Sunday, January 27, 2013

uncanny valley

To Lleu, the lady's reflection is puckered wasp paper, her face a writhing hive of alien anger. Shuddering, he returns his attention to the udon soup. Chopsticks the powdered chilli scurf. Plucks out a piece of tempura. He contemplates the moment, and calls over the gristle-chewed waitress to borrow her pen. Writes the word into his napkin: Extemporaneous. Look that up later.

Lleu had forgotten his selfone. Tyche may have tried to contact him. She might even be standing outside his door right now, the corridor's only echo, her overcoat sweating the weather, hearing his phone's loneliness from within. Outside, anxious ankles ticktack into the harrying rain as the soup vapours accrete on Lleu's nose. Oh how these rains betray our efforts to meet each other, dissolving and depositing and fusing us into this cavern. Aren't we but frightful stalagmites? Where is Tyche?

Absently, Lleu wipes his nose and tosses the crumpled napkin into his half-finished soup. Ex tempura. Reaches for his fone to pay but ears burnt by the social atavism, redirects the motion into a wave of his wrist across the register. Transit insurance rates being what they are, he has to walk, and joins with the gloaming. He passes by a woman lying on her back, with a man squatting beside her, rivulets from his umbrella spattering her face as he checks her vital signs. Lleu continues by and on, passing a minor taxi collision and a little girl, shoeless and visibly lost; someone cursing and a worry-wrung woman teetering on tiptoes half a block further.

The streetlights pulse to life, their copper fizz, like orthogonally cut wiring, live-spark off the drizzle. A nostalgic flush to tint his thoughts warm. He doesn't notice that the lights serve the illusion of ceiling, artificial cornicing to relieve the pressing imminence of building mass. Above, the pumice stone clouds of day burnish orange in the updraft of light. City birds hold on wires, like baroque musical notes crouched against the sky. Below, Lleu is lent his very own shadow, which sonars trudgingly across the concrete around him.

He stops, turns and backtracks to a leeway. Aromas of pitch and oily dribble scabbed by illicit tobacco nubs: he's closer to home. A pair of faces bulge the darkness; the pale skin snags, laddering night’s stockings. Courtesy mutters back and forth. Lleu momentarily drifts to another day, its cold-shrouded sun a dandelion clock. They’d bustled into her house, and she’d dressed her coat over a kitchen chair and then he’d draped his over hers. And now it’s now and there’s no one in his corridor; no waterdrops before his door. A housecat mewls further up, locked out. He goes inside.

on behalf of the Board of Governors, NHL Chairman _____ regrets to confirm rumours of an indefinite moratorium… …marijuana since the crash of Kabul’s opium markets… …’“That’s such a male thing to do” is such a female thing to say’ *hahahaha*… …-tists are turning to some surprisingly remote areas of the globe for answ-… …inversely by the plummeting price of gasoline. Meanwhile, Cascadian Rail has announced… …reentry of failed Chinese space probe, governments are scrambling to calculate when, and where, it will make impact. However, all agencies are offering assurances that… …Island bridge engineering bids have stalled due to unresolved Union concerns… …rural building ordinances have triggered a storm of debate between proponents of wireless electricity and its ‘woodsier’ detractors… …successes with subterranean citadels in the Netherlands might make for viable… …with the release of their latest polymer, Addifax, the 3D printer giant, has seen its stock spike…

Lleu presses his forehead against the window pane. Triple insulated, it doesn’t transfer the cold. Through the wet reflection of his eyes, the city coils up on itself, opposing condo-shelves burning the night like overwhelmed switchboards. There are people there. Across the plunge. His fone flickers the day’s nous against the wall behind him. His interests discerned by algorithm, the device collated, parsed and disgorged all nous segments that might meet his patterned appetites. Without prompts to expand any of the clips, today the fone quickly exhausts its repository, and begins cycling through deeper browsing strata: the littered pediments of his ruined career. While sleep is too imperfect for the architect, its complete absence leaves him pinned beneath toppled voussoirs; the architect estranged.

The selfone chimes an incoming connection.
~Wall, Lleu says, as he wheels to face it. The nous recedes, but no image takes its place. ~Hello? aij-ee-el-el-oh?
An old joke failing for having been rethreaded for too many occasions… Tyche’s name could be described as meaning Lady Luck, whereas his was
~Lleu. Yes, it’s me.
~Oh Tyche, where are you? Do you..
~Lleu, I need to see you.
~Well I need to see you too. But..
~There’s no time but the present. Is now too soon?
~Wait, you’re nearby? I need a few moments to..
~Ok, listen, it’s dePieter’s last week at the Modern. How about we meet there in an hour?
~Um, yes, ok, but where..
~You know I don’t like using the fone, so let’s talk at the museum. I’ll tell you everything then. Meet you in the mezzanine.
Lleu replies, but she is already gone.

Tyche’s lips had formed around foreign words, lifting her philtrum into the anticipation of a kiss. Or the fulcrum for argument. Perhaps they were the same.
~Why don’t you ever wear the visitor’s pin?
~Because I resent the implication...
~You’re liable to be taken as part of the exhibit, the shape you’re in. Let’s grab lanterns before they’re all gone.

Castor dePieter’s collection, Callejόn del Beso [Alley of the Kiss], has sundered the opinion of the art world. Blithely exploiting the mysterious epidemic of global insomnia, dePieter’s statuary is predicated on its self-recognition as the anachronism of form. “The statue’s sustained presence in history is attributable to the inconstancy of the light-source with which it was viewed. The craftperson’s skill honed the features, but it was the flickering tallow of the onlooker which transpired the vital breath to which the sculptures danced. As it solved so much, electricity also solved this.”

Lauded as dePieter’s masterwork, this timely exhibit rests upon a thesis that might be considered unnerving to many of its patrons: the percepts illuminated herein are encountered not by a wind-whimsied lighted-wick, but rather by a consciousness ruptured by cauterized repose. The vitality of these pieces is donated by the onlookers’ inability to still their own minds: the statues’ powers are evoked by a gaze set to a waver by ‘[the] ripples of an ever-retreating wake of sleep’.

{It is of paramount importance that this exhibit be experienced without adulteration. Out of courtesy and respect to other patrons, it is mandatory that you suspend all active and passive use of your cyber-electronics. This includes: selfones, Enhanced Contact Lenses, sensory implants/ameliorators, cameras, nous spheres/players, VR Overlays and any other media interface/recording devices. Non-compliance will be penalized. Thank you for your cooperation.}

They share the one remaining lantern, which Tyche holds as the hall yawns open around them. The exhibit is already full of people, and while the 30-foot ceiling clearance belies any tendency toward agoraphobia, the lurching shadows twist the scene into Faustian oneirism. Tyche gives Lleu a quick flash of teeth and forges into the nearest cluster. There on a plinth lies a ceramic figure, its hands crossing its genderless chest. The placard reads The Transcendental Aesthetic. As the lanterns fuss, the statue’s semi-opacity reveals something dark within. Lleu shifts uneasily as Tyche crouches for a different perspective. The smooth outer shape is a skein, a partially ablative cast that shimmers in the varying light. Given the space between shadow and light, a skeleton flares in full-body rictus, like tangled rebar on a beachhead. And Lleu jumps back, rattling a patron’s lantern with his arm.

~Why did we meet here? Tyche.

But she’s flit to the next installment, Cleavage : Hypolink, a pair of gendered statues each in mid-flight from the other. Both hold the duplicated, disembodied hand of their partner, cut just above the wrist. A step behind the space between them is a single figure with two placid faces facing one another, their necks joining in a V-cavity at the chest’s solar plexus. It has no forearms but the faces’ tongues are fused.

~A bit heavy handed, that. Calls to mind the Donko Donàt bite: ‘Art is a bi-valve adapted for life in the intertidal zone between perception and conception.’
Her eyes clutch him still as the lantern trembles minutely.
~Oh fuck off. ‘Lleu and his crypto-wit.’ It’s tiresome, recursive, and I’m done with it. This isn’t right. I can’t smile for the both of us. You’re always...
~What am I always?
~I’ve been down at the Faraday Dorms, Lleu. I slept in quarantine for 5 days, and I slept well. It’s why you couldn’t reach me.
Lleu sighs.
~Did you dream?
~Yes, sometimes I dreamt, but more importantly, sometimes I didn’t. I just went away and had unbroken nothingness, rather than this… broken everythingness.
~Like a fox curled beneath the roots. Didn’t you miss me?
Tyche purses her mouth and looks to the forest of statue-stiffened phantasm.
~I missed you Lleu, but not as much as... not as much as I miss you now.

He sways as she pivots and floats toward a statue at the end of a truncated corridor. He follows, unlit as his shadows eel away from him. Ahead, Tyche’s steps cause her light to undulate against the emphasized features of the figure before her - a simulacrum of a famed portrait - the movements accenting the shaded creases of first a smile then a frown and back. Lleu murmurs as he reads the accompanying card: Mona Lisa Simile {Morality is for Other People}.

~Lleu. Are you ok?
~Yeah. No. I’m feeling a bit unsettled… All this seems so sharp, so edged. And of all the nightmarish settings.
~It came out a lot crueler than I intended. I’m sorry.
He produces his fone, but halts, pinioned by admonishment.
~I need some hot chocolate.
~Yeah you do. Me too. Walk?
They make for the exit, snapping cursory glances from pieces as they pass, each one worried over by a knot of people: Interiority, a vertically broken mould of a human. Bardosphere, a lone head with its brains dashed out. And Tarantella and Crow’s Eye and Petrichor and Usufructory and Voyager’s Golden Record. Each is a worming tableau, like a grotesque nativity scene lit by the other patrons’ nervous, maggoty attentions.
Tyche gives the lantern to a couple. Newly arrived, they stand in the threshold, blinking mutely into the strange market of shadows.

~To stand on a bridge, and look out at the night with you. A fair consistency, no?
Lleu seems so vulnerable here. Small against the effortless force of iron holding them up, eyes trembling over the bay, over the dark slash of the tributary beaded by anchor lights, framed by a gold curlicue from the city’s streetwash. He seems sunken, a depression in the landscape, a place where the waters will collect. Good thing the rain stopped.
~Why ‘a fair consistency’?
~Well, if I were to write us into being, I’d counter that exhibit, that menagerie of anxiety, with some certain –if not unsubtle- symbolism. The story arc, you see? Tyche swings her hands out and then up to clap and bind above her head.
~But you cannot write life. Only its representation.
She lets her smile curdle. A lock of hair shifts to a gentle tug of wind.
~How can you bear to say that to me, Lleu? We are choking on representation. We inverted the ratio years ago, and now we cannot even sleep for the space it swallows. How to use it, to build with it, this is the lost knowledge. And you - what of your own profession? Poor Lleu, you write as literally as I do. But all of your problems are folded up and packed into what you just said.

They stood, leaning out, pressed against the black.
~I can’t go on like this. Lying awake, hearing your eyelashes brush against the pillow. I went to sleep in the Dorms, only to realize that it’s us that tires me. It’s me, it’s you and me with you with me. Remember when you said that the most worthy gift you can offer your intimate is to change? Well I disagree; being with me is the change. We are breathing each other’s space, and we should be enhanced.

1 comment:

A said...

Is this Thom Corcoran that I met in the Plateau in Mtl.? Thom this is Ann! You worked for me and are my friend too! I'm in Ontario now on 13 acres with a pond stream, trees, and wildlife! I have work. Do you want to work? Stuff you would love to do. Can you pls email me at