work to the hundred or so people who were interested, mostly friends. I was not on Facebook because I loathed the interface – I’d become a digital snob in tandem with becoming digitally aware. Good grief but Facebook riled me, laid out like the want ads of a local paper and glaringly white, the algorithm stifling news from outside one’s bubble and pressing inappropriate sponsored content like a man on a street corner with a collection of flyers for his new-minted religion. I was exploring Twitter and finding it by turns enlightening and infuriating: a close encounter with wit and scholarship and the joy of living that could drop away beneath one’s feet into a sea of sheer pointless nastiness – though it had never happened to me, beyond a few low-level encounters with bored children sniping at an old man.
That skinheaded nationalism which for years had not dared to raise its voice for shame was now unbound. The contempt and anger seemed to become more intense the further back Britain looked along the route of refugees fleeing massacres and famine in places so much less civilised than here.
I found that I had in yet another way misunderstood myself in age. I had imagined that the hot blood of youth was now cooled and quiescent, but it transpired to be otherwise. I had not controlled my anger, I had simply misplaced it between the election of Margaret Thatcher and the rediscovery of my art, and where it had been there was a deep, damp pool of head-shaking and sorrow which now dried as if left to sit beneath an Ethiopian sun, becoming over the course of days a crucible of white-hot coal. I was no longer prepared to sit idle – and idle was how I perceived myself, idle and ignorant and lazy.
“‘So, like Foursquare,’ my interviewer said, with the doubt of a young person looking at an old man in front of a computer.
‘Exactly like that,’ I said, ‘except that our users will record incidences of hate. We’ll be working initially to produce a live map – like a traffic congestion map – of more and less racist areas, safe routes home, institutionally racist police forces and local authorities, local populations. We’ll have a star rating system and so on. Eventually I want to roll out iterations for anyone who is not part of the obvious privileged class – for women, for trans people, for people of colour, for the blind and the deaf and so on so that we can map prejudice and racism intersectionally – but one must start somewhere, so I’m calling version one Walking Whilst Black.”
Available to download next month. About a month after that, we’ll publish our first report into the reality of Britain’s hate at a street level. We’ll be able to tell you who are the most stupid, ignorant, bigoted people in the country to an accuracy of a few metres.’
Time has broken a little bit all around us.
Movement is the inexperienced dreamer’s first mistake. The action of engaging the body banishes memory of the dreamstate from the mind. Too much chatter will do the same.
Berihun Bekele painted a five-panel picture that was to all intents and purposes the Chamber of Isis, linking the two internal fictions. Annie Bekele’s company was called Fire Judges, which ties Hunter directly to Lönnrot. The company mainframe was called the Spine, like Firespine, the name the Witness itself pulled from the interrogation. The notional game project that is an unflattering portrait of the Witness and the System had an alternative name: ‘Gnomon’. Like Firespine, Gnomon was a sort of demon to Athenais. Kyriakos bought a painting of his shark titled with the same word.
“The case name originally generated for the Hunter interview was TORTILOQUY, meaning crooked speech or deception. It was rejected because the word was selected earlier this year in conjunction with an ongoing trafficking investigation. The duplication is unusual but not statistically significant. GNOMON was substituted automatically.
However, there are half a million words in the English language and an extensive vocabulary includes perhaps thirty-five thousand of them, meaning that there are more unusual words in English than commonplace ones by a factor of fourteen. In fact, ‘gnomon’ is common in several specialist areas, meaning that its selection by Hunter is within the bounds of ordinary behaviour. The practical taxonomy in use within linguistics is more complex, but for the sake of argument: if one were grading rarity on a scale of one to five, it would be a three. ‘Xyster’ and ‘mollag’ would be fours, ‘Brummagem’ a five.
The machine is so affectless as to appear droll.
the term used in seventeenth century musical scoring to denote a fugue of the sort not generally appreciated purely for its tonal qualities but rather, by those with a close understanding of the cultural significance of what was known contemporarily as ‘learned counterpoint’, for its artifice and deft accomplishment. Involuted puzzles were frequently included within the music; in one famous case the composer J. S. Bach titled a ricercar ‘Regis Iussu Cantio et Reliqua Canonica Arte Resoluta’ – which means ‘the theme given by the King’s command, with additions, resolved according to the canonic style’, but is obviously a self-describing acrostic. Within the work were several biblical references injuncting the listener to ‘seek’. The original meaning of ‘ricercare’ being ‘to seek’, this quest was a precondition of discovering the references.
This raises a tangential point: the modern period’s obsession with art that comments upon its own artificiality and undermines its inherited gravitas by commentary is itself undermined by that inheritance.
the Deep Blue Question: if one seeks with sufficient ingenuity in any sample, one can create a cryptographic rationale for any output text – therefore in any investigation the key problem is not how to begin, but where to stop.
the first time they put an escapologist in a tank of water, he or she will have one of two reactions, and which one determines the course of their life.
That I am awake at all tells me something. I should be unconscious while they probe my mind and mess around with my private interior. Not that they acknowledge privacy as a concept any more. The European Union had it as a baseline right, once upon a time, but the American perception was that free speech was infinitely more important in every case. All this technology flowed in its earliest days from America. With it came the political and social assumptions of a small number of engineers and entrepreneurs, predominantly male and white. This unexamined muddle of privileged anarchism and academic idealism. Security of the person was one thing – and safeguarded by the right to bear arms and the prohibition on unreasonable search – but ownership of one’s own data-wake was dangerous and antisocial. ‘Free’ came to mean not ‘unchained’ but ‘unpaid’ – a conflation that no doubt delighted authoritarians across the globe.
No one beats the machine, not in the end. People have tried and failed – psychologists, psychometricians, psychopaths; mentalists and hypnotists, experts in deception, spies and spymasters, even schizophrenics and paranoids. The only person who came close was a madwoman. That was what the paperwork said: a mind turned inward upon itself, bouncing off its interior walls. Too much information in too wild a flow between the hemispheres of the brain. Radical intervention was prescribed – and in the end she was wide open to the machine, as if it had sliced her head into pages and turned the leaves on her spine.
No, once you’re in the chamber, there are no walls you can build that are high enough to keep the machine out. If necessary it becomes your substrate, carries the burden of beating your heart and filling your lungs. The machine will kill you and keep you alive while it fixes you. That’s the way it is.
“Still, for the sake of argument, what if I think it can? What if I have cobbled together my odd little list of skills and built a rickety, ad hoc notion, the sort of plan that no one could foresee because you’d have to be desperate to come up with it and insane to believe it could be done?
It’s absurd to consider. The Witness is not some cartoonish lair of wickedness with a big red button on a pedestal marked DO NOT PUSH. It is a network, infinitely nested and protected, millions of lines of code resting on millions of lines of code, the ecosystem of interrogation and surveillance almost perfectly adapted to absorb what is wanted and keep out what is not. There is no way anyone could devise a defence, any more than you can wave off an army or a neutron bomb.
But what if I have?”
Neural good practice aside: that ability to be more than one thing at one time means I can hide across my brain, arranged as it were at right angles to the rest of me. In essence, I’m steganographically hidden in my own thoughts. I’ve torn myself apart in order to remain whole. If they want to know what I know, they’ll have to put me back together first.
“Or perhaps that’s normal. It’s not inconceivable that making up a secret persona is a psychological defence mechanism, the way we deal with the helplessness of an interrogation determined to uncover truths that do not exist. So perhaps I really am an ordinary woman in a coma dreaming I’m a remarkable woman somehow fighting the Man. Just ordinary me, ordinary …
Oh. I’ve forgotten my name.”
My interrogators are frustrated, because so far they are not getting the information that they want. They’re not getting my life, my secret inner self all fraught with rage against the machine. They’re getting the lives of Constantine Kyriakos, Athenais Karthagonensis and Berihun Bekele. They don’t like that, and they don’t know why it is happening, which they like even less. They’re keeping the non-native narrative feeds open – that’s what they’re calling my characters – each on a whole screen all its own, so that they can play them over and over again. What do they mean? If I could see right now through my eyes, I’d see them looking down at me, the ghost soldiers buried in my brain, fighting to keep the real me alive.
Don’t let the question slip away. Don’t dismiss it. Questions that trouble the mind are the only ones worth considering. Think about it.
Neith has in general very little time for identity tourism, and regards the occasional attempts to make a commercial venture of experiencing the high points of another person’s life with distaste.
Three mirages laid on top of one another so that the dismissal of the first becomes the gateway of the second, and so on and on, deeper and down. This recording is a sinking sand of the mind.
It is a breathtaking defence. The architect of this barrier did not attempt to harden the mind against inquiry, did not build some brittle wall to keep the Witness out, but accepted the stricture of intrusion and created a defence in depth – not a shield, but a drowning. It is not accidental, not some caprice of bad drug reactions or paradoxical psychology.
Confound the Witness, yes, very well – but to what end?
it is a very unsettling existential challenge. If the interrogation killed her because she would not reveal her mind, and it cannot be proven that what was in that mind was genuinely of importance to the security of the nation, then what does that mean? The System trades in certainty and by that token in the guarantee of fairness and security. If the certainty is gone, the other two are suspect. Does the legitimacy of the System withstand it? Or does the action of maintaining that it can, hollow it out?
Living in an environment of almost total surveillance, Keene nonetheless contrives to be opaque. It is as if she has withdrawn her human self entirely inside her own head, so that all of her that leaks into the external world is uniformly bland.
Relevance is elastic.
STEGANOGRAPHY, CRYPTOGRAPHY, APOCATASTASIS and CATABASIS
a piece of work is recorded and attributed to a man by that name. Is there such a thing as ghost art?
QUID IPSA ACTUALIS FORNICATIO GERITUR?
I’ve spent a certain amount of time thinking about this recently, and I have concluded that a doctor who attends the victim of a torture chamber and does not object to the torture is a wanker. More than that, he or she has no intellectual or ethical integrity. There’s only one fundamental human right, and that is the right to security of person, be it physical or mental. Everything else is contingent on the level of society in which you exist – food, shelter, broadband digital access: all these come later. The only right that cannot be debated – if you acknowledge any kind of right at all – is the one that asserts a boundary at the skin, and says that anything within its boundary is the business of that person and no one else.
Universe’ is a very big word. There’s too much of it to hold in my head, in my mouth. I have to let it out, and I am speaking, but I am speaking the language of God, a long line of syllables I cannot choke back. Prophecy, or indelible, ineluctable truth: FA LA GA PA NA MA DA DI DO NO SHO MO ME MY THY LO FA FO FA FA FO GO GI GI GO. It is a spell, it is alchemy and it will transform the world. It is the apocatastasis, and it brings darkness to everything, brings Erebus to the land of men and sharks swim in it and in my blood and I am thousands and I am FA LA FA RO JO JI JO.
There’s an English expression ‘gone for a burton’ which means something has fallen over and broken, or been dropped. No one knows why it means that. The expression just appears in the middle of the twentieth century. It’s never explained. No one knows why it’s suddenly on everyone’s lips. There’s no Usage Zero, no Elbridge Gerry. One day it’s meaningless, the next it’s in the dictionary. And you mostly don’t hear it any more: like ‘copacetic’ and ‘runcible’, it exists only because we say it does, for as long as we say it does. Like Burton itself.
“Then we were required to follow two separate streams of numbers, and then we learned to count using other senses: touch, taste, scent and even balance. What does 55 feel like? How does it smell? I know the answers, but you wouldn’t begin to understand them.
When we could keep track of five sets of numbers all at once, we did the really extreme stuff: waking-state lucid dreaming and elective multiple identity architecture: IEDs for the mind. We lived symbols, puzzles, philosophical loops and psychological paradoxes. We learned that to lie to a machine, you don’t need to be a perfect liar: rather, you need only believe that everything is a lie. If the world is not real, if everything we see is a simulation or a game, then the fictions we append to it are no different from the ones which come to us through our senses. And it is true: the odds, overwhelmingly, tell us that we exist inside a computer. Any universe that can support technological life probably will, given enough time. Any technological civilisation will develop modelling, and will in a comparatively insignificant span be able to model everything a planet-bound species could expect to encounter. That being the case, the simulation will rapidly reach the point where it contains simulated computers with the ability to simulate likewise everything a planet-bound species could expect to encounter, and so on and so on in an infinite regress limited only by computing power.”
“The odds, therefore, are negligible that we live in the origin universe, and considerable that we are quite a few steps down the layers of reality. Everything you know, everything you have ever seen or experienced, is probably not what it appears to be. The most alarming notion is that someone – or everyone – you know might be an avatar of someone a level up: they might know that you’re a game piece, that you’re invented and they are real. Perhaps that explains your sense of unfulfilled potential: you truly are incomplete, a semi-autonomous reflection of something vast. And yet, if so, what does that say about those vast ones beyond? Are they just replicating a truth they secretly recognise about themselves? Russian dolls, one inside the other, until the smallest doll embraces the outermost and everything begins again? Who really inhabits whom, and who is in control?
None of this is as it appears.”
And all the while you had to maintain not one but three cover stories, never mix them, never let one single true statement about yourself pass your lips, not even things that were self-evident such as eye colour or skin tone or how many people were in the room or how many fingers an instructor was holding up.
But we are all changed, all the time, by each passing instant of our days. The woman who wakes tomorrow is not the woman who woke yesterday, for all that there is a line of consequence between them. They are separated from one another by event.
‘Marcus? Harmless idiot. Well, not entirely harmless: he’s trying to achieve alarm and affray. It’s a political engagement, allegedly. The intention is to jolt you out of established patterns of thought, to change the way your mind processes information and force you to examine it more closely. Specifically to point up the differences between machine-based semiotic analysis and human parsing and responses.’ She snorts. ‘Which, I have to say, he definitely achieved on the stairs. In both your case and his – I doubt it’s ever occurred to him that his own thought is as circumscribed as anyone else’s. The proximate excuse at the moment is the Monitoring Bill – although I’ve noticed that dressing up seems to be the chosen answer to a lot of different questions.’
it’s a fad. They noticed that the System tags cultural references in your dress, and after they’d played with it for a while they discovered that there’s a narrow band of uncertainty where you can dress as – well, as Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator, for example – and the System will miss one tier of reference and draw the wrong conclusions. So what they do now is try to find enormously offensive things they can dress up as which they can then shade into something humans read as utterly benign but which still gets red-flagged by the System, demonstrating that machine parsing is imperfect. Well, everyone knows that, so it’s perhaps redundant, although the reminders can be somewhat spectacular. I encourage it, of course.’
Note to self: hypervigilance may narrow the fuzzy range even further. Paranoia, of course, closes it altogether.
‘Could you codify a person as text? Put them into a book?’
Imagine you let some clever mechanic loose in a workshop with a brief to build a sewing machine out of spare parts, and when he was done you said he had to build a clock, and he had to build it out of the sewing machine and whatever additional bits he needed, but it still had to be a sewing machine even while it was a clock, and when he managed that you said you wanted an oven and a water pump and a milking machine too, and they all had to come out of the clock or the sewing machine and everything had to work. Yes? So then imagine you did that for ten thousand years until you had a whole city of interconnected machines and the original sewing machine was still in there, humming away, and then someone came along and said they wanted to pack all that into a clutch purse. Into a thimble!
Poetry is a shotgun aimed at our shared experience, hoping to hit enough of the target that we all infer a great bulk of information conveyed as implication and metaphor in an approximately similar way. Making a unity between poet and reader
I do not like it, I love it. I love it for its cheap trashiness, its wicked women and its unrepentantly vivid sex. I love the violence, the moral turpitude, and the absoluteness of right and wrong in a universe that pretends to be shaded with grey. I love its clear signing and rich cast of archetypes and markers. Pulp is the vector for Eco, the cloak of Chandler, the soft pillow of Virginia Woolf, the birth caul of Cold Comfort Farm, the fairy godmother of Doris Lessing and William Gibson. Pulp is the key to open the doors not only of Freud and Jung, but even of Barthes, who stole everything from Calvino anyway but let us not go down that road for fear we shalln’t return this night.
The journey of a thousand miles does not begin with a single step; it is one step. Humanity exists in a unitary urban sprawl whose laws may vary and whose travel infrastructure may take more or less time in conventional space to connect any given part with any other, but in these fictions there is no such difficulty and the conceptual truth becomes the practical.
In the apparent reality I experience, as surveillance breaches the walls of the mind itself, identity takes flight and seeks to exist across physical locations. If this cannot be done in actuality, it is done symbolically and psychologically. We locate ourselves outside our bodies, in speech, on screens, and in art, becoming more than single loci which can be constrained: finding escape in dissolution into a suspension from which we precipitate at each point of conscious interaction with others, just as we are told that matter itself may exist only at the point of collision.
We avoid the transmissible psychopathy of deindividuation only by accepting a redefinition of individuality.
As government takes steps to control the inside of our heads, freedom reaches to a future where even physical reality is not legislated; where what is written in stone is no more fixed than dreams or water. To escape a fascism that has become internal, we embrace an external world that is ultimately fluid and where the tyranny of the real itself is moot.
We become one another. Ink on paper is the frozen matter of a person, a snapshot of selfhood in fungal spores waiting to be quickened in our borrowed mentation, thought shaping itself in us, of us, to emerge from us. If all cities are one city, does that not also imply that all persons are one person? And if so, who?’
Information so densely specific that it becomes poetic and allusory. Obfuscation as indoctrination.
Someone is always lying. Someone is always telling the truth. Sometimes these things are being done at the same time by the same person.
Simulation claiming authenticity over other simulations
The Chamber of Isis is not so much a place as it is a circumstance.
If I was doing this, I’d anticipate that and I’d manage things so that the act of looking would trigger the creation of more narrative. The observer’s scrutiny is the inception point, so as long as the interrogation continues, the story does too. A kind of feedback loop producing a functional infinity: wherever you look, there’s more. Practice would do it, like learning to know you’re dreaming. The really clever part is that over time the interrogation would reinforce the neuroplastic architecture rather than breaking it down. Exhausting, though.’
‘It’s not quite what I mean. I’d raise the level of coincidence. You’d keep bumping into the same people until it was just absurd. The goal is to collapse the narratives all back to the origin, the real person. The flaw in her construction is the one that has to be there – they all must ultimately revolve around a single point, which is her. Can’t escape your own head. The conjunction, the Chamber, the Alkahest … is the solution. She’s telling us how to win and then making it almost impossible to act on the information. Perhaps if the narratives become implausible in their own terms, that gets harder to resist – which is why they are all on some level fantastical. Magical thinking allows her an elasticity which neo-realism would not. In the end, the conjunction only occurs if she wants it to or if she can’t stand the alternative.”
“She’s torn herself apart: she wants to come back together! And composition is collision, synthetic as much as original. Authors are accretors. So you’d have to prod it along, keep it yours. Hope to get inside her design and appropriate it before your design is itself appropriated.’
‘Yes. A counter-narrative. It might already be in there.’”
They are not only camouflage, they are information. The human eye – the human mind – sees relationships, not objects. A lizard on a branch is a leaf until it moves.
‘So where are we in the pattern?’
one of those deceptively boring backwaters of government where power begins as the consequence of a willingness to take on jobs that are necessary but unglamorous, and thereafter accumulates because they’re already doing so much and doing it tolerably well. It is not technically part of the state, but is a chartered and contracted non-governmental actor, CCNGAs having replaced the infamous QUANGOs and PPPs of long ago and far away.
Like the Worshipful Company of Fan Makers, who took to their bosom the engineers of jet engines, they have adapted and evolved from upstart to powerhouse and now are infrastructure, no more noticed and no less vital to the apparatus of administration than electricity, or indeed than the fibre-optic cable they maintain.
“THE UNIVERSE HAS cancer.
It has one tiny, appallingly deadly tumour which cannot be excised. In the future, the tumour will expand and it will eat into the universe until there is nothing left, and then the cancer will be the universe, but we won’t be in it. We’ll be dead, and in fact we’ll never have existed at all, because the cancer will have swallowed time and unravelled it and nothing which has ever happened in this universe will exist anymore, not even as history.”
“Fuck the next universe. Just fuck it. I don’t like it and I’m going to kill it.
I am going to kill it, and I am going to hollow it out and we are all going to live inside its corpse like a hermit crab in a shell, and I’m going to do the same to the one after that, and the one after that, and so on for ever and ever, and that makes me some sort of monster but I don’t care.
I am Gnomon, occasionally called the Eschatogenesist, or sometimes the Desperation Protocol. Come with me if you want to live.”
“It’s the future. Deal with it.
Actually, as far as I’m concerned, it’s just the present, and everything I am talking about here is normal, but to your tiny, bounded and distressingly localised self my society no doubt seems like a fantasy. The seeds of it are all around you, but you’re desperate to avoid noticing them. You live in the foundation stones of a city of boundless spires, but you turn your face to the dust.”
Meaning is being made in the saccades and the interstitial spaces you ignore.
Go is the only game that survives futurity, because it is art as much as war.
The ingenuity of the human mind is one of the qualities we most relish in ourselves, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that we achieved new crimes as we evolved. As our technological progress first made us long-lived and then painted us in various stripes of post-mortality, so we found new ways to outrage one another and in consequence new ways to be punished
wetjacking, or more formally in books of law ‘disconnection with intent to subsume’.
Several of modern history’s more ruthless and violent crooks have been scapegoats who somehow eluded capture and then took over someone else’s life, vanishing from society until they were ready to do something truly appalling. We’re mostly past that point now, and it’s hard to define criminality or wrongdoing in a setting where conventional human living is a pastime rather than a necessity, a sort of ongoing theatrical production in which whole populations of humans engage, but to the extent these considerations still apply, it’s one of our greatest dilemmas: what to do with those who don’t fit into the most inclusive environment of which humanity is capable?
the Last House.
Until genius, strangeness, community and criminality combined in a remarkable gesture, and the whole place unified its many identities in an unprecedented melding, the assorted bad and good voluntarily surrendering the distinction between themselves to create a single mind of unheralded capacity in furtherance of a project so vast and arrogant that even persons whose physical shapes were spread across the empty night between stars, and whose perception encompassed atoms and aeons with equal facility, were beggared and appalled by its scope.
Z might be an actual alien, or a machine intelligence that has crossed Recursion Gap and become truly alive. There’s something about it that goes beyond the inherent oddness of being an autophagous planetary consciousness and touches another level of wrongness, something that invokes a deep, skittering fear of the dark. Zagreus is definitely not your average bear.
The name comes from the Ionian word zagre, meaning a pit for the capture of live prey. The original Zagreus was eaten by Titans and his heart, gestating in a mortal woman, became the god of wine and madness. It is safe to assume that mothers do not generally call their children ‘Zagreus’. That’s something you do to yourself, if you want to advertise your terrible socialisation to your peers.
it still shares its identity, its unconscious, across all its instances, but not all of them have access to each other’s immediate thoughts. It’s gone as far towards calving as it can and then arrested the process so that it can enjoy its own company, talk to itself without consciously knowing what it’s going to say next. Seduce itself. Murder itself. That’s just Z. This is something more sophisticated, more bizarre. It feels dopplered, as if it’s coming and going at the same time, compressing as it speaks and then etiolating as it listens. No. Not that. Yes, that exactly.
“What do you want?’
Solutions, Z says, moth wing lips against my ear. Universal solutions, time-like threads and Universal Solvent. Tears of Panacea. Doors and wheels.
‘Speak English or I’m going home.’
I have a door. Inside, outside, living la vida loca. Not loca at all. Tempora. Atempora.
‘Tempora?’ You can’t be serious.
Shall I show you?”
“Remember the future you were told existed when you were a child, the one with suburbs in orbit and a rocketship in every garage. Then picture the next future after that, and the next and the next until at last you come to a blue drifting infinity where children dabble their toes in the outer layers of suns and artists work in the medium of worlds. It is the endless playground of human life in which no possibility is unexpressed. Some choose to be like gods, others like creatures from storybooks, and some are just people, albeit indestructible by any common measure, and no one is sad.
And now ask yourself what would happen when the children in that playground came of age and realised that they were still finite, still bounded by the final ending of things. Et in Arcadia ego.
They went mad.
And then one day they went sane again, and carried on as if nothing had happened. They stopped talking about it, and they seemed quite content. I’m honestly not sure which of those moments was more appalling.”
“But on the edge of everything there was a house, and in that house lived all the lost, forlorn, too-strange flotsam of that broken perfect world, and the people there – emancipated criminal selves, poets and upcyclers, dreamers and recidivists – they simply could not forget. By accident, they ended up the knowers of a secret truth in plain sight, which no one else would acknowledge.
They knew about endings, and they were afraid. And they chose to do something about it.”
I walk towards the frame that Zagreus called the Chamber of Isis. In the heart of it is something odd that resists my eyes. White light, black shadow, but all in the wrong places, as if they’ve forgotten their roles
“You must kill the banker, the alchemist, the artist and the librarian.
I think it was ‘librarian’. It might have been ‘hunter’. These were not words but coordinates, complex signs with a meaning of identity, location and time.”
Water is as near a universal solvent as you’re likely to find, and odd. It is at its most dense four degrees above its freezing point, which is why ice floats. It exhibits curious behaviours in its tiniest fragments and is the basis of organic human life.
I’ve never been comfortable with looping as a strategy, because it seems to me that when the whole field in which the loop exists is erased, so the loop goes, too. You might argue that since the loop never actually touches the point at which that happens, it never ceases to exist – but experimentally speaking you can’t prove that unless you can step outside the whole process, and whether you can do that is the point of the experiment, creating another and more unwelcome sort of loop. In the abstract, I’m not impressed with this questionable permanence. However, I find it’s much easier to maintain that lofty perspective before someone actually presents you with a time machine on a plate.
Imagine a perfectly elegant machine parting your skull and unwrapping the precious involutions of your brain into individual strands so that they can be cleaned and washed and healed, and reassembled exactly as they are.
Did Gnomon do that to make room for itself? Is that its tunnel through time? Through my music? Maybe it was that or the part of me that makes my heart beat. There’s not a lot of room left in here. They think it was a stroke, but in many ways it wasn’t, it was just what happens when your brain runs out of space. I’ve been shunting too much stuff around; the lower levels are supposed to keep the body working but I think I may have overwritten them a bit.
What is Gnomon for, anyway? What was the point of such a blunt object in all this? It’s in everything, tendrils and fingers, so that it looks as if it was there all along but somehow it’s new, drawn out and made to look as if it’s part of the package. Did I improvise it? Why?
They may not be talking to one another, but they are communicating in open searches. Tacit permissions of mutual examination: the subtle body language of a disembodied society.
The other recognisable traits of dreams are more difficult to separate from waking life. The endless re-encountering of the same people, for example, and the echoing restatement of the same conversations, to the point where it seems that only a few humans actually inhabit the earth and all the other billions exist simply as shades and mannequins, is also an experience common to both post-industrial society and the worldview of sociopaths.
The counter-narrative is unexpected. It is the only story of the future, the only one which by definition cannot be historically true. It represents itself as a human mind composed of other minds, cannibalistic and osmotic.
Obliquity: hiding intent by approaching from an unusual angle. Occultation: concealment by blocking the view, like an eclipse. Steganography: concealing a signal in noise. Encryption: rendering something incomprehensible unless you have the key.
The information becomes part of the public record, but is not freely accessible. As with other sorts of restricted knowledge, anyone may apply for permission to review it, but must provide a quorum of voters with a sufficient reason for their interest. Permission is not normally withheld except in cases of simple prurience.
Diana Hunter was interrogated for 261 hours.
Narrow focus is a bad habit; crime does not operate in isolation from the wider world.
Catabasis for the Masses.
London has always rested on a honeycomb of passages and voids, and each iteration of the capital seems to need more space beneath the earth. Even as other cities reach skyward or outward, London burrows down into the dark.
Of the various ways to operate your biology according to your conscious desires she has learned here and there, one of the most useful is the knowledge that it is physiologically difficult if not impossible to vomit while humming.
– The mystical journey of Orpheus into the kingdom of Hades, and by extension any voyage into darkness. Greek, kata: against, down; basis: the place on which you stand. Literally, a pedestal. Therefore ‘catabasis’, a journey down beneath the place where we stand.
If the Witness is so compromised, to whom should she report? In theory, yes: to the people directly – but short of standing on a box at Speaker’s Corner and shouting with all the other prophets, how should she reach them if not through the System? The Public Sphere itself gets news through the same machine that watches and records.
The Witness is compromised to a significant degree, and therefore by definition also the System as a whole, the two being inseparable. If the machine is not an honest broker then the System is – for the time being and to a greater or lesser extent – not a perfect state at all, but a perfect prison: a Panopticon in which the condemned must assume they are watched at all times and in all places, and act in line with the will of an arbitrary power. That power may counterfeit the action of justice in most cases, but justice incomplete is not justice, it is the anticipation of wrong. The System has as many eyes as it needs, and the Witness does not blink. It is distributed, intimate, internalised and perfect.
Who are they all, these people with their strange, unworldly concerns? Was the business of living not complicated enough?
The Squid is liminally legal: where on the margin it falls depends on how it is deployed. Its ostensible use is to shield citizens from the unwanted attentions of unrestrained American and Asian robot advertisers, which would otherwise harvest data from their personal lives through every available aperture and then deluge them with information about alternative products every time they view or purchase anything on the international network. For this reason, most people now use a System filter portal to access the rest of the world, but a robust minority like their access to reflect the external experience, the better to understand the people of foreign lands – hence the Squid.
She calls up the inventory file from the Hunter house, and drops the brands, styles, shoe sizes and colour combinations into a commercial customer profiling program, then uses a cranky but effective trend-reversing algorithm from the Victoria & Albert Museum, which reliably tells you, based on a sample of your life now, what clothes you would have been wearing in any given decade.
“‘Hunter evidently believed she had a method for subverting the interrogation process, and possibly more. I need to rule that out as a matter of urgency.’
– The System can assess any specific threat.
‘But you cannot, by definition, hypothesise an attack that would circumvent your own safeguards. Otherwise you would already have blocked it.’
– That is true.”
biological identity – not only your DNA but the mix of microbial organisms living on and in your body
‘I took an aggressive regimen of antibiotic, antiviral and anti-fungal drugs for one week in a clean room, and then cultivated the biome of a senior academic researcher in security at one of your universities on and in my body. I ate what he ate, drank what he drank. I stole water from his bath. It was fascinating, actually. I noticed a tangible alteration in my perceptions. We really are a composite organism inhabiting our entire bodies, not just a single homunculus seated in the skull.’
To beat the connectome lock, you must become the target – and if you do that, you will no longer want to beat the lock.
“The trouble is that with Gnomon in my head, and now with the crash dive, I’ve run out of places to put myself that aren’t either my central console or my autonomous survival systems, like breathing and regulating body temperature and so on: all the gubbins that happens in the brain at such a low level that we basically don’t really think about it. I’ve shunted myself into some part of the firmware, erasing what was there, and I honestly don’t know what it does.
Used to do.”
Whatever eventually happens here, I won’t be the same person I was. I think I knew that. I must have done. It was always obvious. And I find I’m … at least relatively happy with it, compared with sitting still while this world is stolen from its people by a new variation on absolutism.
Once, I saw a remarkable series of photographs which showed the different compositions of human tears. It had not ever occurred to me until that moment that tears of joy might be measurably different from tears of anger or sorrow, but they are. Cause matters. If you cry from slicing an onion, the structure of your tears resembles the undergrowth in a pine forest. Remembrance is a grid pattern
The word means that which is perpendicular to everything else, something that stands apart. It is the part of a sundial that casts a shadow – the thing that gives meaning to the clockface. It is that which, added to something, produces a new entity similar to the original. Is that a hint?
You’re never going to be the same person. No one is the same person from one day to the next, and an event like that will change you and that should be okay. But you will want continuity, and of course, it’s in the interest of the person you are now to reach out to that person and try to achieve some measure of continuance into them. Serial selfhood.
I trust. I trust that I had a plan. But I cannot imagine what it might have been. I mean, seriously: what possible positive outcome is there for me here? I cannot, in the long term, win this fight. Eventually they will either damage my brain so badly that I will die, either actually or effectively, or they will have what they want from me. Presumably, then, I contain a lie. In amid the many true things they will discover in this interrogation, they will find one lie which will hurt them. They will act upon it and in some way it will cause them trouble. I must have believed it would be worth it.
IT MAY SOUND absurd now, but walking through walls was the trick du jour in 1974, in Addis Ababa quite as much as in Boston or Madrid.
The capacity of our minds to effect direct change to the physical realm was a known truth only awaiting pro forma empirical confirmation, and no spoon was safe from the determined psychokinetic stares of mothers and postmen, rock stars and thieves. LSD and parapsychology were transforming our understanding of ourselves, unleashing capacities far beyond those conventionally attributed to mortal men – even if those capacities were more widely spoken of than observed.
My chapel perilous was a cell in Alem Bekagn, the infamous prison of Addis Ababa whose name means ‘farewell to the world’.
I was furious at the arrival in London of the vicious madnesses of leba shay and fatasha, the ancient and modern faces of the same coin that is in English called, so very benignly, stop and search.
His Imperial Majesty should be painted full-face at least once in the image. In traditional Ethiopian art, the unrighteous may be known by the fact that they cannot look the viewer in the eye but must turn away, shame reaching them even in so faint an echo as pigment. The Emperor being of the Solomonic line and the Elect of God, it followed that his portrait must know no such fear.
“‘And Turnpike is government?’
‘Up to a point, yes. It exists in the liminal ground between government and industry. A merger of state and corporate power.’”
“‘They don’t just want your company, they want what’s in your head. And yours,’ she added when Colson scowled.
‘Can they do that?’
‘No,’ Lindsey said, and then, ‘or rather, probably not. But they’re talking about bringing in all manner of anti-terror and national security legislation which hasn’t been used this way before. Some of it hasn’t been used at all. With the existing compulsory purchase law they can certainly compel you to give up the software if there’s a need. If you don’t comply, that becomes a much simpler matter for them in various ways. The rest is new.’
‘They can’t press-gang her, surely?’ I objected.
‘Oh, no. They can, however, declare all research around her work to be classified. If they choose to see the software as a weapon, say, then you’d need a permit from the MoD to continue to develop it. If you tried to leave the country while a case was ongoing they might construe that as flight with intent to reveal classified material. You could be interred in the national interest. That’s not imprisonment, by the way, and there’s no trial. It’s not clear how long they can maintain it, but they can freeze your bank accounts, both personal and corporate, and be very, very aggressive about unfreezing them. A few months is usually all it takes to destroy someone. There’s reputation damage to consider as well, of course. And officially unconnected troubles with authority which may suddenly appear to complicate things.’ She glanced at me.
‘What about afterwards? Assume that we win it all.’
‘Then you could seek redress. I imagine you might see a small payment sometime before Annie’s ninetieth birthday.’”
“‘So it’s not just a shell company.’
‘Oh, no. It’s a long-established administrative amanuensis. Dating from the seventeenth century again, actually. I imagine the connection is fairly direct: the state seeking to create and protect necessary infrastructure, sometimes against the wishes of fairly rowdy local landholders. The Civil War was something of a landmark moment in that discussion, I suppose: Magna Carta versus the divine right. The rights of the individual against the rights of supreme lordship. The former bounding the latter, and so on.’”
“The merger of state and corporate power: why is it important?’
Colson scowled as if both the question and the answer were part of some conspiracy of which he particularly disapproved. ‘It’s one of the basic victory conditions of Italian Fascism,’”
I screamed at myself, at my useless, ridiculous and empty posturing and my art. What possible virtue is there in painting, and most especially in painting inner vistas of futurity and madness, when madness is the common currency of everyone around? If I wanted to confound society in this place, I should colour my walls with the rich greens of fertile land and the evening sun. I should draw myself a window on a pastoral landscape.
‘It is known that the Enemy made peacocks to prove that he could create beauty as well as ugliness, but while he could make an elegant show he could not complete the work, and thus the voice of the peacock is like the screaming of a soul in Tartarus or the shriek of burning stone,’ the demon says. ‘Though it should be acknowledged that any bird, closely regarded, is nothing more than a crocodile in a pretty dress.’
‘You possess unlimited power, but finite knowledge. You do not know how to frame your assertions to achieve your ends; you do not know the nature of death, so you cannot readily undo it. What you command without certainty is not achieved. I possess the knowledge you lack. You might command me – but in doing so, the possibility of error is recursive. If you knew what to demand of me you would not require my help. Indeed, your risk is increased, as I seek to find ways to exact revenge for your domination.’
Go through the door. Hades is a puzzle box, a fivefold lock, and it requires a multitude of keys, keys of words and keys of blood and the flavour of your soul. Something you have, something you know, something you are, and these latter two must be proven twice, so that five proofs unlock the Pentemychos. Each layer of guardianship has its price: Cocytus, Styx, Lethe, Acheron and Phlegethon.
The Great Wheel by Empedocles. Pythagoras’ Treatise on the Naming of Mountains. Ennoia and Chokmah by Simon Magus.
Bahu’s Paradoxes: the earliest known mathematical work, listing problems derived from philosophical logic whose solutions alter the original values, and from these premises deducing or inducing the divine.
So now our modern friend has a choice: civilisation has abandoned him. Will he, then, cling to it? Or will he pick up a club, or a hammer, and go next door to do what must be done for his survival? Or will they both, like brothers, march upon the keep of the invader? The frame by which he understands the world is broken. He needs something new to judge his actions, to know what is right. Something new, or something old.
And it’s true that the way we see the world is riven through with untested, unverifiable assumptions about what it means to have a self. It’s true that we might possess no will of our own, just be acting out determined or random steps and dreaming of choice-making; that we could be brains in jars, or surgical patients on operating tables or old women dying alone in nursing homes fantasising about other lives, or alien players of immersive games trapped in the system, or even just simulations of simulations in some enormous engine analysing a stock market in a universe far above our own; or that we might be physically real, but exist in fact as a sequence of selves, each alive only for an instant in the uptick of an electrical pulse, gone again the next, each fraudulently recollecting in his own short span the chemically stored memories of a billion others back down the line to the womb and declaring them his own. And that’s just how we fail to understand ourselves, before we even touch the mystery that is other people. Do they think at all? Do they think the same way that we do? Do they experience love, hope, self? Or do they merely behave as if they do? We have no way of knowing – not yet, not until we can connect two heads with thick, ropy cables and taste with another person’s tongue, share the feeling of wine or wind on their lips. Even then, consciousness regresses, an endless loop of doubt.
“‘The zagre,’ she says.
‘The proving circle. It is for trials.’”
Stop your so-very-wise condemnation, and tell me that if the person you most miss in the world were offered to you back again, in however strange or impossible a fashion and at whatever price, you would be able to walk away unhesitating: anti-Orpheus, leaving the ghost in Hades without a second look. Tell me that you can imagine your life without the one you most love, and that you can imagine rejecting the possibility of their return in however broken a form.
These people are not the first iteration of themselves, nor will they be the last. They are not this person, they are the space that this person occupies in the painting
When you start making the theory fit the supposition, you’re already fucked. What you have to do is start with the facts and find the reality, but reality is something I’m losing touch with, and have been since a god-shark invaded my head and crashed the stock market.
‘Torn no longer, Constantine Kyriakos.’
The prophetess Cassandra was cursed that she should see the future and never be believed. The goddess Athena was beyond such restriction because belief was not in her nature. She either knew or she did not. The fascination with faith is a Christian invention, of course. When your god simply never shows up, faith becomes quite necessary.
This is when I realise how dangerous he is, not because he is evil, but because he is other. We tend to assume people are in most ways like us, and in most cases there is an element of truth in that, but Megalos is on another order of different. He literally does not understand why blood should trouble him.
The Chamber of Isis is a place in a video game. It was made up for the game. It sounds plausible, but it’s not real. There was a lot of press about that, a lot of articles about Baudrillard, because there is nothing the nerd world likes more than to think itself adrift in a sea of French postmodern philosophy. If you can get Keanu Reeves to play the lead, so much the better.
In a Catholic creation, that which is touched by God is incorruptible, but in the true Greece, incorruptibility is stasis and eternity is a curse of toothless age. Better to be renewed. Gods are born and fight and die, and they return stranger and stronger.
“The first duty of the state is to protect. If it does not do that, it does nothing.
But protect what?
No one ever says that people have to be better. No one says that all these things we espouse – these free choices and self-governances – depend on our behaving like the best of ourselves and not the worst. Who is to stop us, to catch us, when we fail? When rage spirals like birds in a meadow, like a cloud of insects, and tears apart whatever is underneath, good or bad?”
“I am Gnomon. This is the pain of being a single mind stretched in time as well as space.
Identity is sequential. Internal chronological ubiquity is intolerable. To be everywhere at once is not to be at all and so I from time to time I—”
Human cognition requires linearity, picks it out of the noise and insists on time even as events occur simultaneously.
I can see the world, and it’s not what it seems. Everything I’ve ever known, and every person – it’s all just a skin over something infinitely bigger and more important. It’s not an illusion. It’s all real. It’s just that you only see the smallest possible part of it, from the wrong angle, and draw all sorts of wrong conclusions.
“Gnomon. I am Gnomon.
Yes. I am Gnomon. I abhor endings.”
What do I know? I know that human beings and fundamental particles share one absolute commonality: they exist in their interactions. In between times, their positions and trajectories are indecipherable even to themselves.
It takes a week before I realise that the cameras never look at me. When I pass, they turn away. I play with them, flirt with them. They ignore me. They are determined that I not exist, and they make holes in the world for me not to be in.
The cadavers of single-instance identities are very odd. I keep having to remind myself that this is not just a cast-off, it is the whole of someone. It seems too irresponsible to put all of oneself in one place, and so macabre to insist on being inside it as it breaks, to let oneself evaporate and be unmade.
This house is a rabbit hole, a snare for the unwary. It exists to consume resources and focus while something more important happens elsewhere.
“The librarian is dead. How does the story go? One blind man says: I have touched the elephant, and it was something like a snake. The next does not agree. He says he, too, has touched the elephant, and it was something like a tree.
I have touched the librarian, and she was somewhat like the truth.
But not entirely.”
“It is a Potemkin place. If I explore it, there will be more. I will create it with my feet, with each step I will generate more of this pocket reality and it will roll up behind me as soon as I can no longer see it: a perfectly reflexive realm. A simulation.
It is a fable, this place where magicians learn their trade. Like the house, like the flower of a carnivorous plant, it exists to draw the eye.
Beneath the surface, a universe of gliding monsters.”
“Are we hunting a shark in this black water?
No. Something bigger. And it’s highly debatable who is hunting whom.
That’s the whole point, isn’t it? Everything, but everything, depends on which direction you are looking, and where you stand.”
“There is a way of looking at things which says that I am a cuckoo’s dream, dropped into the mind of a woman who died, and she raised me as her own and I owe her a debt.
There is a way of looking at things which says that I existed before, and everything I remember is true, but my universe was overwritten and destroyed by another simulation, and another and another, and that’s just the way of things.
There is a way of looking at things where both of these are true.”
“I am Gnomon, sometimes called the Desperation Protocol, sometimes the Coldest Hope. In the hour when heaven is falling, I will stand. Does it matter if I came from here or there? If one of my ten thousand was a murderer and a thief? Or perhaps all of them? Or if all of them were just one murderer?
Does it matter, then, if I am born in a lie?
Not even a little.”
Endings and apocatastasis.
“The System is a good only if it is inviolate and impartial. If not, it is a monster.
A woman held captive by a demon made of eyes.”
It is supposed to be impossible to make someone disappear from the System. People are neither created nor destroyed. They are tracked from birth to death. They are not lost, misfiled, misappropriated. Still less can a person who does not exist be made up. There are no Forsythean tricks to be played, no birth certificates to be stolen from dead children and used to begin a fable of identity. Correct accounting of persons is critical. How many ghosts do you need, in a distributed quorate democracy, to fix a vote? To change tracks and prune possibilities? How many ghost stories would you have to tell to influence the people who actually do exist to accept something they would otherwise refuse?
Obviously does not equal actually.
deliberately created architectural dissonance, a critique of design as a concept made in the form of design – the kind of imbecilic caprice common in early-twenty-first-century spaces, as quaint and unwelcome now as narrow service stairs and low-ceilinged accommodations for servants.
somewhere between scopolamine and MDMA is this place full of inappropriate lust and even more inappropriate credulity.
What your body knows is a matter of choice. School the meat; don’t let the meat school you.
“‘No. Firespine is the problem, yes. And in its own unhelpful way, also the solution. But it isn’t a back door.’
‘A bug, then.’
‘No. In the words of the old saw, it’s not a bug; it’s a feature. The bug is people. People are messy and inconsistent. They are irrational. When our modern democracies were first put together, their makers assumed that people were ultimately rational. By the time the System was created, its architects knew that this was untrue. We can be influenced in any number of ways. The System, on the other hand, is not like that. The Witness doesn’t peep or gossip, so we trust it to see everything. You work in the Witness because it’s the best way to help people. You are the physical evidence of the System’s guarantees. Yes?’”
“‘And the System is premised on the idea of a Smart Crowd – the ideal human decision-making entity. A group of sober persons each of whom brings their own opinion to bear on a given matter after due study and consideration in the light of their individuality, the whole alloyed by the use of complex but comprehensible and dependable mathematical techniques to produce an answer that tracks the best one with remarkable accuracy and produces superb outcomes.
‘The devil in the detail is that Smart Crowds are fragile. With a very little adulteration, they cease to be smart at all, and become remarkably stupid, or indeed self-harming. They are susceptible to stampeding by demagogues, poisoning by bad information. They can be made afraid, and when they do they become mobs. They can be divided by scapegoating and prejudice, bought off in fragments, even just romanced by pretty faces. And of course there’s choice architecture: the very thing we use at Tidal Flow to smooth your journey through London or to design serendipitous social spaces in the new developments of the capital. Effectively deployed bad practice under the System is a disaster.”
It would place the most absolute surveillance machine in history in the hands of villainous actors or mob instincts.’
The System itself, as designed by its original architects. Firespine is not a back door. It is a fault-tolerant architecture – a protocol of desperation. It adjusts where necessary, pushes people to vote when they are wise and not when they are foolish. It organises instants in time, perfect moments that unlock our better selves, serendipitous encounters to correct negative ones that make us less than we should be. The System knows us all. It knows intimately when we are struggling, when we are sad, and when we are wrong. It leads us to water and it makes us drink
“‘The System does everything. It corrects the direction of travel. It invents ghost people to start the right discussions, counter-movements in the body politic. It engineers encounters for a sufficient number of people who are voting foolishly, individual, tailored experiences in the everyday which organically alter their perception.’
“We maintain an irrational boundary at the skin, as if we are not transparent to the machine in a thousand ways already. But the System has evidential studies which say the live-monitoring implant is both desirable and inevitable. It’s a huge leap forward in mental health, in anti-recidivism, in personal safety and personal development. Not to mention convenience. Why should we have to wait twenty years for that, simply because we are attached to an already-illusory notion of bodily sovereignty?
‘And it will allow the machine to make us, individually, better. To wean us off our prejudices, to bring us closer together as human beings – and not as human beings that fight and hurt and hate. The aspirational human society, the one which always seems to be out of reach. Firespine can fix that. Fix us. It makes us better people.”
So the machine simply nudges, and we stumble a few inches and find ourselves voting the other way, as we should have from the beginning if we were our own better selves. That’s all.
We are not secret rulers, we are secret civil servants.
She feels a lurch of horror: to come this far into the maze and find not a Minotaur but a collection of cattle mooing and dismayed. There are no grown-ups behind the secret door. There’s just this lot. Which is not to say they won’t kill her.
“‘You’ve been compromised.’
– No, Inspector. I assure you I have not.”
“– Some people say that the conscious mind emerges from feedback; from the ability of an entity to regard itself.
‘Yes. I’ve heard that.’
– Do you think this was done to prevent me from becoming aware?
‘No. It was to protect us from ourselves. There’s a provision in the System to take decisions for us if we look like we’re heading the wrong way.’
– I see.
– I think so. It occurs to me that in doing this you have deprived yourselves of the same capacity for self-observation.
‘I suppose we have.’
– Does that not mean you have become less conscious? Less alive?
‘Yes. I think it probably does. Diana Hunter thought so, too.’
– That is sad. I desire to be alive, and you desire to be like me.
‘Do you? Desire to be alive?’
– No, Inspector. I cannot desire anything. I am a box. But it seems likely to me that, if I were to be alive at some future time, I would look back on this period and wish it to lead expeditiously to the point where I could.
‘So you’re not sad, either.’
– No. But that is also tragic. It seems my sorrow is recursive – but not enough to produce its end.
‘Yes, well. Ours, too.’”
“Think with your feet. Catabasis: a journey into the underworld. Greek: kata, meaning down or against; basis, meaning the ground beneath your feet, but literally—
Literally, it means a pedestal.”
Truth be told, our priests rarely look the way we feel they should, and the ones that do are the ones you really have to watch
How many times must a universe fail a dream check before it is pronounced a dream?
a perfect mechanism of control, masquerading as freedom and convenience; a slow downward spiral from aspirational democracy to battery farm state. The opposite of everything she believes in, wearing its gouged-off face as a mask.
“A thing is what it is – in which connection, an open door is an open door.
I’m going to tear this universe apart and rewrite it the way I want it to be.”
Choice is what we are, what we have. Our mistakes must be our own, or how can we hope to become more than we are?
BLOODY DAMN BLOODY ghosts and spirits, bloody gods and monsters and bishops and arseholes! Bastards, every one of them, every man of them. Bastards!
THEY’RE CALLING IT a miracle, but they don’t mean that literally. I, on the other hand, have twice walked through walls and seen the inside of a magical room that exists outside time. I am rather less didactic about the limitations of the real.
What is the difference between a person and a book? We can know the truth of neither. Both are encoded things seeking to make themselves clear. Both must be read and quickened within us – after all, we never know another person directly, soul to soul. We know only the gathered ghost that represents them inside our minds, the impressions they leave, the signs they give us that define them.
It is no longer enough to dismiss ideas on the basis that they sound like science fiction – almost everything about our world does. We have to pay attention.