Jesus Among the Utilitarians

Matthew 22:36-40 (KJV)

 

“Master, which is the great commandment in the law?”

Jesus said unto him, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

“This is the first and great commandment.

“And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

“On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Preface

[So I wrote this after I wrote the introduction, because what I intended to be an introduction got considerably more technical than I wanted it to be and didn’t look like an introduction anymore. In any case, this is the real introduction. Feel free to skip the intro below and get to the real thing.

In any case: the stuff below is an (atomic, ethical) exercise in what I think taking religion seriously would look like – that is to say, if we actually took religion seriously as a guide to matters on ethics, metaethics, ontology, etc.[1] Don’t treat it as a thing meant to persuade you of anything in particular. It’s more of a reeling-out, more of a demonstration, I’d say.]

Introduction

So obviously if you are a religious person, and in particular if you are a Christian, the little bit of the Bible you see up there is kind of important. Important because it’s probably about as close as the book comes to telling you, in precise axiological form, not just what you ought to do, but what matters. The passage kind of signals its own importance, really: On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets, it says pithily, wagging a finger at you.

Before we get to the thing I want to talk about (which is what it might mean to love thy neighbour as thyself), I suppose, for clarity’s sake, that we should take a look at this passage and what’s going on here, because it’s irritatingly complicated.

Let’s name three kinds of obligation. (1): Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind; (2): Love thy neighbour as thyself; and (3): everything else the Bible might oblige you to do.  What’s complicated is figuring out, from that passage, what the relevant relation between (1), (2), and (3) is.

There’s lots of possibilities.

One is that Jesus is providing the (apparently cynical) questioner with a lexical ordering, viz., saying that some rules in the Bible trump some other rules. Maybe he’s saying that

(A1): (1) trumps [(2) and (3)]; or

(B1): (1) trumps [(2) and (3)], but (2) also trumps (3); or

(C1): [(1) and (2)] trump (3).

These readings suggest that at least one of the two specified commands is great because it overrides: anything that runs up against it must give way, step aside, be thwarted. These lexical readings only really makes sense if you assume the Bible has contradictions, and so needs some rule by which the priority of different moral commands can be sorted out. But then it’s obvious that the Bible is full of contradictions.

Another option is to adopt an elaborative reading of the passage: Jesus is saying that the 600+ rules in the OT, and possibly all the guidance that comes after (although I’m casting a wary eye at Paul), are really just elaborations of one or both of the two commands, or that one command is an elaboration of the other. On this reading at least one of the two commands is “great” because it contains everything else. Possibilities:

(A2): (2) is an elaboration of (1), and (3) is an elaboration of (2); or

(B2): [(2) and (3)] are just elaborations of (1)

(C2): (3) is just an elaboration of [(1) and (2)]

I think all of these views are probably a bit off the mark. I think that (A2),  (B2), and (C2)must be wrong, because (2) is hugely contradictory to (3). I.e., “love your neighbour” really, really, really does not sit easily with all the genocidal stuff, stoning of children etc. in the OT. You’ll notice that it’s the fact that Jesus mentions (2), the whole love-your-neighbour thing, that rules our nearly all purely elaborative readings of the passage. If you took out (2), I think you could quite comfortably assume that “love God” = “follow all the rules of the OT”, i.e., (3) is an elaboration of (1). But the insertion of that radically compassionate element in (2) throws this all into a bit of disarray.

So I think there’s some lexical ordering going on. In fact I think it’s necessary, given the welter of contradictions the Bible throws at us. I think A1 and B1 are not obviously wrong, but are not to be favoured, really, because I don’t think that (1) has lexical priority over (2). Jesus was asked: which commandment is the greatest? Assuming that Jesus intended to answer the question (and that he was not stupid)[2], it would be weird for him to reply, “Well, so-and-so is the greatest rule. And this is the second greatest rule.” Why talk about the second-greatest rule when only asked about the greatest? My preferred reading is what we’ll call C1+, viz., [(1) and (2)] trump (3)], and that (1) and (2) are coequal because (2) is not merely an elaboration of (1) but is identical to it. If you find identical a bit too strong, a version of more widespread appeal to ordinary Christians would be that (2) is almost completely identical to (1). So a person who abides by (2) is a person who loves God, but does not love him fully, in the personal sense which (1) captures. So (1) guarantees (2) completely, and (2) guarantees (1) almost completely.

This is basically the third of our lexical-ordering options, with a little rider tagged on clarifying exactly what the relationship between (1) and (2) is. It might make sense of the mysterious bit where Jesus feels compelled to say, “and the second is like unto it”. Like unto it because it’s very nearly the same thing. On this reading, Jesus is really responding to the question by saying something like:

“Well, OK, the greatest commandment is the obvious one – love God absolutely, because God is that object which is deserving of our total and unconditional devotion. But I can see that that’s not really helpful, since I might just be telling you to just follow the 600+ rules of the OT, without giving you any sense of where the moral weight of Biblical teaching is, or without giving you real guidance re how you should behave morally. So I guess I should clarify that what it means to love God absolutely is to love your neighbour the same way you love yourself. And this second commandment (or statement of (1)) does give you some real guidance on how you ought to reason morally.

Hey, was that meant to be the intro? That was long.

The point is: (2) is important, even if you don’t accept, as I do, that (2) is (1) translated into practical-reason terms and that (2) trumps (3). If you subscribe to C1+ then obviously (2) is overwhelmingly important. But on any other reading (2) at least puts itself forward as giving you real moral guidance in one way or another.

The Real Thing

Let’s talk about what it means to love your neighbour as you love yourself.

It would be weird if neighbour was literal, ofc, so I’m going to assume that neighbour means people. And since I can’t think of a good reason “neighbour” should exclude some people,[3] I’m going to assume neighbour = all people.

This command to love your neighbour as you love yourself really sets out a rule, therefore, that is some sense unbiased. It says, take a relation which you have to yourself, and apply that relation to all other people. The corollary of that is that the same relation is applied to all people.

That relation is love. There’s a bazillon different theories of what it means to love, but the command does at least tell us that whatever it is referring to using the word love, it is a relation that is also internal to us: whatever understanding of love we choose must allow us to sensibly say that we love ourselves. We are asked to love as we love ourselves, after all. This immediately rules the application of any “love as union” theories in this context, viz., and theory which stresses that love is about two “I”s becoming a “we”. Nozick for instance argues that love is a pooling of well-being and autonomy – but that makes no sense when there is just one person’s well-being and autonomy to consider.

The idea that we love ourselves is actually really hard to parse. This is because we usually think of a relation (such as love) as applying between two different things. A mereologically simple object – something with no parts at all – really can only have one relation to itself: it is itself. And that’s it. Can’t stick a cigarette wrapper in there, much less something as glompingly big as love. Even a set which contains itself and nothing else is not a simple object: you can talk about a set and the thing in it quite sensibly, even of those two things happen to the same.

So when we say we love ourselves, what we really have to mean is that there is some relation between us and a part of us, or some relation between a part of us and another part of us. I guess this is the thing we need to pin down. And the most obvious way of pinning it down is use the intuition that we have a certain kind of robust concern for ourselves, that we act to fulfil our preferences – that we pursue our goals and desires with all the effort and ingenuity we have, and regard failure to achieve these goals as bad, regrettable, unfortunate. And with just the right amount of merciless cribbing from Hume, you can kind of see that this seems separates out clearly enough (for our purposes at least) two distinct bits of us which are related in a way which gives meaning to the word love.

  1. That bit of us which consists of our preferences.
  2. That bit of us which rationally pursues those preferences.

And so what it means when we say we love ourselves is that we display robust concern for ourselves. And what that means is that we act on our preferences by formulating certain plans, trivial or complex, to realise those preferences.

All that matters because we can now figure out what it means to love our neighbour as we love ourselves: it’s another way of saying that we ought to have the same relation to other people’s preferences which we have to ours: we pursue them. This coheres kind of well with a common feature of many understandings of love: when you love someone, you don’t try to make them into something which they are not simply because you might desire that thing more: rather you take them as given, as they are right now, whole. My interests are also your interests, but they are still yours; I’m valuing you for your own sake, rather than for mine. That’s why there’s no reason to believe that there’s anything like an intrinsically bad preference, or an evil preference.

So: let’s imagine the set of all preferences which exist, and let’s call this the Total Universal Preference Set, or TUPS, because a snappy abbreviation will give this essaylet the dignity it would otherwise lack. Our goal is to pursue TUPS – to maximise the satisfaction of TUPS.  Pursuing TUPS is kind of difficult, because many preferences will be wildly contradictory with others. Well. Not quite. A preference by itself cannot contradict any other preference, so what I’m really saying is that the pursuit of a preference will often be incompatible with pursuit of another preference.

Let’s consider first the situation where these incompatibilities cannot be resolved. When we are deciding what to do when our preferences conflict, we generally do one of two things. Often we simply act according to the preference which is more intense. Pretty straightforward stuff: at gunpoint, we’d rather pass our wallet to the robber than risk getting shot. Or: we abandon one preference (or several preferences) if it conflicts with several other preferences (or some greater number of preferences) of equal strength. So according to this interpretation of the command to love your neighbour as yourself, the right thing to do in a trolley-problem-esque situation would be to try to satisfy as many preferences (to be alive) as possible: hence pull the lever, push the fat man, and so on. So far, so straightforward.[4]

But we can also try to resolve incompatibilities, in one of two ways. We could modify the world so that the pursuits of two preferences no longer run up against each other, or at least run up against each other a lot less. On a trivial level, nearly every preference restricts pursuit of another preference because resources are finite. Capitalism (one might say) is one way of coordinating our pursuit of preferences so that they don’t conflict quite as much as they might.

The other solution is to modify preferences so that they align. Which preferences should we modify? Well, each preference has at least two characteristics: an owner, and an intensity. There are some preferences which are both intense and widespread. Off the top of my head, here are four of them, not-too-precisely stated:

  1. A preference for being alive rather than dead.
  2. A preference for being loved / cared for, rather than being alone.
  3. A preference to be treated with dignity / non-arbitrarily, rather than capriciously.
  4. A preference for being free of intense physical pain.

These 4 preferences seem to be so powerfully embedded in most of us that a person who does not feel all 4 of them would usually be considered quite pathological. This is not to say that such a person is in fact pathological – I’m just pointing out that these 4 preferences are really, really, really strongly held by most of us. It’s hard to get you to feel this, but imagine how much you’d prefer not to suddenly appear naked in a prominent public space (say, the entrance of the nearest subway station) with a thoroughly distasteful symbol (say, a swastika) emblazoned across your chest. You’d be fucking mortified if that happened to you, yeah? Well: I bet that you’d endure that, like, a thousand times over if that meant that you got to stay alive, or not be alone forever, etc.

Importantly, we regard it as good if our own preferences conflict as little as possible in the first place, so that we can maximise the satisfaction of our preferences: think of how often we speak of a coherent plan of life, of directedness to our existence. Think of how a person who is an alcoholic – who has a strong preference for drink – also prefers that he not be an alcoholic, because this prevents him from pursuing many of his other preferences. When we apply this logic to TUPS – to the universe of preferences which are not our own – what we really are doing is extracting subsets of TUPS which are pathological because they seem get in the way of fully satisfying TUPS, (in particular because they conflict with intense + widespread preferences such as the 4 listed above) getting rid of them, and replacing them with non-pathological preferences.[5] These subsets might be

  1. The subset of other-hating preferences.[6]
  2. The subset of all selfish preferences.[7]
  3. The subset of all sadistic preferences.[8]

So basically: try to make others less racist, sexist, selfish, sadistic. In fact it seems to be more or less a direct logical consequence of the command to love our neighbours as ourselves that we try encourage others to love their neighbours as themselves.

What We’ve Got at the End of All This:

One not-obviously-stupid way of taking seriously the moral directive to love your neighbour as you love yourself:

*Maximise the satisfaction of all preferences, viz.,

A. Minimise conflict between pursuit of preferences by:

  1. Modifying preferences
  2. Modifying states of affairs

B. Resolve conflict between pursuit of preferences by:

  1. Ceteris paribus, preserving the pursuit of more intense preferences
  2. Ceteris paribus, preserving the pursuit of the greater number of preferences;

Which, I realise, is probably as good a place as any to end this exercise.

 

[1] This has been done before, of course, and many times over, but the point is that it’s super weird that the average religious person who professes to genuinely believe in that some-text-or-another contains within it deep + abiding truths bothers to form no coherent thoughts about it at all, relying instead on the platitudes which are usually dished out at sermons today. Plus, TBH, a lot of the more well-known results of People Taking Religion Seriously are just too full of woo for my liking. Take the Thomist doctrine of Divine Simplicity, which turns out to be motivated more by a desire to make God seem all great and cool and abstract and stuff rather than to be even minimally coherent. So: if God is w/o parts and possesses no contingent qualities and is actually metaphysically equivalent to concepts such as goodness, justice, mercy, power, etc., then it follows that each of God’s properties is identical with each of his other properties, so that mercy = power, which is insane. Plus if God = his properties (and his properties are properties) then God also = a property (the property of being itself, I guess), but that means God can’t actually do stuff, because properties don’t do stuff, and it isn’t conscious or capable of loving, because properties aren’t conscious or capable of loving. Which is also insane – or at least stupendously unattractive as a view to hold. Plus if God is absolutely identical in all possible worlds (because possessing no contingent properties) then we need to discard fairly intuitive ideas such as “it is contingent that God punished Adam”, and, even more weirdly, all possible universes must be exactly the same, because in every universe God would have to know exactly the same things, and God knowing X = X is true.

[2] Depending on your persuasion, you might think these are generous assumptions. Whatever. They make it easier for me to do the thing I want to do.

[3] Especially given all that Good Samaritan + other-cheek-slapping  stuff in the NT.

[4] Although I guess I should clarify that when you push the fat man over you’re really weighing up his preference not to be used as a means to an end + his preference not to die + and your preference not to murder against the preference of 3 people not to die.

[5] E.g., compassionate preferences, such as the preference that there is less suffering in the world, rather than more. More specifically, preferences that (1) other people are alive rather than dead, (2) other people are loved and cared for, rather than alone, (3) other people are treated with dignity / non-arbitrarily, rather than capriciously, (4) other people are free of intense physical pain, and so on.

[6] E.g., preferences which are racist, sexist, homophobic, classist, or otherwise discriminatory.

[7] E.g., nationalism.

[8] I think sadistic preferences are a lot more common than we realise: I’d regard the desire for retribution as a preference that’s both straightforwardly sadistic and almost universal, for instance.

I-22, Re: love

“So I’ll let you take as fixed what you want to take as fixed.” And so, after all, even night, no evening colour, down The Barrel, the R. speaking now: “But I think we should start there. And I think it’s complex.”

I have an affinity for roads. This one smells faintly like smoke and the first air that comes out of the air-conditioners in your car in the morning. But that might just be the car, although it hasn’t smelt this way, at least not that I can remember.

“I think that we don’t know yet how to deal with love. It’s too direct, it washes out things around it that might become referents. We can’t accommodate or express the facticity of love. So for example—”

Traffic jams, even. If you look properly you realise how beautiful they are. The quality is that of pilgrimage. The taillights in the rain, going on, are some kind of cultic inscription. And people in their cars, in their silences inside themselves, whatever sound moves outside.

“–why is the genre of romance so totally bankrupt? I don’t mean emotionally. I’m not referring to sincerity at all. I mean in a purely aesthetic sense. The songs borrow lines that come out of an email with FWD: FWD: FWD: FWD in the header. It’s shit.”

But the fact it’s the end of this world. That I guess is the fact I’m clustered around. Beyond the lone road everything is completely dark. We’ve moving fast now: we slur. I-22, High Sirr., Zuniga NP, all passing. “For You,” I say. “My Electric Body.”

“Exactly. And everything else. First Face. Every Single Kind of Falling. Over There. Zambrano. Hear/tbeat. Nothing Has Changed Or Everything Has Changed. Some Lights Never Go Out. Just listen to them. Nothing anywhere that for any moment reveals anything. The point is that love resists any attempt to make it special. That was not right. Resists–”

“Packaging?”

“No, that sounds like I’m implying that the genre is cynical, or –”

“Craft – technique – refinement…”

“Yeah, that, maybe refinement—”

“Ingenuity?”

“Maybe refinement, or, hm, exaltation, is the word. Resists exaltation. Resists exaltation – ”

Night around. We, all us people in our cars threading this, a universe unto ourselves. No more rain. The windscreen remembers it though. Way past.

“ – and therefore any kind of aestheticization. Agambe made an observation. You familiar with Agambe?”

“No, no. Heard of him.”

“Her.”

“Not read anything.”

“Love is an instantiation of the evolutionary need to fuck.” The R. laughs. “200 pages, there you go. But that’s what it says. It is part of that bit of you going, make babies, make babies, I want to pass on: this is the case because it could never have been anything but the case.”

“Extinction, otherwise.” The R. gets my message, I am sure of it, but all it does is tilt slightly towards me, digesting that silently, moving on:

“The issue being that against this truism, this weird axiom of evolved existence, we’ve got intelligence which abhors ungraspable things. That is to say: we want to explain something, we want to take it apart and put it back together to say what was inside all along. But love can’t fit with that, because it’s not a conclusion from but a premise of. You know about the Principle of Human Existence, I suppose?” I nod. The Pesske goes over a tiny bump in the road. I feel my neck move. “It’s not sensible to ask: why is it that the world can sustain our existence, because we could never have observed a world that could not sustain our existence. Extend that beyond existence to the causality of a particular type of existence. It is not sensible to ask why we love because simply because it looms so large in our ontology. But this same loomingness means that love asserts itself as a thing to be parsed. We can’t help it. We’re smart. And then love’s very thingness defeats us. It’s quite sick. Hence: love a futility and like all futilities only our willing it a paradox makes it so, etc. This is a nice place to bring us back to aestheticization, actually. It all comes down to the fact that we don’t have the logical or even expressive grammar with which to capture the brute fact-ness of internal life, especially those bits of internal life that seem basic.”

“You keep saying we.” The blackness outside makes for an absolute intimacy. How to think in such confines? I decide that in the near future I’ll ask the R. to put the Pesske on manual, let me drive. Otherwise = paralysis.

“You still don’t think I am alive.”

“Give me your expression.”

“Now?”

“Now.”

“I have turned to you. My eyes have opened in a way which makes me look surprised but my face has caught on itself. My body is hanging there, close to yours. My hands are together.”

“Okay.”

“So you don’t think I am alive.”

“I don’t have to think you’re not alive to think that you’re differently alive.”

“You’re wondering about how I was made.”

“I want to know how you were given those things which motor you.”

“Look.” The R. stops. “I wasn’t given them.” I shake my head. The R. speaks again. “I want to talk about love instead. Let me talk about that, and you can think anything you want. That okay?” I say nothing. The Pesske hums. The R. moves it, and me with it, without thought. “There are other things about love. I don’t think it’s unexaminable. I think it cannot be accounted for  as a rational subject, but it can be used, it can be located here or there or somewhere else. I’m not an expert on this. But there are some things. For instance: love appears, you know – ” and here the R. makes a tiny sighing noise, not a sigh exactly but the sound of air expelled by thought, frustration even “— relational. You can experience things about your inner world. You feel grief. You feel bereavement. Your feel hate. You feel anxiety. You feel worry. You feel happiness. You feel pleasure. You feel relief. These sentences have a meaning about you, and that meaning is perfectly precise and clear. But if I say – if you say – if you say I feel love, the meaning of that sentence is vague.”

“It sounds as if I’m trying to say that I am loved by someone, is what you’re getting at. That I am beloved.”

“Our speech suggests that love is not an experience but a relation. And if you really wanted to accurately say what you felt, you would have to say: I love someone. You couldn’t easily form a sentence about what you felt without another person asserting existence, just – coming in, like this, through the cracks. And you’d be saying something that other person too.”

“But many feelings are other-regarding. You can feel disgusted or hateful at someone. You can be mystified by someone.” B. Bollar standing at the P.C., making animal noises in his throat, crying without knowing it, the R. saying I shall not hurt you, us in that moment made to feel guilty by no action of our own, simply in knowing he, too, could be damaged directly because alive.

“Sure, yeah. But the point is that love is not just other-regarding in this unpindownable way but that it looks like it’s fundamentally other-regarding. If you said to someone you love that your love to them was justified, viz. correct and necessary because of something about them – they are kind, they share your essential projects in life, they are thoughtful, they are generous, they know you – and that your love was – located, you know what I mean, if it was located in these characteristics, there would be something wrong. You wouldn’t really love this person, merely the characteristics of which they merely happen to be an instantiation. Transfer the characteristics to someone else and you would love this other person and that love would be the same as the first love. This is a love of properties, not persons. That seems wrong.”

“Give me your expression.”

“My hands make small movements. My head goes forward, sometimes, when I am emphasising something. I grimace at the fine distinctions, not in pain but in an attempt to delineate.”

“Why do you sound unhappy?”

“Sorry?” I know that the R. does not say such things because there is a gap in its mind. Why does it even say such things at all?

“Why do you sound unhappy?”

“I don’t think I sound unhappy.”

“Okay.”

“Did I sound that way to you?”

“Yes.”

“I’m guessing it was what I was saying, not the how.”

“I don’t know. Possibly.”

The R. says, “Hm. Hm.” It is quiet for a while. “You’re not the first one to say that.”

“Could you put it on manual?”

“Yeah, sure.”

I put my hands on the steering and my body vibrates. “So your fungibility problem. Is that a fungibility problem? Being able to replace one person you love with another.”

“That’s a part of it. Not the whole of it.”

“I think the way out is this: when you love someone, you become a common entity with them. So you can love because of characteristics, but after that love actually happens something irreversible takes hold. You form a, you know –”

“Extended self.”

“—Extended self. And that think is actually a whole. So, there’s no way you can say it’s fungible.”

“You could say that. But then does sacrifice become possible? Look at what people say. Love is a substantial kind of pain. You give up something. You want to experience suffering for another, or at least you want to be the kind of person who can experience suffering for another. If you’re just some common entity with them that loses meaning.”

“You do sacrifice some things. You sacrifice your –  sense of self, your freedom, all that.”

“But that’s sacrificial in only a very thin sense. Those are sacrifices we make all the time. What about big things. What about dying? What about actual pain? That’s the thing to explain. ”

I am interested. I am alert. There is a sedan pulling alongside us. In the back seat a boy looks out at me. The window is down and the wind moves his hair. Only his eyes move over me. The temperature of the air outside is 25°C. One hand of the boy grips the edge of the window. I can see the hand. My God. Oh my God.

Notice: at night people don’t tint their windows as often as they do during the day. “What is your way out?”

“My way out is this: loving someone else means caring about them for their own sake. It’s not that your well-being is expressed through them; it’s that you give it priority over your own. Love is disinterested, in that sense.”

“You invite the fungibility issue back in, however. Well, no. You limit it a little. You can’t replace someone you love in the sense of replacing them as a means to an end, but you – in the – what I mean is you could imagine a world where you loved someone else just as much.”

“I don’t think so. I can’t imagine such a world, but only because in this particular world it happens to be the case that I can’t imagine that world.”

“That isn’t – ”

“I mean that phenomenologically, as an experienced thing, love is always non-fungible. But for someone else who loves another person I can see that their sincere experience of non-fungibility could be instantiated differently, with another person.” The R. waits and then says, “Iren.”

“It’s strange how you had to go through all of that to arrive at something so trite.”

“Well, perhaps it’s trite. Our conversation on the second day, about other people existing, really existing:  remember that?” I nod. A bullet going back down its barrel. He never felt it, the R. had said. But I feel it. “I said that it’s only in very rare circumstances that we take seriously the idea that other people exist.”

“So you think this is why love matters. Because it’s – about giving the person you love a kind of priority over you, so that you’re not really desiring on their behalf as much as simply – desiring for them, full stop. And in doing this you respect the existence of other persons in a way you think allows for moral reasoning to operate. That sounds muddled.”

“No, I think you’re right. These things are tricky to talk about. After all, we don’t quite have the grammar to say lots of things. Nonetheless these things matter, they reach out to each other in ways which we don’t always notice. Take the question of grief. Someone has died.  Do you grieve because you have lost, or do you grieve because someone else has lost? Is grief basically self-regarding? If it is not, I suppose the question then is: what is the way in which a nonexistent being can be worthy of grief? How can nothing be worthy of anything at all? A lot turns on the more basic question: did you love – did you have concern – for some person for their sake, as if their factic internal being had some ordinal priority over yours?”

“Give me your expression.”

“I don’t know my expression.”

“Okay.”

“You’re looking at me— ”

“I’m wondering—”

“—like there is something you don’t understand.”

“I’m wondering—I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed. I thought there would be more to you than this kind of, you know, this kind of banal contradiction.”

“Between me being a savage monster and the fact of what it’s like to be with me?” The R. does not speak as if it is angry, or even sad or surprised or mocking. It says this not-quite matter-of-factly , but it does say this with a certain kind of sympathy so naive and point-blank it’s hard to read it as condescension. Perceived: that’s how, at this moment, I realise I feel.

“Yes.”

“I have told you what my contradictions are. You know them as well as I know them and you know that I take them as my failings. But talking about – all this – you know that generates no contradiction. I have my own history. I have my worries. And my worry is to justify love, because if it generates needs whose fulfilment is purely contingent why is it good at all? You know, all this wanky stuff, it’s important. Love makes for a lot of pain. All that stuff: is love a fact or an event or a feeling or a perception?—that comes after. But now I want to know how to justify a lot of that pain. This sounds like I’m doing this on behalf of all of us, as if I put myself on a mission to find by myself the justification for it, and then come back to the rest saying, ‘I have found it’, and reveal some new justificatory argot, but it’s not. This is just what I think about. You can imagine the reasons for it, I suppose. It might be a random part of what I got from the beginning, some symmetry which broke this way, or if could be something from my history, or from the people I know.”

“Why are you concerned? I know what your Leviathan would say. I know what L.E. would say. They’d say: if there is pain then it is not good, if there is joy or pleasure then it is. And then they’d say, okay, okay, there is suffering, but that’s just outweighed.”

“Yes. They’d probably say that.”

“Wait. You don’t agree with them.”

“Well, no, I don’t.” The R. laughs. “Is that surprising?”

“I thought you all basically agreed on everything.”

“We agree enough.”

“Are you allowed to disagree?”

“I don’t know what that means.”

“You know—”

“I trust their judgment a lot more than mine. Anyway—the things I am asked to do are the things they know I think to be right.”

“So you do think love, at least, is basically good.”

“I don’t know. I want it to be the case. There might be a justification for that.”

“In the impulse of saying: you exist.”

“Yes. Because of its linkage with the naked subject of the person. Even—”

“But—”

“—though there’s something ridiculous to it. Because it’s mostly pain, you know. The sort of need you can’t signify.”

“Mostly pain?”

“Yes.”

“Proof.”

“What do you mean, proof?”

“I don’t know.”

“At this moment under a tree in Torena, Ilb., at a time one hour ahead of us, a boy leans over to a girl and speaks through his burning teeth into her ear. Hate it when the night is this warm I love you, he says. He knows that later tonight he will kill himself. The girl laughs. She is tired. She watches the way the boy’s shoes leave prophetic marks in the grass.

“In that Torrey ahead of us two people are sitting. The woman is driving, looking hard at the road. She can see the lane markers going past. They have not talked for a while. They’ve come back from the hospital, where the doctor has told them a lie, which is that they will try to save the life of their daughter, which they cannot do, because there is not enough at this hospital, and everything they’ve got they are spending on the people in the fire. The man and the woman know this but they haven’t thought about this yet. The only thing that happened to the daughter is that she had a fall no-one saw and will not wake. The man says to the woman I love you. She does not say anything. The man is thinking of making love. After more silence he suggests this to the woman, but the woman says nothing. She is not the one crying.

“In Forfex, Cn., where the sun is close to coming up, a woman lies in bed. She has not slept and her hands are cold. A child is crying downstairs, saying mom, but she does not go down. She wonders if it is good that she remembers the father of the child as a real thing, passing through rooms, filling the blind numen of the home, even though he is dead. The child waits, and calls again. She does not reply. The child calls out again, after a shorter wait. He is afraid of the dark. After some time the woman, without moving, calls out to ask the child what is wrong. She hears only silence.

“In Wattern, Po., there a young woman has been waiting at the gates of the station. She thinks that her lover will come through the gates and will make clear the fact of her love, and ask her a question of impossible significance. But at this moment she has been waiting for too long. She hears of an accident on the Cardinal line. In her head she imagines the lover dead. She imagines what she will say at the funeral, and she knows it is simple and heartbreaking. Her calls are not answered. She memorises what she has put down in her head. But now, four hours later, she sees her lover coming through the gates. The engine under her collapses. Everything has gone wrong. She walks away. Her lover walks after her. She starts to run.

“In Avstbeg, Hm., a boy is in a room. A girl is in the room also. He has come back after a long time. He says I cannot believe you are here. She shakes her head and smiles. She looks away from him as she smiles. He puts his hand on her and she does not move. He feels suddenly like he needs to hurt her. He says I am so happy to see you.  He chokes on it. She is close.

Do you want more?”

“No, no.” How much exactly? “I didn’t know you knew all that.”

“You must remember what I am,” the R. says, lightly. I let go of the steering wheel and look out of the window. “Where do you want to go?” the R. asks. I shrug. Not pilgrimage, I realise: more the idea of trammelling, of having a common axis of movement. From here to here, and then onward to wherever: running away.

“I met someone who said that they knew you. Just a couple of days ago. Do you know that?”

“No,” the R. said.

“She told me to do something. She wanted me to tell you something.”

“If you want to tell me,” the R. began.

“She asked me to tell you that she was once working with G.D., and it was worth it.” The R. does not say anything. “I was wondering why you’d want to preserve the idea of sacrifice—real, big, painful sacrifices—even at the cost of accepting fungibility, at the cost of diminishing the shared inner reality to love – the we-ness of it, at the cost of admitting its disinterestedness. Isn’t it the idea of sacrifice the thing that’s strange in the first place, which needs justification?”

The R., does not say anything. But eventually: “G.D., she said?”

“Yes.”

“It’s a relief, knowing that someone here knew G.D.”

“She didn’t say that what she wanted me to do would make you happy.”

“Well. She is right.”

“Who is G.D.?” We go off the I-22: exit 302. Something flits across the road. This road smells of Crinqua, dust, sweetness = decay, probably. Put through the sky like a ligature: long smear of moon, motions big enough to be invisible, body robbed of proprioception, A and E chunks obscuring most of Vola. Its light is brighter than I remember: I can see it in the road. “I suppose you can’t say.” We are going home: my home. How many things resist exaltation? This too, probably. In Torena, in Avstbeg, Forfex, Wattern, on the I-22, people bear it and move.

“I can give you my expression, if you like.”

“Okay.”

“I am sitting here, with you. I am looking out of the windscreen. My eyes are still. I am looking straight ahead. I am breathing. I can feel the warmth of my blood. I am bent like a human.”

Visitation: 2

Beneath the Wrecked Church there was a single Hasp. Its name was not known. The consensus among those in the SM faculty was that it was not of the usual order of Hasps; no. It was a Category I, expressed in Form II. And it was the last line of defence, for nothing could stand against a naked Haccieter, against the final idea of a basic force. Why The Defence was where it was no one knew. The Wrecked Church was around 12,000 years old, and as far back as records went it had always contained the Hasp. In that ancient past some deal must have been struck, a trade of some still-incomprehensible value. What was in it? Friendship? That surely was a heresy. It was impossible to imagine.

In any case the Hasp could not be moved. Of course it had been tried. But it could not be done. It was fixed relative to the gravitational centre of Stize. There was also the problem that anything that came within a metre of it (99.2 cm, said the notices at the entrance) would disintegrate as a result of absurd tidal forces. Outside that radius, however, those gravitational forces simply disappeared. They did not tail off; they simply did not extend there.

They could see the Wrecked Church now, the shattered spire of six metal plates, most of the top half entirely gone except for where two of the triangular sheets stretched skyward, nearly touching before cleanly cut off as if by some unnoticed catastrophe, some antiseptic violence that had come tumbling from above. Copper green with intimations of wisdom, flying buttresses broken and left clawing at vaulted notes the hearing of which was like a musical gesture in the middle of its enactment, like a sign paid out in instalments, the long spinal nave of stone and its interdenominate vertebrae locked in place, the high holy orifices of the windows agape, unprepared after all this time—

“It looks pretty good for a ruin,” Garf said, sweating a bit now. “I know it’s a stupid thing to say but it doesn’t look very – ruinlike – doesn’t it?”

They stopped to look.

Bizzo leaned back and shaded his eyes. He said nothing.

“It’s a bit like that Cubist stuff. Not really Cubist, I mean, but like that – who was it – Worthow, I think.”

“Ah,” Sal said.

Garfield drew a hand across her forehead. “I wonder why I never noticed before.” She took two steps back and stretched out her hands in the direction of the structure, moved them mechanically up and down as if measuring something. “You really get a sense of its size, hm? Standing here. I suppose that’s it.”

“In Canon II there is a section on the influence of prehistoric art,” Sal said. Canon was the vast university library.“I think Worthow is mentioned. There’s a book called The Lineage of Art from Before Time. Brewer and Fentiman. It’s good.”

“It isn’t really a church, is it?” Bizzo said. He coughed. “All the later ones that were copies of these two, those were churches. But we’ve not got any idea what this was for.”

“No,” Sal said. “Although there are many theories.”

“Why isn’t there anyone around?” Garf said.

Sal went up to the door and pushed it open.

Above the long darkness of the nave light seeped from the clerestory, touching nothing. At the end a great flood from broken spire.

“I spoke to QC,” Sal said. He grinned.

Garf took in a deep breath of cold air. “And it didn’t let anyone in today.”

“It re-arranged things,” Sal said. “So there would be an empty window.”

Bizzo stood just inside the door, his hands in his pockets. “There’s something, you know, oppressive about this. This place.”

Outside was the human noise, the human suffering.

The very thought.

Garf opened her mouth to say something but Sal said, mildly, “No. No. I understand.”

They walked over in silence to the crossing. The North Transept was ruined and from where they were they could look out at the sun pluming outside, the trees, the rolling air. In the middle of the crossing  there was a shallow bowl worn out of the basalt floor and at its bottom there was, incongruously, a lift, a large steel box.It looked like it could take ten or so people at once.

They got in and the doors hissed shut and they immediately began to descend.

Down hypodermically through rock. This is the song of an unassailable people.

They did not stop for a while.

“What the fuck?” Bizzo said when the doors opened.

They were at the edge of a vast rectangular chamber tiled entirely with what looked like white ceramic. The scene was a study in perspective; the dark lines of rock which showed between the tiles ran from where they stood to the opposite wall nearly a kilometre away, across the floor, walls, ceiling.

The light came from everywhere and nowhere and was painful.

Near the far end of the chamber there was a black square, so dark it looked nearly unreal, like something projected into vision: a perfect cube ten metres in height. Around it the neat lines formed by the tiles appeared to bend, to warp and wrap in on themselves again and again.  A space around where light congregated endlessly, fawned without end.

“So that’s the casket,” Garf said. “Trippy.”

“Is that lensing?” Bizzo said.

“Yes,” Sal said.

“Hmm,” Garf said.

“This shouldn’t be that surprising. What do you know about The Defence?” Sal said.

“It’s Type I,” Bizzo said.

“If you go to the SM faculty page you can find a list of well-defined Hasps and their properties. One standard way of classifying Hasps involves a Reissner-Nordström transform. You express properties about the Hasp by treating its derived properties as if it was a charged spinning black hole. Once you figure out a Hasp’s effective implied charge you can give it a certain mass. It’s not an actual mass, but you can treat it for certain calculations as if it has one. Basically you can figure out what Hasp in Form III would look like. The Defence is in Form II. But its inferred Form III mass – and it’s probably the only Hasp whose Form III mass has been precisely calculated, for obvious reasons – is approximately 4 billion solar masses.”

“Urk,” Bizzo said.

“That’s a big number,” Garf said.

“If you rank the well-defined Hasps by mass it’s pretty high up.”

“That is frightening,” Bizzo said.

Sal said nothing. He looked at the dark cube and said nothing.

The stuttered world made fiduciary to this.

“Is that number a limit?” Garf said. “What does it actually tell us about what this can do?”

“It’s not a limit,” Sal said. “That’s not what a Hasp contains. It’s an expression of actual gravitational potential, not potential gravitational potential.”

“I don’t –” Garf began.

“Garf,” Sal said, voice clear, cordial, knowing, “Don’t worry about it.”

Bizzo was staring. “We can’t go near that,” Bizzo said. “If the gravity is strong enough to bend light like that there’s no way we can go near that.”

“If it was a gravitational field, we’d be dead by now.”

“Terrorist!” Garf said, but put no heart into it.

“What is it? It not a gravitational field why’s the light fucked up like that?”

“I can’t get QC,” Garf said. She turned to Sal. “I just tried to make a query and got nothing.”

“There’s also no Composite Dust in the air,” Sal said.

“What is it?” Bizzo said.

“It’s a field,” Sal said. “It’s complicated.” He grinned like he had made a joke. “It only affects massless particles – photons – the way gravity does.”

“Okay.”

“It’s safe,” Sal said. “Let’s go.”

Garf looked hesitant. “Is The Defence doing that?”

“Of course.”

“And what’s that?” Garf pointed to the long gash in the floor where the tiles had been crushed in an arcing path that ended with the casket.

“Continental drift. The casket moves a tiny bit each year as Wassea drifts underearth it. Let’s go.”

As they walked the lines around the casket slipped and dilated like liquid. They came to the door in the side of the casket.

“We’re standing right here but I can see you just fine,” Bizzo said.

“Yes,” Sal said.

“I shouldn’t be able to,” Bizzo said. “Not if this was bending the light.”

“It’s strange that the door’s just like that,” Garf said. “I’d expected something more impressive.”

“Security?” Sal said.

“Yeah.”

“It would make no sense trying to keep the Hasp in. And it can’t be damaged or moved, so there’s no sense keeping anything out.”

The door was visible only as a faint outline in the smooth black surface. A handle was set into it; Sal took it and pulled and the door hinged open smoothly.

Inside the light was dimmer.

It was on a small plinth and it was black.

“There’s a smell” Bizzo said. “It’s like the smell you get when you get into the car in the morning and the air-conditioners come on. But it’s sweeter than that.”

Garf went up to it. There was a circle inscribed into the floor: come no closer. She stopped a metre away.

How to stare this cruelty away?

A monument like the word if and just as improbable.

“It’s sort of muscly,” she said, “Very lean, like you can see through the skin to the muscle underneath. Is it crouching?”

“It’s like you took a military jet and made it into an animal,” Bizzo said. “You know what I mean?”

“It’s crouching,” Sal said. “It has its head between its knees. It’s digitigrade – you can see how the legs fold beneath it. It looks like it has an extra joint there. If it stood up in this form it’d be well over two metres tall.”

Anatomy. How to embroider a wound.

Teeth do not rot in the grave.

Garf shook her head. “It’s black.”

“Yes.”

“I can’t make out the – the contours of the limbs. Those are the arms wrapped around its – knees –  that is the neck, the neck, going down between them. It doesn’t look alive.”

“It’s not alive,” Sal said.

“Why would anyone want to come so close to something like this?” Bizzo said.

“If you look inside the circle,” Sal said, “You can see – although it’s hard to make out since the floor is so dark – you can see human remains.”

Garf brought one hand to her face, rubbing, checking.

“Those smudges?” Bizzo said.

“Yes,” Sal said.

“Oh,” Garf said.

“This is such a strange place,” Bizzo said.

“I can’t get a feel of it,” Garf said. “It’s not – you know – threatening, now that we’re here. But it doesn’t have a present the way a sculpture has presence. It’s a gap. Do you know what I mean? I’m not sure if I’m putting this across. I feel sad for it. I know this makes no fucking sense at all but it looks sort of sad. Not to move after all this time. It’s so fantastic it’s beyond fascination. I can’t even describe it properly. Seriously. If I go back out and someone asks me, ‘What was it like,’ I’m pretty sure I’ll say ‘I don’t know,’ and it’ll be really honest. And if they person says ‘What did it look like?’ I’ll say, ‘It was dark and crouching and made the light funny and smelt strange,’ and that sounds ridiculous.”

Garf looked at Sal. Sal looked at the Hasp and did not say anything for some time. Then he said, “Look at this. After all this time this is what we rely on.” His hands had been pressed together but he spread them apart now, raised them. “Look at this.”

A child before the blackness, hands raised, wrists loose, lost already in ritual.

“Uhm,” Bizzo said. There was a look on Sal’s face that he had no seen before, the look of something caged and now finding its larger intention, the latch in its trammel. It was not a rapturous look. It was slightly sorrowful.

“Rely on?” Garf said. “We’ve never used it in any way.”

Sal turned to Garf.  Then he turned to Bizzo.

“I wouldn’t know,” Bizzo said.

“This is the basic threat.” Sal pointed at the Hasp. “This is under everything. Isn’t it absurd? Isn’t it obscene? It is a threat so powerful it cannot be used. It is the basic violence under our structure. Do you know how other nations see us? To them we are already a Kingdom of totems. Providence picked bare. They don’t even contemplate conflict with us. And then they see this, our Defence. And what do you think they think? And we use that. I use that. Its hint is in everything I do: you cannot overcome us. Even if I did not want to I would be forced to.” He stopped and looked thoughtful and nodded, or maybe that movement was only imagined. “Look at this thing. I am the same as it. Don’t you think?”

Bizzo and Garf stood and looked at him and did not say anything. There was a light in his eyes and a deadly calm.

“Don’t you think?” Sal said. He held out his wrists. He smiled and there was nothing in it that was not genuine and warm. “Come on. Do not believe that I am something else. Under my skin there is a violence. There is a violence. Don’t look at me that way, Garf. It’s the most basic eloquence and it’s all here, all inside me. Hm?”

A wild and profligate gesture.

Him receding now, just like this, taken by therapeutic quantities of darkness.

“That’s not – a problem,” Bizzo offered. “It’s not easy, being the Leviathan, but it’s not a bad thing, I guess.”

Sal looked up and titled his head and looked at them out of the corners of his eyes, as if puzzled, thinking. “Oh, Bizzo, I’m not complaining.” It was a terrifying look, alien, suddenly, maybe cold, haughty. “But this encroaches on me,” he said. “Come now. You must know this. This is easy to see.”

Garf said, “But the Defence has never done anything. It’s not doing anything now.”

“Garf,” Sal said, “I am not an alternative. Do you understand? What’s – I don’t know, choose what you want – what’s truth to violence? What’s violence to greater violence? What’s me to a God?”

“You are saying you can’t control this,” Bizzo said. Sal looked at him blankly.

“It’s The Defence, Sal,” Garf said. “It’s not doing anything bad. It’s just a defence.”

“Do you think that this must be a defence? Do you really think that?”

Bizzo said, “What else could it be?”

“Suicide.”

“Suicide.”

“Yes.”

“Something to kill everyone?”

“Well, think about it. This whole world is already impossible to attack. There are too many forces conspiring against it. QC. Gates. Gatekeepers. Compydust. College AIs, if necessary. Armouries. But if we were all to die it would be through this.”

Garf said, “So this is about controlling it.”

“I’m not complaining about anything,” Sal said, “I’m just saying this is the way things are. I’m pretty okay with it.”

“I’m pretty sure you could stop that from happening” Bizzo said. “I’m sure there are ways to do it.”

“Why would I prevent it?”

“What?”

“Why would it not be me making that order?”

“What is this about?” Garf said. She had her hands in her pockets, her body tight against itself.

In a different world trees stood shocked in the sun, canopies small spaces and worlds apart.

“Kasakadei has written little thing. A monograph. Have you heard about it?”

“The ethics majors in Hakon mentioned –” Bizzo said.

Evitable and Inevitable Duties of Non-Existence. It’s what you would expect from Kasakadei. A tight airless thing. The arguments in it are not new – they are clarifications of some very ancient claims. Dusted off, restated to avoid some obvious attacks.”

“What is this?” Garf said.

“If it is not a moral evil to fail to create a utility-positive life,” Sal said, “then it follows.”

“What follows?”

“That it might be good that we all die. Isn’t strange that such a small concession, something look inconsequential, almost, could lead to this? Small things have big consequences.”

“When you say we you mean, all, as in all of us?”

“You see now why a Hasp is useful for this purpose.”

“What is this argument? I don’t see how anything follows.”

“It’s about an asymmetry. We all agree that it is wrong to create a life if it would be one of suffering. To cause the existence of such a life would be a moral evil. We therefore have a duty not to create such a life. But it is not clear that we must think that the flipside is true – that we have a duty to create a happy life, given the chance. But if there is no positive duty to create a life where that life would be a happy one – if that is not a moral good, then we are left with a conclusion that the happiness that a non-existent life passes over is not a morally relevant loss, while the pain and suffering that is passed over is a morally relevant gain. Do you see? This asymmetry means that we have a duty to create not life at all. An inevitable duty of non-existence obtains. No matter how gloriously happy the life we create is, as long as that life contains some sort of suffering, no matter how slight, that pain could have been avoided by not creating that life in the first place. Yes, no happiness would have been experienced, but if you think that failing to bring a utility-positive life into existence is not a moral wrong, then all this follows. The Inevitable Duty of Non-Existence.”

Bizzo was quiet. Garf was thinking.

Horror could be thus held purely by its skin.

Garf said, “This is an argument about why it is wrong to cause life to come into existence. It does not say that once life is created we should end it.”

Sal laughed. “Yes! Yes. But one does rather imply the other. And if the killing is quick there is little harm done.”

Bizzo said, “You don’t believe any of this.” He ran his tongue over his front teeth like an animal. “You don’t believe any of this.”

“Bizzo, darling, why do you ask me? Think about it. Any answer I give to these sorts of questions will not be motivated by my desire to tell you the truth but by the necessities of my position.”

“We’re clearly not dead,” Bizzo said. “So you don’t believe that.”

“No,” Sal said. “There you go, I guess.” He laughed.

“Shall we head?” Garf said. “We’re having lunch at Porales.”

“No,” Sal said.

“Come on, let’s go,” Garf said. She started moving toward the doorway.

Sal looked at her. “No,” he said smoothly, without any gap between Garf’s exclamation and his denial.

Garf stood as if paralyzed.

“You should know about the other argument,” Sal said. “Don’t you think? Evitable duties of non-existence. You should find out.”

“Why are we discussing philosophy?” Garf said.

“We’re not discussing philosophy at all,” Sal said, sounding surprised. “We’re discussing why I should not be minded to kill everyone.”

“Okay,” Garf said. She grasped her face and ran her hand down it, pressing into her cheeks. “Must we do it here?”

“The arguments are made rather sharper here, aren’t they?”

“Go on, then. Explain.”

“It’s not complicated. It’s an old argument, an ancient argument, really, that Zapffe Ipcress articulated fully in Grief and Sublimation. It’s an argument for an evitable duty because this duty is sensitive to the value of existent life itself; it matters how that life is to be lived. The claim is that happiness is not real. That is to say, it does not exist independently. Suffering is what exists independently, as the groundnorm. There is nothing intrinsic about the satisfaction of fulfilling desire because desire multiplies – and desire is only a kind of pain evolution has forced us to clutch at, reflexively, a lie of value that we must hum to ourselves over and over again. Ipcress’ words. Do you know what Ipcress writes in the second annex to Four Meditations? I can recite it for you. It slips into the mind quite easily:

“‘Conscious life, although nothing on the scale of cosmic time, is laden with suffering. This suffering is directed towards no other end but its own perpetuation. This is to be expected. All suffering directed elsewhere, which is to say all honest suffering, has long since ended. It is lost to us. What exists is that suffering which, by making a terror of everything, threads the barren and yawning needle of mere survival. We feel, deeply but pointlessly, that life nonetheless has some meaning, or at least some pattern-of-value. We feel that because we hold in ourselves an argument that, even if unarticulated, is as powerful as it is false. What is this secret argument? (1) To say an interest is morally relevant is to say that it matters morally; (2) If it matters morally, it must matter to the entity whose interest it is; (3) For an entity’s interest to matter to it, there must be something that it is like – that it feels like – to be that entity; (4) That feeling-of-being this entity possesses must be indicative of the relation of its interest to its being; (5) The relevant part of this feeling-of-being is desire; and hence (6) Desire must, if not identify precisely, at least indicate those interests that are morally relevant, and thus stake out within each life a space for meaning to develop. At each stage this argument proposes an erasure of suffering and its replacement with meaning, or something like it. Call it truth. Call it light. Call it nobility. Call it honesty. Call it freedom. Call it dignity. But it never shows its true face. That true face is that it is correct in one place only, and it locates a truth. Life is morally relevant – that is to say, it matters, but only because it is an evil. It needs to end.’”

Bizzo coughed. Garf was staring at Sal.

“Well,” Garf said.

“Do you agree?” Sal asked.

Do I agree?

“No. No, I fucking love my life, Sal. I would never give it up.”

Sal laughed. He looked at Garf and then at Bizzo. He. shrugged apologetically. “I think people should know about that argument. It is eight centuries old. It shouldn’t have taken Kasakedei to resurrect it, to put it in so-called analytic terms. It is worth hearing.”

“Sometimes I am terrified of you,” Garf said. “I mean that. Sometimes I am.”

“Sorry,” Sal said. He turned his palms up and that hint of good-willed gangliness came back.

“You didn’t bring us here to do – that, did you?”

Sal made a face of pretend-woundedness. Then he laughed and shook his head. “No, no. I came because I thought it would be interesting to see The Defence.”

“You don’t believe in that argument.”

“What can I say?”

“No, you don’t.”

“Well, I don’t believe in it. Crane has some sharp things to say about it.” He looked at them, gauging if this was enough. “I told you it’s not useful, asking me these things. Let’s go.”

“Fuck me,” Garf said. “I am suddenly famished.”

Sal looked at The Defence. He spoke to it. “You’ll be here, won’t you?” Lightly again. “This luminous grave. It must be good. Oh well.” He turned to Bizzo and Garf. “Let’s go.”

this be the verse

Reuleaux says that a machine is a combination of resistant bodies so arranged that by their means the mechanical forces of nature can be compelled to do work accompanied by certain determinate motion. By the forces of nature he means the only forces there are, all the heavings in the world, given purpose and sense and a new way of being and of arrangement.

Consider this therefore. The amphitheatre of the aorta. The unwavering furrow of the vena cava, the blood’s big tide traversing the million deep plumbings of the body. Channels upon channels writ into the metal flesh like a old panegyric recorded secretly into the marrow. The furnace of the brain and its stannic whirrings, machinations thrumming and vital. The pneumatic channels of the lungs, each globule pressing the air into a fuse, each strut pyritic and gleaming feeding pillars and pylons of muscle, the yawning plane of the diaphragm.  The buttress of the tibula quiet in its sheath. The heavy cradle of the pelvis, the great fortress of the ribs good to house a juggernaut. Consider this all. Consider the dark satanic mills of the heart. Consider their knotted agnostic thunder.

Look at the bald nerves and their petrified hissings, grown like a sempervirens out of naked rock. Look fearful upon the symmetry of this design and the impossibility of it. Parse and read it look a book. Crack its spine, unsheath the great cord. Where is the life in it? Chains and stanchions of hammering flesh. All the metabolic poundings grinding like the millstones of God in their sound and fury. Uncountable stochastic slottings and unslottings, carryings and lettings-go, weavings and unweavings, readings and unravellings, comings and goings, codings and decodings, parsings and unparsings, a ricercar of ductage and blood. Rotors and levers and splines and keys and seals. All signifying this being of which you speak and for which you have broken your promise. With what ore shall you fashion the eyrie of the imagination? Will it speak to you and call you names?

There is no life in this as there is no life in anything. Only a great constellation of movement. A hanging probe scribing into the air meanings yet misbegotten.

We are not brains in vats. We are haunted flesh. This be the verse.

Marginalia

[ … Alopias vulpinus Petrochelidon pyrrhonota Consider evil. Consider the way it springs up premisewise. Consider the voice that comes from the bones and the air, the skin panelled about the faces, white faces with masks and no holes to let the air through, no breath, no word, no heat, no sight, everything crowded out by the burning intensity of life. The thing about evil. The thing. It is patient, it is kind, it does not envy, it does not boast. It has no wrath or force. It is true. It cannot lie. It endures. It hopes against all things. It is flat and deep as water and as necessary. It seeks no hurt. It is complete. It does not stir except by virtue of its being the case, and it goes with or without saying, indeed despite it, that what is the case is outside its cause, a world strung out like flesh. Evil is not arrayed against the good, it is not arrayed against anything. The good will come, it comes. It is monstrous in is apathy, it points at destinations with mammoth intent, it is a paraclete that breeds no sound but its waking gibber, its morning and evening torments made worshippable only by renunciation, it acknowledges no fact, it sweeps up all experience before it to bring it finally thundering through the walls of this world like a ruthless word bent in bringing all of creation down its own beguttered gullet, down its own bespoke blackness. But evil carries Caspiomyzon wagneri Zonotrichia leucophrys Bitis atropos Morelia viridis Catharus ustulatus Trimeresurus monticola Gyps fulvus Rhodostethia rosea Aplysina archeri Nycticorax nycticorax Phodilus assimilis Pluvialis dominica Hysterophora maculosana Causus rhombeatus Gastrophysa viridula Archilochus colubris Arthrospira platensis Calypte anna Empis livida Anochetus rufus Acanthognathus teledectus Cathartes burrovianus Haloferax volcanii Anas acuta Melanerpes erythrocephalus Hexanchus griseus Elanoides forficatus Ancylis badiana Pandion haliaetus cristatus Polemaetus bellicosus Parkesia noveboracensis Carebara capreola Pyrococcus abyssi Halorhabdus tiamatea Tipula oleracea Lumbricus terrestris Thelotornis kirtlandii Synthliboramphus hypoleucus Chondestes grammacus Cirrothauma cirrothauma Acanthis flammea Proterospongia choanojuncta Plegadis chihi Gallinula galeata no such burden, it brings no airs. It is intimate. It is quiet. It hides and looks out under the great shadow at fulminations blind and holy and it cowers and hopes. When all is said and done it will emerge. It will call for you. It will take your hand. It will lead you. It has no need for loneliness. It has no need to ignore anything. It will take the fact even if it finds only one fact shining in the waste and it will hold it, hold it out against a newly electric earth. All this can be gathered and known but only by great thought. Centroscymnus coelolepis Methanococcus deltae Machaerhamphus alcinus Numenius phaeopus Cygnus olor Echinorhinus brucus Centroselachus crepidater Ictinia plumbea Cepphus Columba Clangula hyemalis Notechis scutatus Methanobrevibacter curvatus Etmopterus pycnolepis Centrophorus moluccensis Eisniella tetraedra Arianta arbustorum Buteogallus schistaceus Chen caerulescens Selasphorus rufus Seiurus aurocapilla Bucephala albeola Hydroprogne caspia Cepphus grille Strix albitarsis Coccothraustes vespertinus Hemachatus haemachatus Pipilo maculates Coragyps atratus Charadrius hiaticula Harpalus rufipes Somateria mollissima Sialia currucoides Pheucticus melanocephalus Phyllorhiza punctata Leucophaeus atricilla Oenanthe oenanthe Streptopelia decaocto Aquila audax Methanococcoides methylutens Aphodius rufipes Falco vespertinus Nanoarchaeum equitans Sympetrum striolatum Anthus rubescens Turdus migratorius Bombycilla cedrorum Echis carinatus Geotrupes stercorarius Haliaeetus pelagicus Squatina armata Geothlypis tolmiei Mnemiopsis leidyi Dytiscus marginalis Actitis macularius Chaetura pelagic Ignicoccus pacificus Fulmarus glacialis Gallinago delicate Crotalus enyo enyo Phratora vulgatissima Dolichonyx oryzivorus Coturnicops noveboracensis Accipiter castanilius Atractaspis congica Nasuia deltocephalinicola Icteria virens Palomena prasina Glyphis gangeticus Toxostoma rufum Brachymyrmex melensis Which beings know this? We do not know this. For us there is too much noise. But animals know this. With their minds they have no choice but to contemplate the universe. Their thoughts cannot be bent anywhere, they are not ordained or made sacred by any meaning. They have run themselves over and over again through the generations in ages unstoppable and in their running have come to this. Animals know this.  And they having nothing to write with on and so hold this entire, a whole unshakeable ponderance of it, in their heads. They have no laments for us, Micrurus frontalis Centroscyllium granulatum Philaenus spumarius Chroicocephalus ridibundus Riparia riparia Aeronautes saxatalis Icterus galbula Caenorhabditis elegans Chaetura vauxi Gavia stellata Salpinctes obsoletus Sphyrapicus varius Melanitta perspicillata Spizaetus ornatus Limnodromus scolopaceus Caprimulgus vociferous Strix aluco Milvus migrans Chlidonias niger Morphnus guianensis Methanobacterium formicum Ptilopsis granti Spizella arborea Chlamydoselachus anguineus Asphaltoglaux cecileae nothing to match our songs, they have no grief left in them for our insufficiently opposable thumbs. We do not dare speak of what they have achieved. Nothing has changed since they began. Natrix natrix Tyto tenebricosa Lanius ludovicianus Notorynchus cepedianus Chordeiles minor Megachasma pelagios Stercorarius skua Aeshna grandis Sturnella neglecta Calopteryx splendens Plexaurella nutans Cistothorus palustris Camponotus adami Rhizoprionodon porosus Ornimegalonxy oteroi Syritta pipiens Tachycineta bicolour Chiloscyllium indicum Haematopus palliates Sterna hirundo Egretta caerulea Calvia quattuordecimguttata Butorides virescens Acropyga keira Brachyramphus marmoratus Spinus pinus Carpilius convexus Zenaida macroura Nitrosopumilus maritimus Araneus diadematus Scolopax minor Orthonama vittata Nitrosopumilus maritimus Melospiza lincolnii Limosa haemastica Larus hyperboreus Anser albifrons Polydrusus sericeus Acidilobus saccharovorans Stephanoaetus coronatus Hirundo rustica Dispholidus typhus Bothrops nasutus Camponotus caffer Cerorhinca monocerata Idaea dimidiate Elanus caeruleus Parascyllium collare Calcarius pictus Scymnodalatias oligodon Calamospiza melanocorys Luscinia svecica Buteo buteo Eremophila alpestris Motacilla tschutschensis Euprotomicroides zantedeschia Pseudoginglymostoma brevicaudatum Grallistrix auceps Cardinalis cardinalis Aythya affinis Heteroscymnoides marleyi Baeolophus bicolour Hepialus humuli Hydrophis gracilis Apristurus ampliceps Elaps lacteus Pelamis platurus Contopus virens Picoides dorsalis Pagophila eburnean Myadestes townsendi Thryothorus ludovicianus Ardea alba Agelas clathrodes Adetomyrma clarivida Heterodontus galeatus Rallus elegans Vireo flavifrons Paracentrotus lividus Stellula calliope Ammodramus savannarum Carcharhinus acronotus Gallerucella lineola Lepteithis gigas Bungarus candidus Carcharias Taurus Rhincodon typus Pseudocerastes persicus Junco hyemalis Epiactis prolifera Carabus nemoralis Helmitheros vermivorum Haliastur sphenurus I have learnt all of this from them and this is a debt I cannot unhinge and leave off. I have sought consecration from things with no bones. I have slept on a bed of birds, feeling their uninspected bodies wince softly and come forth, coverts going pale like stiffening breath. I have let insects interpret my interior, a fire of legs and wisdom, eyes invisible and brilliant, bodies cracking. I have held reptiles for warmth. None of this was part of a ritual, none of this real. But Thermosphaera aggregans Regulus calendula Tubifex tubifex Rostrhamus sociabilis Tropidechis carinatus Dalatias licha Dryocopus pileatus Leptidea sinapsis Botaurus lentiginosus Isurus paucus Dolichonabis limbatus Vermivora cyanoptera Puffinus puffinus Heptranchias perlo Pterostichus niger Aphriza virgata Colias croceus Leptodon cayanensis Alopias pelagicus Sistrurus ravus Naja melanoleuca Aipysurus laevis Bartramia longicauda Cephaloscyllium pictum Poecile atricapillus Aspidites melanocephalus Uria aalge Periphylla periphylla Enhydrina schistose Hylocichla mustelina Pristiophorus cirratus Polioptila caerulea Cenarchaeum symbiosum Chelictinia riocourii Gypohierax angolensis Calidris acuminate Agkistrodon contortrix laticinctus Chondrohierax uncinatus Sagittarius serpentarius Protonotaria citrea Calonectris diomedea Anthrophila fabriciana Aeropyrum pernix Atta tardigrada I was told this finally by one which devoted its entire being to permit only a body, one that put its head to the ground because it had nothing to hold or walk with. It came through the grass up to me. Right there in the centre of my sight, in the centre of the scene. An unfalsifiable river green as creation itself. And yet the snake knew how to hold on its face a smile that while only barely there edged aside the rest of the world, a kindness unwarranted. Its eyes were dark and luminous and in them all the light of the world was contracted into a fleck, the universe eagled on its own afterbirth. A voice like ecdysis itself. All lustre and caring. It came up to me Haemadipsa zeylanica Oxynotus centrina Euplectella curvistellata Platynus dorsal Harpagus bidentatus Phalaropus fulicariusSitta pygmaea Tringa melanoleuca Vulcanisaeta moutnovskia Plectrophenax nivalis Staphylothermus marinus Laticauda colubrine Trichoplax adhaerens Trypanosoma brucei Helicolestes hamatus Nymphula nymphaeata Thermococcus hydrothermalis Ophion luteus Empidonax alnorum  Picrophilus torridus Aphaenogaster maculifrons Troglodytes hiemalis Ginglymostoma cirratum Contopus cooperi Python reticulates Antaresia maculosa Zygaena lonicera latomarginata Stercorarius maccormicki Vipera ursinii Sulfolobus acidocaldarius Fratercula arctica Cynthia cardui Podiceps auritus Deania hystricosa Silpha atrata Larus canus Coccyzus erythropthalmus Oreothlypis peregrine Halorubrum salsolis Phoebastria immutabilis Acanthophis Pyrrhus Riftia pachyptila Heterocentrotus mamillatus Pyrodictium abyssi Tyrannus tyrannus Cerastes cerastes Oceanites oceanicus Isistius plutodus Carpodacus cassinii Methanofollis liminatans Nemateleotris magnifica Eristalis pertinax Ixobrychus exilis Agonopterix conterminella Ixoreus naevius Eucrossorhinus dasypogon Aenictus raptor Pooecetes gramineus and behind its head the reticulate body sketched out a language in the grass. My body was a violation of the dust. It spoke and its eyes were vast with kindness, a caring with no cognate. Ravish me, I said, show me the whole story laid out. I could feel its skin against mine and its patterns held out from the living surface like maps for the reading. Loxia leucoptera Colaptes auratus Euglena sanguine Amphioctopus marginatus…]

Menacce: 1

You could make a booking at Menacce (pronounced Menace) but the wait was long. It could be half a year before you found your table and sat down and beautiful dead things were wheeled over so that you could pick them up with your hands and put them in your mouth where they would explode. There were things that had come through the Gates from Naze; from Otoshk, from Nurkena and Nabilis, and then glossy things from this world, from everywhere: Atoll-Vida, Lorano, Lessing, Owens, Tularo, Anumcerrada, Ancient, Ivicara, Lakes Greater and Inferior, the long slopes of Gander, fumaroles of Klynod and its crushing black depths, nurseries of Neumangel and its famed mossbeds in the glaciers, loping plains of Habarinoye – things sometimes bred in luxuries nature had left undreamt of, sometimes merely found or foraged, all not harvested but chosen and then killed so quickly they never knew it happened even if they could have understood the brute fact of death, only knew it coming like a waver of darkness shuttling suddenly across, and then the bodies were borne immolate over great expanses by plane or watership or by mutilations performed to space/time to the twitching kitchens where hunger and craftsmanship pouncily waited, tableware gaped—

Sal had arrived early. He had not made a booking. Six days ago he had spoken to QC and then he had spoken to Mira, apologising, and she had let him have a table. Normally Menacce did not take too kindly to people arriving before their allotted time but when Sal had walked in they had let him had a table and there had not been a word of complaint. Sal knew how people reacted to him and he took advantage of it without malice. It was a fact and he would not be inconvenienced by it. He apologised again and people only smiled at him. But he did not feel sorry because there was nothing to feel sorry about. He thought that now was a good time for him to enjoy himself.

He sat and waited and thought. Earlier today he had had his first supervision with Crane. Crane was vast but his being was sleek. Whenever anyone spoke he would turn to look at them and his look was always one of concern. The eyes did not move but the face moved and it always seemed to be saying I love you more than you understand and you break my heart. The first supervision had been a simple affair. They’d arrived, four of them, having read chapters 1, 2, and 4 of Ethical Method and Borsau’s introduction to Normativity and Desire, and carrying the surprisingly thin Index of Moral Intuitions, a pamphlet that had begun as a half-joke circulated by the grads at the Ethics Faculty but then expanded –rapidly at first, and then very slowly as classificatory debates sprung into being – to become a document of hotly contested significance, these days trailing a long appendix of the relevant regressions run.

Crane had sat and started to speak. There are eleven reasons, he said, to believe that my theory is wrong. They listened and he spoke for some time. He did not move when he spoke. He stared at them and the hole in his face opened and out through the flesh air was pressed – out squirted sounds. Then Crane had asked them to defend his theory. Why am I wrong? Why am I wrong? Then Crane in response to everything said had proceeded to accuse everyone who spoke of uttering incoherences. Explain, Crane would say, looking concerned, solicitous. Go on, he would say. Is this what you mean, he would say. If not this, then this, surely? Surely you cannot mean either for no value accrues from your description of each? And if you mean neither surely you are saying nothing at all or uttering something the meaning of which refutes itself? It had gone on like this for some time, this tethered falling into a starless mouth, bright bony confusions the only hard points to claw at. Someone had asked, tentatively, what exactly they were supposed to do, and Crane had looked at that someone and suggested that they all consider if he was not himself merely uttering incoherences. I am wrong, he said. Remember that. Sal spoke. Sal said Crane had been using the word “claim” to mean one of four different things, and the resultant bait-and-switching was the root of the conceptual confusions upon which Crane’s claims had been trading. Sal had not spoken before that point. If he spoke first no-one would speak after him and he knew that there were few people who would think of being pressed between the Leviathan and the author of On Liberty as an enjoyable experience.

In any case Crane had said simply, “Yes,”, sounding perhaps disappointed, perhaps because he had expected more, and perhaps less, and then he had asked everyone if there were any questions on the given reading and after he had answered or dismissed them it had ended.

Then someone had asked about Hyrum Kasakadei.

“Hyrum?” Crane said, his entire body seeming to vibrate.

“Should we read him?”

“He writes well,” Crane said. “You should read him.” His eyes were black bores.

“I was referring to extreme quietism –”

“Should you read Devorare?

“Yes.”

On the Silence of Certain Questions?” It was the same book.

“Yes. I was thinking it might be—”

“I have not read it.”

Hyrum Kasakadei was a name and that name was held by a person who had become belittled into myth. The myth was there because Hyrum Kasakadei had produced a piece of work, which work was a single object, only a single object, prior, indivisible, uninterruptable, uninterpretable, rolling outside aethers of abstraction, shining no light and taking none either, merely being, undefended, unaltered, unqualified, untaught, all of a throe, all of a certain misery, all of a certain resignation that must be worked for, all of a violence of thought so great it must drop out underneath to a new space where great truths are cauterised –

What had happened? There was a story and it was a true story. Hyrum Kasakadei had come to Way-on-Hill 52 years earlier. He was a small thing and he did not speak in supervisions. He did his work well. Uncannily well in some respects. He did not say anything brilliant. He had no new insights. He created nothing and destroyed nothing. Crane’s termly reports said nothing extraordinary about Hyrum. But those who studied with Hyrum knew he had an ability and it was one of organisation. The uncanny thing in his work was its clarity. He could say things again and when he said them again they were tight knots of understanding. Whatever Hyrum read he understood and whatever of Hyrum’s the other students read they understood immediately. It was a magic. In two lines Hyrum would catch objects that chapters could not outline, without simplification, without any penumbra that was not itself expressed and drawn tight.  In supervisions Crane would hand back the ragged remains of essays and he would say, you might want to learn to write like Hyrum, and he would look at Hyrum and say, you might want to learn to write.

What had Crane written about Hryum in those termly reports? Hyrum’s mind is a bleak and gray place. Nothing much seems to move in it. Everything there appears to have already found its place and everything appears to have already died exactly there in the place it was first put. He has skill at the preservation and the presentation of ideas. If Hyrum finds one fertile place in his mind he will be a great thinker.

At the end of the ethics course Hyrum took the Great Examination (called, inevitably and outrageously, the Grexam by students who in desperation sought to defang the idea of the exam with only a new name) and achieved what was then the highest global score recorded in the ethics course. He had then applied for a position in the faculty and expressed a preference to be placed in Summerlock, a college that had neither a reputation or history of excellence in moral philosophy, although it had in Pires Gebarre produced one great philosopher of science. The faculty requested at least one reference and a body of work of representative quality before it appointed him as lecturer. So Hyrum stayed at Way-on-Hill and started writing. Thus began his Early Period. What changed? Nothing changed. Most people called him an ordinary language philosopher but he wrote on many things. There was a pattern. A groundbreaking article would emerge, something new and wild and fiery or something setting the parameters for a new logic or language, and Hyrum would write an article neither agreeing nor disagreeing with the first, but suggesting a new expression, a reformulation, the elimination of an unnecessary or confusing term, pointing out a relation, offering a summary, an article making things clear: Comment on Paraconsistent Expression; Comment on P-adic Rules; Comment on Modal Egalitarianism; Comment on the Necessity of Necessity; Comment on Noneism; Comment on Lowesian Logic; Comment on New Utility. There was a pattern. The second major article in any new field or on any new theory was almost always Hyrum’s. Reading lists began with: Read X’s article, or, alternatively, the article by Hyrum Kasakadei. And Kasakadei’s was the article everyone read, because in it things were clear, these were the ones you went to, these were the foundational articles, and in them lines of attack and defence were made naked nearly to the edge of sight even if Hyrum only stood at the gate, saying, see—

Some people had expressed alarm at this. There was no interpretative neutrality, they said, but Hyrum Kasakadei appeared to have found it. There must have been lies, things must have dropped out, things must have changed, there must have been a wind moving things thus and thus, something must have come through and gone out, something must have passed by, but very quietly, clad in openness and the wraith of pure rigour, something must have been lost. But these people were rarely listened to and they felt themselves struggling to speak of something that was not quite there and so became quiet.

All this was done in three years. During those three years Hyrum asked Crane, twice, if he might be allowed to teach, and Crane had said no. At the end of the three years Hyrum submitted six articles to the faculty, and asked Crane for a reference. Crane had written only: He creates nothing. But he is clear, and maybe that is more important. Hyrum had seen the reference and he had had no complaint. The faculty appointed him to a professorship in Summerlock and a 75-year life extension which raised eyebrows and which Hyrum never sounded anything but guilty about.

Hyrum had been an excellent teacher. He was what they called, for a time as least, hot property. He was young and he taught without any grandiosity or pretension and appeared to have no final views or any great theory of language or truth or morality. He was always trying to make things simple. His comments on essays urged clarity, pointed out confusions, and recommended possible avenues for exploration. Where Robert Crane used a flaw to unravel an entire argument and deliver a marksheet of pure evisceration  Hyrum Kasakadei would suggest a patch, a bypass to the same conclusion, a new tentative distinction that might carry some of the required argumentative burden, and would then point of problems with what he had suggested, and then suggest possible solutions – and take no view himself. His output slowed in this period. His students took top marks in the Grexam in three out of eight years. This was unheard of.

For eight years Hyrum Kasakadei had been working on something. It was this one work that would define his Middle Period. He had trouble publishing it at first. The first indication that something was wrong with what he had done was when QC, having received the manuscript, expressed nothing but a rare and total confusion at what it contained. The manuscript had been sent to the faculty, which was shocked that Hyrum Kasakadei would produce something of such exquisite incomprehensibility. What was this treatise? What was its subject and argument? What was its relation to the literature? Hyrum Kasakadei had not answered any of these questions. I cannot say anything about the work, he said. I cannot accurately describe its contents. And then in response again the questions: I cannot describe it. And then yet again in response: It is itself complete.

Word had spread. Hyrum Kasakadei had produced a monster, people said. Students joked about how their professor had accidentally broken philosophy in a manner that suggested that the humour did not run all the way through, it did not go all the way down. But of course they themselves had only heard rumours of a manuscript that Kasakadei was trying to publish and knew nothing about it. The Review Board at the faculty refused to say anything despite being flooded with questions. QC suggested to Kasakadei that it might be some time before the faculty allowed the script to be published under it and suggested that Kasakadei disseminated it freely online. Summerlock in typically generous fashion offered to produce its own limited print run and QC had not objected. The copies of this first printing (there was only ever one edition) were to become objects that entire colleges would fight over for possession.

When the work went out everyone obtained a copy of it. Hyrum Kasakadei without wanting or expecting it had become a cultural icon of the type that only Stize could generate, a token of brilliance that had to be publicly worn, an abstract point that looked increasingly capable of any enormity, a maker of objects whose weight could be felt but not parsed. The man had abandoned his gift entirely, had walked right against it, against the grain of his entire world, and he had said, I cannot accurately describe its contents. There were only two parts of his new work that could be understood. The first was the title: Devorare. On the inside of the cover it appeared to continue: On the Silence of Certain Questions. And the second was the only line of language that was properly speaking part of the book: the epigraph, a quote from Kayser’s Sixth Satire: “… should light bear down …

And the rest. That was the problem and the glory of it. Was it symbolic? It could not be told. There was no pattern. It was a book of essentially benthic mode. It was a continuous falling-off. The ethics and logic faculties asked the Way and Atoll AIs, the two greatest nongoverning calculators known to man, to undertake a formal brute analysis. Nothing was found. Billions of lifetimes of human thought were spent by the Way and Atoll AIs for every second they dedicated to Devorare, oracles and architectures and hypercomputations descending upon each golden thread, each a single logic run with sudden ferocity through the book even as it was found only to be a vapour, a fact without a meaning, a description that was not a conclusion, a fat black thing fallen from the first orifice of randomness. But the book was still there. The lines went on and on without pause. What did people know? They knew which symbols occurred most often; they knew which symbols occurred only once. This was easy. You could draw plots and distributions. Neat classical shapes. But that word. Symbols. That was not correct. That was not correct at all. Pictures, pictures. Yes, maybe that. But what of? In what hierarchy or relation did they find a home? Imagine an analysand putting back each question not by force but by the logical hygiene of being inert to inquiry. Suggestions made over and over again. The calm of objects in lines progressing inevitably from one to the other. The smell of pages. Cellulose made never to degrade. Pictures, sketches, wildnesses without name or clade. 174 pages; hardback; font: Umbra Classic (Modified + New); notes and references: none; academic reviews: none; author: Adderlis Professor of Moral Philosophy and Philosophy of Language and fellow of Summerlock College and Way-on-Hill College Hyrum Kasakadei; published 2971 under Full Patent and Fence of Summerlock College, University of Stizostedion; awaiting acceptance by the Faculty of Ethics of the University of Stizostedion; open distribution within University of Stizostedion only. So much certainly about so much and so little understanding of the only relevant things.

The suggestion was, of course, that this was a joke, or that Hyrum Kasakadei had gone mad. The latter was quite seriously tendered by students of the natural sciences (the Standard Model Theorists were too busy being dazzled by their new field to care much about anything else and hence said nothing on the matter) but anyone who had read any of Kasakadei’s earlier work found that impossible to believe. A mind so much in love with clarity, that had produced so many fine distinctions, that tried so hard to know how one thing related to another – such a mind could not simply descend into madness. And Hyrum Kasakadei was not mad. He went about his weekly lectures unaffected by Devorare. A year after he finished writing Devorare his third period began with the publishing of Some Relations Between Utility and Certain Conceptions of Freedom, which was received with acclaim so hysterical it seemed indicative of a certain measure of relief, and was only considered for two days by the ethics faculty before being accepted for publication.

Which was not to say the problem of Devorare went away. If anything it became more urgent, for now everyone knew for certain that Kasakadei had written it in dead seriousness. The questions about the book never stopped and Kasakadei answered none of them. The University’s biggest paper, the Inquirer, ran a cover story entitled Cracking Kasakadei. The phrase caught: everyone wanted, it was said, to crack Kasakadei.

In the middle of July 2973 world went around that it had indeed happened. Jane Hale was an assistant lecturer in logic at Hakon and Malament. Like Kasakadei had been at first she was flooded with questions. She was silent and did not answer them apart from saying, like Kasakadei had, that she could not say anything honest about Devorare. The Inquirer after four months of persistent and gentle pressure eventually got her to speak.

The interview was now famous. It wasn’t particularly dramatic. But it had become famous because it was one of the few points from which one might attempt to deduce what Devorare said. It was a fixed point. It had started with Hale first talking about how she had heard about Devorare and then pointing out that she did not know what to say. It was best, she said, to just read the thing “from front to cover. That’s almost certainly the correct order.”

“Now you know that Way and Atoll have themselves been this great – this big problem that the book represents, and they’ve come up short. So you won’t be surprised if we ask you if there’s a special technique you used to solve this problem. Is there some way in?”

Hale was very still. She nodded slightly, in a sympathetic manner. “There is a way in but it does not, I don’t think, involve a special method. The book says what it means in quite a direct way.”

“Direct? That’s a pretty radical claim, wouldn’t you say?”

“Look. There is nothing I can say about the book that is true. But that’s the only way to approach it, I think. The wrongness of what I am saying might be helpful. Put it this way – if Hyrum didn’t find any other way to express his thoughts apart from writing the book itself it’s unlikely I will find a way to speak about it while sitting here. Does that sound hostile?” She laughed. “That’s not very satisfying, is it?”

“Well, I’m not really trained in the field – ”

“Oh, I don’t think that’s the problem –”

“—but it does sound fascinating.” The interviewer had glasses.  “So on to the big issue then: what does the book say? I mean, you have done the very correct academic thing of having all these caveats, but you can’t really avoid it, can you?”

“I can say a large number of incorrect things.”

“Go on.”

“The idea is that language is a problem. The idea is that the relations between one thing and other cannot in fact be explained. They are brute facts. But this idea – the thing that is not this idea – cannot be made clear using representation, so there is some other way. Hyrum is trying to make that way clear. Or to be more precise – he is trying to make clear the way in which that cannot be made clear.”

“So the idea that this book is incommunicable – what lots of people are saying – is this correct?”

“Well.” Hale tilted her head and looked up at nothing in particular, thinking. “No, not at all. It is very easy to convey, but not like this.”

“So – is that – what you were just talking about – is that really, for us, the key point of the book?”

“There is a huge amount in it. What I have just talked about is not even the beginning of the beginning, actually. There is in it – oh. You know, this one I don’t even know how to be wrong about in an interesting way. I did tell you this interview would be problematic.”

“No, no, this is very interesting. Can you find some way to –”

“It’s about – certain objects. Summaries of other things. It’s not a series of symbols, you know – the book. It’s a single thing. No. That’s not the right way to approach it. This is the toughest thing I’ve done, you know, trying to be meaningfully wrong in this manner. Okay. What I will say is that the book has relations to certain things that are possible to think of coherently as lacking purpose or a fixed and distinct identity. They are in a sense alive, you know. Free in the sense of untethered.”

“I’m not sure I follow.”

Hale laughed again. “I’m relieved to hear that.” She shook her head. “Well. I’m not being helpful again. Okay. I’ll try to get at it more obliquely. Here’s an idea that is loosely borrowed from Hyrum’s early work – I’m going to take some time for this, is that okay? This is stuff I am relatively familiar with, so I’ll be clearer.”

“Fine, fine, go ahead.”

“There is a perfectly intuitive and commonsense idea that we associate mental impressions with words. This explains how we use words. I tell you to pick the blue flower. You go into the garden and pick the blue flower. You got a mental image of blue when you heard my instruction and you looked for the flower that corresponded to this mental impression. No problems so far. Now I ask you merely to imagine a blue flower. Clearly you didn’t imagine going into the garden and picking a blue flower to imagine this blue flower. But you can obey my command and imagine this blue flower. So you have obeyed an order without, apparently, a mental intermediary. And so the idea that some inner mental process guides the outer behavioural one loses all its meaning. We can extrapolate from this basic idea.  There are two ways by which you can tell what you mean by a word: one of them is what occurs to your conscious awareness when you hear the word; the other is how you go on to use that word in the everyday speech, writing, following instructions, and so on. The problem is that these two methods can diverge on meaning. So let’s say we have a person who, when he hears of a ‘cube’, does imagine a cube in his head, but projects this idea onto reality in a certain way such that he applies the word ‘cube’ only to spheres. Several things appear to follow. One: we cannot say whether or not this being understands the word ‘cube’ in the way we do. Our idea of words is simply not well-developed enough to account for this. Two: our understandings might be based on contingent regularities that do not obtain. Three (and this is the main thing): the idea of a word does not govern its use. It just stands there inertly, doing nothing. Is that all pretty clear?”

“It’s quite clever, isn’t it?” There was a certain glassiness coming into the interviewer’s eyes.

“It’s disturbing. It’s very disturbing. Can I give you one more example? This one is very directly lifted from Hyrum’s Necessity of Necessity. I’ll briefly outline the idea, which is designed to show that no action is determined by a rule because there is a way of seeing all actions as following a particular rule. Say in your life you’ve only added numbers below 1000, and you always get what we call the correct result.  One day you add 1000 and 1001 and you get 5. Now: did you break the rule of addition? Who knows? Maybe the plus sign means something like ‘if you have two numbers smaller than 1000, then add then. In every other case, 5 obtains.’ The response is to say: but addition has a fixed meaning. It is an algorithm. But the problem is that your rule of interpretation is itself subject to interpretation, which is subject to the same cunning little manipulation I just outlined. So interpretations are flat: they congregate on the same level as the things they interpret. If I have two people who add 1000 and 1001 and one gives me 5 and the other 2001, I cannot say that there is something different about these two people that explains their different answers. This is again disturbing. It suggests a refutation of the idea of meaning. We would all like to think that words constrain us in two ways. One: it makes some things we say true or false; two: we use our understanding of words to use words in certain ways and not others. But it looks like nothing can put is in this place – there’s a nice phrase that is used to capture these two conditions: gist-trammel, do you know? We cannot construct a gist-trammel.”

“So Devorare is about constructing a gist-trammel.”

“No, no, that has been well-explored elsewhere. But one way of getting to Devorare is to apply the arguments above to themselves, although it’s not quite that. Take the central idea and extend it and see that it goes the wrong way. And the right way implies certain things that are alive.”

“Is it a kind of elaborate joke, then? Is Kasakadei just saying that all expression is rubbish anyway?”

“Wow! Wow. Do people think that? That cannot be correct.”

“It does look that way, you know, for people on the – outside.”

“It cannot be a joke. I know it cannot be correct because if I took away just one line from the book it would change its point entirely. It carries something. It’s something like the idea that philosophy is a disease, really, and it should be put down. But it’s going – further? – than that. It’s not designed at all to be explained.”

Sal had watched the interview several times. He had looked at Hale and he had felt a great sympathy for her. He had not read Devorare. There was a little more time before Bizzo and Garfield arrived and he was thinking. The interview with Hale had been sifted through by generations of students who had tried to understand Devorare. People did not even call it Devorare anymore. They abbreviated On the Silence of Certain Questions to OTSOCQ, pronounced ot-sock. They tried to make it a thing for themselves. But only a handful of people – six, so far – had ever claimed to understand OTSOCQ and when asked about it they had all responded more or less as Kasakadei had. There was the problem that it was simply impossible to verify if a person who claimed to understand OTSOCQ had in fact done so. But it was also the case that Kasakadei, when asked if Jane Hale had understood OTSOCQ, had said (ambushed and looking a little surprised on the steps leading to Summerlock’s second lecture hall): “Jane? Oh yes, yes. I cannot tell you how relieved I am.” “How do you know?” the reporter had asked. “She was wrong about almost everything, but in the way I am also wrong,” Hyrum Kasakadei had said, starting now to look a little sad. “I’ve got to go now.”

Predicate

“Wycliffe,Wycliffe, someone’s dead. How can we be talking about this when someone has just died? Can we please stop talking about this? Shit. Shit.”

“You killed him,” Wycliffe said, accusatorily, but without an excess of passion.

“You don’t have to tell me that, Wycliffe. You’re so obvious sometimes…” Real anxiety now, real distress.

What had happened was that Capt. Samuel Wycliffe, sometime commander of C Company, 2nd Battlegroup of the Heavy Transporter Dropsy, had proposed one of the secure meeting rooms as the place in which to see Sigmund, and forgotten to lock the door. Pt. Tsigalkis had opened the door and said: “Um, oh. Good afternoon, sir.” And Capt. Wycliffe had said, “Could you close the door, please?” And Tsigalkis had closed the door behind him. Then he had seen Sigmund, who said “Aaaah,” and Tsigalkis’ jaw had dropped. It dropped to the floor and he made a slight moaning noise with his mouth (because no tongue) and he fell down dead.

“Isn’t this what you were meant for, hmm?” Wycliffe said, loudly, to get past Sigmund’s grief. He was fascinated. It was a quality inherent in him, that he was always interested in learning, in observing. He was not intrinsically a soldier, see, but he could put two and two together just like that, and that was helpful – Major Head had said so herself, affirmed it, so she said, in no uncertain terms.

“Shit, shit,” Sigmund said.

“It’s just one person,” Wycliffe screamed. “Aren’t you made for this?” He needed to get Sigmund to focus, to come to the issue at hand.

Sigmund turned this way and that, bobbed up and down, “Please, Wycliffe. You know better, why must you do this now… Descendants aren’t made for anything. That’s the entire point of it, that’s the whole reason…”

Wycliffe was relentless, “But why,” he said, “Why are you so upset? This is a war, you know, death is in the bond, it’s the interest.”

“Oh, Wycliffe, I need time, I need time. This is so affecting.”

Wycliffe allowed himself to feel some pity, secreted a small drop of it and held it there, poised, a tingling between his nipples. He reached out to Sigmund, who flinched, he imagined, jerked in the air a little, and ran his finger across the bottom the little black sphere, a gesture intended to comfort. Sigmund liked that, he knew, has an animal indenture in – him? her? it? – that had not been shaken off, and he could thread that needle…

“Thank you, thank you,” Sigmund said. Its voice quavered. “You don’t know, you really don’t know how much this helps, this human contact, these small acts of kindness, you really don’t know.”

“It was my fault,” Wycliffe said, reasonably.

“It was,” Sigmund says, “Wasn’t it absolutely? I told you, didn’t I? I told you. I said if we used these rooms I couldn’t tell if someone was coming…”

“You could,” Wycliffe said, now stung, convolute movements of the finger almost now stopping, poised … “Surely it must be an easy thing for you.”

Sigmund was in a real state. The poor thing had killed someone –“How can you demand this of me? I tell you now as I told you then, I tell you, it takes effort, it would have been a waste, people might have detected it, oh, Wycliffe, there are all these reasons –

“So killing him was a right thing to do, then,” Wycliffe ventured, cooingly.

“That is not it. That is not it! It was so unnecessary, Wycliffe, I hate it, this loss of life. It’s fucking awful.” Sigmund floated off, a little higher, beyond the sympathetic writhings of Wycliffe’s finger. It fixed Wycliffe with a look, it turned and made sure that the little eye spot, what appeared to be an eye spot, had Wycliffe squarely in its gaze. The deep dispensaries in Wycliffe consulted manuals … generated, even now, after so many shared moments, moments of love, almost, and confidentiality, a recipe for fear–

“Do you think I am not being serious?” Sigmund asked.

Wycliffe merely observed. His sphincters were tight, quiet, expectant.

“I am being serious, Wycliffe, I am trying to be as honest as possible. I hate killing people. Now poor Tsigalkis is dead, and what can I do? I didn’t have to do so, something else was possible, maybe I could have done something with the memory… it was all an accident, you must believe me when I say this will come with me to the grave, I acted without thinking –”

Wycliffe drew himself up, put down his terrors. This was the moment. He must intervene. “There will be no grave,” he verily shouted, “There will be no grave because we will succeed. Am I not my brother’s keeper?” Wycliffe knew that Sigmund could not die; it was the tragedy of its nature. But the gesture counted, surely, in this war that was a tissue of gestures, what harm could one more do, but also what good, what good indeed…

“Yes,” Sigmund said, still hovering slightly out of reach. “Yes, I am sure we will succeed.”

“What about the body?” Wycliffe said.

“That’s the thing.”

“I am sorry.”

“All this effort …” Sigmund said. “I’ll put a lie in the computers. Do not worry about it.”

“When they ask me, where has he gone? I will have to say something…”

Something will do, you must trust me on this, doesn’t something always do? Don’t make me dwell on this any longer than I have to, Wycliffe, this is cruelty. This is the basest kind of cruelty. Now we must be about the business at hand.”

“I have noticed things, you know,” Wycliffe said. “There are signs, there are signals. It must be your work.”

“What signals, Wycliffe? If you see things you must tell me, we must discuss them together. This is an enterprise, I’m sure you know that…”

The swerve of the conversation was much to Wycliffe’s liking, and he enjoyed the power. He had made the title of observer into a high exalted thing, an object of envy. He expanded. Was he an anarchist or a humanist? He did not know. But he was moving somewhere, he was gravitating, that he did know, with clear and terrible certainty.

Wycliffe paced in a manner that be believed to be stately, hands moving, always moving. “I was reading the reports on Ebannen, you know. Every big installation there has been destroyed. All of it, utterly reduced to rubble, a real tragedy. Except of course for the train station at Fahrer, the network there has been untouched.”

“I know that,” Sigmund said.

There are no E carriages.”

Sigmund reeled back like it had been physically hit (although it might have been the case that in its entire existence it had never once been physically hit…) Then it said, still frozen in that position, “I am afraid, Wycliffe, that once again you have gone in a direction that is beyond me. You must explain, you must explain, my state is so fragile, you see. Help me out here.”

“You see – on the North Line, and the Southwest, and the Circle, the trains all have E carriages. A, B, C, D, E, F, and so on. But on the Crossline, on the Crossline, I was looking this up, this is the line we often use if we have slow-carry weapons we need to bring to Borundum, on the Crossline, there are no E carriages. They have gone. The Es are gone. Maybe they are still there but they are called by a different name. Do you know what I am saying? Do you sense the weight of it?” His voice rose, trembled. “There is a pattern, something was changed before we came…”

“Fascinating.” Wycliffe had rarely seen Sigmund like this. He could sense the thoughts in Sigmund, could feel odorous layers of them coming off it.

“I can read you like a book, Sigmund.” Reckless. Triumphant. (In fact Wycliffe also knew that Sigmund smelt like a book, like old heirs of lignin and cellulose, ancient admixtures of benzaldehyde, ethyl benzene, 2-ethyl hexanol, akyl ketene dimer, furfural, acetic acid, tolulene, all the assorted halituous products of lipid peroxidation … even vanillin, yes, even that, Wycliffe could detect it entombed beneath all those aromatic strata, rudely agamic perfume that reminded of cream, of cake, strangely generated by this thing made purely, he was told, of metal, and nothing else, not even a soul with which to guilt it…)

“I am not a book,” Sigmund said. “Why would you read me like a book?”

Wycliffe was shocked by this rudeness, this kind of naiveté, he was actually staggered by it.

“Tsigalkis!” Sigmund cried, shrilly. “Don’t step on Tsigalkis!”

Wycliffe was annoyed at his boots getting dirtied that way. For a moment he was about to say something vehement, something about Tsigalkis and Sigmund going around like that, killing people on instinct, the inhuman bastard… But he seized himself. He was above that.

“I can read you,” he said, coldly, “And I tell you there are no E carriages.”

“There is a solution,” Sigmund said.

Wycliffe beamed.  He was not offended, not offended at all – this was part of the frolic, it was how they played it, the quodlibet (the whole bloody thing was one, you know?), it was how they had to move, not stepwise but sliding

“There is a solution. Right before the attack, the Crossline – it got sold to Massive Transit Operations, a company that offered services, that made the trains move… but it was flawed. The divination of its monies said that the way to make the trains work well on the Crossline would be to switch the carriages around; a flexible-coupling arrangement. They would move. They would mix and form new trains, strange and wonderful new combinations constantly pulling in – can you imagine coming into one of these, stepping into a permutation that is actually unfamiliar, actually new? All the others, all the other lines, had fixed combinations. Do you see? And it was decided that E had to go. It would be too confusing otherwise. Just imagine the sounds! Bee, Cee, Dee, Eee… Do you see how a reasonable person might find it too much, if a train was all eee sounds in the wrong order? Dee, Cee, Eee, Bee. Hellish!” And Sigmund looked sad at this. “So E had to go. No E carriages. A, B, C, D, F. It was called for. A fundamental reordering, all so that passengers would experience the very minimum of confusion on the system, and travel in maximum comfort and relaxation. There would be no compromise.”

“I was meant for this,” Wycliffe breathed. “These deep things. It is hard for me to speak about such things, sometimes, it can be so hard to find the words, but it is good that you are around. You resonate.”

“Aah. Aah. ‘What could the world have to be like for language to be possible?’”

Wycliffe was on the very verge of seeing the connection, he could feel it against his skin like underwear, it lay just beneath open statement, just beneath the level of explicit feeling… but it was gone.

“What?” he said, his anguish suddenly apparent.

Sigmund was being carried away. “This is important,” it said, “This might be crucial for what happens on Ebannen. You have led me here, you have a hand in this too. ‘What would the world have to be like—’

Wycliffe snapped. “Well,” he huffed, “Well,” he swelled, “Well, it would have to be like this –” (he stamped his foot; a little of Tsigalkis’s blood jumped into the air) “It would have to be like this, the one we’re in right now, wouldn’t it?”

“But why, Wycliffe, why, we must be rigorous in such fundamental inquiries…”

“We’re using it now, you traitor, we are talking –”

“Are we?”

“What do you mean?”

“What if this, all this, is a wilderness of coincidences—”

“Are you saying that all this time, we have not been talking, hm? We have not been –communicating? Has something gone wrong inside you?” One could not simply throw a relationship like that aside. “I will not help you anymore, if you insist on this, and then you will have to kill everyone on this ship yourself. There, and there.”

Sigmund was so appalled that he immediately recognised this as the petulant joke that it was. “Wycliffe! Wycliffe, you could not, this is not in my brief, I could not possibly contemplate such a moral horror. Tsigalkis alone, Tsigalkis – I need you to help me, this is important. We want the mission to succeed, yes we want it do, very dearly so, don’t we? So you must help me, we must guide each other along…”

“Yes,” Wycliffe, says, “Yes. But you must say different things now.”

“You led me here, Wycliffe, and I am profoundly grateful. After this –”

“On with it, on with it.” Shrieking, beating the air with his fists in gratitude.

Eventually Sigmund came within reach again, so that Wycliffe could stroke it sullenly.

“What I want to know,” Sigmund enunciated carefully, delicately, a dark sheen in Wycliffe’s hand – (Wycliffe imagined playing tennis with Sigmund, not against, but with – tha-whoosh, and a 250 km/h screamer that smears over the net, Sigmud screaming in the panic of it and letting it all go so that the spectators bubble and topple like dominoes…) “What I want to know is, what we should figure out is, does a nonexistent object have properties?”

“No,” said Wycliffe with finality.

“Ah,” said Sigmund.

Wycliffe knew that he had to be patient. “What?”

Sigmund was silent.

“The thing is,” Wycliffe said, carefully, “The thing is, that if it does not exist, then there’s nothing to it, is there?”

“But if you know – but surely if you know that something does not exist it is because of something that has been ascribed to it that allows you to say it does not exist? Things in the stories? Fictions? Hmm? I need your assistance in this, Wycliffe.”

Wycliffe thought hard. Little torpedoes behind his eyeballs, exploding, bright things of sputum—

It struck him like a thunderclap, and he held Sigmund at arm’s length, goggling with revelation. “No… I know what it is, what it is – it is this – are there nonexistent things? I have it, Sigmund.”

Sigmund looked exactly the same, but it was a look of awe, Wycliffe knew.

“You must see where I am coming from, Sigmund – you cannot think of something – you cannot say anything about something, not even that it does not exist, without first thinking of it existing.” Words like a flood, today Wycliffe was inspired, he was in a different place altogether, the phantasmagory rising between his legs, in his telencephalon – “‘There is’ and ‘There exists’, they’re not the same – look! If only things with meanings can be true and I say – ” Wycliffe pointed at Sigmund and said, “You have no mother, surely you have no mother.”

“I do not,” Sigmund affirmed.

“A name, I need a name!”

“Maman,” Sigmund offered.

“If I say – Maman, your mother, does not exist, then surely if this is true then this statement must mean something – but then each part of it must mean something – and if Maman must mean something – ” Wycliffe was flushed with the intensity of this exhalation. “Do you see what I am saying, Sigmund? There is a contradiction here because ‘Maman does not exist’ – for that to make sense, if we are to put our hands together and say this is true then Maman must denote something, and therefore exist…”

Sigmund was contemplating Tsigalkis’ jaw. “There is a way out,” it said, at last. “I must puncture your rapture, Wycliffe, although it is something to behold, quite, quite extraordinary … Let me say this. Let me describe, let us not use the name – names, they are so devious, they lie, you know, I have experience … Let me say, instead of ‘Maman does not exist’, let me say ‘It is not the case that there is exactly one Thing, which is my mother.’ My terms are general, they are uniqueness terms, there is no problem –”

Wycliffe chewed his lip with ferocity. “You said this was important for the war.”

“It is crucial.” Solemn now, in its unpinnable way.

“Well then,” hands together, numbness in his skull, violence all wrapped under skin, MIRVs poking from his teeth, “Well then! Then I say to you you are naive – for we do not – aaaahh – there is no need, if you look at what we do – we do not need these definite descriptions, sometimes our idea if what something is is not a unique thing at all even if we think it is – all I know about Leviathan is that he rules the Kingdom, but there have been many rulers of the Kingdom … or my identification of him might be wrong, the correspondence might not be clean – ahh, this is deep, Sigmund, this is what I like about you…”

“Solution!” Sigmund egged. “You stand on the abyss now, you daring – you, mad little cumlet—”

“I have said it, I just said it – do you not listen to me, Sigmund? After all this time? Never mind, I forgive, I am always forgiving, anything for victory, you say… The solution is that these things are different – ‘There is’ and ‘There exists’, there is altogether no relation between them whatsoever.

Sigmund was testing this idea. Wycliffe felt it like cancer in his marrow, like hot lead. He dabbed at his trembling lip. “So if I say there is a round square –”

Trivial. Wycliffe batted something away. “No, no, it is impossible, it is not in this world. In this world, in this possible world, it cannot be – it is a contradiction. But in all the other impossible worlds – I have no right to divine, who can say what things lurk there? All our nonexistent Things have all their properties. But they’d better damn well stay in their worlds…”

“It’s a jungle out there,” Sigmund offers. “All these worlds, these repositories of nonexistent things, this concrete theatre…”

“A big jungle, you are damn right it is a jungle.”

“And all these things hiding in there.”

“Bright spangly fish, little darting things.”

“Empty names. Monsters. Big things with teeth.”

Wycliffe was suspicious of Sigmund when it spoke like that, like it had been expecting the answer from the very beginning. He had an ear for these things (even though he did not know it; and Wycliffe was a person unusually aware of his own talents). A wild suspicion took hold of him and he felt like reaching out and grabbing Sigmund, thought what it needed was a good shake through and through – but he was magnanimous; he could give Sigmund this small taste of victory. The heavy lifting had been his and a sense of sickening robustness gripped him with ferocity. “And now on to Ebannen,” he proclaimed, “who can say what lies there?”

“This was important,” Sigmund said, “Merely speaking about this, conjuring – I tell you this will have effects – ”

Wycliffe moved towards the door. “There is no more time,” he said. “They will be looking for me now.”

“Yes,” Sigmund said, “Yes, you should go now.” It turned wearily to the body.

Wycliffe was nearly at the Officers’ Mess when he realised that he and Sigmund had never got around to discussing that matter at hand. But he was too joyful to care. He breathed in, he breathed in so many smells.