Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Master's Voice Project: Reading Lem

Holy crap!

Have you read Lem?!

Thus far, I've read 18 pages of His Master's Voice, by Stanislaw Lem, written in 1968, consisting of Editor's Note and Preface, and I'm blown away. This front matter is in fact part of Lem's novel proper, written by a fictitious editor (the note) and compiled from unfinished scraps (preface) by the genius mathematician diarist whose quasi-scholarly chronicle of an investigation comprises the main story. In just a few short pages we go through postmodern metafiction and back.

The adventure itself, Peter Hogarth summarizes, "boils down to this: humanity came upon a thing that beings belonging to another race had sent out into the darkness of the stars." And it would bear poison fruit.

I feel I owe it to myself, to Lem, and to my Polish heritage to give his work a careful reading. It will be slow going. It is dense with Idea.

Every single paragraph could yield essays of great thought: the morality of science, that art and science and their criticism hold to different standards, psychoanalysis of the physicist, ego, the problem of subjectivity, good and evil and the "Manichean embrace," the absurdity of determinism, the laughter of betrayal, the mathematics of everything, the imperfection of humanity, the cracks in the foundation. To name a few. Holy crap. I mean: wow.

With sufficient imagination, a man could write a whole series of versions of his life; it would form a union of sets in which the facts would be the only elements in common. People, even intelligent people, who are young, and therefore inexperienced and naive, see only cynicism in such a possibility. They are mistaken, because the problem is not moral but cognitive. The number of metaphysical beliefs is no greater or less than the number of different beliefs a man may entertain on the subject of himself — sequentially, at various periods of his life, and occasionally even at the same time.

I keep returning to this paragraph (above), I think because I'm in a state of metamorphosis myself, and, having overcome the cynicism of youth, am embarking on rewriting my life from a different standpoint, to discern what is its fact and what possible stories it could tell.

Each of us is, from childhood, fastened to some publicly allowed piece of himself, the part that was selected and schooled, and that has gained the consensus omnium; and now he cultivates that fragment, polishes it, perfects it, breathes on it alone, that it may develop as well as possible; and each of us, being a part, pretends to be a whole — like a stump that claims it is a limb.

(I want to cultivate my other fragments.)

Right book, right time. I am ready to be swept away.
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