A Strange and Somber Idea

A Passage from Luminous Airplanes, or Things As They Were: A Hyperromance

I don’t feel like talking about it, actually. I’ve just come home from a triple shift, i.e., 24 hours, at the copy center—it’s almost September again, course packet season, and due to the Ikon technician’s failure to perform scheduled maintenance, or his performance of it haphazardly, with one hand, while craning his head backwards to look at Luiza’s breasts, so terrifyingly large with respect to the rest of her body, he was, perhaps, thinking, anyway, due to the incompetence of the Ikon technician three of our machines have come down with the jams and so all work has to be done on the one good machine, and it all has to be done on time, without making any allowance for the reality of the situation, because Tyco underbids us and the only reason we hold on to university business is Tyco’s flagrant inability to get anything done on time, which stems, I have heard, from the fact that their managers use heroin, and in fact, I have to say, last month I was with Mark in the Café Oblique and we saw a Tyco manager come in, and he was wearing a longsleeved shirt despite the cellophane-like July heat in which New Haven was wrapped, and he, the manager, did have the absent look I came to associate with junkies when I lived in the Mission, a boarded-up-house look, as though, if you were able to travel through the eyes to the interior rooms of his mind, you would find nothing still in use, only dust and trash and the rustling of vermin; anyway, what I was going to say was, because we desperately needed to turn the course packets around on time, despite having only one working machine, I worked a triple shift: morning to morning. Mark stayed with me until nine p.m., then he had to go home to his wife. All night I was alone with the copy machine, the green light, the cover that won’t stay open. In the story “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” which by the way is worth reading should you not have read it already, Borges has a character (or two characters, I forget, I’m too tired to look it up, even though his Ficciones is one of the few books I have with me) remark that mirrors and copulation are both despicable because they multiply the number of man. (It’s not “a character” actually—the remark, which I have quoted more or less correctly, is attributed to the non-fictional Argentine writer Adolfo Bioy Casares.) Imagine the horror Bioy Casares (the fictitious one, I mean, in “Tlön”) would have felt in the face of the Xerox Pro Master 4750, which is capable not of multiplying men, but, what is infinitely worse, of duplicating books, at the rate of thirty pages a minute, as lustily as a lover and as tirelessly as a mirror. To which you will say, but aren’t the books themselves already duplicates? Printed by the thousands? Do you, o bitter man, really want us to return to the days of manuscript culture? This is what I say to you. Books are printed by the thousands, but each of them is a book, whereas, when you press that book to the copier’s glass, and one or two of its pages are transmuted into static electricity on a revolving metal drum, patterns of ink powder, black marks on a white page, what you have is a copy. It’s the brazenness of it! To admit that you are adding nothing new to the world, that you are only making more of what there is. It’s the bad infinity. And it’s insidious. The copy tempts the human spirit towards more sinister samenesses: school uniforms, standardized curricula, comprehensive employee manuals, animal and human cloning, the proliferation of subdivisions across the deserts of the American Southwest; the steady diminution of the number of species on Earth. The copy hastens the day when the oceans teem only with jellyfish, and the skies only with crows; those of us unfortunate enough to live that long will scurry from Starbucks to Starbucks, guarding our corn and soya products jealously against the rats and squirrels.

Did I mention that I haven’t slept for twenty-four hours?

Idea for a story: use “Tlön” as a starting point. The world as we know it has been replaced by another world, a copy, a utopia of duplication. All men are clones. Then something new comes into existence, maybe by manufacturing error. Or so it seems. It turns out that the old world is reasserting itself: singular things, irreproducible, inexplicable things, have an ineradicable force, it turns out. Reality not destroyable by simulacra. Q.: who are the characters? Workers in some sort of manufacturing plant? Q.: what is the thing that comes back? A pair of blue shoes, for example. Blue shoes! What am I thinking? I am going to bed.

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