XVI — There was a boy once upon a time
There was a boy once upon a time who lived in a small village with his mother, his father and his sister. The village stood nestled in the foothills, beyond which was the longest mountain range in the country. Out of the mountains flowed the green river that wound past the village and away across the plain down to the sea, I start to say. Then a different thought takes hold and the boy fades into grey. Overtaken by the grey threads. Amnesia. The boy is insignificant. He has no value. The thought requires a thinker. To whom does the boy have no value? To the thing which lies beyond life and to which we all aspire. We don’t realize it. That is not death. Death does not lie beyond life. Death is not the opposite of life, I say to the man and sit forward in the chair: we are not trying to avoid death with our body enhancements, our injections and the sun treatment.
What would it all look like without death? We take up a position with a different relation. The human form isn’t our final evolution. Our final evolution is a dispersal of scale. It’s not a posthuman. It’s not a human with enlarged eyes and frontal cortex. That’s about cartoon posthuman. For some straightforward plagiarism: where humanists saw themselves as distinct beings/an antagonistic relationship with their surroundings, posthumans regarded their own being as embodied in an extended technological world. There was a repositioning of matter. What it really was, is a splash of flame against a blue background some 4000 miles way. Nothing to get worked up about, at that distance. Just a moment’s inconvenience and a micro in the spacetime. Our so called fundamental drive – to life or maybe death – has been misunderstood. We exist not as a thing but as a process that the matter of our bodies cannot escape. But of course, says the man.
I carry on: we are misled by the scale of things and the time it takes as matter accretes to us and away from us. You have to see beyond life. You have to hear what is beyond life. At any one moment: we are all capable of giving it up and nothing at all would be lost. A down-going where nothing is lost. I stop and look up at the old man, looking for a mirror of these last words. The old man sits back in his chair.
Is that your wish? His face is earnest. He doesn’t pre-empt an answer. How can I tell if it’s a wish? A wish: identical to reality? Man is to life what life is to death. An anomaly. For you, the man says. What about the others? I say that there are no regularities. There are only separate cases. The evolution of man moves towards mankind as part of a universal becoming. Billions of individual becomings becoming a becoming! The old man laughs! I see why, but I reframe it. The future of man lies in reaching a point where each individual is able to become themselves, but all of those becoming selves are always becoming in relation to every other becoming self. And there is no self or selves in the first place. So there never is a single no individual becoming. This is the hive mind. No. It is the post-hive mind. The Meta hive-mind? All are simultaneously one and myriad individuals. Actually no mind at all. That doesn’t fit either. No will-to-anything. All of that shit is about the individual. And all of that other shit is about the collective. This is neither. It’s both. It’s about a post-posthuman, I say. It’s about evolution into something. I start to sweat.
Well of course, says the old man. Evolution is always a move into something. Have you thought this through, he says, leaning forward and resting his chin in his hands and his elbows on his knees. Have you thought this, though? Are you certain of anything, any one part of it? So I say: we fight certain values. Certain moralities certain ways of being. Positioning, judgments, histories. What if we decouple from all of that? What if we resist all? Where you end up, I think, is psychosis, says the old man. That’s another value judgment. Do you want to risk that, asks the old man? The young boy and his father. Guns. War. Fragmentation. Dislocation. I adjust my position in the corner of this sofa. Wait for the man to say something. He says it’s time. Time is up.
I walk out into the sunlight of the street. The wide pavement and the lazy cars. It became too tiring. I had to walk away. It coincided with the old man telling me time was up. Is up. Some people leave life a hell of a lot quicker than they entered it. Some people never realize they’ve gone. They die so quickly, say by a gunshot to the back of the head or a tree falling on the car and crushing them flat. Smearing them down the road. They never have time to register it. In that sense, life appears to be an either/or situation.
But all deaths involves that same either/or situation. I glance in the windows of the cheap shops I pass. I see old ladies buying cheap soap and small girls and boys deliberating over the cheap sweets. The same momentary contingencies that lead to a choice irrespective of where the agency for the choice is rooted or diffused. A kind of reverse death. An inverted death. The ability for things to come together as an action. Death is the same thing: things come together and effect an action. But I still couldn’t work out what went on at that exact moment when what is called a life comes, or is called, to an end. And I have seen – I am sure I have said this: I have seen many ends. When my Father died I was with him. He got a chest pain one night at around 10:15pm. My Mother had called and said something like: your Dad’s got a chest pain and I called an ambulance. I was sober. Having decided to give myself four months on the wagon. So that was lucky break #1. I arrived to find my Dad sat on the sofa, head throwing back and forth in absolute agony, centered on the dead center of his chest. His sternum. No pain on in his left arm. No tight chest no blue lips nothing to point at a fucked up heart. So I took a lot of comfort from that, in a clichéd all of my friends are dying but not my Dad kind of way. Slightly surreal. Detached at this time. Anyway. Many years before I had a similar episode. Chest pain that came from nowhere and felt like the Devil was giving him the fingering of a lifetime. Never was. Wired me up, normal rhythm, careful stayed, careless didn’t die, inflamed gullet. Food pipe. Acid. So of course my Dad had the same. Death was not on the menu. Mum was keeping her shit together on the outside. Fuck knows what was in her head. Anyway. Paramedic appears, asks my Dad some banal shit to keep him focused and calm. How old? What did you work at? Said: let’s get your shirt off and wire you up. Which he did. Then I saw my Dad’s body for the first time in, what, 30 years? That was the first shock: Goddamn! Goddamn! This isn’t my Dad. This is an old old fucking man with an old fucking man’s body. Second shock: things may not pan out too well. I suddenly lost my faith that his body had some say in this. Muscle tone: gone. Blemishes, pallor, stains. Where was my Dad’s body? This was some old fuck I never saw coming. Because I had not seen his flesh for some thirty years, my Dad was just his face. The way he looked at me. And this was the time that my Dad said: “I think this is the end”. Straight up. Verbatim. And this is the funny thing: I still had indigestion in my head and had told him my story several times by now. So I genuinely believed that, and at the same time I had to reconcile the surprise of an old body with the melodrama insight of: I think this is the end. You know they say how one and one make two: this cliché didn’t add up. I was perfectly fucking aware of these different streams of affect/thought playing through my head. Each one led to a different outcome and it’s the best evidence I got so far for the existence of the multiverse. No. It isn’t. I’ve been really really fucking rational since then and kept my shit together like a Champion! It was a paradox I couldn’t resolve.
Maybe death was the necessary event that rendered life meaningful, froze it in place? There appears to be a definite before and after state of affairs, with death before life and death after life. Same thing. Nothing to worry about. But what makes the two things categorically different? On who or what terms are those categories? I’ve seen many endings and stared right into the eyes of the dying to try to pin down that precise moment. But it always escapes. You don’t see it and that in itself is significant. At the moment that life slides in to death you realize they can’t be separate categories. The conclusion I came to was that there is no moment. No event. Just a rearrangement of all the bits and pieces that had become implicated and whilst we are preoccupied with what the central actor in front of us is doing, the whole arrangement is gently stretching its legs and reaching around to grasp different things and different things are reaching out to it, getting in its way, laying on its tracks. The thing that makes the difference is perspective.
Taking a breath. Exhaling and relaxing and shifting the balance around a bit. One of the actors fades out the picture. Or leaves quickly. What we call life is diffused through the things that come together and that suggests that life is not a quality of an individual. It’s a quality of the collective. This is a most superficial insight. Where did the illusion that it is an individual quality start?
I walk the road. Children unwrap their one coin sweets. Old ladies drop soap bars to the bottom of their plastic shopping bags. I walk on down the pavement. At the end of this short section of sidewalk I stop and wait at a junction to cross. A few cars and a bus go past and then the sign changes and I cross. As I get to the other side I attend to the low down throbbing of a motorcycle engine to my left and turn to look at a blue chopper. I walk into someone stood still in front of me and the collision, no damage done, makes me jump back with a start. I have to seriously question my ability to see things coming.
The man looks at me. Dark matted long straggly hair, like tendrils. Dirty skin. Dirt worn right in and down to the bone. Dark and long tattered clothes. A shabby tattered long coat that might have been black or charcoal. Sorry I didn’t see you. You okay? The man stamps a foot and draws in a deep and meaningful breath which he cuts short and holds right at the apex. The world ended two weeks ago. On March Seventeenth. We don’t exist. And that’s all he says. The mid-summer heat beats down the dirt further into his skin and the breeze whips his hair into shapes. If we don’t exist. Who are we? The shapes change. A dust devil spins around this figure and throws up the torn coat fabric. Merges with him into a hazy series of charcoal sketches. I step back and away from the hair tendrils trying to whip across my face. Otherwise leave a stinging red line. I have a memory of this symbol and I tell him: what did you try to tell me? The dust devil vanishes and the tendrils fall still. The coat becomes a coat. It’s something about turning round a corner and coming face to face with the thing that would stop you in your tracks. The thing that goes with you wherever you go. You know what it is. You know what it is but every time you turn that corner you hold your breath you screw it all up and: it’s not there. And the next corner and the next and the next and the next and then one time when you relax because every other corner has nothing to hide: it comes right up into the picture and your heart stops. And it’s your turn to leave, so that all the parts can adjust themselves. Adopt a new pose. A new constellation. An absence connected to all these other things.
The chopper engine thumps away. Every now and then the guy screws back the throttle and the thumping ramps itself and breaks up mountains and boulders. A guy on a blue chopper motorcycle. Leaves dust drifting around the shiny pipes and shiny rims. Metallic blue tank and hard-tail frame. This guy on the chopper is looking over to me. Large bear [bare] arms and shoulders under a cut off denim big guy. A good layer of fat hiding the contours but strong as an ancient figure. Big grin on his face like something made him glad. He gives me a wave with a pale gloved right hand and shouts over that engine: what do you think about this? Do I know you, I shout back? He throws the engine up again a couple of times and the bike sits low down on the road. Long time ago, man! Long long time ago! Where have you been all that time? He grins even more at my question. I was right here. Always have been. Always will be. Grins some more and throws a laugh to himself. Lets out the clutch.
People walk up and down the pavement and young girls buy sweets in the cheap sweet shops. It’s a very clear, blue day with a slight warm breeze gently picking up fragments of paper and lifting them gently round the corners of the buildings. What is a life but fragments on the breeze? Shapes coming into the scene and shapes leaving the scene. A tune heard as a child that lingers and meanders in and out of the years. A tune that carries a million histories all clinging on to its tail. The war you read about but never saw. The soldiers’ bodies. The dead horses’ broken walls, streams of the dispossessed. Suitcases spilling out a million different historic water filled puddles, flowers pushing past the shattered stones. Rivers. Seas. Clouds. Clean washing blowing in the wind. Young children with expressionless faces. Young children laughing and rolling a glass bottle back and forth. Clean roads and new houses. Made up gardens. Time. Made up time. Blue clear days. Like this. A million histories all spilling around and clinging on. But the thing is: they’re not you’re histories. That is: they’re not something you created. They came to you by chance, were tangled up. You can try to leave it all behind but the figure with tendrils for hair, the scorched face, the torn coat: he lingers too as a truth you’ve always known. Nothing new about that. But his style shifts and evolves. He, or it, or she, or you, are a shape shifter. One day you get to embrace him. It always comes back to him. You get to spin round and round and the tendrils fly out and the black cape makes great sweeping arcs that cut space and time. Out of this world. As that end approaches you have an infinite number of opportunities to rearrange all the pieces and put them together as a better shape that you can happily end with. That moment in a bar: twenty years before when you should have done that and not this. That girl who smiled at you and you smiled at the glass in your hand. The right turn you took and you should have turned left. The moment when your Lover looks into your eyes for something you don’t have. And never had. It was just a story they confused. These things get spaced out to the ends of the universe right at the end for just a brief second and they hang there as balanced forces in perfect tension. You can make them hang there for an eternity that lasts a million millionth of a millisecond and then they come racing back in to take up this last, different, better form. It’s one end amongst many.
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