Recent philosophers have upheld the posit that “God doesn’t exist,
truth exists.” But it is just the opposite that is self-evident:
God exists, truth doesn’t.
- unidentifiable 19th century philosopher
“What shall I write today,” he thinks to himself.)
As the day breaks, so does another description of that very day. The temperature is hot, penetrating, and obvious; the sunlight glittering and spangly as it bounces off the four walls of a room, through the eyes, and around the four walls to the ceiling. The air barely moving, the chest barely breathing, the body hot, sweaty, clogged and uncomfortable, the joints loosening after a lengthy time inert. A bird chirps. But the bird that chirps in reality is not the bird that chirps on paper, as the essence that is captured fails completely to describe those indescribable, ineffable qualities that render any attempt irrelevant. The problems of truth and being are inherent in the failure of words to be able to describe them correctly. Maybe Plato knew what he was talking about, as he argued himself into the mise en abyme, and stayed there for all of recorded eternity… or so it is sometimes perceived.
It began at a time when I was in the midst of another attempt to continue
work on one of my many scholarly distractions, one I suspected would be
abortive or still-born. This lingering sideline was a detective story,
as professors of literature are often wont to write, and I was planning
to publish it under a pseudonym, as professors of literature also tend
to do. I had already published four such detective novels, all under
different pen-names. This was s deliberate attempt to frustrate potential
literary hacks, who tend to hound those in my profession - although I often
wonder why I should be so vain as to suspect such scrutiny in my particular
case. Or perhaps it was an attempt to divorce myself from potential
embarrassment, particularly after my last book, a long drawn out work that
concluded that a particular suspect could be arrested and serve a proxy
sentence for a murder that had actually been committed by someone that
existed outside of the law – personages such as the Queen of England, the
wandering ghost of Elvis, or St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland (but
a murder suspect in the streets of London).
I was writing reflexively, weaving the storyline into its most obvious patterns, obvious at least in the workings of my brain. Whenever it became too obvious or I started to get bored with it, I’d add another dimension to deepen it in one aspect or another. Although my story had assumed some elements of convolution, I didn’t care too much about its potential salability, since it had already been bought by the publisher of my last book, sight unseen. But I worried about it nonetheless, in spite of myself. The incredibly twisted tale involves an English professor who, at the beginning of the book, becomes aware of a story that is being published in serial in a local literary magazine. This story, a murder mystery, is about a man and his attempt to discover the identity, motives, and nature of a young couple he believes is trying to kill him. The professor in my book takes note of this particular serial because he slowly begins to realize that there are certain elements in this story that refer to him - things that he has said in his lectures, his field of research, or even scholarly articles that he has published. Rising feelings of paranoia, and his sense of parallels between events in his life and events described in the serial make him suspect that the writer or writers of the serial have similar dark designs on his own life, for whatever perverse reasoning. He begins to feel himself identified as the hunted, rather than the character in the story, and he becomes in essence trapped in a deadly literary funhouse of his own creation. His self-initiated hunt for his potential assailants centers on a young couple he often sees in the halls in his college – a Caucasian male and an oriental woman. He listens in on their conversation and hears them talking in a foreign language, and the professor cannot decide whose of their two native tongues is being spoken, which one understands English, which one he might confront, and how this problem might be dealt with. The professor then becomes obsessed with the couple and devises grandiose schemes to kill first one, or the other, or both. He creates scenarios of frustrated love, jealousy, suicide, double suicide, and so on. Accordingly, he forges suicide notes for one, then the other, still not quite certain into which language to forge the notes…
As yet I hadn’t decided on a resolution, how it would end - or even if it would end at all. I was toying with the idea of involving a new character, a junior detective of a small local police department who would investigate the initial complaint from the professor, and survey the plausibility of his claims. He would eventually become involved in investigating the professor’s plot, assess his sanity, and then finally have an affair with the female suspect. I still hadn’t decided if this tasteless element was worth pursuing, or if it was simply a required element for this kind of fiction. After four novels, I was still having my doubts. Inevitably, however, the novel was becoming a quest for the true voice of the speaker.
I decided to leave my pontifications behind and seek consolation in the staff room with a cup of coffee, the mental aphrodisiac, and allow myself to be entertained by my more gregarious colleagues, the true café lizards. Going down the winding halls of my faculty building, I finally left the maze and came into larger and more open corridors until there was only a door separating me from my destination. I tugged on the handle and was in.
The staff lounge was sparsely furnished with a haphazard collection of mismatched furniture: various ugly couches, gouged wooden tables inlaid with hideous tiles, stools with wheels that skidded back and forth – of no real use and forever in people’s ways. A blotchy neo-primitivistic oil painting of the Chicago cityscape done in hideous colors had been placed somewhat carelessly on the wall so that it just hung lazily, not contributing significantly to the atmosphere of the room at all. It was to be expected, though - the university was known to spare expenses in such matters as optional cosmetic decorations. Nevertheless, it was in this anarchic domestic setting that I found one of my colleagues in his element (that is to say, pontificating furiously).
This colleague particularly interested me, mostly because of his studies, which were concerned with the apocrypha of minor Eastern European writers with further interest in some of the lesser known contemporary Japanese existentialist writers. He had almost a dozen languages knocking about his head. I wondered how many scholars could contest his studies on grounds of the language barrier alone – he could easily be a fraud. One of the Japanese writers he studied apparently wrote a tetrology where the main character put God on trail, accusing him of murdering the entire human ancestry, condemning each individual to a long and drawn out death that lasted from birth, up to age seventy (on average in Japan) or even longer. He also once told me of another writer who writes primarily about the Western condition and our preoccupation with dogs, claiming that Western man’s canonizing the dog as “man’s best friend” and his aversion to eating its meat was due solely to the well-known fact that in English “dog” was “God” spelled backwards, a strictly linguistic rationale to one of the unwritten laws of that society. I was always astounded that any one writer could make a whole career out of the ongoing expansion of a theme that would otherwise seem very limiting.
This colleague was a fairly cagey fellow in the sense that he liked to hint to me about certain new research that I might be interested in, as someone who specialized in apocalyptic entomological literature. His role was more that of a coy tease than of someone who was legitimately interested in helping, though, since I had yet to see what he was talking about or even learn the slightest bit about it. Or at least that was how I perceived him. Perhaps he was alluding to something real, to a ship that really would come in some day if we were patient – I could never be sure.
Today I was watching him chat with two of the faculty’s more attractive unmarried secretaries, who were snickering at his impressions of associate professors. I sat on one of the couches by myself and listened with one ear while I watched the coffee whitener dissolve in my coffee, stirring it without hitting the sides of the cup with the swizzle stick. After a few minutes, he came over to where I was on the overstuffed couch and sat down next to me.
“I say, comrade, I was reading through my journals the other day and I established once and for all something that had been eluding me for quite some time, which was how very familiar you looked. I could never put my finger on it, but it was just this weekend that I realized who this person was that you remind me so much of.”
He paused to play with his moustache, and stare off into space momentarily
as he mulled the thoughts that were squirming about his brain, attempting
to take shape. There was some kind of a self-satisfied smile on his
face. I listened carefully to what he had to say, my curiosity piqued,
straining for a nugget of anything revealing.
“It was a few years ago when I was in Africa on sabbatical, trying to track down a writer whom I was researching. Maybe you’ve heard of him. He’s the one who would look for words in the most unlikely places – in clouds, written faintly on the pulsing organs of a patient undergoing heart surgery, or in the mysterious codings of computer languages. Well, the fact is that this writer proved to be very elusive indeed and in the end he turned out to be a fake anyway, but I can’t deny that in the end the experience on the whole was far from unrewarding and in moments proved to be quite… interesting….” Again, his drifting thoughts were punctuated with more mustache twirling and the contemplating of empty space.
He continued slowly “During this time in Africa, I took to the habit of going to night clubs and drinking heavily. It was there that I ran into this fellow that I’m trying to tell you about. You two look remarkable alike outwardly, and from what I can tell, even have similar tastes in fashion: same size, same eyes, same uniquely shaped proboscis, same stoop, same stature. Somewhat longer hair, though. Quite remarkable, really. I wonder if you have a lost twin brother somewhere in the world. I’ve always been fascinated with that sort of thing: the concept of the real doppelgange. It has been developed in films and children’s cartoons before, but as far as I know it hasn’t been researched seriously.”
“Tell me more about this person, I’m curious about that sort of thing too.”
“Well, this is the strange thing about him. I somehow managed to spend all that time in that town under the mistaken assumption that he operated a local juice bar with a Japanese girlfriend. I often spoke to him about that juice bar, and he discussed it quite knowledgeably. But in the end I finally went to the juice bar looking for him and saw that the boss was a different guy, a French fellow. He wasn’t even familiar with the man I knew. I had been completely mistaken. The realization left me somewhat in disarray, it made me wonder why I had thought that he was a juice bar owner in the first place. I had been going on the assumption for so long that I never questioned it.”
“OK, so he wasn’t a juice bar owner. So what? What was he then if he wasn’t a juice bar owner?”
“That’s just the thing, I never really found out. Once I told him that I thought he was the juice bar owner, he would never take me seriously. I had to resort to asking other people what he was doing there, in town, at the edge of civilization, but people either didn’t know, didn’t care, or wouldn’t tell me. I began to feel very childish, like a child pursuing trivial information, and gave it up. The funny thing is, that after so many nights in the same club with him, I don’t even remember his name - or perhaps we just had that familiarity that doesn’t require names. Do you know what I’m talking about?”
“Actually, it reminds me of something I saw once in a children’s cartoon,” I said, trying not to make it sound too facetious.
“Oh, so you do know what I’m talking about.”
“No, not really,” I replied, “but I’m still curious about this person. Is there any way you can find out something more about him from here?”
“It would be even harder now than when I was in Africa of course, but I have some friends who are still in town there – they might be able to look into what he’s doing, or find out what ever became of him if he’s moved on. I’ll look into it, because I rather wonder about him myself. But this reminds me, I have something else for you that you might be able to tell me something about.”
“Yes, you’ve been hinting about it for quite some time, now, what is it?”
“Come with me to my office, and I’ll show you.”
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