The Hand by Arpa Mukhopadhyay
The Last Dangerous Vision
When I finished this story I knew everyone would hate it. Still my first reader surprised me with her vehemence. “Never send me another,” she wrote.
I almost trunked it, but I wrote it for The Last Dangerous Visions. After Harlan Ellison died, his literary executor announced plans to publish the last volume of stories that broke taboo. He said he would buy one more dangerous vision for the anthology from an unpublished writer. Being published there would make my name. It did, like Hugo Bettauer in the 1920s or Salman Rushdie in the 1980s.
“I dislike this tale,” the editor responded. “In 5,000 words you have annoyed me more than my ex-wives. But the publisher thinks the inevitable controversy surrounding your vile contribution will generate needed publicity to earn the book out, so I’m buying it.”
Before publication, the publisher announced another delay. A schadenfreude festival broke out online over how the anthology was doomed to never see print. Then comments came in from advanced reading copies. The collection was more or less what one would expect, they said, with one exception: my story.
The publisher continued to move forward. One sales rep quit, telling CNN, “I’m not saying it shouldn’t be published, but I don’t have to work for a publisher who would.” Orders flooded in. The publisher was right: no publicity is bad publicity.
“You’re a horrible human being,” claimed my voice mail. People on social media planned to dox me. One provided a point-by-point rebuke concluding that guns were their God-given right and they knew how to use them.
A mob carrying placards gathered outside my home after publication. One read, “Where do you draw the line?” Another, “Free speech isn’t free of consequence.” A fight broke out between a cat-hat wearing bearded man and a young woman openly carrying an AK-47. In the distraction, I fled. I contacted the local police and reported the incident. They wanted me to come in for questioning.
I kept driving.
I stopped for supplies but discovered my credit card cancelled. I shrugged at the clerk and left the items behind, departing town on side streets.
I tossed my cell phone when I realized it could be used to track me. In a small town library I accessed the news. I was famous: the FBI had designated me one of the ten most wanted.
I found a farmhouse where no one was around and ransacked their pantry, then headed northwest.
I’m writing this in an abandoned Montana cabin, living in daily fear the owner will return. I ran out of supplies weeks ago, surviving on fish I catch from the local stream. I have no TV, radio, or internet. If you are reading this, it means I’ve been found and I’m no longer here. I knew everyone would hate my vision of the future, but just not how much. It’s only a story, right?
Narrative in orders of magnitude
capitalizes on story,
the news, a romance, an earthquake.
Puts a magnifying glass to pain
We amplify and examine.
Do we profit from this dissection,
of a moment,
of this pinned thing to a board,
A voice is as dangerous
as a silence,
and to keep silent
is to still the final tremoring.
A storm gathers around
a dust mote, a droplet
with a protein coat,
micrometers of fragmentation
bend us to their code.
Every poem, too, is a fragment
of itself, stripped of capsid,
inserted at receptor sites,
a disrupted integrity,
wholeness the invention.
We are all snippets,
collections of smaller things.
–> Samara Powes
19 crows wait for us watching
hidden in the trees following
us as we walk the empty streets
they fold into the shadows when
the sun gets low but we know
they are still there haunting
and hunting us a corvid menace
an invasion a plague ominous
and invisible and ravenous.
–> John Kaprielian
The Narrative Self
I am addicted to reading. Bulletin boards, road signs, Chipotle bags, bathroom graffiti, things I find lying on the ground. I meditate some Sunday mornings in a bookstore. That’s a challenge. During the slow kinhin walking meditation around the shelves, it feels like book titles are trying to force themselves into my eyes.
To compensate, I defocus my eyes so the titles blur. I can feel the ambiguity of multiple possible readings competing to be perceived, like that duck/rabbit drawing. “Glover’s Mistake” could be about an affair, or shorebirds, or Predator II. When I’m not meditating, using my foveas, such sensory ambiguity is resolved too quickly for me to notice.
Buddhists see the incessant storytelling habit of the ego as one key to unraveling the ego. Mindfulness meditation consists of watching the river of thoughts flow by, without engaging them in conversation, until the inner voices get bored and stop. The most I can usually manage is to see little gaps between the thoughts. Even the recognition that I am more than my thoughts is transformative.
I’ve heard it said by academics that without language there is no thought. Buddhists would clearly disagree. There’s also a large body of research literature on people with aphasia, damage to the language areas of the brain that can cause interesting and specific problems in communication. Unlike patients with dementia or psychosis, people with aphasia still live in a sensible, coherent world. Their thoughts are simplified, but they still think, and curse, and sing, and draw.
Narrative, the way we construct maps of spacetime to orient ourselves in the continual flow of experience, is clearly more than language. It also involves memory, as illustrated by several of Oliver Sacks‘s case studies of patients with amnesia. One common strategy among amnesia patients to avoid admitting how lost they are is to talk continually (or confabulate), trying to bridge the gaps in memory with desperate, unconscious invention.
Another response to memory loss is to fruitlessly ask the same questions over and over, as my wife once did for a few minutes after falling out of the attic and hitting her head. Her eyes ringed with white like those of a panicked horse. At first she couldn’t even form words, just keening noises. Then the questions came; but wihout memory she couldn’t retain the answers long enough to situate herself in the chaotic swirl of pain and noise, to break out of the loop. I held her hand and kept eye contact, focusing on prosody—the music of my voice—rather than the words. In time she let me finish breaking apart the ruined fold-down stairs so the paramedics could reach her.
The scary truth is that none of us are safe, stable things. We are bundles of processes — verbs, not nouns. Our individual actions are musical notes whose meanings depend on what came before and what will come after. Brain circuits are instruments playing those notes, their performances aligned into a synchronous and sensible score by nothing more than habit and quick glances at their neighbors. There’s no conductor. There’s just the world, keeping time.
“I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.” — Oliver Sacks
“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”―
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