Sunday, November 16, 2008

The visceral symphony

Stanislaw Lem, in the introduction to his Imaginary Magnitudes, a collection of fictitious introductions to nonexistent books, covers a lot of ground. A lot.

He speaks to the glut of information and entertainment at our disposal and the need to have this knowledge or art mediated. This necessity is tempered by the recognition that an introduction to any work is often merely the babble of "some authority's sham commitment to a book." Art has lost its authenticity, and we need a new priest-intermediary to find our way back to it, viscerally, naturally. Lem promises to return art/knowledge to the people, to an unmediated purity, while acknowledging the Introduction as a genre of literature in itself.

Lem justifies himself:

[...] 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 is the third book of Lem's that I tackle this year. I continue to be drawn to his work even while it's immensely taxing on my poor little brain.

What do I gain from this? According to Lem, "Supreme liberty [...] for eternal enjoyment."

He may be right.

2 comments:

gls said...

Are you reading him in Polish?

Isabella said...

Hah! I'm reading him in English. I fear the effort of reading him in Polish might make my brain explode.