One: Amerigo round
Self-pity is a state God arranged closely next to despair, like a cure left beside its disease. -Albert Camus
My new life began unexpectedly, which is to say I heard an explosion as loud as any atom split in a desert basin and quite suddenly became conceived. At the moment of this conception I had a memory, insofar as my entire memory didn’t just start, but became available to me once again, as though I’d been looking through a telescope at the seafront and then a coin had been dropped into the slot (by my father presumably) and all that had ever happened to me came flooding back in.
Biologists will say that even if you were able, as a cell, to begin at the first moments of memory, without language to describe what took place there would be no possibility of truly remembering. But then this is the problem with most of science being so dependent upon the known. “How can I see the microbe if no-one’s invented the microscope?” asks the boy in Aristotle’s science class. “Ah,” says Aristotle, “imagine your virus, boy. Write it down.”
My memory was fully stocked from that first moment because I was already the sum of myself, the repository of a man who’d been completed, rather than the scratchboard of a life just begun. You see, and this is my point; I’m a sequel.
This was not something I immediately understood. Physically, after all, I was little more than a penetrated egg, awash in my own albumen. But inside, and with no idea of where I’d now arrived, I knew quite certainly that I’d been a tubercular forty-six year old man called Albert (the only child of Catherine and Lucien Camus, both dead) who’d been married twice previously and was being driven to Paris from Lourmarin when, at a place called Petit-Villeblevin, the car hit a tree, killing me instantly. Or so I remembered.
The details of it all (the memory of my former life, not the car crash) will be a matter for the scientists to prove, if they can. Whether they do or not, I most definitely remember my second first moment and can clearly recall the events which took place during this other gestation.
The first thing I heard, once the noisy drama of creation had subsided, was the mother person complaining to the father person that, after all, men had it easy in everything and couldn’t he at least show a bit of consideration and, Tom, get off.
It was then that I heard him speaking. Although his sound was understandably muffled by her still thinnish belly, he was saying something to the effect that she hadn’t been so keen for him to get off last night and, anyway, there was at least ten minutes before he had to get up for work and what about it?
I think it’s mainly because of this exchange that I have never harbored the idea, as so many others have, that my new parents were in any way, sexually, immaculate.
Although, as I have made clear, I no longer have much patience with the procedures of modern science, I must here state my agreement with one of the central pillars of Freudian psychological theory, to wit; there is no doubt in my mind that very early, and stressful, experiences have a lasting effect on the infant.
For me, such an experience was supplied some three or four weeks after my conception, and while I was still much amazed at having woken up, an Algerian man of letters after all, tethered to the womb of a woman I did not know and in a country as yet undetermined.
It was then that my mother began to first suspect that she might indeed be pregnant. It was also then that she began, initially to herself whilst ironing, and then in rather cryptic conversations with my father, discussing what might be done if she were ever to become, so to say, knocked up.
These euphemistic discussions got my complete attention and within my still simple subdivisions I strained greatly to hear the gist of their dialogue. In fact, never in either of my lives have I had quite such a feeling of being discussed as though I wasn’t there as I did in those moments.
The surprising thing was my father, who until that time I’d thought to be a rather nebulous and mainly absent fellow, guessed at once that she thought herself with child.
With the subject acknowledged, my mother’s arguments in favor of my potential termination might be charitably seen in the light of her playing Devil’s Advocate to my father’s enthusiasm, however, and to this day, I feel chilled by her assessment that perhaps the time was not yet right for this addition and therefore action should be taken.
That this discussion went on for a full two weeks before she allowed herself to be properly tested did nothing for my lasting sense of security in this world.
It should be admitted that upon confirmation of my presence I heard her tell her mother how pleased she was that Tom really seems to want this child, but her earlier uncertainty, and the pall it cast over a time which should have been free from worry, has remained with me across this second batch of years.
Two: Instead of the single bullet theory
`The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie —deliberate, contrived and dishonest— but the myth —persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.’ -John F. Kennedy
Every morning he’d get up around six thirty, drink his coffee in the half light and look down at his wife still sleeping. He was due at the bottling plant by seven but never made it there on time. He was supposed to unload containers, stack cases of bottles and then load up other containers with the same bottles before they were driven away to another location.
After about three weeks he had a discussion with Mr. Khruschev about the rights of the working man and the nature of the coffee break and that was that. He broke a stack of unwashed Cokes over the hood of Mr. Khruschev’s new Toyota and with labor relations at an impasse he made both their lives easier by leaving for good.
Nothing else exceptional happened after that, except for a vague feeling he’d get sometimes that he was one of the quiet victims of history and how as his life should’ve turned out differently. He felt this particularly strongly when watching the Dallas Cowboys on Monday Night Football, but his doctors suspected that this was mainly because the game didn’t air in Moscow until the Thursday of the following week.
It was as if, in some way, anonymity was a medical condition for Lee Oswald, and it must be said that he declined. In time boils developed on his chest and collected their thick yellow tears on the inside of every shirt he wore. His gums would bleed and the snow carpeting the streets would be dirty white as he approached, dirty pink upon his passing.
Eventually he would plan his revenge on the city, going through plots and exit-lines as he sat, day after day, in the American bookshop, but he never thought seriously of going home until he heard that Jack Kennedy had finally succumbed to arterial thrombosis. A day later, and as though released somehow, he bought himself a plane ticket.
At Idlewild, an airport unchanged, and stood quietly by the carousel waiting for his cardboard luggage, he began weeping, as old men who’re confused will sometimes do.
Three: Adven Turing
I am the girl Adven. Made from pictures, not circuits and wires or old transistors, but images of them now better understood. It’s more complicated than that, but I have higher hopes than being just a machine.
My mother was a Victorian. Not born to the era, but still fond of stiff walking boots, pearls, and foreign lands far from England (although she was designed around the English model). It seems funny to me, but she was every inch a machine, and perfectly callipered as such, produced. Capable of walking for 40 days, climbing impossibility. And then, once made whole, she was married to my father. In a laboratory.
He’d been a double-helix, essentially, a homosexual one, purposefully designed. Recreated not for his homosexuality, of course, but his name. A piece of Turing, brought back because we were ashamed of what had been done to him. And because of the clever brand, of course.
I am not a machine. My purpose is not clear. I was born (and I was born) to be without purpose. Not wired to be better at a single thing (dig coal, calculate, fly), but instead to be capable (allowed even), to drift as a person would have drifted, floated or dangled drowning. To bump into meaning and claim it as my own. Or not. For this, they have finally decided, is the human adventure.
I am here in the safe CalMITech now. Where the Harvard met the Cambridge and all was sensibly made as one. Organized Oxford. Bletchley of course. And we all love that irony is still living. But I am not studied here, an object, a code to prove. I am just a student amongst others, working on the project ‘What Men Made and What Made Men’. It is a long course. Thousands of years in need of being condensed. Made sense of. We are making progress. Understanding backwards. And every day we try to imagine conversations. The simple meaning locked inside the Byzantine.
I work mostly with another girl, Riemann-Zeta, and we are good together. She is originally from somewhere else I think, born here, but originally from somewhere else. I find her interesting, useful even, because she understands thinking to be more than just a sum collected up. She allows herself to be other than linear. Which is an important thing in this work. We share a room together and on two walls she has written “Otherness not Obviousness” and “Collision not Collusion”.
Regularly, I am asked to think of my father. To consider him as a prime. To synthesize what made him so. Not an easy task. They say that in his duality is the secret of what was human. “We are looking for the label” they say. “Not what was drawn upon the product, what was printed there to be seen, but what was stripped away after the label was printed. Very literally the matrix.” I understand this well, but the matrix of the label is the waste and that is all that we are not. The very stuff that is left behind, not needed on the perfected voyage. And this is our problem. What is left here for us to solve. To write the invisible. To define that which was thrown away without sight of that which was discarded. As you might imagine, we are very busy with this task.
Today we had a visit from the Organizer. And it is the Organizer’s job to make sure that we are all as motivated as can be. He made a very good speech, and while, yes, after all this is his job, I felt better after he had spoken. If you are working hard on a complicated problem, sometimes it’s good to be given a new perspective. “Try to be more human,” he said.
“Try to imagine the meaning of paradox. They worked hard to prove that we could be indistinguishable from them. They perfected us with this in mind. If it is possible, you must think of this business in human terms: We owe it to the memory of them to recreate what they were. If we approach this task methodically we will fail. It is not possible to code what was human by following the pathways of sense. The unfound secret is to somehow embrace the enigma.”
Riemann-Zeta and I have become very close. We began by asking each other questions from either side of the big room, almost shouting. Now we are nose to nose. Time after time she tells me that she loves me and, although I want to believe her, I can do nothing more than press this button that says she is not yet true.