Texto en español en SINERGIA: "¿Qué se puede hacer, salvo ver películas?"
Traducido al inglés por Daniel W. Koon.
"Run for cover and dig some trenches". That was the first thing I said. Literally. I can't remember anything else I ever said before that. It was the first thing I said.
The first thing with respect to what? Good question. "First" is a word that requires other, subsequent terms in order to make any sense. Okay, it was the first thing with respect to everything, in absolute terms. There was no previous that came before it; it was the starting point for everything I said. Yeah, yeah, I know, you find it hard to swallow, that "Run for cover and dig some trenches" was absolutely the very first thing I said. You're smart to doubt my word, since the phrase itself obviously implies a previous use of language, and that contradicts the claim that it was absolutely the first thing I said. No, it's not like the joke about the talking dog who speaks its first words only after it's finally got something to say. I really don't recall ever having said anything before that, even though I do recall doing things before that. I even remember an earlier thought I had had. "The dead all have Kirlian eyes". That was my first thought. Again, literally. And in absolute terms, too. Same deal. I don't recall having thought anything else before that, even though I remember having done things before that. Although, strangely enough, I don't recall what was absolutely the first thing I ever did.
What do these phrases mean, if in fact they mean anything at all? Obviously the first one is an order both to run for cover and to dig some trenches, by which one might assume that the orders were given in the context of some military action. That would be relatively correct -- at least when I said it in 1871 in Paris and in 1916 at the Battle of the Somme, but I also said it at a picnic in Tigre de Buenos Aires in the Spring of 1962 and I said it once in 1368 while I was getting plastered in "Chufreteiro" Casandulfes' tavern. It is also likely that I said it in 2215, when I acquired a 74% stake in Unimonic Corp. of Cydonia, but I'm not 100% sure of that. All right, all right, I know it sounds funny that something uttered at least five times and in five different centuries could be any kind of a first. That occasion in 1368 ought to be the first, but it isn't. No more than any of the other four, or the other three, since I have my doubts about that memory from 2215. Each of them is absolutely the first time.
Yes, I know it's strange. I have a hard time believing it myself, but still, that's the way it is. Maybe we'll find out later why that is. Or maybe not. Be patient and you may be rewarded. Or maybe not. That's the risk you have to take.
Right now I'm thinking about what "Run for cover and dig some trenches" means, aside from the obvious. Or "The dead all have Kirlian eyes." That one's much easier, even though you'd think it was the other way around. It means that the dead perceive reality as though seen through a Kirlian camera. Obviously a silly sentence. Kirlian photography is just some kind of studio trick. No more meaningful than a double exposure or adding some other special effect either before or after the exposure. Still, the pseudoscientific quacks have convinced the world that it allows them to capture one's soul or aura or something. And that's what's so attactive about the pretentious, semipoetic noir of "The dead all have Kirlian eyes". I don't know why it popped into my head, but it did. And that was my very first thought. I don't remember the circumstances or the day that it happened, just like I don't remember whether my next thought was "The dead all have ouija ears." I just remember that that was my first thought. Literally.
Did anyone run for cover? Did they dig trenches? I don't know. Somebody probably carried it out my order when I said it in a military context, although I don't think they were digging trenches during the Paris Commune. More like they were putting up barricades. Should I have said "Run for cover and put up some barricades"? Maybe, but now I have my doubts. Just like I have my doubts about the sequence of events. Or of the events of the sequence, ha! It would make more sense to dig some trenches or to put up some barricades and then to run for cover. I don't know. I just realized that I know absolutely nothing at all about war or about the military. But this does not erase the fact that I said it in the context of two armed conflicts: one in 1916 and the other in 1871. Curious, absurd, illogical, but that's how I remember it.
Memory's a funny thing, if I may say so in passing. It's not absolutely clear that what you remember is what objectively occurred as opposed to a narrative construction that the mind pieces together from factual elements, subjective perception and fantasy. You could say the same for reality. How real is reality? How much fiction is there to it? Is reality something objective or is it a cultural construct? All right, all right, I know, I'm sounding like a two-bit postmodernist philosopher; you got me there. And it's deliberate. I wanted to say it, just to see how far you'd let me ramble before you started doubting my words. Those words and these words, because maybe I was on the level earlier and now I'm pulling your leg. Reality is probably a construct, after all, even though that idea's been overused by intellectual snobs. Or probably reality is something independent of the observer. Or, more likely, it's a little bit objective and a little bit subjective. Maybe the universe exists because somebody finally showed up and observed it several billion years after the Big Bang and detected the residual background radiation left over from the blast, and that 's what made it real. Yep, that could be it. But it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter to me, and that's what matters. Right now I'd like to focus on other things that are popping into my memory.
Now I'm remembering a shed, a hovel, the slats of its walls riddled with bullet holes. I'm armed and ready to fight to the death. This is all going on in 1978 in the Louisiana bayous and in 1897 in the Patagonian desert. In 1978 the FBI has me surrounded and in 1897 it's the army. I don't remember whether I die. Probably yes, probably no. Depends. Sometimes my memories end right at the moment that I'm running out of my hiding place, guns a blazin', sometimes they continue, with me escaping. Both times, my escape ends in some part of southern Mexico, probably between Chiapas and Tapachulas. There, too, I'm in a precarious wooden structure and the Federales have me surrounded. I'm armed and ready to fight to the death. I don't recall why I don't remember this as a third version of the events. Or a fourth, since it happens in both 1986 and 1912. Maybe it's because being surrounded in Mexico is the consequence of having been previously surrounded in Louisiana and in Patagonia. Makes sense. At least it usually does, I mean when the siege of 1986 is the consequence of 1978 and the one in 1912 is the result of 1897. It doesn't make nearly as much sense when the one in 1986 is the result of the one from 1897 and the one in 1912 the result of 1978. Still, that's the causal sequence, and logic simply flies out the window when confronted with anything that solid.
Another memory, also from 1978 and almost certainly from the same day as my being surrounded by the FBI, has me driving a double-tractor trailer rig from Batouri to Garoua. That's in Cameroon, in case you didn't know. This is a memory in which nothing happens. And by "nothing" I mean nothing remotely like being surrounded by heavily armed troops. More or less the same things happen that happen to any other trucker in the world: traffic jams, detours, falling asleep at the wheel, that kind of thing. I don't die. In fact, I keep working as a trucker for eighteen more years. In 1993, as I arrive in Akonolinga, the thought, "The dead all have Kirlian eyes," pops into my head, and then I realize that it's absolutely my first thought ever. And as I'm telling you this I notice that I can finally recall the circumstances and the date on which I had this thought. What a strange thing memory is! When you want to remember something, you can't, and then when you want to forget it, there it is, clear as day. Or not. Depends. What I continue to not understand is why the thought, "The dead all have Kirlian eyes," pops into my head and how a phrase that complex can be my absolutely first thought. One would imagine that an old truckdriver in Cameroon must have had some other, earlier thoughts, however trivial or insignificant they might have been. And yet, no. In absolute terms it is my very first thought. Now, if we're talking about the relative terms of the chronological sequence of my existence as a Cameroonian truckdriver, that's another matter. And that brings us to the crux of the matter. But first I want to share another memory with you.
I am a Sufi master crossing the desert with a group of my disciples. I could also be a Taoist priest, a Zen monk, an Achomawi shaman, a Gnostic hermit or a Hindu guru. In other words, I am all of these people. But the year and the name of the desert (or of the moor, forest or steppe) that I am crossing with my disciples don't matter. So let's stick with the Sufi master. We cross the desert, our trip takes many days, and finally our provisions are running out. Behind an enormous dune we find an oasis. But it's an unusual one: in addition to water there are springs of wine, honeyed water, beer, corn liquor and lemonade, and marvelous fruits hanging from the trees, enough to satisfy one's hunger for months. Still, I order my disciples to keep walking, and despite their protests, we continue on. Several hours later some hetaeras approach from their monastery-brothel to greet us. My disciples start to run towards them but I stop them and order them to continue on our path. On and on we march, passing chests of treasure poking out from the underneath the sand, glistening with jewels, dinars and precious stones. Once again my disciples try to approach them, but I persuade them to continue our journey. Later we are intercepted by hundreds of fierce bandits. I recognize their leader. It is the monstrous Haroun ibn Chavoush al-Yarak Kafa, villain of many a horrific tale. Apparently we have stumbled upon his lair. The bandits prepare to slaughter us. I fall on my knees and beg for mercy. I tell Haroun ibn Chavoush al-Yarak Kafa that if he spares our lives we will lead him to a place filled with unimaginable treasures. Apparently my words convince him.
We return, bound in chains, escorted by the fierce bandits. When they see the treasures they go wild, loading up their saddlebags with jewels and coins. They untie us, give us water and food, and then they force us to carry the chests back to their lair. Once all the riches are in their possession they prepare to slaughter us. Again I plead for our lives, and I promise to take them to a place full of beautiful courtesans eager to take them to whole new levels of erotic pleasure They believe me, and we head toward the monastery-brothel.
The fierce bandits satisfy their baser appetites, and many of them lie spent, exhausted. Some of them accuse us of having brought them to these dissolute women to sap their strength, and so they try to kill us. I beg once more for our lives, dispelling any suspicions about our intentions, and I promise to bring them to a marvelous oasis where they can stuff themselves with food and drink. Haroun ibn Chavoush al-Yarak Kafa trusts my words and all of us -- bandits, prostitutes and hermits -- head for the oasis. There the cruel delinquents stuff themselves with the finest foods and liquors in an inexhaustible Rabelaisian buffet, until they lie unconscious, in various stages of drunken stupor and heartburn. It is at this precise moment that I order my disciples and the prostitutes to slit the thugs' throats. We march to the nearest city, carrying the disembodied heads, and the caliph repays us handsomely for having defeated the cruelest and most despised villain who has ever defiled the country. We are toasted as heroes, and we are offered prominent positions in the court.
There is no lesson to be learned from this story, however much its structure begs us to find one. There is something instinctive, culturally instinctive, that convinces us that every story has a moral, and that after having read or heard it we have learned something. But that's not true. We are simply trying to attach a purpose and narrative structure to everything. We want to believe that what happens to us happens for some purpose, that actions are more than just actions.
For example, I say "Run for cover and dig some trenches". I know that this is the very first thing I've ever spoken and that its originality is absolute: it's the first thing with respect to everything. That should be enough for me, and yet I want to know more. Why did I say it? Does it mean anything? Does it make sense? Or is it merely a sequence of seven more or less related words that are ordered in a form sufficiently similar to what grammar dictates? Surely, it evokes something more than what each of the individual words suggest. One reads "Run for cover and dig some trenches" and imagines both an earlier and a later context. The particulars of this context will depend on the specific individual, but everyone who hears or reads it imagines a battle, a heroic clash, maybe a struggle for freedom. Not a picnic in Tigre de Buenos Aires. Not Martian capitalism. Although possibly the drunkenness of a villager at the end of the Middle Ages. After all, it might involve a soldier drowning his memories of the horrors of war.
Or "The dead all have Kirlian eyes". Wow! It sounds so... heavy.... poetic... Not something that an old truckdriver in Cameroon would say. Or a Malay fisherman from the 4th Century, for that matter. It's something that would sound good coming from the lips of some metaphysical detective, probably one blessed with extrasensory powers, who is investigating a meaningless robbery from a small local appliance factory when he stumbles onto a story involving, among other things, the bones of a black, drug-addicted, gay boxer who was once a great champion but who has fallen on hard times and who finally dies alone, his corpse robbed from the morgue by three drunks who drag it through all the dockside bars, showing it off for pennies a pop. Now that's a good story. It deserves to be told just as much as the story of a 13th Century bumpkin who tries to steal a sacred relic from an alchemist only to find himself spirited away on a journey beyond time and space. These stories are interesting, these memories of mine that pop into my head in this blackness that I find myself in. No, not "blackness". That would imply the existence of the sense of sight, if only by contrast, and right now I don't sense anything. I don't know if you can imagine the most absolute visual privation, but if you can, then you will have some idea of my present state. But "present" is another word that requires further temporal context to make any sense. Present with respect to what? Simple: with respect to the act of your reading this text. It is my present state this very second, as you read this sentence. Yes, it sounds confusing, but that's the way it is. How soon is "now"? Is it "now" yet? For example, right now one sees a star -- any star, the name's not important, it doesn't matter whether it exists -- a star 100,000 light years away. The observer's "now" is not the observed star's "now", which is a "now" 100,000 years in the past. Maybe the real star's "now" coincides with the observer's, assuming that the star still exists after 100,000 years and has not exploded as stars tend to do eventually. Oddly enough, because no time has elapsed for the photon that left 100,000 years before "now": for that photon it is always "now". And the "now" of the observer at the start of this clumsy explanation is not the same as the "now" of the very same observer right now. Yes, yes, I know, I'm rambling, I'm boring you, and you don't understand a word of this. Nor do I. Don't worry. But I had to get that off my chest.
So how did I arrive at this state of abject sensory privation? Does it even matter? Would you like me to tell you that it was a failed experiment involving a time machine and that I found myself trapped in an extradimensional bubble outside the space-time continuum? Okay, I'll say it. I'm lying, but I'll say it: I was testing a time machine of my own invention, one of the parts failed, I lost control of my ship, it left its four-dimensional trajectory and I landed in a proto-universe, in a pre-Big Bang state. Happy now?
And although I'm lying, there is a bit of truth to it. If I put quotation marks around some of the words in the preceding explanation, to suggest that they're metaphors or metonyms (It's hard to tell the difference in this case.) of things that cannot be expressed in the language of beings trapped in space-time, perhaps I would be telling the truth of how I came to be in this state. But maybe not the whole truth. "Arriving" implies that you find yourelf at a destination point which you reached from some other departure point, and maybe I did not arrive here; maybe I was already here and I left for another quote-unquote "place", because not only is it a point but it's also a time. Perhaps this is only a transit point. I don't know, my thoughts on this point are a jumble. Hah, my thoughts about other points are too. My memory is a haze of tiny atoms of existence, a few molecules that come and go via Brownian motion and drift into my consciousness, becoming reality through my perception.
And that's why. No, not "that's why". What I want to say is not the result of what I just said. Or rather it's the result of what I said before, but what I said before is also the result of what I'm about to say. Like a drawing of the yin and yang, ha! A begets B and B begets A. And A contains some of B and B some of A. And that's why "that's why" is not the best choice of words, even though it's partly true. However, I'll continue: it has nothing to do with memories popping into my mind from different reincarnations. At least not reincarnations in the usual sense of the word, with some person dying and his soul moving on to another person who is born later. There is no such thing as reincarnation, not the way most people imagine it. Simply because that would imply that there's some purpose to existence, even if reincarnation were nothing more than the momentary reallocation of resources for a period of time infinitely shorter than the eternal lifespan of the soul. Such things don't exist -- souls -- and at any rate, there's no reason to recycle them. Let alone that business of karma. Ha! As if anyone cared enough about the behavior of some fleeting, imperfect souls to establish some system of rewards and punishments based on how much or how little they had obeyed some arbitrary and incoherent set of rules of behavior! And rewarding or punishing them for all Eternity in places built for just that purpose? Who would dream up such rubbish? Only people who need an illusion of narrative structure in which all things happen for a reason, in which every action has its reaction, in which there is some purpose. And in which souls exist.
Unfortunately, those things -- souls -- don't exist. Consciousness: that exists. Of course it does, but it rarely survives even one single lifetime. And sometimes, like me, it lasts a little bit longer, even if spread out over several lives. I have here the central point, the explanation for all the paradoxes that keep popping up in this text. And that is why "Run for cover and dig some trenches" might be precisely the first thing I said, despite it being a phrase that would require a previous command of the language and my remembering having said it for the first time on at least five different occasions. Now I understand. It's also clear to me how one chronological event can be the consequence of a later one, or how I can remember two independent events happening in different places but at the very same moment. One -- me -- comes and goes, one moment being this person, from this era, from this location in this universe, and then becoming this other person, from this other era, from this other location in this other universe, and so on and so forth, leaving the person-era-location-universe to others like oneself, or even to one's self, but to a different one's self from another now, possibly a later one, possibly an earlier one, maybe a simultaneous one. One doesn't know. Just like one never knows what is this nothingness[?]in which I find myself now[?] One doesn't know, or answer, or even care.
One simply remembers.
What else can one do?