All entries for Thursday 24 January 2008

January 24, 2008

The voice of the mountains (or Why I listen to too much Pocahontas)

So, in last week's class, we had to write a killer first line, which was then handed to the next person over, who completed the paragraph, before handing it back to the original writer. We then had to analyse the paragraph from a political perspective, and write a paragraph of our own, analysing the political statements made or implied within the writing. Here's how that went:

Silence squirmed under the heel of Cairn’s Boot, a haphazard town that had scratched its way into the side of the long-dormant volcano, which had spewed the island into existence. It was as if the whole town was holding its breath – not just its people, but the dogs, the wind and the prefabricated houses – and doing what it’d always done – huddle in the crelbow of the mountain of which it was an outgrowth. It didn’t know the threat it felt boiled within/

I believe that the writer of this story is expressing some desire to break free of the manufactured determinism of our world. The use of the phrase ‘prefabricated houses’ denotes no small amount of cynicism, and provokes an image of disdain for the placement of such obviously manufactured buildings in such an unfit setting. 

This weeks assignment was then to take the two paragraphs, and rewrite the story from the first person perspective of a dog, a cat, a stuffed parrot etc, or an inanimate object of our choosing. The idea of the assignment was to get under the skin of a non-human narrator, the difference in their politics, language, understanding of abstracts etc. Being the ambitious human that I am, I decided it would be a fitting challenge to write from the perspective of the mountain... Yeah, I know, eyes bigger than my belly and all that. Anyway, needless to say I struggled. The enormity of the narrator, the difficuly in relating their perceptions, and how they come to perceive anything, the understanding of the passage of time and difference and identity, the task of finding vocabuary and asbtract understanding which would not only be possible for a mountain, but function as a bridge between us and it - these were the problems. I knew that if I managed to get these elements right, the other elements, like the character of the mountain, would slip into place, or at least begin to reveal themselves to me.

Hence, I knew I did not want to use I, or me, and couldn't use he, or him we were instructed to write in the first person). Having played a lot of Mass Effect recently, there is a race called the Hanar who refer to themselves as 'one', 'this one', 'that one' etc. While they are an intensely annoying race, the speech stuck with me, as representative of not just a different world view, but also of a hive mind mentality - just enough self-awareness to have referential concepts, but racially connected. The idea that every mountain has a degree of self-awareness, stemming from its peak, but is part of a larger whole, a kind of hive mind rooted through the core of the Earth connecting all mountains everywhere, well, I thought that idea was worth following up.

The draft wandered a lot from the original two paragraphs, though I feel perhaps the political sentiment has been maintained as best it could. The original was, of course, written in a third person perspective, meaning that I was forced to give up the gloriously Douglas Adams style first line, which was in part homage to my favourite opening line of a novel ever - "High on a rocky promontory sat an Electric Monk on a bored horse" (and I checked, George, and it is the opening line :P). I shall, perhaps, hang on to that first line, and maybe drag it out at some point in the future.  Anyway, here is "The Itch".


was the

itch. In one’s crevice.

The crevice was old, from the time

of one’s becoming, when it had boiled

and raged under the cold, dark other which now

ran in little paths down one’s topsoil – quickly at first,

or so it seemed to one, but slowing as it reached where one curved,

flattened out until one’s soil turned to silicon, and sunk down under the other, where the little

paths reunited the lost other with the greater other, which showed no constancy, but was forever moving.

The itch moved. But one did not move. From time to time, one crumbled a little, but this was the way of things. One was still young, and though the becoming was over, one’s rock could still change, though not as much as one’s soil. One knew this to be true because one had once been a greater one, and still was a part of it, thought distant – under the lapping other, one’s self stretched away and joined other selves. But the more the farness from one’s peak, the more one hurt to feel. So one felt only as far as the other began. But one could feel other selves nearby, other peaks. One had no way of thinking with them, across the farness filled by the hateful, changing other, but their presence served to make one sure that one was one, but one of many, and not all. One also knew this because of the itch.

The itch was enduring. There had been other itches before, on the flat, but much briefer – they had not survived the becoming, or the changes of one’s rock. But this itch remained. And remained in one’s crevice, not one’s highest crevice, nor one’s lowest crevice, but a crevice high enough and close enough to one’s peak that one was the most irritated one had been since the becoming. One wished for a change of one’s rock again to wipe the itch from one’s crevice, though one had no control over this – one had no control over much anymore. In the becoming, one had been able to move things, been able to do, but now, one was only able to feel. And one felt the itch. And the itch brought pain. And one felt pain, felt the pain of one’s rock being changed unnaturally and knowing one could do nothing about it but hope for an end to the itch.

The itch was change. For all of one’s being, since the becoming, the one had been mostly the same, and so one feared change. One was often afraid. The outer was always changing – one felt it crack one’s exposed rock, felt it make one’s soil rock-like, felt it cover one’s peak with some stationary form of the hateful other which soon changed into its usual form, and ran down the paths that one talked of earlier. When this changed occurred, one felt one’s soil give birth to thousands of the tiny, different peaks, which burrowed into his soil. Some ended quickly, but some survived their becoming, as one had done, and spread their selves into his rock. This, one didn’t mind so much. A deep part of one, perhaps the part that spread and linked one to the others and to the core, from which all life sprung, told one that this was natural, and the way of things. One liked the way of things, it gave one a certainty. Certainly, the burrowing did not itch, because while it was fast, it was not too fast. The itch was too fast.

The itch was strange. One did not understand the itch. And one fears what is not known as much as change, because what is not known could be anything, and do anything. What is not known could have the power to unmake – the same expanse of self which linked one with the others and the core, that same deep part of one told one that selves had been undone in the past. Not quickly, and not often, but sometimes. And so one feared. Because the itch might be the start of one’s unbecoming. The itch was much faster than most of what one encountered – only the hasty backing and forthing of the other was as strange. But, like most changes in the outer, the lapping was constant and regular. Though it was fast, it was always the same fast, as were the roads of other, and the burrowing. Such changes were predictable and regular. But the itch was different.

The itch was like the other. Burrowing that one felt was not natural gave rise to strange selves in one’s crevice, selves one recognised as good, dependable rock like oneself but which would not talk to one. It was as if these selves had been hewn from a larger self, and were now so far from their peak that they had no thoughts, or their thoughts were too quiet for one to hear. One thought they heard one’s thoughts, though, so while one could not think with them, one thought at them. One thought that these selves should explain their presence here in one’s crevice, so near to one’s peak. One thought that they should explain the irregularity and the changes around and within their selves – within was a difficult concept for one, as one’s only experience of within had been in the becoming, and there was little that had been clear from such changing times. Change was harder to understand than non-change. And one liked to understand. One did not like the itch!

The itch persisted.

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