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A text in four parts.
“Look, I’ve been labeled the most pro-equality President in history. I’m not sure that’s true —”
There was a blank space in the record, in the early 21st century. It went overlooked for a long time. You can’t be too surprised by this. The information was still being encoded in binary back then. It moves up and down in ugly, sharp ridges. It hurts, physically, to run your hand over. It looks like nothing. There was barely a meaning there yet. Everyone agrees on that. History, real History, had barely begun, and things were still mostly shapeless, still mostly a junkyard. So it’s understandable that for a long time, researchers thought there was nothing there to see. The statistical machines had been applied, of course, the same as with any other span. They had revealed no meaningful patterns, no breaks or continuities which suggested anything at all – if there were any there, they were too subtle for even the most skilled researchers to discern, causes too distant, effects too obscure. So it was easy to believe that there was nothing to be isolated from the noise, nothing that could become a subject. Attention was focused elsewhere. But one day, during a routine inventory of the Scrolls, an assistant noticed there was a depression which shouldn’t be there, which couldn’t be there. She reported it to the Director, who confirmed: there was a blank space. A blank space where a blank space should not be. It was only a few weeks wide, and only took up a minuscule slice of the spatial stream, but it was there. It was easy to miss if you weren’t looking for it, but once you saw it it was unmistakable, impossible to ignore. In her report to the Government, the Director noted that on the far side of the absence, there was a discrepancy of several thousand lives. A committee was immediately formed to investigate. Its results were, ultimately, inconclusive. Establishment of a scholarship supporting 21st Century Studies was recommended, to encourage further research. The recommendation was officially received and recorded by the Government, and the committee was dissolved.
I often feel like a spectator to my own life. It’s as if what I see, what I hear is being transmitted to an undisclosed location somewhere far away, and that this is where I really am, simply watching “myself” as I move through the world. This is something I have felt, to greater or lesser extent, for as long as I can remember. I used to think it was a childhood affectation, a little game I used to play with myself whose habits of mind I had not yet quite shaken. But rather than fading away as I’ve grown older, it’s a feeling that’s only become more pronounced, more frequent, and I have begun to wonder if this is not, in fact, simply what it feels like to live in an empire in decline.
“I do not like to make claims about nature,” Gregor told me, “but it must be said: the dimensions of a cell phone video are unnatural. Human vision, which we are stuck with whether we like it or not, is something we imagine as a panorama, and actually experience more as a fuzzy-edged rectangle, always smaller than we think. What is consistent across both the perception and the reality is our vision is defined horizontally. It expands and contracts by latitude, not longitude. It is always wider than it is tall, which is to say it is of the order of the coffin, not the crucifix – an emblem which is worshiped precisely because it is alien, and obscene. The cell phone video, unlike the theatrical film, the TV show, all the major forms of mass media which have preceded it, is vertical. It is of the order of the crucifix. As such it is a parody of vision, a bondage act for a world in which no one can admit this is what they want. To watch a cell phone video is, every time, to experience just a little the feeling of a knife at your throat and a gun pressing into the back of your skull – the thrill, and the release. That these videos are, almost always, no more than a few minutes long is not simply a matter of technical limitations or platform curation – it is also an expression of the same subconscious logic which drives the teenage cutter to score her thigh with many quick slashes, densely packed, rather than with one long, slow incision. When you understand these things, it ceases to be surprising at all that this is the dominant form of entertainment today, and also the dominant form in which atrocities of war and poverty are documented and disseminated.” We paid for our drinks and left. Outside, night was not falling, but the sky was darker than before. Each day it was darker than before. No one on TV or the radio had been able to explain it. It was like they knew something, but couldn’t tell us. The rumor was, the sun was turning away from us, and the moon was casting an ever-longer shadow.
Have you noticed that the continuity of our lives has begun to feel increasingly unreal? That there is something absurd about the way each day continues to follow from the last, essentially unchanged? That things continue to be more or less as they have been? It feels like all our homes and churches and workplaces are impossibly suspended in the air, with nothing underneath. Have you noticed this? It’s as though our whole society has run itself off a cliff, and has not yet begun to fall only because everyone has agreed not to look down. It feels insane, when I shake another person’s hand, that we do not smear each other with someone else’s blood. It feels insane that this blood does not drip from the walls of every home and church and workplace, that it does not overflow the storm drains and run black and raging down every street. Do you know what I mean? Look at me. Look me in the eyes. Have you noticed this? Do you know what I mean?
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