Our selves, alone
[ fiction - december 10 ]
"What kind of a psychiatrist were you, anyway? Did you follow a school of thought, like that of Sigmund Freudian?"
"No, not at all. It was Sigmund Freud, by the way. No, we really weren't all that theoretical, or psychotherapeutic. Actually, we thought all that was nonsense, though we came to realize we had little else to offer but our selves. We just prescribed medications, mainly for lack of anything else to offer. We tried some of what used to be called cognitive behavioural therapy..."
"...that's the primitive ancestor of the Rational Action Training, isn't it?
"We didn't see it as the primitive ancestor of anything, my dear."
"Why do you call me 'my dear'? I don't know you."
"It's a figure of speech. It's a bit like all those things that you people are all so afraid to say."
"Figures of speech are misleading metaphors."
"Yes, its that simple, isn't it."
"I'm not clear what you mean by 'its' in this context"
"But you know. You may not be entirely clear, but you know. And the mask is slipping a bit, isn't it? You said 'I'm not clear' and 'I don't know you.' It's hard to keep it up isn't it, even now?"
Aphorism # 37: When the anthropologists are interested in you, you know you're on the way out.
15 DL 325. Kelly looked the car up and down. It wouldn't be the first car of that vintage she had driven since coming to Donegal. The internal combustion engine, seen as terribly quaint and entertaining in other parts of the world, was a common sight here. Electric cars were too expensive, and a solitary electric bus made its way north east from Letterkenny through Kilmacrenan along the coast road, stopping at various settlements along the way. There had been airport once, in Carrickfin, she had been told, but she found this unlikely.
Kelly took out the iMe and checked for a signal. There was one at last! And yet no messages. She had hoped Rob would have sent something - a viddy, a quick verbal even - but no he hadn't. She tried sending him a quick textual, telling herself that sometimes the iMe reception here could be very variable and perhaps one of Rob's messages was stuck in the ether somewhere, needing the stimulus of a message coming the other way to push it into Kelly's inbox. As she was telling herself this, she also heard Lynn Marie's voice, that time she had grabbed Kelly by the shoulders and said look, sister, in the words of an old passivewatch classic He's Just Not That Into You.
No point delaying further. The car rental in LIfford - a ramshackle structure, implausibly claiming some kind of affiliation with the Hertz International Electric Rental group, except the sign merely said 'Hertz' in a chunky, very late twentieth century font - was closing. She would be in Letterkenny in three hours. She had heard that petrol cars could go above twenty kilometers per hour, and even rumours that somewhere in Donegal road races took place with drivers pushing the vehicles to frightening speeds - thirty, forty, even fifty and even higher - but this was hard to believe.
Donegal! It was a gift to anthropology postdocs, preserving as it did so many characteristics of twentieth and early twenty-first century life, while being both satisfyingly remote and reasonable safe. Unlike areas of MidAmerica and the SuperBanlieus of Continental Europe, Ireland had fallen not into violent anarchy but sleepy backwardness. It was rudely said in Dublin that Donegal had had a head start on the rest of the country in this regard. In Harvard, Professor Joseph L Murtlock was beginning to build up his empire, postdoc footsoldiers doing the field work, Prof Murtlock back in Cambridge spinning the results into a web of anthropological data.
The world had changed much in the last forty years. This trip, however, was being undertaken by Kelly with one aim in mind. The Donegal Democrat, at this stage, was not yet the last print newspaper - but nearly the last. Over the coming years it would outlast the others still grimly clinging on to existence. Why would people still like to purchase a bulky item in the age of iME and TotalWeb? This had been the subject of Kelly's PhD thesis. She had visited Donegal, spent time in the Democrat office witnessing the antediluvian computers being used to produce the thing, visited the printers in Keadue, and (most importantly from the PhD point of view) carried out focus groups among Democrat readers. Why did they bother with the Democrat?
She had expected the participants to be overwhelmingly old and perhaps a little slow. Donegal was known to be populated by the old and the very young, with no one of working age any closer than Belfast or Dublin, and more likely to be in Beijing, Bowash, New Moscow or Tehran working in construction, or in the armies endlessly warring in Africa. Some younger people worked in the hospitals in Letterkenny and public administrative offices scattered here and there, but on the whole they were outsiders, on a hardship posting for a year or less from elsewhere in Ireland.
She had been surprised that, while young people did not exactly predominate, how relatively middle-aged people did. They were perfectly conversant with iMe and TotalWeb, and argued in the groups that there was more inherent satisfaction in buying a physical object in a shop, carrying it around, and manipulating the pages with one's hands to read it.
"So a particular position cannot be articulated by your now self, with regard to the writings published under the names of Osmond and Ball?"
"Well, to be honest, deary, I can hardly understand what you mean, but I think I do. Why didn't we just get with the programme, to use an old phrase? Do you know what that means, by the way?"
"Yes, I do. But what my now self means to say is that your past and now selves were and are a qualified medical professional, your past self had a training in biomedical science, and medical practice was practiced by your past self, yet you did not embrace the FPEP?"
"I wish you would stop talking like that. It's obviously such a strain. Do you know, when I was young anthropologists barely saw themselves as scientists at all, they talked about cultural relativism and how things depended on your own cultural point of view - sorry, I mean one's own cultural point of view. Sorry."
"It is OK. I must say, Dr Gallagher, my now self can follow the speech you are making very well. And my now self admits that sometimes expression is easier in the old person-centred speech, although it does embody a host of philosophical errors."
"Call me Bert. And life, in my experience, embodies a series of philosophical errors."
A few weeks before this trip, Professor Murtlock had called her into the office. He always stood when you met him in the office. At most he would lean back onto his high desk, holding himself up with both hands supported on the surface.
"Professor Murtlock," she began. It was Joe in the field, in the bars, in the bedroom. It was Professor Murtlock in any academic encounter. He made that clear to all his students, male and female, early in their careers under him.
"Kelly, for your current ongoing self and your current ongoing self's career progression, pursuing some of the Donegal material further would be a suggestion."
"In what way could it be progressed?"
"A focus on this man could be the progression" He turned around, and picked up a copy of the Democrat that had been on his desk. He opened it about halfway in. "Dr Bert Gallagher, MRCPsych, answers all your emotional queries. Has this been read by yourself?"
"I have to say it hasn't". On her initial visits, Kelly had had no interest in the actual content of the Donegal Democrat. She had seen it purely as the vehicle for anthropological curiosity. While in Donegal, she began to read it. The parish notes, the barely comprehensible accounts of meetings of the various administrative bodies tasked with running Donegal, all were an alien world to her. She had noted Dr Gallagher's piece along with a fashion and children's section, but had never brought herself to read them. She had been too busy writing up the results of the focus group into the PhD.
"This, Kelly, is an example of something even more interesting than a multitheoretical set of paradigms approaching the issue why people still would buy a newspaper. This is folk psychology. Has this been read by your now or recent past self?"
"No, it hasn't, " she said again. Joe often seemed to repeat himself of late.
"Folk psychology. Pure and simple... It is hard to assert belief in the proposition that folk psychology is in existence at this moment, but Donegal is the gift that keeps on giving. My past, current and future selves don't think folk psychology is found anywhere now."
"Wow. Is it certain that your now self is right? That seems extreme."
"Sure my now self is right. Here, let me read it.
Dear Dr Gallagher,
I am a 27 year old woman who is going out with a lovely man who is six years younger than me. He is kind, funny, and very good to me. He is not working at the moment and we are thinking of leaving. My friends and family say he is too young for me and I should break up. However I could not do that. What do you suggest?
"See? 'He is kind', 'he is funny', he is 'good to me,' "I could not do that" "we are thinking of leaving", "what do you suggest?' Can those phrases be described as anything other than classic folk psychology? Also this man's academic title, 'MRCPsych'. Does your now self recognize what that stands for?
"No, it doesn't."
"Member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Psychiatry! This thirty years after Osmond and Ball, after the Neural Net Convergence Project! And here we have, in this newspaper, a psychiatrist!"
"That is impressive."
"Yes. My self recollection as a child was that there were features like this on the early TotalWeb. However they were very different, and to verify my self-recollection TotalArchive was asked by my then self a few hours before this time about this. These columns were based on an ancient format called agony aunt, and in the early TotalWeb version there would be problems posited to an imaginary adviser written very much in the terms of this one. However, the adviser would point out the many errors of thought and of science in this worldview. It really brought the eliminativist programme into the mainstream. In fact, the TotalWeb agony aunts were described by the Folk Psychology Eradication Programme as being key in this regard"
"So what is the suggestion."
"The suggestion is a return by your now self and a meeting with his ongoing future self in the near future."
"The suggestion seems good to me at this moment. And it is a good suggestion, it is sure. My now self is grateful to you, Professor Murtlock."
"Kelly." He placed his arms on the very top of her shoulders. "Call me Joe."
When she had been doing the focus groups on the Democrat, Kelly recalled one group in particular, in Rannafast; She brought Manus, a local man who worked in Letterkenny with the Donegal Democrat, to act as something between a guide and translator. While the Irish language was officially extinct, in Donegal every so often single native speakers would emerge, and it was not uncommon for random Gaelic phrases to unself-consciously litter conversation.
Manus had been one of the few Donegal people she met who seemed to easily, almost instinctively (if using the term wasn't an error of thought) to grasp what she was doing, without suspicion or rancour. Professor Murtlock has impressed upon his students the need not to appear condescending, or to regard the local culture as primitive. This was hard to achieve in practice, and indeed Kelly couldn't help feeling that Joe himself did not quite practice what he preached.
Manus was quiet, unobtrusive, and most helpful. He alerted Kelly to the local enthusiasm not merely for passive watches, but passive watches in the most outdated format of all - cassette. There was still a cassette-based passive rental operation. For Kelly, this took several leaps. She had been aware of public passive watching before, in cinemas. There was something comprehensible about that, with its matching of the social needs of individuals and whatever needs exactly were filled by the passive approach to entertainment. But that individuals or individual family units would obtain a physical object - temporarily - to experience in their own places of living, and this at a time when the technology behind TotalWeb was reasonably well developed, was hard for herself to understand. Manus has understood that she would find it hard to understand, and was good at bringing her attention to bear on similar phenomena.
After her meeting with Joe, she sent Manus a message on TotalWeb.
Manus - my now self is hoping that your now self is healthy and satisfied. A conversation between my now self and Professor Joseph Murtlock has just occurred. It consisted of a review of a printed issue of the Donegal Democrat, which the Professor's self observed to contain a feature entitled Dr Bert Gallagher, MRCPsych, answers all your emotional queries. The conversation highlighted that Professor Murtlock's self has ascertained that this is a potential fascinating example of Folk Psychology still being practiced and conceptualized. This would be of great interest as a project. Does this man Bert Gallagher still live, and could a meeting between my ongoing self and his ongoing self, and if possible the ongoing selves of the correspondents with the feature, be arranged?
It would be enjoyable to see your self again amongst those hills in Donegal, which are green and rocky.
Not long afterwards came the reply
Kelly - thanks to your now self for the email. My now self is good. The hills are indeed green and indeed rocky. It would be enjoyable for your ongoing self to be among them again. My now self recalls this man Bert Gallagher. He is still alive.
He used to come into the Donegal Democrat office to get the letters. He would go and my now self thinks visit the public library (it is a building where once people would temporarily obtain written passives and return them, my future self must tell you more about it) and his self would compose the replies. He would walk in my self thinks from Kilmacrenan where he lived. His shoes were dusty and worn. His then self was always in the same suit, that once must have been a good Magee tailored thing, now worn threadbare. Now I think one of the boys we have doing some work for us cycles out to him and returns with the replies.
He used to come to the office with his copy handwritten, in very poor handwriting. Once, devices for writing were called pens were made by the billion. Called ballpoint pens, before TotalWeb they were used to scribble notes, for schoolchildren to do their homework and for many other uses.
My immediate future self will ask the boy who goes to him about arranging a meeting. Perhaps your future self could go to KIlmacrenan with the boy.
Kelly began to realise that Donegal truly was a treasure trove. Another neglected, old technology that seemed still to have a niche here! In one way it was too much, really. And these public libraries!
"Dr Gallagher now my now self would be grateful to your now self if my now self could perform a research activity."
"I thought you had been performing a research activity since we met."
"This is the formal research activity. As your then self alluded to earlier, in the field of anthropology there is great concern about the observer inserting their values into the system being observed."
"As the system being observed, I appreciate that."
"Professor Murtlock's past self consistently developed a technique, based in fact in part on some of the writings published as the pseudoscience of psychotherapy..."
"..that's a little harsh, but probably fair"
"... which is aimed at avoiding this. It means that you will speak, uninterrupted for some time, I will record this, and later I will..."
".. see - it is hard to keep up isn't it? You are talking about "you" and "I" now, not "your self" and "my self.""
"It will be analysed by my ongoing self. A consent form is required to be signed by your now self. Also, a form which reassures your ongoing self of the uses to which this research activity will be put. Your ongoing self will be described anonymously in all reports of this research, whether interactive or archival writing."
"Grand, grand. I'll sign. I've done research myself. Research activity, rather. Although the activity ground to a halt after a while."
"Thanks to your self, Dr Gallagher. The recording device is prepared for activation. I would like you to talk uninterrupted on this topic."
"I can do the talking, but only you can not do the interrupting."
"Talk continually, without pause as much as possible, on this topic, which is a conceptual part of folk psychology: what is a desire?"
Manus had set it up, with a slight departure from the original plan. Kelly herself would drive, in the internally-combusting vehicle with the identifier 15 DL 325, to Letterkenny to pick up the letters. She received them from Manus in the Democrat office, a single room in a temporary cabin structure from the late twentieth century. With its ancient computers and collection of physically-printed photographic depictions (the last time she had been there, somone called the the picture editor had sternly told her that these were not physically-printed, but "developed", whatever that meant) - the office was, for Kelly, a time capsule.
She did not glance at the letters. Before she had gone, Joe had warned her about the temptations of folk psychology.
"My or your self could perceive these documents by reading, and the plausibility of the illusions of free will and desire could be impressive. Do not let your self forget that the FPEP had to do much work to achieve its institutional objectives. Even here, in this university, there are academic selves who are prone to the category error of folk psychology. It is why the study of the antiquared written passive forms - called novels, poems and similar terms - is under such strict control. This study has seduced many selves at one time, both academic and non-academic. Try and influence your self to ignore the manifest content of these documents, and indeed what this man may speak. Our selves will focus on the themes and semiotics of the content, not the content."
The next morning, just after 11.00 she drove the car up the hills beyond Letterkenny, along the winding roads that lead to the Derryveagh mountains. While hilly, the landscape was gentle, green - and far from the rocky, harsh one of a few miles beyond Termon. Kilmacrenan, however, would come first on the road. Kelly had been told to pull in by a now derelict cafe, the Hilltop, and Dr Bert Gallagher would arrive about noon.
Aphorism # 14: You want to meet the correspondents? Be my guest!
Aphorism # 1: The verb 'to be' is problematic in an age that denies that there is a subject that can be.
Aphorism # 4 The spirit of the age is that everything has a simple fix.
"This isn't working. I can't get into it."
"OK, I know how this works. Please, it isn't working. Give me something to respond to."
"You are good at this. Better than I thought you'd be"
"Well, I can't go on. I know, you won't say anything. I can't go on, though."
"I can't go on, I won't go on. I'll go on."
"That was an allusion, as we used to call it."
"You are like a brick wall. That's what people used to imagine psychiatrists were like. If only we had been."
"I am only joking and clowning like this because I am nervous. Isn't that obvious?"
"Your self is performing more than adequately. Your self can relax."
"You are so silent. You are good at this. You've more commonsense than meets the eye."
"Isn't belief in commonsens one of the most frequent sources of errors of thinking?"
"Maybe. I notice you aren't stating that. You're asking the question. Maybe you were drawn to me for reasons deeper than the simple desire to forge an academic reputation by finding the primitive rituals of the primitive Donegal people so fascinating?"
From the unedited transcript of the Research Activity Number 1, Kelly Papiraz Smith and Bert Gallagher:
Those schools no longer dispute, to put it mildly. I am not a Freudian, or a Jungian, or an anythingian. I just a boy who worked hard and surprised everyone and ended up in psychiatry a little by accident and was always an honest, biologically-minded psychiatrist who left all the philosophizing and theorizing and research to other people and all these people so eager to promote their dramatic breakthrough pharmacological psychotherapeutic social whatever they evoked protectiveness in me not anything else there was something rather too polished about them always like estate agents you wouldn't remember them. Anyway I would like to think the agony aunt column helped people even a little at the end of the day this life is confusing and helping people is all you can do sounding sentimental or corny I know but there you go life is sentimental and corny very often no point denying it no point always reinventing the wheel no point at all always returning to the same few knotty problems define them out of existence they are still there
Kelly awoke to light streaming through the window. Still more asleep than not, she experienced seeing the room from the doorway, seeing herself in the bed eyes half open, seeing the rumbled sheets, seeing the wooden stained bedside locker, seeing the old mirror hanging on the wall, seeing the bare window without curtains or blinds. Then she was back inside herself, and aware of how painful her head was. She lay there, unsure of whether to sleep or get up to go the toilet. Then she was seized by nausea, all over her and all inside her.
She walked out of the house. The fresh air helped. Above loomed the mass of Mount Errigal. From a distance so distinctive with its double peak, closeup it was a indeterminate bulk, dominating the landscape but curiously absent. On the other side, fields sloped down to an ancient road, more pothole than tarmacadam, weaved beside a stream sunk out of view. This was a cosy little valley, tucked away amidst the harsh landscape of the mountains. There was a satisfying smallness of scale - the houses, which would have been dwarfed by the peaks anywhere else in this area, seemed commensurate to their surroundings.
A donkey was grazing at the edge of the field, right up against the edge of the road. Kelly made her way down to it. The placid animal did not stir as she approached, and began to gently pat its head. Kelly, trained to be wary of anthropomorphism, nevertheless found herself thinking that the animal was a kind, rather long-suffering beast. It is absurd, she thought, and yet she went on thinking this.
This was her tenth day in the mountains.Or was it her eleventh? On her previous visits she had been warned that the roads were impassable, the inhabitants hostile when they were articulate, and frighteningly inarticulate when they weren't hostile. Manus had told her that the mountain people spoke a dialect of a dialect that was itself difficult for outsiders to begin with. He had said that he couldn't help her decipher their speech.
Dr Gallagher had been her guide. At the beginning of their session, she had asked him where he lived. He gestured out towards Termon, and that bend in the road that was known as the limit of not only iMe coverage but of what would have been called, in a less enlightened era of anthropology, civilisation. At the end of their session, after Gallagher has expressed himself in nearly five hours of stream-of-consciousness, recorded digitally by Kelly and simultaneously being stored, via iMe, in the Research Archives back in Cambridge, MA, she had asked him again.
"Over that way." he had replied. He was visibly drained from the effort of recollection and debate, and simply grunted the words with no accompanying gesture.
"In the mountains."
She had persuaded him to take her there. Gallagher started a battered internal combustion vehicle, and driven along a road that, while dramatically potholed by North American standards, was nothing new for Kelly. She knew that they were heading towards Creeslough, and the coastline that would lead towards the wild shores of Bloody Foreland and Gweedore. It was a dull grey day, with greyness penetrating even the greenery. The road rose and fell. Suddenly, a few miles beyond Kilmacrenan, Gallagher took a sharp left turn, at a point where Kelly would have expected him to go straight on. This was just at Termon, but before the bend in the road where iMe went down. There was, dimly discernable, a slightly road-shaped furrow in the ground they were driving on, and as Gallagher continued Kelly began to realized that this must have once been a fully tarmacadamed road.
This road was straight enough for a while, and in places the tarmac showed through. Abandoned bungalows and farmhouses were scattered around. The countryside looked like reasonably good farmland. Immediately after passing the shell of a bungalow, perfect in desolate splendid symmetry, the terrain became a good deal rockier and the road began to twist and turn. Bulky mountains loomed all around, with Errigal - familiar to Kelly only from a distance - off to the left.
The day became less grey, and a mix of bogland colours took over the visual fielld. The sky was streaked with low, long clouds. Gallagher kept looking straight on. At one point, just after a stretch of smoother track than usual, they passed a stone wall on the left, with "Glenveagh National Park" engraved.
Lakes and forests came into view. While she had not noticed the road rising, she realized that they were now at a considerable height. The bulk of Errigal grew ever closer. Then, with a sudden sense of being perched between the mountain on the right and a sheer drop to twin lakes on the left, they were at the mountain.
The road curved along the side of the mountain. Little waterfalls were everywhere, each above a glistening green clump of moss. Rocks seemed to grow out of moss and small streams. The peak looked different at this angle, no longer twin summits with a crescent path between, but a more amorphous thing, difficult to see in one vision. Ruined houses abounded on the slope leading down to the lakes to their left. Suddenly, the mountain was past, and Gallagher took the car up what seemed to be nothing but a hill. Kelly grasped the side of her seat, and again after a little adjustment - like the adjustment of the eye to darkness - she realised that this was also a road. The grass was very slightly paler then that surrounding it. Soon, they stopped at what looked like another deserted bungalow.
"It looks pretty wrecked from the outside, doesn't it?"
"Is this another ruin."
"...of the obsolete vernacular architectural form known as the bungalow? It certainly is."
Gallagher prodded what seemed to be a rotting wooden door. It swung open, seeming to Kelly about to break on its hinges. They walked inside.
The bungalow itself has looked simple, a combination of straight lines. The tiny windows
Kelly felt overwhelmed by plenitude. Everywhere her gaze turned, she saw strange slivers of colour. Dark red, faded yellow, white offset by a green tint, bright blue - there was no pattern to the arrangements of colours. On most of the slivers, she saw shapes that she realised after initial confusion were letters on their sides. These slivers of colour were the spines of written passives - books. Every possible walls space was taken up by books on shelves, and piles of books were heaped on three long tables that were running through the room. On one wall, there was clearly a cooking apparatus, and also a device she recognised as being used to boil water to prepare infusions. The room was lit from both the tiny windows and a dim light from the centre of three tall devices on each table. This gave the effect sometimes experienced in historically-set interactive passives of candlelight. The room was also quite warm, though there was no obvious source of heat. The overall sensation was of not only being surrounded by books, but of actually being part of them, at one with them. Out the tiny windows one could see grass, and a little strip of sky, but they looked the most artificial things in the scene.
Gallagher was looking at Kelly with a certain complacency.
"You're impressed," he said.
"I don't know what to say."
"So many books, or rather 'written passives' as they are supposed to be called now. There was never anything passive about reading, I can tell you."
"I remember as a child, my grandmothers house was full of books. When she died, my parents had them all taken away for pulp. I was only six. I remember crying and crying and crying, and screaming when they were to be taken away."
"Really? That mustn't be all that long ago."
"You're talking normally now, have you noticed?"
"You mean incorrectly?"
"Yes, you are talking in a way that perpetuates the illusion of the self, the illusion of reliable memory, the illusion of linear time. A host of philosophical errors are manifest in your speech. It hasn't quite conquered all, this Correct Speech. All these now selves and past selves and continuing selves."
"No, it hasn't. And yet, I have never forgot myself like this before."
"It takes time. Believe me, I know. I was interested in philosophy, once. Indeed, I was once at the forefront of trying to bring Correct Speech to Donegal. Only the people who fancied themselves cultivated used it, and then they all left, pretty much. When society was organised along rational lines, it was surprising how many people got left behind."
"You sound like a militia man."
"What do they call themselves? Minutemen? That's a word that's meant many things over the years. But here, sit you down and let me make you a cup of tea."
He gestured at a wooden chair, whose seat was covered with just a few magazines. Kelly sat and stared at the cover. They were Irish political magazines of the early twenty-first century, chronicling the petty political woes of those days before the Contraction had forced rationality on the public sphere. Arguments about motorways, about airlines, about broadband internet (some kind of ancestor of iMe and TotalWeb; Kelly could not contain her boredom when faced with earnest histories of technology) She read threw some. Then sudden an odd high pitched whistle came from the room, near the cooking apparatus. It was the water boiling. Kelly had heard much of the once overwhelmingly popularity of this infusion in Ireland. This would, however, be her first time tasting tea.
Later that day, Gallagher showed her around the bungalow; she was inducted into the rituals of everyday life such as how to work the cooker and the lamps. He showed off the central heating system, "based on what the Ancient Romans did, they did more than own slaves and be generally patriarchial, you know" and what he called the septic tank. Most of all, he showed her the books - the biographies, the novels, the volumes of poetry and of history, the disciplines discredited for perpetuating one illusion or another. He was one moment tart and cynical, another enthusiastic and boyish, another grave and wise-seeming. That first day passed in a blur, and she feel asleep on a rug in the corner of the main room, drifting off amidst the enormous towers of books.
After that afternoon, Gallagher seemed to retreat into himself. Kelly was left to her own devices. She felt exhilirated when walking in the raw air, or scrambling up the lower slopes of the mountain. She read and read in the evenings. The lamps were always on low, and inside the house there was a sense of being disconnected from the world outside, of it being some eternal long winter evening, even when the sky was bright. Gallagher was around sometimes, but even when he was he didn't seem all that interested in her anymore.
One day, in the middle a pile of paperback biographies of composers (a term which had been replaced as music was now considered such an irreducibly social process that to identify a piece with any one individual was regarded as a category error) which Kelly had been reading enraptured, she found a very slim volume, which was, she supposed, technically a hardback (she had only recently become aware of the distinction) but the hardcovers were really reinforced cardboard. It had a dark green cover, and must have been only a few dozen pages long. On the front was printed the word "Aphorism." She look at the frontispiece. "Aphorisms, for an age beyond aphorisms" was printed in large letters, with the words "reflections of an obsolete headshrinker" in slightly smaller type below, and "by Bert Gallagher MB BCh BAO MRCPsych" below this.
There was no indication of who published it, or in what year. When she had first started reading the books, some days ago, she had always opened them at the beginning and read straight through. Years of using the iMe, or being confronted with whatever text the screen presented her with, had inculcated this habit in her. Soon, however, she realised that opening the pages at random often led to a richer, more involved experience. She had been pleasantly surprised how immersive, how real, the experience of reading written passives was.
The page she opened contained the following text:
# 37: When the anthropologists are interested in you, you know you're on the way out.
# 38: The self is still the self. This linguistic affectation - my now self, your then self, his future self, her continuing self - and all that nonsense - is only so much hot air.
# 39: When the anthropologists are interested in you, you know you're on the way out. You also know that you'll be back
# 40: The illusions that we are all being forcibly cured of are proving so stubborn that, perhaps, they are not illusions after all.
# 41: No brain scan ever will reveal my essence, my self, my soul.
The volume contained about 80 of these fragments. She turned the pages. At the end, there was a longer piece of text. Titled "A drunk man looks at the shamrock", it read as follows.
"I wonder if you will have read everything else first, in your good systematic academic way, or have you developed my habit of random browsing? If you have, you may have discovered other copies of this text, except without these closing words addressed to you. It is ironic that I am now so nostalgic and so proud of the modest, rather limited art and science of psychiatry, one which didn't claim to reveal the secrets of humanity anymore by the time I got to it. I was a pretty honest-to-goodness psychiatrist, not a messiah or a villain. Like many of my generation I wanted to be a writer. I never could write anything interesting of any length. So I devoted myself to writing the aphorism. For generations, the literary-minded worshipped the novel (it was a particular form of written passive) as the highest form of literary art, and despite everything - Facebook, Twitter, Webathon (interact with an iMe history interactive for more info) - we did, too. Even as our thoughts were fragmented into millions of pieces, our emotions and our instinctual responses instantly conveyed for the world to see, we still dreamt of the length, the depth, the intellectual heft of the novel. It was a rather silly fetish, and perhaps those who are know trying to purge us of our illusions and mistakes of thinking are right to have cured us of our idolisation of the creative arts."
"Anyway, I could never write a novel, despite many efforts. And I began to realise that a few words, carefully chosen, can imply a universe - can imply the universe. And in the times I was living in, I realised that the aphorism was the form that suited me most It suited the times as well.."
"So I began to work on the fragments you have read, or will read, or indeed won't read. Each one tries to encompass my life, in the way a novel would."
Now, back on the North American continent, in a country no longer called the USA, Kelly's grandchild is worrying about the consequences of advancing age. Her name is Victoria Belladonna Smith Murtlock, and she has just turned forty-five. Her own daughter, fifteen last birthday, is working on her homework by the television. Earlier today, Victoria was told by her doctor that she had a high cholesterol level. "There isn't much we can do," said the doctor, "we can give these tablets, but we still don't know if they'll work for you." For Victoria, this imperfection was the first real sign of personal mortality, and she was ruminating on this. She looked at Maisie, fifteen, serious, sombre, hardworking, and thought of when she would confront mortality.
Victoria told herself to stop wallowing in self pity. She was not doing too bad. She had overcome the loss of Patrick, and Maisie wasn't turning out too bad. And the pressure of being the daughter of Maxwell Smith Murtlock, and the granddaughter of the great Kelly and Joseph Murtlock! How boring it had been growing up, with Dad always holding forth about his legacy, and the importance of his children maintaining at all times decorum and modesty. How seriously her sisters and brothers took it! And yet they had all failed to live up to that stern code of morality. Their political endeavours had all floundered on minor pecadilloes and gaffes. Only she, Vicky,who had never really expected much, and whom no one had expected much from, who had stayed out of public life altogether, had stayed true to the precepts of the book. And only she knew the truth. She thought about it every day.
The family legend, which was also the national legend, which was now the global legend, was that Kelly had returned from Ireland to America with a mysterious text, the Aphorisms, which seemed to detonate an explosion in the complacent heart of the rationalisation project. Joseph Murtlock, of all people, the rational academic personified, became the main evangelist for the text found by his student, who in due course became his wife, and the mother of his child. It was this child, Maxwell Smith Murtlock, who brought Resacralisation from the academy to politics, to everyday culture, to life. The masses, tired of the endless hectoring of the rational politcoes, gladly adopted a new political creed which accepted that, after all, there were limits to the power of language to reshape the world. That the self, as a unitary entity stable in space and time, was an illusion became a merely academic question once again.
After her husband Patrick had died, Vicky had been prostrated with grief. She took to the bed in the old house in Hyannis. Grandmother Kelly, nearly ninety, and nine months from the grave, climbed up the wooden stairs and went into Vicky's room. Vicky's eyes had run out of tears, but she still shook with silent sobs. Grammy clambered into the bed and cradled Vicky. She held her, rocking back and forth, gently cooling, "poor girl, poor girl, my poor girl." Vicky's sobbing became something no longer physical - she no longer rocked convulsively - but Kelly could still feel the waves of grief seize her granddaughter's whole self every few seconds. The old woman began to talk, began to tell Vicky the story of herself and Granpa. Except this time the story was different.
"Your father was not old Joe Murtlock's son, my dear. Even he, poor Maxwell, never knew that. I could never tell him. His father - your grandfather - was the real prophet of our age. He was the most modest man I ever met, and he died six months after Maxwell was born. He was a psychiatrist - you know what they are, they are making a comeback I gather. He wrote the Aphorisms. They were not the work of some anonymous prophet, but an ordinary man, with worn out shoes wandering the roads of Donegal. We made a memorial to the unknown aphorist there, by a mountain. It was a lie, but a necessary lie. Or so I thought. Now I look at our family and I think - is it you, dear girl, dear Vicky, the most ordinary of all Maxwell's children, the most down to earth - who really got it, who really understood it. You are your grandfather's granddaughter, my dear. Your grandfather's granddaughter."
Victoria thought of this everyday. She never told anyone. Now, Maisie, has put down her pen. The television is showing an ad, and neither woman is watching it. Victoria says, "Maisie, there's something I need to tell you, a story, something about my grandmother. There's something I need to tell you about our selves."