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    Publish Date: 09/10/2010 Article Image:
    By David Misialowski (2010)

    A Myth for Our Time

    In his new book, The Grand Design, Stephen Hawking has generated the most heat and light for his statement, found on the next-to-last page, that “it is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.”

    But for some people, a more controversial statement is found on Page One, in the second paragraph: “Philosophy is dead.”

    If God is unnecessary and philosophy is dead, the field is clear for science to explain the world: to answer all the age-old questions like: “What is the nature of reality? Where did all this come from? Did the universe need a creator?”

    These are the questions Hawking proposes to tackle in his book, armed only with science, because, as he writes: “Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery.”

    But then, in the book’s first sixty pages or so, Hawking mainly philosophizes, as he surveys the history of science and the philosophy of science. He concludes emphatically: ”There is no picture- or theory-independent concept of reality.” The italics are his. What is this if not a philosophical stance? Since we do not have direct access to reality, Hawking explains, we must then employ what he calls “model-dependent realism” to build pictures of the world.

    I think Hawking does not really want to suggest that all of philosophy is dead. I think he means that philosophy of a certain sort is dead: philosophy that takes little or no account of scientific findings. And there is such philosophy. Some metaphysicians insist that metaphysics can do just fine without reference to scientific findings or observation of any sort. Other metaphysicians disagree, and so this is a debate within the field of metaphysics itself.

    Then, of course, there are scientists who insist that metaphysics itself is just bunk: like theology, these scientists would claim, it is a field without a proper object of study. I don’t think Hawking is among the scientists who would claim this, because otherwise he wouldn’t talk so much about metaphysics in his book.

    Hawking writes that under model-dependent realism, there is no single model that can explain the universe. There are, instead, a series of models that overlap. That’s fine, he says, provided that where the models overlap, they make the same predictions. If they don’t, one or more of the models is flawed. Hence Newtonian and General Relativistic models can account for big objects in the world, and quantum mechanical models can account for little things like subatomic particles.

    The tricky part, it seems, is where these models overlap. And so far there is no model that accounts for the overlap of quantum mechanics and general relativity, for example. This would seem to be a bit of a sticking point if, as Hawking suggests, we are on the cusp of obtaining the scientific holy grail: the theory of everything.

    But the theory of everything that Hawking describes is not the TOE as traditionally conceived, when it was thought that a single equation – a string of numbers that could be written on a T-shirt – would eventually be discovered (invented?) to explain all of physics.

    The new Theory of Everything, Hawking writes, is something called M-Theory: As described above, M-Theory is a network of theories, or models, which model different domains of reality, but which will end up making the same predictions where they overlap.

    But Hawking also writes of M-theory: “No one seems to know what the ‘M’ stands for, but it may be ‘master,’ ‘miracle’ or ‘mystery.’ It seems to be all three. People are still trying to decipher the nature of M-theory, but that may not be possible.” I suppose many people might feel that if this is the case, it could perhaps be premature to declare either God or philosophy dead, especially when M theory is deemed miraculous (God) and mysterious (philosophy)!

    M theory derives from string theory. It describes a world of eleven space time dimensions, in which all but the 3+1 dimensions that we normally experience are curled up into tiny little balls far too small to see or experience.

    The mathematics of the theory says that the way these minuscule dimensions are curled up accounts for the “apparent” laws of physics that we experience. So our laws of physics, Hawking explains, are not laws at all, but simply incidental consequences of the way that the extra dimensions are curled up under M theory.

    However, M theory requires a successful formulation of models that fall under the domain of quantum field theory. I will skip the details, pointing the reader to book, in which Hawking guides the layperson through this abstruse terrain. Quantum field theory is an effort to make those “overlaps” between classical and quantum theories coincide, as required under Hawking’s model-dependent realism.

    The first problem is that this effort is so far incomplete. There still is no quantum description of gravity, for instance. Hawking covers all this. But the second problem is that string theory itself, according to many scientists, is not science. Hawking does not broach this subject, does not meet this objection, and it seems a curious omission.

    Why is string theory not science, according to some scientists? Because it makes predictions that can’t be tested. Probably they can’t be tested even in principle; this also makes the theory unfalsifiable. For example, to “see” these other rolled-up dimensions would require energies produced by a supercollider that is about the size of the Milky Way galaxy. We are not going to build any such machine, obviously.

    Other scientists like string theory because it provides elegant mathematical descriptions of the world, and all so-far valid theories do seem to have elegant mathematical descriptions. The idea here appears to be that we should take string theory to be true because the math is so elegant!

    All of this, of course, raises troubling philosophical problems.

    Still, if we grant that string theory can be science, and if the effort to model quantum field theory succeeds and if M theory falls out of all that, what is the upshot?

    According to M theory, the way that the dimensions are curled up to instantiate our apparent “laws” can be modeled a number of different ways. That is an understatement. The number of ways that universes can be modeled under this theory turns out to be on the order of 10 to the power of 500. And from this, evidently, we should conclude that all these different universes actually exist, and that each has its own unique physical laws.

    But why should we take it that all these universes actually exist, as opposed to being useful fictions? Hawking does not directly address this issue. I take it that one answer would be that there is no reason to expect that our universe alone should exist, if there is nothing special about its particular laws. Why should it be that our own utterly contingent set of laws be the sole universe in which the “blue touch paper” is lit?

    It’s a fair question, but the question alone does not establish the actual physical reality of all these other universes. And if no empirical evidence can be found for their existence – if their existence simply falls out of the math – then we have another troubling philosophical problem. It’s funny how a discipline deemed to be dead on Page One of this book keeps kicking throughout its pages, like a lively corpse that never received the telegram informing it of its own demise.

    As to other universes, there seem to be at least a couple of different kinds of them in Hawking’s picture of reality. Based on Feynman’s sum-over histories solution to the peculiar behavior of quantum particles in the two-slit experiment, we are invited to believe that the universe takes all possible histories, even as a quantum particle in the experiment takes all possible paths to the detector screen. So every possible universe exists, and each universe takes every possible history that it can.

    A new problem arises, though, in that Feynman’s sum-over histories is an interpretation of QM. Hence, it’s philosophical. (There’s that word again.) There are other, different interpretations. As Hawking explains, the Feynman interpretation is perfectly consistent with a different view, that quantum particles have no properties until they are observed. Both interpretations yield the same results, and as Hawking notes, if two different models of reality make the same predictions, then both models are acceptable.

    But surely there is an ontological difference between a particle taking all possible paths to a detector and taking no paths to a detector, because it lacks properties when unobserved.

    So the problem is that if both models are fine, under model-dependent realism, because they yield the same predictions (and they do), but if each model requires a totally different ontology, one simply can’t say anything about the real world. The idea that there are multiple histories and universes may thus be nothing but a useful fiction. And Hawking clearly understands all this, since he himself is endorsing model-dependent realism. But his own model of QM has a competing model that is inconsistent with the ontology that he is promoting. Hawking does not address this contradiction.

    The picture that Hawking paints of reality is a mind-blowing one but, given that it is model-dependent, its presumed ontology might well be fictitious. It consists of the aforementioned multiple universes and multiple histories. There are versions of reality in which electrons are as massive as golf balls, and in which gravity is a stronger force than electro-magnetism rather than the other way around, as in our world. There may be a universe in which the moon is made of Roquefort cheese, Hawking writes.

    Hawking says that the picture that science gives us of this New Reality is somehow “top down” and not “bottom up.” Once cannot, because of the indeterministic nature of quantum mechanics, start with initial conditions and calculate future outcomes (expect as probability distributions). Instead, one must start with present conditions, and reconstruct the past from the present. This is a topsy-turvy world in which the delayed-choice two-slit quantum experiment shows that human observations made in the present can actually retroactively make the past be what it was. “We create history by our observation, rather than history creating us,” Hawking writes.

    The cosmological argument — the idea that the universe was created by God — is circumvented in this picture of reality. That’s because in the cosmology Hawking describes, the universe did not have a beginning. This does not mean that time extends infinitely into the past. It means rather that like space, time has no edge: it is finite but unbounded. He likens the so-called beginning of the universe to a location on earth like the South Pole, and says to ask “What happened before time began?” is akin to asking “What lies south of the South Pole?” The question has no meaning. Because of this, he writes, the entire universe, and all its different quantum histories, is a self-contained object in which scientific laws alone, deriving from M theory, dictate the nature of the various versions of reality. No supernatural creator and no outside intervention is required to make reality be what it is.

    It should be noted that none of this is new, not even for Hawking, who used to use the North Pole rather than the south in explicating his no-boundary proposal for time. What is new is the packaging, bringing all the latest conjectures of science together in one handy-dandy package tied up with a bright ribbon in the form of nice pictures and some funny cartoons.

    In the penultimate chapter, Hawking talks about fine-tuning. Our universe is fine-tuned for life, in the sense that if any number of delicate parameters, or physical laws, were tweaked, the conditions for making life as we know it possible would be removed. As Hawking explains, the weak anthropic principle states that we must observe a universe whose properties are consistent with our existence, for otherwise we would not exist to observe anything at all.

    Why is the universe fine-tuned? It’s because there are so many of them, Hawking says. With ten to the power of five hundred universes floating about, each with its own different physical laws, it’s unsurprising that at least one of them – our own – would randomly and contingently just happen to take the parameters making life possible.

    The fine-tuning of our universe, as Hawking explains, has often been invoked as a theistic argument. The idea is that since it is outlandishly unlikely that all the free parameters would randomly fall in just the right pattern to assure the possibility of life, it is much more parsimonious to assume that a designer, presumably God, endowed the parameters with the values that they have, so that life would arise. The multiverse idea presumably puts paid to this notion. Given enough universes, sooner or later one of them is bound, by chance alone, to take life-permitting values.

    There is a thick literature on the fine-tuning issue and various versions of the multiverse. I’ll just mention in passing that some people who have studied these topics contend that the existence of a multiverse does not, in fact, account for the fine-tuning of our universe. The reason for this, I take it, is that the probabilities of each universe having the values that they do are independent of one another, and hence once cannot say that just because a billion universes will not support life, it’s somehow more likely that the next universe in line will support it. If the odds are, say, a billion to one against any particular universe having life-supporting parameters, then those odds remain the same for each universe no matter how many other universes exist.

    At the end of the penultimate chapter, Hawking writes: “But is M Theory unique, or demanded by any simple logical principle? Can we answer the question, ‘Why M Theory?’” The question seems to be accompanied by a dramatic drum roll and a flourish of trumpets, for now we are getting down to the nitty gritty, which amounts to: why is there something rather than nothing?

    The final chapter is short. Mostly it’s about Conway’s Game of Life, which demonstrates that complex properties can arise from simple rules, with a detour into the question of whether humans have free will. It closes with this thesis: because on a global scale the negative and positive energy of the universe cancels out, it is possible (entailed?) that universes (though not the objects within them) will spontaneously arise out of nothing in accord with M Theory. This idea isn’t new either, by the way. Victor Stenger has written extensively on this subject of universes popping into existence out of “nothing.”

    But now, for me, the drum roll and flourish of trumpets is gone, replaced by the sour blat of horns. Unless I have missed a step in Hawking’s reasoning, it certainly does not seem as if he has answered the question “Why M Theory,” or the bigger question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” I could be mistaken about this. Perhaps the defect lies with my reading comprehension, and not with his argument. But for me, what we end up with is: “M Theory said, Let there be light, and there was light.”

    Hawking spices the text with allusions to ancient human mythology, which put Man at the center of the cosmos as its reason and purpose. Implicitly we are invited to contrast such anthropocentric tales with the disinterested wisdom supposedly underlying the discoveries of modern science. Yet Hawking and other scientists are constructing a modern myth. A myth does not mean a “lie.” It just means a narrative, a conceptual scheme that gives order and purpose to our experience. And even while modern science beginning with Copernicus has been steadily evicting Man from the literal “center of the universe,” man remains at the center even under Hawking’s own schema: model-dependent realism, which of course means that realism depends on us – on the structure of our cognitive faculties, on the architecture (and limitations) of our brains, on the mediation and interpretation of sense data by our mysterious minds. We see through a glass darkly because we are the glass.
    Teaser Paragraph: Publish Date: 08/10/2010 Article Image:

    The Omniscient Book
    By David Misialowski

    Oct. 3, 1991, San Francisco
    This morning I fed yellowcake to the pigeons in the park. They strutted about like diplomats, obsequiously bobbing their heads up and down at my feet as if I were a potentate to whom they were presenting their credentials and paying homage. But sometimes they cocked their heads and scrutinized me with their beady little eyes, as if they wanted to tell me a secret. Yet they never spoke. As always, the eyes of the statues followed me. Perhaps I am under surveillance, but why? I love America, the land of the free, and would never harm her.

    I saw Nadia again last night. Nadia! A Slavic name. She occupies the room down the hall. I must get her aside and tell her, as a friend, that her skirts are too short.

    Whenever she sees me coming, she seductively twitches her nose. I know what she is after! But whenever I walk up to her, she always closes the door in my face. Strange!

    I confess I do not understand women: for a long time in Poland I practiced celibacy while I studied for the priesthood, before renouncing God and profaning a statue of the Virgin Mary in Warsaw.

    By dark routes I wound up in Moscow as a spy, and I was able to buy my freedom from the crumbling Soviet bloc by selling fissile materials to a shadowy group in Afghanistan for a small fortune. I assumed that the Afghans, who called themselves jihadists, planned to use the yellowcake to fashion nuclear weapons for use against the Soviet Army, then in its waning days of occupying Afghanistan. Unfortunately, that never happened.

    Now I am in San Francisco in a cheap hotel, but the money is running out. It turns out that in the land of the free, one is free to starve in the street. Who knew? At night, the foghorns reproachfully low my name: “Veee-toooold … Veee-toooold…”

    What are they trying to tell me?

    Oct. 20, 1991
    Today I had an extraordinary experience.

    I came across a bookstore called “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place for Books.” But the place was dirty and dim, with a cranky old man behind the counter.

    I found a fat black book. Written in bold, gold letters across the front of it were the words, “Book of Predestynaski.”


    I am Predestynaski.

    Witold Predestynaski.

    I opened the book, and turned to the first page. I read:

    Oct. 3, 1991, San Francisco
    This morning I fed yellowcake to the pigeons in the park.

    I was poleaxed. It was my diary entry of Oct. 3. More: I quickly ascertained that the book was all about me; it had all my diary entries reproduced for the last couple of weeks, since I started keeping my diary.

    Around Page 50, I read this:

    Oct. 20, 1991
    Today I had an extraordinary experience.

    “Buy or fly!” the old man behind the counter snarled.

    I flew out of the store in terror, went home and scribbled in my diary:

    Oct. 20, 1991
    Today I had an extraordinary experience.

    Nov. 11, 1991
    Ran into old Moses Maimonides up in North Beach. We had lattes.

    “Moses,” I said. “How can you be here in North Beach, having a latte? You’ve been dead for centuries.”

    “I suppose I am immortal through my work.”

    “What are you reading?”

    It was the racing form.

    “What horse do you like?”

    He pointed to name, a very long one:

    “Does God know or does He not know that a certain individual will be good or bad? If thou sayest ‘He knows’, then it necessarily follows that that man is compelled to act as God knew beforehand he would act, otherwise God’s knowledge would be imperfect.”

    And that’s the problem!

    If God knows in the past that in the future, I, Predestynaski, will sell yellowcake to jihadists, then I must sell it -- whether I want to or not.

    For if I did not sell it, then God would be wrong; but God cannot be wrong about anything, and still be God.

    But because God’s knowledge of the future is absolute, all human activities are necessitated by His knowledge. Men are mere puppets: no free will. Thus there can be no moral accountability, and religious belief is useless. No one can be blamed for anything: they should empty the prisons! Even Hitler’s Holocaust was morally indifferent, for God’s foreknowledge of it, and not Hitler’s actions or intentions, had made the Holocaust happen.

    Thus was I forced to renounce God and give up my priestly aspirations, for it was not possible to worship that entity Who is the author of all iniquity. He sold the yellowcake, and not I!

    As it is written in Isiah 45:7: "I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things."

    Earlier I spotted Nadia. She wrinkled her nose at me and I said, “Nadia! Let’s discuss the fraught problem of reconciling divine foreknowledge with human free will!” But she closed the door in my face. From Nadia, nothing.

    I guess she’s not very intellectual.

    Here is my problem: It seems that the Book of Predestynaski in the bookshop contained an exact reproduction of all that I had written up until now. What is more, it is fat: evidently thousands of pages long.

    Reasoning inductively, I must conclude that the rest of the book contains an infallible account of the future history of my life: the parts of my diary that I have yet to write. If so, then the book itself is omniscient.

    If like God the book is omniscient, then I am unfree, for all my future acts have already been infallibly written down. But I must be free; the desire for freedom motivated my escape from the Soviet bloc!

    Wait, I will test my theory. I will keep my diary for a month or so, and then compare it with the book in the store.

    Dec. 13, 1991
    I went back to the bookshop, found the damned thing and read past Page 50 and there they were: all of my previous diary entries for the last month.

    “Buy or fly!” the old man behind the counter snarled.

    Back in my room, I brooded. Finally I slapped my knees and said: “Witold! The book is either God Himself, or God’s revenge. Perhaps it is His punishment for my renunciation and profanation.”

    Concluding that the book is the infallible chronicle of my life, it now behooves me to attempt to prove that free will can indeed co-exist with divine (or biblio) omniscience. If I can succeed in doing this, then God (or the book) can know everything in advance, and I, Witold Predestynaski, can still be free!

    But, how shall I do it?


    Dec. 24, 1991
    Christmas Eve. The Soviet Union has collapsed! Yeltsin stood on a tank, and now the Hammer and Sickle is being lowered from above the Kremlin! What a glorious day! The end of the damned Reds!

    Still, it means nothing. It was all foreordained by God, if God exists. And if He doesn’t, then what is the basis of morality? Why the Yeltsinites, and not the Reds? Hm!

    No answer.

    Sometimes I think about that yellowcake I sold. I wonder what happened to it.

    No answer to that, either.

    Jan. 5, 1992
    I checked out a lot of philosophy books from the San Francisco Public Library, while making an important discovery: the library has a secret shelf that no one knows about, except for me. It has a nose on it, and one can hide books in its nostrils.

    In addition to Maimonides there is Aquinas, Boethius, Occkam, Molina, Plantinga, pah! Who can follow the labyrinths of their reasoning? Still, it seems that this subject, the problem of reconciling divine omniscience with human free will, also known as the problem of theological fatalism, has been around for ages. But that’s the problem with philosophy! No problem ever gets solved.

    March 26, 1992
    I have solved the problem of theological fatalism.

    I pounded on Nadia’s door, wanting to share my discovery with her. But she did not open it. Oh, I knew she was in there –- I could hear her stirring when I put my ear to the door! But she pretended to be away. Why is that? Maybe, in spite of her overtures to me, she is fundamentally shy?

    “Nadia!” I screamed. “Open the door!”

    “Go away, you filthy pig!”

    Yep, she’s shy, all right. That’s the problem.

    Here’s the solution:

    God’s foreknowledge does not necessitate my action (in this case, selling yellowcake) in the future. Just the other way around! My free act in the present is what necessitates God’s infallible foreknowledge in the past!

    It was not necessary for me to sell yellowcake: in fact, assigning necessity to the consequent of the antecedent, in cases where the consequent is metaphysically contingent, is a logically fallacious move. All that was necessary was the conjoint state of affairs in which: necessarily (if Predestynaski sells yellowcake, then God will foreknow this act).

    Suppose I had declined to sell it? Then: Necessarily, (if Predestynaski declines to sell yellowcake, then God will foreknow that he declines to sell).

    The traditional problem is formulated as: If God knows x in advance, then x must occur. But I have discovered that this is wrong. The proper formulation is: If God knows x in advance, then x will occur. Yes, it will occur, but it does not have to (must) occur!

    Whatever I do the infallible God (and the infallible book in the bookshop) will foreknow, but what I will do is up to me. God’s foreknowledge of our future acts no more forces our actions, than my watching Nadia try to seduce me, forces her to try to seduce me. Freedom!

    May 10, 1992
    Last night I had a nightmare. I was about to sell yellowcake. Suddenly the sky brightened, and the clouds parted. To a blast of horns a host of angels descended from the heavens, flanking a dazzling light that resolved itself into the actor George Burns.

    He was smoking a cigar. Just as he was about to touch down he tripped and fell, landing on his face to a sour blat of the horns. The cigar was mashed, and the angels were chagrined.

    He arose with wounded dignity, clapping the thighs of his trousers to clean them. Then he lighted again his mashed cigar, and sat down on a lawn chair. In his gravelly voice he said with a wistful sigh: “So much for instilling a sense of awe in one of my humble servants, eh, Witold?”

    “God,” I said, “Do you expect me to believe that you have infallible foreknowledge of all future acts, if you can’t even descend from Your heavenly throne, guided by Your heavenly hosts, without falling flat on Your face?”

    “Believe whatever you like,” he said, sounding cross. “You think it’s easy upholding all of creation from nanosecond to nanosecond, across the foggy ruins of time? You try it sometime, Witold, and see if you don’t trip and fall every now and then.” The Lord was snappish.

    “Sorry, Lord.” I was sheepish.

    “By the way,” God said, in his gravelly voice, pointing the cigar at the fissile materials. “With respect to that yellowcake, in just a moment you are going to –-“

    “Wait, wait!” I protested, clapping my hands to my ears. “Don’t tell me! You’ll spoil everything!”

    “Why’s that?”

    “Because I have solved the foreknowledge problem, but now I realize that there is a further problem: the foretell conundrum. If you tell me what I plan to do, and then I don’t do it –-“


    “But that’s impossible, don’t you see! If I defy Your prediction, it would mean either that You are not omniscient after all, in which case You are not really God; or it would mean that You both have, and fail to have, infallible certain knowledge about all future acts, in which case a violation of the Law of Non-contradiction occurs.”

    “I hear they can put you in jail for that,” God observed wryly.

    “The only option that I can see is that whatever you predict to me that I will do, I will do whether I want to or not; so I am back to Square One! No free will!”

    Just then God vanished in a blaze of light and a puff of smoke, leaving behind, on His chair, a pierogi. I saw old Maimonides smirking at me; no doubt he was amused by my presumption in claiming to have solved an ancient philosophical riddle that has bedeviled the best minds in history. He slapped me upside the head, and I awoke in a cold sweat.

    So my solution to the omniscience/free will problem has been sabotaged, dear Book, but that is not all: I realized that the problem exists in reality, in the form of the Book of Predestynaski in the bookshop.

    Suppose I were to read the future part of it: my as-yet unwritten diary entries. To do so would be to have my future infallibly foretold; but what would happen if I tried to contradict the book’s infallible predictions? In that case, then, why … pah! All this stupid thinking makes my head hurt!

    And worse still: last night, while coming home, I stopped on the threshold of the hall, and backed up into the shadows. I watched Nadia escorting some man to her room. He was talking gibberish, in the rapid-fire voice of a life insurance salesman, and she was giggling like a schoolgirl. What’s so funny about life insurance? He had his arm around her waist, too. Why? They went into her room, and I heard her lock the door. Then more of her giggles from behind it.

    Hm! What can it mean?

    May 24, 1992
    Glorious day!

    I have solved the foretell problem, and in so doing reconciled without doubt omniscience and free will.

    The solution is to recognize that it remains logically invalid to assign necessity to the consequent of the contingent antecedent.

    If God had told me ahead of time that I were to sell yellowcake to jihadists, it would still not be necessary for me to do that; all that would be necessary would be for His infallible prediction to match my free act, hence:

    Necessarily (if at time x God tells Predestynaski that Predestynaski will at future time y sell yellowcake, then Predestynaski will sell it at y).

    Suppose I had decided to defy God, and not sell the materials?

    Then, free will would be preserved in one of the following ways: either God would not have disclosed his prediction in the first place; or, if He had, perhaps I would have misunderstood His words, or forgotten them. Either way, I would have gone on to sell the stuff, but would have done so freely.

    What does it mean for the book in the store? It means that my free will shall remain intact, provided that I never read the future part of it.

    Or, if I did read it, and decided to defy its predictions, I would either forget those predictions, or misunderstand them, or –- or something, damn it, would happen to make my actions match the book’s forecasts, without sacrificing my freedom.

    Anyway, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

    The new problem, though, is that Nadia and that life insurance salesman are meeting rather frequently in her room. My God, how many meetings does it take to buy life insurance? And why all the giggling? I don’t see what’s funny about life insurance; I think one’s mortality is a fairly grave topic, don’t you?

    Moreover -- let’s face it! –- other men visit her, too. Lots of them! I am beginning to wonder whether Nadia is running some sort of small business out of her room. If so, it would behoove her to dress more professionally, wearing longer skirts. A pantsuit would be best. I wonder what she is selling.

    Now it has occurred to me, Dear Book: I might find out what the future holds for me and my wife to be, Nadia, if I buy the Book of Predestynaski in the bookstore, and … and read my future diary entries in it!

    May 27, 1992
    Today I bought the book.

    “That?” the gnome behind the counter railed with a grimace of disgust. “You want to buy that? It’s some old fool’s diary! I don’t even know how I came by that thing.”

    Some old fool’s diary! If only he knew! By now I had concluded that the book was God Himself, the Word made words.

    “How much?”

    “You can have it for a dollar … no, wait! I’ll give you a dollar, to take it off my hands.” And he did.

    A dollar! The dullard.

    He had paid me to remove God from his bookstore.

    Back in my room, I compared my diary with the book. My diary filled maybe a hundred pages, while the bookstore Book of Predestynaski was enormous. This meant, I decided, that I am destined to live a long time.

    I cracked open God, but then paused, and thought back on my resolution of the foretell conundrum.

    Did I dare test my theory?

    I slammed the book shut. Maybe it was not God –- maybe it was the devil!

    But I opened Him again … and found the page with the latest entry in my own, ongoing diary. Beyond that page lay the future, veiled in mist …

    I thought about Nadia. I had been thinking of paying her a visit, to see if I could help her pick a life insurance policy or at least improve her wardrobe.

    Just a peep, I thought, a quick peep can’t hurt. I read a little way ahead, a few hours into my subjective future: my future diary entries.

    The following words popped out at me:

    …“Nadia,” I pleaded, “Nadia! All the time I see you in the hall, and you give me that come-hither nose twitch, but when I try to respond to your overture, you slam the door in my face! Why, why?”

    What she said just about floored me:

    “I twitch my nose when I see you coming because you stink like a bum in a Dumpster!”

    Then she slammed the door in my face.

    I slammed shut God.

    “Impossible!” I shouted at Him. “You’re lying! That can’t happen! I shower! Sometimes! I’ll prove it’s impossible!” And I burst out of the room, stormed down the hall and hammered on Nadia’s door until she finally opened it and wrinkled her nose at me.

    “Nadia,” I pleaded, “Nadia! All the time I see you in the hall, and you give me that come-hither nose twitch, but when I try to respond to your overture, you slam the door in my face! Why, why?”

    What she said just about floored me:

    “I twitch my nose when I see you coming because you stink like a bum in a Dumpster!”

    Then she slammed the door in my face.

    Shaking with humiliation, I went back into my room and scribbled this traumatic account down in my own diary, and when I finally quit writing I slapped my hand on my forehead and was completely amazed.

    My diary now precisely matches up with the predicted event inside of the book; moreover, the book’s prediction had not forced me to confront Nadia; I had done that freely; indeed without even thinking about it.

    But more: I had only wanted to do what I did -- confront Nadia -- because I had read that I was going to do it! Otherwise, I wouldn’t have done it!

    Does this mean that if I hadn’t read the book, the entry in it would have been different?

    I swooned, positively paralyzed by the potent poison of paradox.

    Then I realized that, yes, of course, had I not looked inside the book, then its contents would indeed have been different, to correspond with what I actually did, or would do! This fact gave me an eerie feeling, yet it was perfectly consistent with the logic of the whole situation.

    I gazed at God in terror and awe. “It will never do to have you around,” I finally stated with firm conviction.

    I resolved to destroy Him by fire.

    I tucked Him under my arm, left my room and went out into the street. At a vacant lot at the end of the road, I dug a hole in the ground, placed Him in it and took a cigarette lighter from my pocket.

    Just as I was about to set fire to Him, it occurred to me that to immolate Him would be to destroy the universe that He upheld. Consequently, instead of burning Him, I hid Him inside one of the nostrils of the nose that I mentioned earlier, the one on the secret shelf at the San Francisco Public Library.

    Queen Nadia IV
    I showered today, in the communal bath. Then, leaving the shower with a towel tied around my waist, I spotted Nadia in the hall.

    “Nadia!” I cried, reaching for her, which caused the towel to slip from my waist and fall to the floor. “I am clean!” But still she shut the door in my face. There is no pleasing that woman!

    In my room I lay on the bed, watching the weather report on TV. The weatherman is named Edison Clowds.

    “In August” Clowds forecast, “on a Thursday, it will be foggy, foggy, foggy, Witold, and this fog will leave you so depressed that at one minute before midnight, you will …”

    I ran out the door, and into the street.

    A flock of pigeons were eating pierogis. They looked up at me with their beady little eyes. I have known for a long time that they wanted to tell me something, and now the patriarch of this clan warbled, “Where is our yellowcake, Witold, to go with our dumplings? You Russians have a saying: ‘Yellowcake is the beginning of everything.’”

    “I am not Russian, but Polish,” I retorted angrily, but already I was patting my pockets for the yellowcake that I usually keep wrapped in plastic, but found nothing because I no longer had pockets. Then I remembered that I had neglected to dress after showering; I did not even have my towel. I backed away from the pigeons but then the patriarch said, “Predestynaski, it is written that next Wednesday morning, just before 11, you will…”

    Then all the pigeons started flapping their wings and squawking at me, quoting from the Hidden Book; I ran away screaming with my hands covering my ears. The statues that always follow me with their eyes were now moving their lips, trying to tell me what the future held for me; department store mannequins, TV transmission towers and even small children with the voices of adults were reciting passages from the hidden Book of Predestynaski! It seems that in hiding it, I had somehow freed, Pandora-like, its contents. Fortunately, because all of them were reciting different passages from the book, all I heard was white noise.

    But suddenly the foghorns started up: “Veee-told! Veee-tolld! Next Wednesday, you will -–“

    I again clamped my hands over my ears and began loudly singing the Polish National Anthem to drown out the foghorns. At that moment men in uniform, just like those in Poland before the fall of Communism, cudgeled me, and all became dark.

    Date Uncertain
    I am better now. I have bought my room, and lined it with soundproof rubber padding. I have locked the door with big bolts, and never leave it. Attendants slip food trays through a slot at the bottom of the door. When I am feeling up to it I scribble in my diary.

    I had decided, after my encounters in the street, that to preserve my free will, I would have to kill it. All my tormentors were trying to recite to me passages from the hidden Book of Predestynaski. But now the padded walls muffle their prophetic voices; the TV is gone, the window sealed. Now, no one can get at me. As for Nadia, to hell with her! Let her buy life insurance from someone else.

    July the Infinite
    White pigeons flowed out of the muzzle of an extinct volcano, and I counted them. Their numbers approached infinity, and they wheeled about in the azure sky like iridescent angels, perhaps in homage to me.

    I inferred that forevermore none but white pigeons would fly forth.

    But then that damned Phillip Osoffee visited me (“You can call me Phil”) wearing his beret and his tweed jacket with the elbow patches, and puffing on his pipe. He ground his staff into my belly and said, “What about the problem of (puff-puff) induction, Witold, eh? What about (puff-puff) that?”

    I realized with a flash of insight that one cannot logically conclude that because all pigeons heretofore have been white, then all future pigeons will be white, too. The next one might be black.

    Inductive reasoning fails!

    This meant that the hidden Book of Predestynaski, the book that has ruined my life and from which my tormentors were lately quoting, might in fact have nothing to do with me at all! There is no valid inductive inference from the contents of the book so far matching up with my own life, to the conclusion that the rest of the book is a replica in advance of the diary that I have yet to write!

    The volcano rumbled to life, spewing burning embers and boiling lava. The sky became tremulous with redness amid blinding bands of yellow yelling. Then out of that stinking muzzle black pigeons flew like bats out of hell. The whole world shook and shattered, and the stars and the moon fell from the sky into churning seas of fire and blood. Note to self: from now on, it’s decaf for me.

    Happy Birthday to Me
    Today I had visitor.


    And on my birthday, too!

    I had to fold her in two and pull her in through the food tray slot at the bottom of the door. She had a birthday cake with her, decorated with a single candle.

    “Nadia, you shouldn’t have!” She lighted the candle. “And it’s lemon! My favorite.”

    “Wait,” she said, “don’t blow it out.”

    I watched the fire run down to the cake. She was counting down: 10 … 9 … 8…

    Just before the fire consumed the fuse on the yellowcake, she stunned me by saying, “Yours is the kind of stink that can’t be washed off with soap and water.”


    Augustus Caesar
    I have hit upon a solution to prove that the book is an impostor, a fraud; neither omniscient, nor yet God nor even the devil: My own diary, if published, would take up about 150 pages; by contrast the hidden book is vast. Therefore, to prove that it is not all about me, I will kill myself, making my diary half vast.

    It is foggy, foggy, foggy, and it is one minute to midnight. Let loose the sluices of my veins, to replenish, with blood atonement, the flowers of Time.


    Thus ends (almost) Witold Predestynaski’s diary, which we have excerpted here. Did he really take his own life to prove that the hidden book was a fraud? Or was there a deeper reason? Here are his final writings; judge for yourself:

    “If God does not exist, life is meaningless.”

    “If God exists but His infallible foreknowledge renders all our actions unfree, life is meaningless.”

    “If (as I now believe) God exists, but His infallible foreknowledge comes about as a result of our free acts, then moral accountability is real.”

    “If moral accountability is real, then I am a moral monster for selling fissile materials that could be used to kill hundreds of thousands of people. Could it be that the statues in San Francisco followed me with their eyes, to press upon me my unabsolvable guilt?”

    The final word he ever wrote trailed off in a hopeless scrawl of blood: “yellowcake.”

    It would seem that this unfortunate man, though liberated by the discovery that he had free will in spite of God’s infallible foreknowledge, was destroyed by the very same discovery, because he could blame not God, but only himself, for the monstrous sale of fissile materials.

    By various circuitous routes, his bloodstained manuscript (how he managed to smuggle a razor into the cell at the asylum to which he was confined is unknown) made its way to us, scholars at the San Francisco branch of the United States Department of Metaphysics (Bureau of Ontology). We dispatched a team of analytic philosophers to search the San Francisco Public Library for the secret shelf where Predestynaski hid the finished Book of Predestynaski inside a nose. Initially our efforts were stymied because we were looking for a nose; it turned out, though, that Predestynaski had stashed the volume inside a knows, apparently having confused the two words because they sound alike (English being his second language). Once we realized this, finding the book was easy.

    The bookshop Book of Predestynaski is not only long, it is infinite. It does not exist solely in our familiar 4D Minkowski spacetime, but orthogonally in Hilbert’s n-dimensional mathematical configuration space. It contains a branching story line wherein every possible outcome of Predestynaski's life is chronicled. It is the ultimate hypertext. It is, of course, not God at all, but the quantum wave function of the universe, the true ground of reality.

    On some quantum branches he never leaves the Soviet bloc; in others he does, ending up not in San Francisco but elsewhere. In some branches his opprobrious dealings in fissile materials are replicated, but in others they are not. Moreover, in many story lines he commits suicide, but in others he lives on.


    The book contains the stories of all people, and all dreams, and all possible variations of lives and dreams.

    It seems, in reading the early parts of the Omniscient Book that matched the events of his own life, Predestynaski, in his boundless self-absorption and his guilt, suffered from a form of epistemic tunnel vision: he was able to perceive, in the book, only those events that he had experienced in his particular subjective branch. Had he been able to read the branching (hypertext) book, he would have understood that it is about everything and everyone, and hence about nothing and no one –- and therefore harmless, because in containing all possible information, it contains no specific information.

    That is, in knowing everything that could possibly be, the Omniscient Book actually knows nothing at all.

    Like so many dilettantes, Predestynaski dipped his toe into the quicksand of philosophy in a futile effort to understand the big picture, and got sucked under. We here know only too well how vile that vortex is. We conclude that Predestynaski was suicided by philosophy.


    Postscript: In 2015, in one story line, the fissile materials that Predestynaski had sold to jihadists a generation earlier were used to immolate San Francisco in history’s worst terrorist attack. The fireball effaced the rooms in which he had lived and streets on which he had trod, and it also vaporized the Department of Ontology and the Omniscient Book, just as if they had never been. It also destroyed this manuscript, which therefore must now end.
    Teaser Paragraph: Publish Date: 07/02/2010 Article Image:
    (Continued from Part 1...)

    Cincinnatus, at the end of his tether, begins to understand his circumstances for what they are. He recognises the theatricality around him, he understands that "... everything has duped me..." With this, comes the realisation of his own tragic complicity in the whole performance:

    The world around him now has become for him what he has suspected all along, something has been put together, soldered to something else, a makeshift performance, where nothing is real, but where everything fixes, everything spells death. How does language operate in such a parodied world? How can anything that is written, how can the word, be trusted?

    They cannot be trusted. They desert him, or else they are maimed. Silence, then, a hidden language that must sit snugly in the little crack he has discovered, a crack that is at the same time a violent site of conflict and a syncopated world of meaning. He adds: "Everything I have written here so far is only the froth of my excitement, a senseless transport..." (118) His writing, his inscription must go beyond mere representation. It must go beyond the discourse of the everyday; it must move itself into what Delalande would call "Discours sur les ombres (Discourse on the Shadows)." (119)

    There is a second condition. The abyss is that which contains nothing and everything. Distinctions between objects disappear in this space where there are no gods, no idols. It is a vortex that quells its thirst for creation by devouring all that already is. Cincinnatus writes for this reason. Yet, as we have seen, his words are, in his own words, deserters and cripples, forming only the froth of the excitement. In order for his words to have any use, they need to move across a vast site of perception, to be transported to a place where the work can be engendered, or tempered. The first step in this process is the presence of the reader.

    Cincinnatus has already expressed the notion of someone who will one day read his words an d who would feel he ha awakened for the first time. His is a revelatory work, but revelation require audience. Therefore, now that he is at the end of the line, he beseeches whoever cares to listen:

    The reader, co-conspirator, a double of sorts must be present in order for Cincinnatus to walk freely toward his mortal hour. The meaning of the work lies, then, not in the distance between reader and writer, but between reader and the work, for long after Cincinnatus has slipped into the chink, the crack, the work will still live under the treatment of the reader. Cincinnatus’ words reverberate in Kafka’s with the undertone of Samsa’s double:

    "(T)he capacity of mine to meet death with contentment" implies that ties with the world have been severed. He is already dead (122), a stone. However, this contentment, this rejoicing over the enacted death of the character, is never complete unless Kafka is allowed "the theoretical possibility of having a reader". This exile in death is linked to writing. In other words, Kafka writes in order to die. Cincinnatus by the end of the novel has begun to see and accept this preposterous proposition. Preposterous though it is, once he has allowed himself the possibility that someone will read his words, he is willing to subject himself to the farce that has been his whole imprisonment. He does so to force a separation, a separation that will finally sever all ties with the material world. Kafka, too, says, "I shun people not because I want to live quietly, but rather because I want to die quietly." (123)

    Kafka’s quietude is a desire to become nothing, to die anonymously, to pass into the ether of things without a trace through writing. Through writing, one is ultimately also written. To rejoice of one’s own dying through the enactment of the death of a character, to see your own death in someone else’s is not only to effect a negation of one’s self, but also to be re-written in the form of a text. To enjoy your death seen through another’s death, that is, to die as a character in the eyes of a reader – is to enter the abyss, to become legend, to become ether, to transcend the trappings of the material world. By dying through his characters Kafka dies endlessly, but he is also resurrected endlessly. In short, to rejoice in another’s death as one’s own is to immerse oneself in the text, which is the anonymous abyss where only voices speak, and faces are unseen, like Cincinnatus’ father who leaves nothing but the trace of his voice and his essential quality. He has no face. His face is every face.

    Kafka is resurrected in each of his texts – the inmate of In the Penal Colony (124) is Kafka: society writes its demands on the inmate as does the attractive human world on Kafka; Gregor Samsa’s predicament is Kafka’s, for the latter, too, is hounded by societal requierement to be useful. The creature in The Burrow (125) who designs his grand structure but who is still filled with doubt about its efficacy and usefulness is Kafka; Joseph K. believes he can understand and function in the world based on his own system of values. His tragedy is Kafka’s tragedy – he does not realise that he can only do so if he fully embraces the human world; K secures a highly sought-after interview in The Castle (126) yet throws away the opportunity. He vacillates in dissatisfaction – all this is Kafka. All this is the abyss. To become a character in his own texts is to rise above the material. This is the motive behind Kafka’s rejoicing.

    It is for this reason that Cincinnatus can say, as his jailers arrive at the cell to take him, in an horse-drawn carriage, to his execution,

    A three-minute intermission in a matinee. Cincinnatus has finally seen through the whole affair, and his own part in it. He gives himself over to the theatricality of the material world. He embraces the value system in order to overcome it, as Joseph K does not do. "I’ll act to the end." He has been nothing but a character in an "idiotic production". An idiot’s tale within which Cincinnatus is merely "a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage". (128) He embraces his fictionalising and rejoices in his death.

    At this point, he runs out of paper, but manages to find one more sheet and completes the sentence with the word "death", which he immediately crosses out thinking he must say it with greater precision. A single word sits on a blank page. "Death." It is crossed out. DeathDeath.

    The very first words he writes down in his cell are these: "In spite of everything I am comparatively. After all I had premonitions, premonitions of this finale." (129) These words are crossed out as well. "I am." The imperative, to be. An affirmation of life, which he crosses out, nullifying that affirmation. It is a life that isn’t. He sees nothing ahead of him, except death. Now, though, at the end of his life, when he confronts death head on, the affirmation of death he nullifies in a similar manner. What does he see in its stead? Precisely that chink, that crack, the syncope. The written word fixes, cuts off the sentient centres that do not fall within the space of a word. That is how he recognises that some things must be left unsaid. (130) There is no death, no dying, if he rejoices in the death of the other, the death of one of the cast of stage characters that he essentially is. Like Kafka, who rejoices in his death in the death of his characters, Cincinnatus C. must rely on the theoretical possibility of a reader in order to rejoice in his own dying in the death of the literary figure of Cincinnatus.

    However, despite this realisation, despite the intimation of a freedom that is already within his grasp, he cannot shake off the fear of the idea of his head being hacked off. He understands that the wave of sickness that followed the thought of his decapitation was drawing him "into a system that was perilous to him." Yet, he can do nothing to stave off the system. He recognises that he is caught in a world of unreality, and that he is headed for a world which will transcend all this. Yet, "the sun was still realistic, the world still held together, objects still observed an outward propriety." (131)

    Cincinnatus is made to lie on the block. He is positioned to meet the down-swinging axe. It is at this point of being executed, like a word that quells all competing forces of meaning so that only one victor remains, at this point where Cincinnatus can just make out the threshold to some hidden space of release, He discovers the hidden mystic inscription:

    He rejoices in his death, the death of the other, and walks away from the scene that is now collapsing, disintegrating all around him. He senses voices, like that of his father, like that of characters on a page, that are akin to him, and in that direction he walks, and exits the stage production of Mimetopia.

    Cincinnatus’ anonymity is achieved, not from shunning the world completely. The world, to be sure, is seamless, like the endless tapestries of the Gods. Yet, Cincinnatus, like Gregor Samsa, like the Woolfian narrator, like Kafka, has discovered certain omissions within the fabric of language, the language we must all speak in order to be. That omission, the distance between the structure of this language and the apprehended world forms the concentration of ambiguity. However, in order to gain access to this centre of ambiguity, one must be of the world in order to die with the world. In other words, the world, which consists of a language that seeks to define and fix, is already a world that is dead, inasmuch as it believes in its own facticity and truth. The beyond, contained in a crack, is always already the abyss, the outside that speaks, that dies and is always dying, but which must be resurrected in order to die repeatedly. This circularity, like an undercurrent that is always flowing just under the skin of language is where Cincinnatus disappears. He becomes the abyss, not by challenging the world, but by being of it in order to discover the chink within which the voice of his father and the voices of those other literary figures resonate.

    Literature, therefore, is this abyss, this anonymous, absent, omitted language that resounds like an invisible inscription, a trace that forces its way to the Outside of fixity and definition. Cincinnatus’ jottings have been saved, and we read them as a text from cover to cover. Who has written the text? Which cincinnatus has written it? Is it the one who was unnecessarily counting to ten, or the one who had managed to move the unmovable table in the cell and who had dissembled himself, skullcap included? What we are left with these musings is not a fixity or definition, but merely a trace of voices. They are all that remain of the text, of Literature, from which nothing is graspable, but from which everything is discernible.



    (1) Michel Foucault, Aesthetics, trans. Robert Hurley and Others, Essential Works of Foucault 1954-1984, ed. Paul Rabinow, 1st ed., vol. 2, 4 vols. (London: Penguin Books, 1998). 148
    (2) Foucault, Aesthetics. 149
    (3) Foucault, Aesthetics. 154
    (4) Foucault defines ‘attraction’ in his essay The Thought of the Outside (Essential Works, Vol.1): "To be attracted is not to be beckoned by the allure of the exterior, rather, it is to suffer – in emptiness and destitution – the presence of the outside and, tied to that presence, the fact that one is irremediably outside the outside (154)." Attraction, therefore, is not a positive movement toward something, but an undeniable condition, a burdensome, existential relation similar to the relation between an unsupported stone and the ground.
    (5) Samuel Beckett, Samuel Beckett: The Complete Short Prose 1929-1989, ed. S.E. Gontarski (New York: Grove Press, 19995). 109
    (6) Foucault, Aesthetics. 206
    (7) Luce Irigaray, Speculum of the Other Woman, trans. Gillain C. Gill (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1985). 347
    (8) Foucault, Aesthetics. 157-8
    (9) Plato, The Republic, trans. Desmond Lee, vol. Part vii (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1955). 316-25
    (10) Maurice Blanchot, The Space of Literature, trans. Ann Smock (Lincoln, London: University of Nebraska Press, 1989).
    (11) Vladimir Nabokov, Invitation to a Beheading (Harmondsworth, Middlesex and New York: Penguin Books, 1983).
    (12) Nabokov, Invitation. 21
    (13) Nabokov, Invitation. 21
    (14) Nabokov, Invitation. 191
    (15) Nabokov, Invitation. 78
    (16) Nabokov, Invitation. 77
    (17) Nabokov, Invitation. 77
    (18) Nabokov, Invitation. 76
    (19) Foucault, Aesthetics. 157-8
    (20) Nabokov, Invitation. 27.
    (21) Nabokov, Invitation. 27
    (22) Nabokov, Invitation. 27; (italics my emphasis)
    (23) Nabokov, Invitation. 27
    (24) Nabokov, Invitation. 21
    (25) Nabokov, Invitation. 38
    (26) Nabokov, Invitation. 47
    (27) Timothy Langen, "The Ins and Outs of Invitation to a Beheading," Nabokov Studies 8 (2004). 62
    (28) Nabokov, Invitation. 11
    (29) Nabokov, Invitation. 12
    (30) Dana Dragunoiu, "Vladimir Nabokov's Invitation to a Beheading and the Russian Radical Tradition," Journal of Modern Literature XXV.1 (2001). 56
    (31) Nabokov, Invitation. 129
    (32) Nabokov, Invitation. 130
    (33) Nabokov, Invitation. 131
    (34) Dragunoiu, "Nabokov's Invitation." 56
    (35) Dragunoiu, "Nabokov's Invitation." 54
    (36) Nabokov, Invitation. 61
    (37) Dragunoiu, "Nabokov's Invitation." 56
    (38) In all four dystopias, the illegality of the ‘soul’ as a spiritual element in the make up of the individual body and the body of the social is manifest in the ostracising of writing, that which calls to existence what is inadmissible in a materialist monism. We shall come back to this at a later stage.
    (39) Nabokov, Invitation. 27
    (40) Langen, "Ins and Outs." 61
    (41) Foucault, Aesthetics. 177
    (42) Nabokov, Invitation. 150
    (43) Nabokov, Invitation. 69
    (44) Nabokov, Invitation. 78
    (45) Nabokov, Invitation. 19 (italics my emphasis)
    (46) Nabokov, Invitation. 34
    (47) Nabokov, Invitation. 34; (italics my emphasis)
    (48) His beheading has already been scripted. The performance, that is, the court hearing, the incarceration, the whole comic episode with M’sieur Pierre, the spider in the cell, the apparent goodwill of his jailers, and so on, is put on merely to provide the already determined ending with a narrative continuity – C is imprisoned; Pierre masquerading as a fellow-inmate befriends him in an attempt to become his brother or double; When thus conjoined, both executioner and prisoner can truly become one when axe meets neck.
    (49) Nabokov, Invitation. 60
    (50) Nabokov, Invitation. 31-2
    (51) Foucault, Aesthetics. 178
    (52) Julian W. Connolly, Nabokov's Early Fiction: Patterns of Self and the Other, Cambridge Studies in Russian Literature, ed. Malcolm Jones (Cambridge, New York, Oakleigh: Cambridge University Press, 19992). 167
    (53) Nabokov, Invitation. 102
    (54) Nabokov, Invitation. 78
    (55) Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy and Other Writings (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000). 142
    (56) Nietzsche, Birth. 143
    (57) Nietzsche, Birth. 149
    (58) Nietzsche, Birth. 146
    (59) Nabokov, Invitation. 21
    (60) Nabokov, Invitation. 23
    (61) Nabokov, Invitation. 24
    (62) Nabokov, Invitation. 29
    (63) Nabokov, Invitation. 27; (italics my emphasis)
    (64) Sigmund Freud, Collected Papers Volume 5, ed. James Strachey (London: The Hogarth Press, 1971). 175-180
    (65) Nabokov, Invitation. 191
    (66) Blanchot, Space. 44
    (67) Virginia Woolf, A Haunted House: The Complete Shorter Fiction (London: Vintage, 2003). 77-83
    (68) Woolf, Haunted House. 77
    (69) Woolf, Haunted House. 77
    (70) Woolf, Haunted House. 80
    (71) Nietzsche, Birth. 144
    (72) Woolf, Haunted House. 81
    (73) Woolf, Haunted House. 81 (italics my emphasis)
    (74) Foucault, Aesthetics. 74
    (75) Woolf, Haunted House. 83 (italics my emphasis)
    (76) Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven Rendall (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1988). 11
    (77) de Certeau, Everyday Life. 17
    (78) Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978). 11
    (79) Nabokov, Invitation. 12 (Italics my emphasis)
    (80) Nabokov, Invitation. 33
    (81) Nabokov, Invitation. 27
    (82) Nabokov, Invitation. 29
    (83) Nabokov, Invitation. 41
    (84) Nabokov, Invitation. 104
    (85) Robert Alter, "Invitation to a Beheading: Nabokov and the Art of Politics," Nabokov: Criticism, Reminiscences, Translations and Tributes, ed. Alfred Appel, Jr., and Charles Newman (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1971). 54
    (86) Nabokov, Invitation. 44
    (87) Connolly, Early Fiction. 173
    (88) Nabokov, Invitation. 45
    (89) Franz Kafka, The Diaries 1910-1923, trans. Martin Greenberg and Hannah Arendt, ed. Max Brod (New York: Schoken Books, 1976). 295
    (90) Kafka, Diaries. 409
    (91) Kafka, Diaries. 302 (italics my emphasis)
    (92) Franz Kafka, Collected Stories, trans. Willa and Edwin Muir (New York, London, Toronto: Everyman's Library, 1993). 75-128
    (93) Kafka, Stories. 77 (italics my emphasis)
    (94) Nabokov, Invitation. 22
    (95) Franz Kafka, The Blue Octavo Notebooks, trans. Ernst Kaiser and Eithne Wilkins, ed. Max Brod (Cambridge: Exact Change, 1991). 1
    (96) Kafka, Stories. 85 (italics my emphasis)
    (97) Connolly, Early Fiction. 174
    (98) Nabokov, Invitation. 80
    (99) G.M. Hyde, Vladimir Nabokov: America's Russian Writer (London: Marion Boyars Pulbishers, 1977). 134
    (100) Nabokov, Invitation. 81 (italics my emphasis)
    (101) Nabokov, Invitation. 81
    (102) Hyde, Nabokov. 140
    (103) Blanchot, Space. 44
    (104) Kafka, Diaries. 134 (italics my emphasis)
    (105) Connolly, Early Fiction. 175
    (106) Nabokov, Invitation. 102 (italics my emphasis)
    (107) Nabokov, Invitation. 11
    (108) Nabokov, Invitation. 103
    (109) Nabokov, Invitation. 103
    (110) Nabokov, Invitation. 118
    (111) Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, trans. Maria Jolas, 1994 ed. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1994). 47
    (112) Kafka, Notebooks. 1
    (113) Nabokov, Invitation. 112
    (114) Nabokov, Invitation. 116
    (115) Nabokov, Invitation. 180
    (116) Nabokov, Invitation. 181
    (117) Nabokov, Invitation. 175
    (118) Nabokov, Invitation. 176
    (119) Nabokov states in his Forward that "the only author that I must gratefully recognise as an influence upon me at the time of writing this book", is Pierre Delalande. A quote from Delalande’s book, Discours sur les ombres, serves as the epigraph to Invitation: "Comme un fou se croit Dieu, nous nous croyons mortels" (As the insane believes in God, we believe we are mortals.). Delalande is a spectre, a Nabokovian invention.
    (120) Nabokov, Invitation. 165 (italics my emphasis)
    (121) Kafka, Diaries. 321
    (122) Blanchot, Space. 92
    (123) Kafka, Diaries. 295
    (124) Kafka, Stories. 131-160
    (125) Kafka, Stories. 467-503
    (126) Franz Kafka, The Castle, trans. Willa and Edwin Muir (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1957).
    (127) Nabokov, Invitation. 179
    (128) William Shakespeare, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Glasgow: HarperCollins Publishers, 1994). 1076
    (129) Nabokov, Invitation. 12
    (130) Nabokov, Invitation. 175
    (131) Nabokov, Invitation. 183
    (132) Nabokov, Invitation. 191 (italics my emphasis)



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    Derrida, Jacques. Writing and Difference. Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978.

    Dragunoiu, Dana. "Vladimir Nabokov's Invitation to a Beheading and the Russian Radical Tradition." Journal of Modern Literature XXV.1 (2001): 53-68.

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    Freud, Sigmund. Collected Papers Volume 5. Ed. James Strachey. London: The Hogarth Press, 1971.

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    ---. The Castle. 1930. Trans. Willa and Edwin Muir. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1957.

    ---. Collected Stories. 1933. Trans. Willa and Edwin Muir. New York, London, Toronto: Everyman's Library, 1993.

    ---. The Diaries 1910-1923. Trans. Martin Greenberg and Hannah Arendt. Ed. Max Brod. New York: Schoken Books, 1976.

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    Nabokov, Vladimir. Invitation to a Beheading. 1960. Harmondsworth, Middlesex and New York: Penguin Books, 1983.

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    Plato. The Republic. Trans. Desmond Lee. Vol. Part vii. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1955.

    Shakespeare, William. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Glasgow: HarperCollins Publishers, 1994.

    Woolf, Virginia. A Haunted House: The Complete Shorter Fiction. London: Vintage, 2003
    Teaser Paragraph: Publish Date: 07/02/2010 Article Image:
    By Niven Kumar (2010)

    Literature takes as its space of meaning and operation the void that is created when language tries to move away from itself, to move away from the "mode of being of discourse" (1), that is, representation. The language of discourse is one dimensional, linear, and works towards itself. Instead of approaching itself until it reaches the point where it can only express its own truths, Literature is a language that finds a passage to the outside, where a gap in meaning is formed, where it disperses (2), where it speaks. This challenges the transcendentalism implicit in Descartes' "I think, therefore I am". This Cartesian formula is predicated on the principle that in order for existence to exist, thought or conscious thought, the thought that knows it is thinking, must first exist, a priori. Literature is the neutral space where the transcendental subject is no longer a priori; it is the anvil upon which the subject of Literature (what speaks, and what it speaks about) is laid bare, like an inmate of a penal colony is made to come under the harrowing regime of redemption.

    This outside, the neutral space from which Literature speaks, is not one dimensional, but a multi-layered treasure of meaning, a palimpsest. As such, one is never certain of its centre, never able to apprehend its essence, since the outside never yields it. (3) The silence of Literature, then, is not its inability to speak, but its dispersed, non-linear temporality, its ability to transform thought into a material energy, forsaking the wordy interiority of consciousness. The outside, the neutral space of Literature, is also the void, the death of transcendental truths.

    In such a situation, where the neutral space we speak of is a void that reveals nothing of its essence, but which we go back to over and over again, attracted (4) as we are by it, we are faced with an absence. It is not merely a physical, spatial absence; it is also a temporal absence, since in Literature, the “here’ is nowhere as well; the "present" is not present. However, the "not present" does not refer back to a past, since the past has the force of the "here" and "now".

    The dialectical self-negation inherent in the language of literature calls to mind Beckett’s formulation of this theme: "What matter who’s speaking, someone said, What matter who’s speaking." (5) The absent present that is the site of the language of Literature (writing) encapsulates Beckett’s formulation. Writing frees itself from expressing the views of an author, who disappears once the first word is written, and creates a space into which the writing subject constantly disappears.

    Writing, then, is an anonymous process, a withdrawal that leads to a hollowness, which in turn leads to the erosion of the person who speaks. Writing carries the mark of death wherever it goes. Writing is an effacement of the writing subject, the murderer of the author who ceases to exist as his or her first word is born. "The writing subject cancels out the signs of his individuality." (6) The murder of the writing subject, the self-effacement, is the supreme act of Anonymity. It is the point at which Death meets and marries Anonymity, a turning away that denies itself even as it turns away, like a Christ who is thrice denounced before the final denouncement on Golgotha. By doing so, it speaks freely.

    This zone of effacement speaks but silently, it writes but invisibly. In a sense it is a forgotten space that is always caught within the liminal space between the inside and the outside, or as Irigaray puts, like "the forgotten vagina", the "passage that is missing, left on the shelf, between the outside and the inside, between the plus and the minus." (7) For Irigaray, this constitutes the drama of concealment and unconcealment, visibility and invisibility, anonymity and individuality. Of course, this drama unfolds upon the battlefield of the relations of sexual difference. However, her metaphor of the concealed, yet ever looming orifice is Foucault’s "always receding" law, the intangible God that is always waiting on the day of judgement. For, if the law were self-evident, it would no longer be the law. If the law were decipherable, then, one could choose to follow it or disobey it. The "presence of the law is its concealment." (8) Just as Plato sees light as invisible, and which can only be seen as eidos, "an idea, or sight with form", in the things that are brought into existence (9), for Foucault, the invisibility of the law can only be 'seen' when it is provoked and appears in the form of punishment, or any other manifestation.

    The law always resides on the Outside, and the Outside is always concealed in the web of its own complexity. In other words, the Outside negates itself even as it writes itself into the action which it envelops. This anonymous rendering of its own interiority dissolves all solidity that its manifestations seek to emphasise. In order for Literature to speak free from the secret interiority of the Outside it, too, like the law, must reside in his own concealment.

    What arises from this cloaked drama is a contestation that revolves around the concentric circles of anonymity and individuality, between which lies the notion of Self, of Knowing. It is not the Knowing of the subject conscious of its own knowing, but the Knowing that seems to negate its own consciousness; in effect, a non-Knowing, a subjectivity that must also be a mystery to itself in order to be itself. This is not Gnostic mysticism, an all-encompassing wisdom that, being aware of itself, declares to the world that it is the inside, the centre, but the essence of writing, where language continually retreats within itself.

    This predicament, which is pre-empted and fore-grounded in Nabokov’s Invitation to a Beheading, is the consequence of writing’s silence, its inaccessibility from the outside of itself where meaning is trapped between two poles. Cincinnatus C’s only recourse to this non-discursive space is through writing. Indeed, it is only when, through his writing, C becomes the text itself that he begins to break free from the discursive apparatus of the everyday. The gap within which C resides is the gap that cannot be accessed by Discourse, that being which resides at the very centre of the Dystopian Outside that absorbs all language and regurgitates it as its own.

    In other words, then, the story of Cincinnatus C and his beheading is the story of Literature, its self-concealment in the place of its own presence. Cincinnatus may write the text that we read, or the text we read may be the story of what Cincinnatus writes, but it is still the story of his disappearance, of his eventual submergence into the liquid ether of voices, what Blanchot would call the "space of death." (10)

    The Mimetopia of Invitation to a beheading

    Materialist Monism and the desacralisation of the Body

    Cincinnatus C (11) exists on the fringes of his society. C, "the son of an unknown transient" and a mother he had only met once in his early twenties, and "who had conceived him one night at the Ponds when she was still in her teens", (12) spends his childhood in a "large institution". (13) Even at a very young age, he becomes aware of a strange and unique quality about himself, an opacity that sets him apart from the others around him. This strange quality allows him to retreat from the living world of physicalities into a place occupied by "beings akin to him". (14) Who these beings are is never made clear, but we do know that Cincinnatus’ childhood was filled with dreams within which the world was "ennobled, spiritualised ... the world would come alive, become so captivatingly majestic, free and ethereal, that afterwards it would be oppressive to breathe the dust of this painted life". (15) This free and ethereal dreamworld is a "burning blackness" (16) where he "spins like a top, with such propelling force, such tongues of flame" that he can feel "that primordial palpitation ... the mainspring of my 'I'". (17) Cincinnatus describes this point as the "final, indivisible, firm, radiant point". (18)

    However, his difference, his unique ‘absence’, his ability to remove himself from his immediate physical environment becomes increasingly difficult to disguise. The more he is identified as belonging to the outside, the more he is made to conform. The law, as we have seen, resides in its own concealment (19), and as long as it is not awakened, or confronted with recalcitrance, it remains all encompassing and anonymous. C is brought under surveillance when his opacity begins to thwart the law’s perpetual yet imperceptible presence. At the age of twenty-two, C becomes a kindergarten teacher (his duties include "keeping busy little children who were lame, hunchbacked or cross-eyed". (20)) but a "second-degree complaint" (21) is made against him. He is put through a rigorous examination in which he is made to "write letters to various objects and natural phenomena, enact everyday scenes, and to imitate various animals, trades, and maladies." (22) The material must triumph, and the key to conformity is the ability of all individuals to mimic the material, to embody in both body and mind the materialist supremacy over things. C, however, is young, and the resourcefulness of youth enables him to pass these tests. He is released and is allowed to "continue working with children of the lowest category, who were expendable..." (23)

    Cincinnatus is therefore already distanced, pushed to the outside by a "world of souls transparent to one another". (24) The novel depicts a dystopian-like world where, as Cincinnatus says, "matter was weary. Time gently dozed." (25) Matter, all that is material and discernible through the medium of matter, the order that is established via a system of empirical facticity, the ordering of things which is implied through the prioritising of the material over the idealist or metaphysical, in short, the system of materialist thought, is only arbitrarily and randomly categorised. The books in the prison library from which Cincinnatus is provided reading material are not arranged in alphabetical order. They are sorted according to the number of pages in each book. (26) Clearly, there is no essential order to this world, but merely "an ordering algorithm" (27) instituted by the ethic of the system in operation. Order disintegrates into entropy.

    This entropy, however, is denied, staved off through the emphasis of an enlightened ordering that permeates Cincinnatus’ world. The novel opens with an austere rule of law: "In accordance with the law the death sentence was announced to Cincinnatus C. in a whisper." (28) In his prison cell is a list of rules for prisoners, and even the spider that he finds within the four walls of the cell is described as the "official friend of the jailed". (29) Everything, therefore, that exists or occurs has already been mandated and prescribed, or else forbidden. Physical and material needs are given priority over everything else.

    The legal system in Invitation rests on the assumption that a man condemned to die can and will remain content if his physical needs are met leading up to the execution. (30) The needs of the soul are overlooked and the immateriality that characterises the soul and all other concepts such as love, spirit, etc, are denied. Hence, M’sieur Pierre, the executioner, can extol the "pleasures of love", (31) the "pleasures of a spiritual order", (32) and "gastronomical pleasures" (33) by reducing them to the level of physical impulses. (34) In this world which mirrors that of the Soviet State (it shares a "materialist and epistemologically realist world view" (35)) a shadow like Cincinnatus C must keep hidden what will surely be his undoing.

    Because he is opaque, because his soul is inaccessible to the intrusive rays of the collective, Cincinnatus is found guilty of "gnostical turpitude", "the most terrible of crimes". (36) Terrible because, his ‘gnosticism’ is a fortress of knowledge and knowing that allows him to penetrate the world beyond the empirical. The "material monism" (37) of the world of Invitation insists on the standardisation and regulation of souls. It seeks to establish and maintain a world that reeks of apocalyptic simplicity, reminiscent of Zamyatin’s We, Orwell’s 1984, and Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. (38) His "basic illegality" (39) is that unlike the rest of the world, he refuses or is unable to remain within the strict codes of the regulated materialist system. (40)

    Materialist philosophies propound a mechanistic reading of the world, and of our inner experience; the soul is merely a manifestation or an extension of the body and its practices. They also suggest a ready acceptance of the observable as real: the official friend of the jailed, the spider in Cincinnatus’ cell, is a toy, placed there for the purposes of authenticity. The spider, like everything else in this prison world within which C is caught, is mimesis, a grand production, it is representation of a ‘real’ reality, hence, a simulation. That the spider is not real does not matter to those who are its authors; that much of the events and procedures within the prison are scripted (which go awfully wrong) is of no consequence, however, since what is essential is the material and all its manifestations and representations.

    Materiality in Invitation, then, has more in common with verisimilitude. The incarceration of Cincinnatus, the rights conferred upon him as a citizen, human being, and condemned man (his food is that which the jailers themselves have; visitation rights; privacy; delightful company, etc.), his eventual execution – all these have only a likeness to the truth, and therefore, the appearance of being true. This verisimilitude is what lends the world of Invitation its apparent inherent authenticity.

    These premises, then, dominate the world of Invitation where the private, the inside, the interiority of the subject is open to public scrutiny, where space is desacralised (41). M’sieur Pierre, Cincinnatus’ executioner, can claim, therefore that "the structure of Cincinnatus’ soul is as well known to me as the structure of his neck". (42) It suggests a false engagement with the empirical world. It imposes upon the empirical a set of specious assumptions. This also true when the ubiquitous M’sieur Pierre’s very first words to Cininnatus are: "You bear an extraordinary resemblance to your mother. I myself never had the chance of seeing her, but Rodrig Ivanovich kindly promised to show me her photograph." (43) Cincinnatus’ "extraordinary resemblance" to his mother is taken on faith, since there is always some resemblance between mother and son, however remote it might be. Materiality is abstracted, isolated from itself – negated – and reapplied as a ‘new’ truth, a generic facticity, in short, it is ideologised. Verisimilitude. The Work, that is, the scripted world of Invitation, is made authentic. M’sieur Pierre is made to look the picture of credibility. What M’sieur Pierre has achieved here, is that he has become the personification, the embodiment of Discourse.

    The language of Discourse, as we have seen earlier, is that which speaks of itself, of its own truths. To put it in materialist terms, it is the body that performs in order to represent itself to itself. A significant idea emerges from this statement. If representation is merely a substitution of the thing itself, then, the representational qualities of the Work within Invitation to a Beheading are, in essence, the only certainties. In other words, the materiality of the society that has incarcerated Cincinnatus C is predicated on its ambiguity, its haphazard claim to truth, which it imposes upon its populace. By communicating with itself, then, reality merely simulates the real. It is mimesis that produces the transparency of souls, because it is the endless simulation of the same. The living, physical reality is an empty shell, meaning-less and devoid of any form of substance, and therefore, authenticity. Reality, or the real, is nothing more than the mimetic impulse, that which Cincinnatus himself describes as "semi-sleep". (44)

    Hence, the ritualised order that permeates all thought and action requires that the sentence be whispered. In accordance with this, the judge puts his mouth close to C’s ear and whispers the sentence. This theatricality is further matched by the ‘arena’ of the court:

    The legal system is, therefore, a parody of itself, a caricature that revels in its own interiority, its own ‘self.’ In such a situation, noble principles of justice and morality become vacuous words, with no other life other than their own.

    His own lawyer, a certain Roman Vissarianovich, is non-existent in the sense that he is merely a parody of the law sent to protect Cincinnatus. On his first entrance, he is ruffled and sweaty, and visibly troubled because he has, moments before, lost one of his cuff-links. When C asks him why he is being refused knowledge of the exact execution date, Roman exclaims, "Can’t you even now remain within legitimate limits? ... I dropped in merely to ask if you didn’t have some legitimate wishes ..." (46) In the middle of this interview the Prison Director, Rodrig Ivanovich, enters to return Roman his lost cuff-links, despite the sacrosanct confidentiality between lawyer and client.

    However, it is here that a significant shift occurs in the narrative. In an exchange between the Director (Rodrig) and the lawyer (Roman), the conventional definitions that distinguish one individual from another begin to disintegrate:

    In an instant, the distinctions between the director of the prison, Rodrig, and the bearded jailer, Rodion who, at the beginning of this episode in C’s cell was not even present, disintegrate as in a burlesque. The rapid-fire exits and entrances belong to the world of farce and the commedia d’ell arte. Not only must C contend with the uncertainty of a beheading that has already happened (48); not only must he contend with a materiality whose vacuousness is hidden by the many masks it wears; not only is he a prisoner of a materialist regime that delimits the world of potentialities into a world of fixed outcomes; Cincinnatus must also struggle to interact with a materiality that is arbitrary, artificial, a materialist vision predicated upon that which belongs firmly in the realm of vraisemblance.

    Similarly, a little later on, Rodion the jailer rushes into the cell to say that C will be allowed to see his wife the next day. He leaves the cell, bumping into the director as he does so. The director repeats the same message ad verbatim. Rodion the jailer has left the cell, now occupied by the prisoner and Rodrig the director. But C spots "leather apron and red beard, apparently left behind by Rodion ... still cluttering the chair." (49) The director speaks of cleaning up the cell for the wife’s visit the next day. Wishing to hear no more half-truths and the insignificant preoccupations, C requests that he leave the cell. However, it is Rodion who answers, "Quite impossible." The leather apron and the red beard that were cluttering the chair a little earlier on, are now missing, and comfortably affixed to Rodion’s person.

    Cincinnatus recognises, therefore, that he is

    These spectres rule the land; they are the law. His own death has already happened, and yet he does not know when it will occur. Knowledge of this most significant detail in the story, a detail that is brushed aside by everyone he comes in contact with is, in essence, the kernel of his most intimate self, the point of his subjectivity, the very coordinate upon which all other points of his life so far, and his life hitherto, hinge.

    Like an Elizabethan parade of apparitions, the "wretched spectres" that pass for real life, then, are part of an elaborate performance, a grand theatrical experience that can culminate only in the demise of the performance. This is so because the performance itself leads to no resolution. In other words, it is pure performance, a pure staging, a representation of itself for itself.

    The defamiliarised, desacralised world of Invitation is a Dystopian world, an imaginary world gone wrong, even if its founding principles hold the promise of the establishment of a utopia. The other classic examples of dystopian fiction already mentioned all depict societies whose goal is a paradisaical state of being. The Utopian vision sees the world as perfectible, that humanity can be perfected, that a state of divinity and grace can be established on earth, that human society and humanity can be made in the image of itself. While utopian spaces are essentially unreal (51), the vision which they are constitutive of are present in all societies, the creation of a better place to live, the establishment of a ‘good’ society. Dystopias, essentially dysfunctional utopias, are the manifest failure of this utopian vision, even though they are predicated upon the same fundamental principles of perfectibility. Indeed, that is what the ‘system’ in Invitation is geared towards, a society of ‘good’, ‘moral’ beings whose lives are in some way conditioned and determined for them. That is why, the reticence of Cincinnatus, his inability to suppress his opaque double, the "I" that sees beyond the desert plains of materialist myopia, the self that cannot be fashioned by any moral code or state dogma, the soul that fails to fall within the limits of the already prescribed mode of being is frowned upon, made to conform, by all the means possible, hounded by the conformist pressures of the surrounding society. (52)

    The entire world of Invitation is performative. That is why the world of Invitation is a mimesis of a utopia, a dystopia that aspires to perfection, and therefore, mimics it. It is a Mimetopia, a simulation of itself. It stages itself in what can only be described as a farce, a tragic farce that plays with the life of one man, one human among spectres.

    C’s mistake is that he is opaque, impenetrable, not because he has a resilient; his is a "fleshy incompleteness ... a greater part of him was in a quite different place, while only an insignificant portion of it was wandering, perplexed, here – a poor vague Cincinnatus, a comparatively stupid Cincinnatus, trusting, feeble, and foolish as people are in their sleep. But even during his sleep – still, still – his real life showed through too much." (53)

    Two Cincinnatuses, then; two sides – one that operated in the materialist "semi-sleep, an evil drowsiness into which penetrate in grotesque disguise the sounds and sights of the real world, flowing beyond the periphery of the mind", and another that finds meaning and sense of wonderment in "a more genuine reality". (54)

    The doubling (which we shall look at in the next section) is itself a mimesis, but this time, the mimetic qualities of this coupling is a critique of the Mimetopian materialism of the Work. We have seen above how its arbitrary materialism delimits the possibilities open to an objective, or wholistic apprehension of the world. Instead of allowing for a pluralistic engagement with things and ideas, ‘reality’ is curtailed and contained within defined borders.

    Rodrig and Rodion are practitioners of the "art of dissimulation", as Nietzsche would have it, wrapped in the drapery of convention, where perception glides "across the surface of things and sees forms". (55) In their world, where language is ‘legislated’ (56) to establish the first laws of ‘truth,’ there is no "sensuous perception". (57) Instead, things are named, that is, they are given form. They are made to conform to a system of signs. However, form is a prison that obliges the use of customary metaphors; that obliges practitioners "to lie in accordance with firmly established convention", (58) an endless simulation of an empty form. This becomes the sole concern of a system of empirical reality. It is a parody of the highest order, a Sisyphusian ritual that is pure form.

    The two Cincinnatuses are heirs to what Nietzsche would call "sensuous perception", a non-schematic impulse that cannot be named. Therein lies the crack in the armour of the Work, the anonymous impulse that Cincinnatus must suppress in order to remain a functioning element in "a world of souls transparent to one another". (59) In his prison cell is written an anonymous "Nameless existence, intangible substance", (60) which he finds on the wall where the door covered it when open. An open door, a free passage outside, an anonymous missive, a clue to his own potential. Another scribbled message in the wall reads: "Measure me while I live – after, it will be too late". (61) Again, the crack appears, and there is a possibility of one of the two Cincinnatuses slipping through this crack. "Measure me while I live", but which of the two Cincinnatuses is to be measured?

    Who is it that dissembles himself? Earlier, Cincinnatus moves a table to position it below the barred window. He places the chair on top of it, and clambers on to look out through the window onto the scene outside, but is unable to see anything. Rodion comes in and tells him to get off the table, and he does. But later, when Rodion has left the cell, Cincinnatus tries again to move the table "for the hundredth time ... but, alas, the legs had been bolted down for ages". (63)

    Who speaks? Who writes? Cincinnatus. However, his writing is double, like Freud’s Msytic Writing Pad, a writing machine that allows what is written to be erased by lifting the double sheeting that rests on a wax slate, yet leaving a trace of the inscription on the slate, which can be discerned under special conditions. (64) In other words, the two Cincinnatuses work in tandem, first one, then the other, writing themselves with the already-present knowledge that despite this act erasure will occur when (t)he(y) meet(s) the mortal hour. However, at his beheading he (the other Cincinnatus) walks away from the erected platform upon which his beheading has been performed. As he notices the swing of the executioner’s hips guiding the axe down towards his neck, he steps away, but Cincinnatus has already been beheaded because he sees the pale prison librarian "doubled up, vomiting" on the steps. The execution is performed, the erasure is complete, but the inscription on the wax slate persists in the form of one Cincinnatus, who walks towards "beings akin to him". An event that is not – cannot - be anticipated nor comprehended, by the system of empirical reality:

    This anonymous abyss is a welcome release from the prison managed by spectres. Cincinnatus moves outside of a mimetic stronghold, moves into the abyss, into its centre, "the concentration of ambiguity" (66) where, before he enters he must renounce all idols. Cincinnatus’ double writing not only allows him to slip through the cracks. Not only does it allow him anonymity. It allows him, through this anonymity, to inscribe his presence within the abyss, where it remains, resonant. It is inscribed in the double-sheeting of the mystic writing pad that is Cincinnatus’ body/soul. In short, Cincinnatus inscribes the abyss upon his secret skin, thus, becoming the abyss.

    Becoming the Abyss

    In Virginia Woolf’s short story The Mark on the Wall, (67) two worlds are described, a double world, each with its own stipulations, each with its own codes, its own premises and foundations of truth. The narrator in The Mark, like our Cincinnatus, traverses these two worlds and is more comfortable in one, and alienated from the other. Which is the inside, and which is outside? Both characters, Cincinnatus and Woolf’s narrator, ‘belong’ to both and yet they are also caught within the two of them, vacillating between two extreme poles, like a Kafka unable to live in a world of men, yet unable to stray too far away from it.

    The two worlds of Woolf’s narrator collide in the realm of thought. It is in this realm that she wanders, across a vast space of possibilities, confined by nothing except her own inner potential to dream. However, her silent meanderings begin with a mark on the wall, a mark she has never seen before and which now fascinates, intrigues, troubles, perplexes her. "How readily", she says, "our thoughts swarm upon a new object." (68) With this, she is swept away, transported into a world where the mark on the wall not only takes on the essence of other beings – a nail, one that hangs miniatures, not paintings – but also a whole universe that is implied by this one initial premise - a miniature of a lady with "white powdered curls, powder-dusted cheeks, and lips like red carnations. A fraud of course, for the people who had this house before us would have chosen pictures in that way – an old picture for an old room". (69)

    Such a standardisation of things is immediately undercut by the narrator’s own seemingly aimless wanderings in her mind. Things in the physical world, in the ‘reality’ of tangible objects and phenomena develop a fixity, thinks the narrator. As she says, "The military sound of the word is enough. It recalls leading articles, cabinet ministers – a whole class of things indeed which as a child one thought the thing itself, the standard thing, the real thing, from which one could not depart save at the risk of nameless damnation." (70) Language, then, becomes a game, a convention that attempts to pour life into the thing as the word is uttered.

    The scepticism of the narrator, her flight into a world away from the language of "military sound", her movement away from the fixity of things towards a "nameless damnation", the space where no word exists, no standards dominate - that scepticism is not that of existence, of life, but a scepticism of death. It is a scepticism that questions the limits to understanding, in short, it is a distrust of knowledge, of truth, of verification and summation, a knowledge that is based on what Nietzsche would call "empty husks" with which "they will for ever exchange illusions for truth." (71)

    The various possibilities open to her investigation on the nature of the mark on the wall lead her to conclude that "nothing is proved, nothing known." (72) Only a physical examination of the mark, only if she got up from her chair, walked to the wall where the mark was and inspected it, only this would reveal to her the true nature of the mark on the wall. But, she argues, what would she have gained.

    This, above all, is a scepticism of death because it defies the fixity that is given to the language of empiricism or materialist thought. Rather be curtailed by the unknowability of things, she enters a space on the outside of ‘language’, the space of death which is not death but, always through dying, passes into a space and time where and when "nothing is proved", but everything is possible, where death does not finalise, but keeps on coming forward and then retreating, an eternal recurrence that can only end in a becoming from nothing.

    Her reveries (they are reveries since they are celebration of a unfettered imagination, but being beyond mere imagination and fantasy, are also native to a realm of knowing that escapes the "military sound" of the word) recall Cincinnatus’ own, since both reveries belong to the same realm of wonderment, a forever seeking new limits, new borders to transgress, a real in which limited being is affirmed. (74) The two ‘modes of being’, sitting and standing, are emblematic of the duality of worlds – of thought and action respectively, of silence and noise, of invisibility and visibility, imagination and facticity, creativity and conventionality, fluidity and fixity, fecundity and stagnation. Woolf’s narrator’s creative impulse is facilitated by a freedom of movement in and out and around objects of contemplation. She attains a fluidity of thought, and hence, a prolific creative outburst of associations and possibilities. The mark on the wall, therefore, is no longer merely a mark, an empirical phenomenon, grounded and therefore, fixed in its own facticity. It is also, through the seated narrator’s imagination, all things at the same time, a point in which that has come before, and all that will come are present and reflected in it.

    However, this infinity into which the Woolf narrator slips is a precarious point that must always defend its own limits, limits that are themselves indefinable. In other words, the flight to the outside is not only an escape from the harness of the fixity of the inside, the common space, the system. It is also a burden that must be mindful of the constant danger of the collapsing of its fluid walls. As she sits, lost in the outside, drowning in the abyss of the aleph, she is suddenly aware of an interference.

    No sooner has the material world intruded upon the reveries of her otherworld than the mark, hitherto a conduit of meaning and pathways to other spaces outside, is reduced to an empirical certainty. Now it has shape, definition. The mark is no longer a troubled area of conjecture, but a fixity, an identity. Yet, with this identity comes a certain loss of presence, a quality that is required for human experiences to be what they are. That is, human experiences cannot be reduced to what can be said about them. (76) This inarticulabilty provides "the possible with a site that is impregnable, because it is a nowhere." (77) Scientific language, the language of empirical realities ‘captures’ the meaning of this ‘nowhere’ but it stays within the inside, within the wall that separates it from apprehending the object of its desires completely, and in its essence. The ‘capturing’ of the object is always already a flawed project because it invariably pins it down, clips its wings in order for it to be apprehended, in order for it to be articulated.

    What the Woolf narrator fails to achieve - complete autonomy from the forces that threaten the world of fecundity and creativity – Cincinnatus C attains, but only after he confronts his own execution, his mortal hour. The ultimate escape is revealed to him only at that hour when the axe falls upon his neck, like the merciless methodologies of the scientific regime which cull its object of inquiry into a form that can be apprehended.

    In order to reach that "threshold of revelation", Cincinnatus must, can only write, since "meaning must await being said or written in order to inhabit itself, and in order to become, by differing from itself, what it is: meaning." (78) However, his very first jottings are hapharzard, discontinuous words that are far from the depths into which writing must go in order to speak, in order to become presence:

    The length of the pencil will be whittled away till what remains, when Cincinnatus is finally taken to be executed, is a tiny stub, the pencil depleted, and now un-usable, but where all that needs to be written has already been written, the way out to the Outside open, and no turning back. No sooner are they written down than he scratches them out. His words are hollow, disjointed. They recall the words on a piece of paper concealed in an envelope that his lawyer, Roman Vissarionovich, presents to him as hope of some kind of reprieve. Cincinnatus tears the envelope to pieces, but when he tries to reconstruct at least one sentence from the scraps of paper he finds that "everything was mixed up, distorted, disjointed." (80) Cincinnatus’ first words, therefore belong still to the stilted performativity of the Mimetopia. His efforts to reclaim his interiority dissolves into a mimicry of that very structure which has taken his interiority hostage. Later, he will find his voice, but till then, he can only speak and write with the voice of the spectres that imprison him, and he will struggle with his death, with his dying, which now, at the beginning of the pencil’s life, he sees no way of transcending.

    Cincinnatus, still considers his secret anonymity, his otherworldliness, a "basic illegality" (81) and the instruments of his incarceration insurmountable: "The iron thunderclap of the bolt resounded and Cincinnatus instantly grew all that he had cast off, the skullcap included." (82) Cincinnatus, at the initial phase of his imprisonment, stands between the world and the Book, between Mimetopia and writing, between the Inside (which is always shut out from the Outside by a fundamental error of judgement, or way of seeing: in order for the Inside to grasp phenomena, it must always delimit them to their discernible form only) and the Outside.

    The prison Librarian is a welcome oasis in the desert of the fortress, for it is the only way Cincinnatus can while away his time in the cell, awaiting his unknown hour of death, with books, with writing, with reflection. However, books, which are his only solace, are scoffed at by Rodion the jailer. (83) They are the antithesis to the meaning of the Mimetopia. The latter is, in its essence, a simulacra of the book, all that is exterior of the book, which is forcibly separated from the world of the book. It is separated from the Book because it has ceased to recognise the Inside (the soul) as anything but as a manifestation of physical impulses. The only kind of writing that this society favours is epitomised in the novel Cincinnatus is given to read, one entitled "Quercus". The title figure of this novel is also its central hero – an oak tree that forms the focal point. The author of this novel interweaves activity within the oak’s surroundings with scientific descriptions of the tree itself. "Quercus" represents the "acme of modern thought." (84) It is empirical historicism that claims that the history of the world can be gleaned from recorded events occurring through a linear passage of time. This, Robert Alter argues, represents the quintessential "naturalistic novel", a novel of "photographic realism" that is devoid of humanity,[ 85) whereas, what can possibly save Cincinnatus is a writing of a different kind, one that goes beyond the mere facticity of things.

    Cincinnatus’ struggle to position himself within this pull, within the extremes of the Mimetopia and Writing leads him to a self-realisation of his own essential self, his own disappearance from the world of named, and therefore, colourless objects. He writes:

    There is no escape from death. Even his writing is a shallow exercise in futility. It is only impatience that goads him to write, the interminable wait for definition, for death, which defines, which fixes. Yet, lurking amidst this impatience is a shadow of an insight into the salvation contained within the pencil:

    He senses the possibility of history: "Some day someone would read it ..." He feels the vastness of that interior vision. More importantly, Cincinnatus imagines the existence of another. This hypothetical other, for whom he must write, is the necessary outlet for his emerging inner sight, the abyss, which he will become later. (87) This other, a visionary double, he who would see the world as he, Cincinnatus, does and it would "seem to him cleaner, fresher", also writes, for in this double, this other who will one day read his words, lies the inscription, the trace of another world, like the anonymous inscription left on the wax slate of Freud’s Mystic Writing Pad. It is this thought of the visionary double that lights his path toward the one creative germ required to embark on the road to the Outside.

    This recalls Kafka’s diary entry of July 28, 1914:

    Kafka’s inner turmoil, his dissolution, his increasing alienation comes in direct conflict with the fact that "the attraction of the human world is so immense, that in an instant it can make one forget everything." (90) He vacillates between this human world and the world of writing, the abyss where, even though a salvation, leads him to a never-ending death:

    Both states of being are states of death. Kafka is lost, a stone, dead-weight if he bathes in "the attraction of the human world", but his writing is the pathway to "the eternal torments of dying."

    The doubling that occurs here is the Kafka of The Metamorphosis, (92) the vacillating from one realm to another, the identification of one’s self in both realms. Gregor Samsa is forever shut out from the attractive human world. Yet, he is still very much a part of the world from which he is forcibly shut out. This is the error his family members make – they do not realise that Gregor has retained his human impulse, and relinquished only his human form:

    The Double exists alongside Gregor. He is that Other who sees the world for what it is, who would, like Nabokov’s "gangrel" (94), do what he would like to do but cannot. The insect that gradually takes over, who is the only one among the family who would later think Grete’s violin playing is excellent, when in fact it is not, also houses or carries Gergor the son and brother, whom the attractive human world unfortunately cannot see. Kafka repeats this idea elsewhere: "Everone carries a room about inside him." (95)

    What is so attractive about the human world? The Chief clerk and Gregor’s boss are loveless figures who make demands on him and his family. His parents, who demand a life based on Gregor’s own efforts; his sister Grete who dreams the dreams that he is in fact the author of so that he is now responsible for her life; later on Gregor discovers that their debts could have been paid off a lot sooner but was not done so, forcing him to work as hard as he had been. Expectations, obligations and dishonesty. Where is the attraction? It can be found in the hesitation Cincinnatus displays in the matter of his execution. He does not want to die. He does not want to be banished. It is also mirrored in his need to be understood. He beseeches his wife Marthe to open her eyes and understand him and what the authorities were going to do to him. This wanting to belong is echoed in Kafka’s narrative:

    Yet, Gregor is imprisoned in his own room. The two doors in his room, the one that connects him with the living room and the other with Grete’s room, open into his room, not out. The world he so desperately wants to belong to, that he so desperately seeks understanding from, has easy access to him. Gregor, as a human, has access to them only as an instrument at the service of the family and his employers. However, Gregor the insect has lost his access to this world, no longer is he of any use to it. He is now a burden. His materiality has been judged and it is found lacking. His ‘imprisonment’ is a result of his inability to conform to the demands of the world he wishes to be part of.

    Similarly, Cincinnatus’ imprisonment, as we have seen, is a logical consequence of his inability to conform to the demand for translucency. His opacity becomes for him, what the arthropod form is for Gregor – a door that shuts him off from the world of spectres, but at the same time a door that opens onto the abyss from where he can speak at last.

    Cincinnatus, then, like Gregor, who vacillates between his own interests and the interests of the family that enslaves him, like Kafka, who vacillates between the world of humans and the world of the abyss, like the Woolfian narrator, who struggles to protect the walls that surround the world of thought, fights an on-going battle with the temptation to fall back on conventional ‘wisdom’, especially since he is raised in a society that discourages original creativity (97) As long as he harbours the belief that salvation can be found in the confines of the materialist world, he will never find a way out of it. However, the more he writes, the more he is shown, or made to see that there exist pathways leading out from the Inside:

    Writing, art, is the most important instrument of liberation, precisely because its symbolic structure and metaphoric texture obliges it to abandon the one-dimensionality of the discourse of the everyday (99):

    Then, a little farther on: "there is something I know, there is something I know, there is something ..." (101)

    It is clear that Cincinnatus senses a presence, as does the Woolfian narrator, a presence that she locates deep within the hazy realm of conjecture. Gregor Samsa, likewise, can claim to be aware of an "undertone", a double nature, an inscription, a trace of a ‘nowhere’, a mystic writing that lies on the Outside, a mirror that "now and then sends a chance reflection here". It is significant that Cincinnatus introduces the mirror image in his writing. The classic theory of mimesis claims that art is a mirror held up to nature, that art does nothing, says nothing more than what is already ‘said’ in the material world. The novel "Quercus" that Cincinnatus reads in his cell conforms to such a theory of mimesis. Its comprehensiveness and positivistic attitude to the facts merely perpetuate the illusory idea that the material world has an autonomous existence distinct from the sentient centres of experience within or giving rise to it. (102)

    Kafka, like Cincinnatus who is slowly awakening to them, has seen these sentient centres, these points of ambiguity where "language coincides with its disappearance. (103) This concentration of ambiguity, as Blanchot would have it, the abyss that one must enter in order become language, become the abyss (Kafka: "...I have a great yearning to write all my anxiety entirely out of me, write it into the depths of the paper just as it comes out of the depths of me, or write it down in such a way that I could draw what I had written into me completely." (104)) is not the mirror that is held up to nature, which reflects everything like a one-dimensional linearity implied and espoused by the materialist monism of Cincinnatus’ world, but the refractive nature of the artistic imagination. (105) It is the double, that shadowy space that when held up to nature changes the path of our perception, disrupts the modes of seeing and apprehending, and which allows Cincinnatus C and his con-sociates – the seated Woolfian, Kafka, and Gregor Samsa – to disappear, to evanesce, to syncopate.

    Indeed, now that his writing had gripped him, in the sense that he struggled no longer with the awkwardness of the word, that his poetic imagination had begun to rise from some unknown place, we see that the thematic concern of his writing

    We now see a gradual shift in Cincinnatus’ physical presence. Whereas at the beginning of the text, Cincinnatus is described in terms which suggest awkwardness, encumbrance and oppression –

    - now, at the sudden discovery of that absent space from which everything can and must be said, into which one merges, becomes submerged in a nullity, he begins to take on the appearance of an apparition:

    This recalls the stepping away of Woolf’s narrator and Gregor Samsa’s otherness. Cincinnatus’ ghost-like countenance - "... the light outline of his lips, seemingly not quite fully drawn but touched by a master of masters..." (109) - coincides with his realisation of the inventedness of the beings around him – "I am quite willing to admit that they are also a deception but right now I believe in them so much that I infect them with truth." (110)

    The distorted, simulated forms of his jailers, the mimetic performativity that underlines their spurious existence is "infected" with truth. Their septicity has made his escape impossible, but he realises now that they are merely inventions, borne out of that "rotated mirror" that can both invent and make vanish, the machine of the abyss of which he is the engine. The refraction of this rotated mirror cuts into pieces the ‘reality’ of beings and objects and at the same time gives rise to a kaleidoscope of possibilities.

    Whence comes this realisation that he embodies the machine of the abyss? Cecilia C, his mother arrives for a visit one day, unexpectedly, He has only seen her once in his life. She has ceased for him to be of any significance in his life. Even his father is nothing but a "legend" to him. That his own mother has no knowledge of the father’s identity is laughable to him. Cincinnatus accuses his mother of being a parody, false. If even his own beginnings are suspect, like everything around him in his prison world, his own visions must be groundless. The origins - the ballast of a life, the mother-function, which is the primordial script, that which engenders and brings forth - is the double of the abyss, that which concludes, becomes nothing, a returning to the depths of a ‘nowhere,’ the inarticulability of language itself. This binary constellation – origin/conclusion, birth/death, surfacing/descending, affirmation/negation – is constitutive of that we have been calling the abyss. The same conditions apply to both states of the binary – the mother function brings forth to the surface from the beginning, the starting point, an unknown place but which is always the first place; the anonymous body descends into an unknown space that is already the last place, the only place from where all can be said. This doubled writing begins deep within the first stirrings of life within a body, secret inscriptions that are carried within a person (111) as one carries one’s room with wherever one goes. (112) The inscritption remains, carrying forward its trace, like an invisible signature. However, this signature can only be read anonymously, deep in the recesses, or depths of the abyss.

    If, then, his mother is as false as the spectres all around him, Cincinnatus push to the Outside is jeopardised: "... I have pinned my hopes on a distant sound – how can I have faith in it, if even you are a fraud?" (113) Yet, Cecilia C brings with her a secret. She discloses that his father too, was like him, absent, evanescent. That is why all she remembers of him is his voice, for he had transcended the gaze of the empirical. She tells him about objects called nonnons which she used to play with when as a child. These incomprehensibly-shaped nonnons came with a special, distorted mirror that, when held up to ordinary objects, reflected nonsensical distorted objects. However, when they were held up to these strange distorted nonnons, they were transformed into beautifully-shaped things, like a flower or a ship, a person, a landscape.

    The nonnon mirror, therefore, is that refractive force of the artistic imagination, the chink in the air which Cincinnatus often felt himself slip into, that syncope within which contained a world of distorted objects made wondrous by a mirror which negates, and in the negation, brings forth a new form, a new way of seeing. The distance between the distorted mirror of the nonnon and the nonnon itself is the space of absence, the liminality that transgresses the origins of language, but which speaks with the clarity of visionaries. It is also the distance between mother and son, between the falsity of her mirror, and Cincinnatus’ nonnon-like incomprehensibility. Faced with her mirror, shining for a second through her eyes, Cincinnatus "suddenly saw that ultimate, secure, all-explaining and from-all-protecting spark that he knew how to discern in himself also." (114)

    The abyss is now at hand, awaiting his final transformation. That can only happen if two conditions are fulfilled. The first condition requires that he must recognise that the word restricts, fixes; it is nothing but a normal object that when held up to a nonnon mirror is distorted, like the spider in his cell, which in actual fact "consisted of a round plush body with twitching legs made of springs", (115), or like the cell itself, "which in fact was no longer there", (116) having somehow been dismantled as Cincinnatus was leaving it to go to the place of execution (they are distortions of reality, staged representations that have no meaning other than the fact they are merely distorted simulations of what is considered ‘real’), or that it is itself a mirror that merely reflects a material reality that is aut


    By The Heretic, in People,

    Teaser Paragraph: Publish Date: 06/26/2010 Article Image:
    Philosopher, novelist, influenced postructuralism (Foucault, Derrida, Barthes) his writings on eroticism influenced Lacan's work on sexuality and "jouissance". The concentration on the human realization of the inevitability of death is indebted to Kojève's reading of Hegel, despite Bataille's rejection of the "end of History" thesis as an absurdity. Bat was also the member of the first generation of the French writers to take Nietzsche seriously.

    In his early work published in the "Documents journal", Bataille expressed and developed a deep concern with excess and a "base materialism" that celebrated everything foreign to the aspiration towards human ideals.

    The central theme binding Bataille's thoroughly disparate and discrete writings comes from Durkheim's sociology as well as Mauss' concept of the gift relationship. The essential character of society is the sacred which establishes cohesion and delineates the limits of individual behavior. The sacred implies the self sacrificial relationship btw the individual and the collectivity. Aztec civilization exemplified this sort of human sacrifice. Also the sacred is the forbidden element that exists at the margins of society, for no society is capable of existing without a delimiting concept. For Bat the presence of the sacred is manifest in extreme emotion as well as pointless activity found within play, non-reproductive sexuality, body exhalations or anything that a rational/homogeneous society would like to expel. In festivals of waste and expenditure such as the Native American culture of the potlatch where wealth is deliberately destroyed/wasted or taboos are transgressed, the sacred becomes apparent. The notion of excess is elementary to Bataille's view of a general economy based upon the intentional production of nonutilitarian goods such as luxuries or spectacular displays of wealth and weapons systems. Bataille's notion of "General economy" is where expenditure (waste, sacrifice, or destruction) is considered more fundamental than the economies of production & utilities. E.g., the sun freely expands energy without receiving anything in return. If people intend to be free (from imperatives of capitalism) they should pursue a "general economy" of expenditure (giving, sacrifice or destruction) then they will escape the determination of existing imperatives of utility. For Bataille, people are beings of excess; full of exorbitant energy, fantasies, need, drives, & heterogeneous desires.

    Bataille was continually concerned with value, thought it was found within the excess that lacerates individuals and opens channels of communication. By defining value as expenditure instead of accumulation, Bataille introduced the era of the death of the subject. Individuals must transgress the limits imposed by subjectivity in order to escape isolation, and communicate.

    Bataille's prewar philosophy consists of short essays, some collected in "Visions of Excess": its central idea is that "'base matter' disrupts rational subjectivity by attesting to the continuity in which individuals lose themselves.

    "Inner Experience", (a lengthy philosophy treatise) "Guilty" and "On Nietzsche" compile Bataille's "Summa Atheologica", which analyzes the play of the isolation and the dissolution of being in the terms of excess (laughter, tears, eroticism, death, sacrifice, poetry). "Accursed Share" (Bataille took this as his most important work) is systematic account of the social and economic implications of expenditure.

    "Erotism: Death and Sensuality and Tears of Eros" focuses on excesses of death & sex. Human experience is the experience of limits as well as the recognition that death is the absolute limit. This recognition creates an anguish of being that is soothed through eroticism and reaffirming of life forces. Eroticism itself is also an experience of limits for it leads to the dissolution of identity found within the 'little death' of the orgasm. Bataille's erotica contains this recurrent theme, despite being dismissed as pornography. The excessively violent images of sexual degradation in the "Story of the Eye" are often derided with laughter and rejection as grotesque, but Bataille defends against such objections in a prefatory note to Madame Edwarda where he cautions the reader: "if you laugh, its because you're afraid."

    Masochism and sadism are celebrated in terms of sexuality as ways of feeling "more human" and degradation and humiliation are considered as a profoundly human experience. This concentration on the ignoble offended Breton and caused problems between bat and the more orthodox members of surrealism. Bataille's writings on surrealism (criticism of the ideal aspiration signified by the 'sur' prefix as supra or higher) are collected in English within the "Absence of Myth".


    By The Heretic, in People,

    Teaser Paragraph: Publish Date: 06/26/2010 Article Image:
    French social theorist, commentator of postmodernity Jean Baudrillard moved from a Marxist-infected critical commentator of the affluent consumer society to an ambiguous position that can be seen either as either bleakly lucid perception that there is no escape from the society of the spectacle or as a horrified fascination with the shallowness of a postmodernist society where the sign has become a simulacrum that signifies nothing.

    Influences: Baudrillard's early works on consumer society ("System of objects" and "La société de consommation: ses mythes, ses structures") are influenced by several trends in sociology (Guy Debord's "society of spectacle" to Mcluhan's "medium is the message") and philosophy (Marx’s theory of commodity fetishism to Barthes of mythologies and Fashion System)

    His early work ("System of objects, Consumer Society" and "For a Critique of the political economy of the sign") consists of social theory, semiotics, and psychoanalysis. The first two works analyses the system of objects in a consumer society, and the latter, on the relationship btw the consumer society and semiotics. Baudrillard borrowed from semiotics an analysis how objects are encoded in a system of signs & significance that constitutes contemporary media and consumer societies. This inception of a theoretical concentration in semiological studies, Marxian political economy, and sociology of the consumer society led to a constant occupation with a system of objects and signs that encode our life.

    For Baudrillard the consumer society is dominated by a system of object signs, which are consumer goods and gadgets that circulate endlessly and constitute an order of signification similar to the signs of Saussure's linguistic system. The use value of these object-signs is less important than the ability to signify the status of the consumer. While the possession of a car may allow one to go places, it also signifies membership of a social group.

    Since the importance of economic production is in decline in a postindustrial society, consumption is actually the glue that binds society together. This sketch of society resembles George Perec's depiction in his novel "Things" where a rich couple live entirely off the stuff they buy and consume.

    Baudrillard lays out the most sustained exposition of his later theory in "Symbolic Exchange and Death", a complete abandonment of the quasi-Marxist framework of his early work. An encompassing analysis that juxtaposes Saussure, Mauss theory of the gift relationship and Freud, Baudrillard insist that the era of postmodernity is characterized by the replacement of signs by simulacra and the reality of "hyperreality". The game of seduction replaces consumption where nothing real is ever at stake, as well as a simulation where sexuality itself is submerged and absorbed into a vacuous hyperreal pornography that is far more 'real' than any authentic sexual encounter can ever be. In "Seductions", thanks to postmodernity the masquerade of sex is now the reality of sex. Production and labor are no longer relevant, and the aspiration of political change is little more than the yearning of nostalgia for an era of signification representative of the bygone industrial age.

    The Basic message of late Baudrillard:

    - The subject is dominated by the object
    - The prime mover in the social order is consumption
    - Media-propagated ideals and images increasingly form our behavior, language, perceptual experience
    - Therefore, we live in "hyperreality", a world of signs far removed from any external reality that may help us to keep account of what we take to be signified. In hyperreality the real and the "televisual" merge, and fantasy has institutionally replaced reality. Baudrillard's example, the imaginary Disneyland is a construct calculatingly created to indoctrinate people the reality of America as a hyperreal simulacrum of itself.

    Since historical and causal context are lost, then the real distinctions (the social or economic that images represent) also disappear, and political life as well.


    By The Heretic, in People,

    Teaser Paragraph: Publish Date: 06/26/2010 Article Image:
    - Contra traditional definition, rhetoric does not have a persuasive function for it is the study of tropes and figures
    - Language is inherently figural, which is distinct (as well as in conflict with) from the literal/grammatical/referential meaning
    - Due to the figural characteristic of language and its attendant chains of supplements, it is an autonomous structure that cannot be paraphrased or interpreted entirely. Therefore language always contains the element of ambiguity or undecidability.
    - To seek for the literal meaning of the text is to obscure the figural nature of the text and mislead the reader.
    - The analysis of the relationship between the figural and the literal meaning is deconstruction, which is not to establish an absolute, perfect, or ultimate meaning but to prove there is and can be no final meaning.
    - Deconstruction, for DeMan, is not a method applicable to texts, for it "explores and unfolds ambiguities" already present within the text.
    - For the critic and the reader, blindness and insight are both inescapable and inseparable: insightful only because meanings in the text are identified, but by doing so, they become blind to the figural meanings and submit to an "aesthetic ideology.
    - In the essay "Criticism and Crisis", DeMan explains that fiction is not myth because it names itself as fiction. Those who assert the demystification of fiction/poetic text are being mystified by it since they are incontrovertibly blinded by their own activity and the literal/referential dimensions that conceal the figural aspect.


    By Hugo Holbling, in People,

    Teaser Paragraph: Publish Date: 06/26/2010 Article Image:
    One of the least understood and most frequently maligned books in the philosophy of science is Paul K. Feyerabend's Against Method. Employing the historical method, Feyerabend showed that all forms of the so-called "scientific method" had been violated—usually on several occasions—by scientists in the past when coming up with and developing their theories. This meant that a rigid insistence on the methods suggested by scientists and philosophers of science alike would have resulted in the early death of many theories we now consider important. He asked the inevitable question: should scientists get rid of the restrictive ideas on scientific method or should the scientists of old have abandoned their theories? The only "method" that could take account of the history of science would be "anything goes", which is no method at all. By means of this reductio ad absurdum, he arrived at the now-standard conclusion that there is no such thing as scientific method.


    By Hugo Holbling, in People,

    Teaser Paragraph: Publish Date: 06/26/2010 Article Image:
    Thomas S. Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is perhaps the best-known work in HPS. One of the first to apply a study of history to problems within the philosophy of science, Kuhn looked at the possibility of giving a rational account of theory change; that is, why have some theories replaced others over time? Some philosophers thought (and think) that we can explain theory change in a progressive way by saying that theories are supplanted by better ones (whether that means more parsimonious, truthlike, instrumentally successful, or any of the other proposed ways to demarcate between theories). Kuhn demonstrated that social factors have an important role to play in analysing the history and philosophy of science, using the term "paradigm" to refer to the way in which commonly held concepts, theories and practices can become entrenched, such that a theory being "better" than the alternatives is not enough to immediately overturn the investment of time, effort, conviction, and so on, that has been put into the orthodoxy.

    Kuhn's work led to the development of the field of SSK (the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge) and a general broadening of the philosophy of science to include all those factors (aesthetic, social, thematic, political, rhetorical) that had traditionally been ignored or had their importance minimised. It helped that he was already known as the author of The Copernican Revolution, acknowledged as a masterpiece within the history of science. This account of the rise and development of Heliocentrism forever replaced the mythical of reason against dogmatism with a sophisticated appreciation of how theory, experiment, theology, society and politics interacted. The significance of Kuhn remains this legacy of the sheer complexity of scientific practice.


    By Hugo Holbling, in People,

    Teaser Paragraph: Publish Date: 06/26/2010 Article Image:
    Long recognised as having an importance belied by the comparatively small number of works he produced, The Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes was the contribution of Imre Lakatos to problems of theory change and demarcation criteria considered by Kuhn, Feyerabend and others. A veritable masterpiece of historical scholarship and philosophical theory, he suggested that theories should not be considered via dichotomies like confirmed or refuted, scientific or non-scientific, but instead as part of research programmes that could be thought of as degenerating or advancing as a whole. In this way, he hoped to account for the history of theories like atomism that had been proposed and rejected repeatedly over time.
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