Imaginary Magnitude, page 1
By Stanislaw Lem
Translated by Marc E. Heine
Cezary Strzybisz, Necrobes
Reginald Gulliver, Eruntics
Juan Rambellais et al., A History of Bitic Literature, Volume I
Introduction to the Second Edition
Vestrand's Extelopedia in 44 Magnetomes
Golem's Inaugural Lecture—About Man Threefold
Lecture XLIII—About Itself
* * *
The art of writing Introductions has long demanded proper recognition. I too have long felt a pressing need to rescue this form of writing from the silence of forty centuries—from its bondage to the works to which its creations have been chained. When, if not in this age of ecumenicalism—that is to say, of all-powerful reason—is one finally to grant independence to this noble, unrecognized genre? I had in fact counted on somebody else fulfilling this obligation, which is not only aesthetically in line with the evolutionary course of art, but, morally, downright imperative. Unfortunately, I had miscalculated. I watch and wait in vain: somehow nobody has brought Introduction-writing out of the house of bondage, off the treadmill of villein service. So I have no choice: out of a sense of obligation rather than an impulse of the heart, I shall rush to the aid of Introduction-writing and become its liberator and obstetrician. That long-suffering realm has its own lower kingdom—one of plodding, sometimes unpublished, and venal hired Introductions, for servitude depraves. It also knows presumption and bombast, the flowery gesture and the Jerichonic blast. Besides rank-and-file Introductions there are the upper echelons such as Forewords and Prefaces, nor are even ordinary Introductions all alike, for an Introduction to one's own book is one thing, and that to somebody else's quite another. Likewise, using one to introduce a first printing is different from going to the trouble of multiplying one's Introductions for numerous later printings. The power of a collection of Introductions, even bland ones, overgrowing a persistently—and insistently—published work, turns paper into a tower of strength, frustrating the machinations of venomous critics—for who would dare attack a book with such an armored breastwork, behind which it is not so much its content as its inviolable respectability that shows through!
An Introduction is often a foretoken tempered by dignity or pride, a promissory note signed by the author, or it may be a manifestation constrained by convention, perfunctory though amicable, of some authority's sham commitment to a book: that is, its safe conduct, its passport into society, a viaticum from mighty lips —a futile grip pulling up something which is going to drown anyway. But these are irredeemable notes and very few have any gold backing, let alone bear interest. But I shall ignore all that. I do not intend to go into the taxonomy of Introduction-writing or even an elementary classification of this previously slighted and haltered genre. Coach horses and jades move similarly when harnessed to it. Let the Linnaeuses occupy themselves with the tractive side of things. That is not the sort of Introduction that is going to precede my little anthology of Liberated Introductions.
Here we must get down to brass tacks. What can an Introduction be? Barefaced boasting and self-advertising, to be sure, but also the wilderness cries of a John the Baptist or Roger Bacon. Therefore upon reflection we see that, besides Introductions to Works, there are Introduction Works, for like the Holy Scriptures of any faith, the theses and futuromachies of scholars are Prefaces—to this world and the other. Thus reflection shows that the Realm of Introductions is incomparably more vast than the Realm of Literature, for what the latter endeavors to realize, Introductions merely announce from afar.
To that growing question—why on earth must we enter into the liberation struggle of Introductions and present them as a sovereign literary genre?—the answer is clear from what has already been said. We can supply the answer either in a flash, or with the help of higher hermeneutics. In the first place, this project can be justified without bombast—and with calculator in hand. Are we not threatened with a flood of information? And is this not the monstrousness of it, that it crushes beauty by means of beauty, and annihilates truth by means of truth? For the sound of a million Shakespeares would produce the very same furious din and hubbub as the sound of a herd of prairie buffalo or sea billows. Such vastly multiplied content in collision brings no credit to thought, but rather its destruction. When faced with such a fate, is not Silence alone the redeeming Ark of the Covenant between the Creator and the Reader, since the Creator gains merit by refraining from spinning out just any old content, and the reader gains it by praising such manifest self-denial? To be sure. And one might refrain from writing even the Introductions themselves, though then the act of self-restraint would not be perceived, so the sacrifice would not be accepted. Thus my Introductions are announcements of sins from which I shall abstain. I do this from a standpoint of cool and purely external calculation. But this reckoning still fails to reveal what Art gains from its declared liberation. We already know that even too much heavenly manna leads to costiveness. How can we save ourselves from it? How can we save our souls from self-constipation? And is salvation really to be found here—does the true way really pass through Introductions? Summoned like some luminous doctor, that yeoman of hermeneutical practitioners, Witold Gombrowicz, would have explained the matter as follows. It is not a question of whether the idea of separating Introductions from the Content which they are supposed to announce pleased anyone, even me—because it did not. For we are subject, without appeal, to the laws of the Evolution of Form. Art cannot stand still or go round in circles: precisely because of this, it cannot merely please. If you lay an egg, you must hatch it; if a mammal hatches from it instead of a reptile, you should give it something to suck; if, therefore, a subsequent move brings us to something which arouses general repugnance or even nausea, it cannot be helped: that's what we've produced. We have pushed so very far and dragged ourselves there, arid by a command superior to pleasure we shall have to turn over and over again—in our eyes, ears, and minds—the New, categorically applied, for it has been discovered on a path leading high up and far away, where admittedly no one has ever been or wants to be, since nobody knows whether one could bear it there for even a moment—though, in fact, for the Development of Culture, this is of no importance whatsoever! This lemma, with an offhandedness characteristic of nonchalant genius, bids us exchange one old, spontaneous, and therefore unconscious bondage for a new one; it does not cut the fetters, but merely lengthens our lead, for it drives us into the Unknown, calling freedom a clear necessity.
But—I frankly confess—I myself crave a different basis for heresy and rebellion. So let me say this: there is something of the truth in what is said in the first and second place, though not the whole truth—nor does it altogether resemble necessity, for in the third place we may apply to creation the algebra which we detect in the Almighty.
Please observe how chatty the Bible is, how prolix the Pentateuch is, in describing the outcome of Genesis—and how laconic in giving the recipe for it! There had been neither time nor form until suddenly—for no apparent reason—the Lord said: "Let there be light," whereupon there was light, but between the two was there nothing. No fissure, no mean? I don't believe it! Between Chaos and Creation there was pure intention, which was still untouched by the light, not fully bound to the Cosmos, unsoiled—even by the paradisial earth.
For that was the origin of chance, then and there, though not its fulfillment; there was a purpose, moreover a divine and therefore om
How can we not use this knowledge? It is a question not of plagiarism but of method. Where does all this come from? From the beginning, of course. And what was at the beginning? An Introduction, as we already know. An Introduction, though not an arrogant, high-handed one, but an Introduction to Something. Let us defy the disorderly materializing of Genesis; to its first lemma let us apply the algebra of a more restrained creation!
In other words, let us divide the whole by "Something." "Something" will then disappear, and as our solution we shall be left with an Introduction purged of unpleasant consequences, of any threat of Incarnation, because it is purely intentional and in that state undefined by sin. This is not the world, merely an undimensional point —but in infinity for precisely that reason. Very soon we shall tell how to bring literature to it. But first let us look at her neighbors, for she is certainly no anchorite.
All the arts today are struggling to perform a rescue operation, for the universal expansion of creativity has become its curse, a race, and an escape; like the Universum, Art is exploding into the void, encountering no resistance and consequently no support. If anything is now possible, then everything has some value, and the rush forward turns into a retreat, since the Arts want to return to their source, but do not know how.
In its burning desire for limits, painting has got inside the painters —inside their very skins—and behold, the artist now exhibits himself without pictures! Thus he is an iconoclast lashed by his brushes or covered in oil and tempera, or he turns up completely naked on varnishing day, without the slightest dash of color. Unfortunately the poor wretch is unable to achieve authentic nakedness: he is no Adam, but merely a gentleman in a state of undress.
And the sculptor, whether shoving his unpolished stone at us or exhibiting any old idealized rubbish, seeks to crawl back to the Paleolithic period—to primitive man—for that is what he wants to become: an Original! A cave man, indeed! This is hardly the way to the raw flesh of savage expression! Naturalia non sunt turpia—but that does not mean that any and every boorish barbarianism is a return to Nature!
But what is, I ask you? Let us explain this through the example of music, since the greatest and most immediate opportunity lies wide open before it. Composers are wrong to break the bones of counterpoint and smash the Bachs to smithereens by computer; likewise, using electrons to tread on the tail of a cat amplified a hundredfold yields nothing, except a pack of artificial howlers. That is the wrong course and produces the wrong tone! A savior—an innovator—conscious of his goal has yet to come!
I await him impatiently. I am waiting for his work of concrete music, which in delivering us from lies returns to the bosom of Nature, a work which will be the consolidation of those choral, though strictly private, performances to which every audience surrenders in the concert hall—an audience which is cultural only in the externals of its concentration, and which contemplates the sweating orchestra only as a familiar periphery of organisms.
This symphony will be overheard by a hundred microphones, and I expect it will have the dark, monotonous orchestration characteristic of bowels, for its tonal background will be created by jejune basses, or the borborygmus of persons passionate in their ineluctable collywobbles—rumbling-based, gurglingly perfect, and full of desperate digestive expression, for this voice of the bowels—the voice of life!—is authentic because it is organic but not like organ music. I trust too that the leitmotiv will develop in time with the seated percussion, accented by the creaking of chairs, with violent, convulsive nose-blowing entrances, and chords of magnificent coloratura coughing. The bronchitises will start up, and I predict quite a number of solos here, executed with all the masterly skill of asthmatic old age, a veritable memento mori vivace ma non troppo, a display of agonized piccolo, for an authentic corpse will start snapping its dentures in three-four time, and a decent grave will start whistling in a death-rattled windpipe. Well, so biological a truth of symphonic procedure cannot be falsified!
The entire somatic initiative of bodies, hitherto so falsely stifled in the world by artificial music despite their irrevocably—and therefore tragically personal—sounds, cries out for triumphant revindication as a Return to Nature. I cannot be wrong, I know that the first performance of the Visceral Symphony will be a breakthrough, for in this way only will the traditionally passive audience, reduced to rustling peppermint wrappers, take the initiative—at last!—and in the role of a self-realizing auto-orchestra perform a return to itself, passionate in its denial of all "falsehood," that slogan of our age.
The composer-creator will once again become purely the priest-intermediary between the terrified multitude and Moira, for the fate of our entrails is our Destiny. That is how a distinguished community of listener-experts will perceive the auto-symphony, and with no outside twangings, since in this first performance they will then be savoring themselves alone—and they will be scared.
And what about literature? You have probably already guessed: I want to give you back your soul in all its range, just as visceral music gives the audience back its own body: in the very heart of Civilization, it descends to Nature.
This is precisely why Introduction-writing can no longer remain under the curse of bondage, excluded from liberating works. It is not only fiction writers and their readers that I am inciting to revolt. And I mean rebellion, not a general muddle—not egging on the spectators so that they climb up on the stage, or the stage climbs out after them, as a result of which they lose their previous position of agreeable superiority and, with their audience refuge liquidated, find themselves thrust into St. Vitus' cauldron. Neither twitching nor the distorted mimicry of yoga, but Thought alone can restore our freedom to us. Thus, by denying me the right of a liberation struggle in the name of—and for the good of—Introductions, you would be doomed, dear reader, to obscurantism and to the obdurately outdated, and even if you did not know how old-fashioned you had become, you still would not enter modern times.
You on the other hand, reader, being adept in anticipating the New—you, progressive with rapid reflexes, vibrating freely in the fashion flows of our era, who know that, since we have crawled higher than our primitive simian cousin (onto the moon, even), must continue to climb—you will understand me and join me in feeling that a duty is being fulfilled.
I shall deceive you, and for that you will be grateful to me. I shall make you a solemn promise with no intention of keeping it, and that will satisfy you, or at any rate you will pretend that it does, with appropriate masterly skill; whereas, to fools who would want to excommunicate us both, you will say that in spirit they have fallen from the times and landed on a rubbish heap spat out by a precipitate Reality.
You will tell them there is nothing to be done: today art has become a promissory note without (transcendental) cover, a (counterfeit) pledge, an (unrealistic) forecast—the highest form of alteration. It is precisely this emptiness of art and its unrealizability which should be taken as its motto and bedrock. That is why I am right to present an Introduction to this short Anthology of Introductions, for I am proposing prefaces that lead nowhere, introductions that go nowhere, and forewords followed by no words at all.
But with each of these initial moves I shall reveal to you an emptiness of a different kind and a different semantic color, changing according to a typical Heidegger spectral line. With enthusiasm, hope, and much to-do I shall open the altar and triptych doors, and announce the inconostasis with its holy gates; I shall kneel on stairs breaking off at the threshold of a void—-a void not so much abandoned as one in which nothing has ever been or ever shall be. This gravest possible amusement, this simply tragic amusement, is a parable of our destiny, since there is no device so human, nor such a property and mainstay of humanity, as a full-sounding, responsibility-devoid, utterly soul-absorbing Introduction to Nothingness.
This whole rocky, green, cold, humming world, kindled in clo
So I shall show you Introductions as one shows a richly carved doorframe chased in gold and surmounted by counts and griffins on a majestic lintel. I shall swear by its solid, harmoniously massive side facing us, so that as I open it with the concentrated effort of the arms of my spirit, I may thrust the reader into nothing and thereby simultaneously snatch him away from all existences and worlds.
I promise and guarantee a wonderful freedom, and give my word that Nothing will be there.
What shall I gain? The state of greatest riches: the one prior to Creation.
What will you gain? Supreme liberty, for no words of mine will obtrude upon your ear in your pure upward flight. I shall take you only as a pigeon-fancier takes a pigeon, and slings it like David's stone, like a rock in the path, so that it may fly off into this immensity—for eternal enjoyment.
Introduction by Stanislaw Lem
A few years ago artists seized upon death as their life-saver. Equipped with anatomical and histological atlases, they began disemboweling their nudes, poking about in their entrails, dumping out onto their canvases the battered ugliness of our embarrassing bits and pieces, so rightly hidden by skin from everyday view. But even so, the concerts which putrefaction in all the colors of the rainbow began presenting in exhibition rooms proved to be no revelation. It might have seemed debauchery if any of the spectators had taken offense; it might have appeared nightmarish if anyone had shuddered; but—would you believe it?—even the old ladies failed to get upset. Midas turned all he touched to gold, but the artist of today, suffering from the opposite sort of curse, annihilates the dignity of every object by the mere stroke of his brush. Like a drowning man, he clutches at anything—and sinks to the bottom with it— amid the blase indifference of onlookers.
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