LITR 4368 Literature of the Future
lecture notes

narrative: alternative futures "Garden of Forking Paths" (handout); "The Gernsback Continuum" (BC 23-35); "Better Be Ready 'bout Half Past Eight" (VN 22-47);

Einstein on the Beach, Knee Play 1

Einstein on the Beach, Knee Play 5

Knee Play 5 (audio)

 

 

future vision: Laura canceled or postponed

 

 

copies of midterm

follow up on research topics as required

 

 

 

 

Model assignments: combination of personality experiencing the course and course contents

Essay 1: Vicente, Christa

Essay 2: KC, Marion

 

 

Web Highlights as segue to lecture v. discussion

 

ideal balance

 

students learn most when they speak for themselves, learn from peers; have more direct contact with world beyond school

 

instructor not necessarily smartest in room but usually knows more from teaching subject repeatedly

 

downsides:

 

students speak for themselves but might talk about anything whether it's essential to course or not

 

instructor can keep focus and direction better but how many students keep up if he talks all the time?

 

 

special hazards to balance in nature of our course 

 

 

originally planned course to teach students about future and changes to come (esp. transition to sustainability, population from 12 billion > 3-5 billion)

 

future's as big as the past, can't cover everything, discuss every possibility

 

my experience with the class, more practice, so if you repeat some of my mistakes, natural

 

necessary to limit

 

 

literature of the future

literature of ideas

science fiction

 

humility of doing only what you're supposed to do, what you can help people with, what they came for

 

 

 

 

Suggestions for making class discussion more focused on objectives, purposes

 

1. Keep returning to the text at hand (standard control)

 

2. What you want to say may be true or interesting, but is it helping the class with the question or issue at hand?

 

3. If you speak frequently, pause sometimes before jumping in--quieter students often have something to say, but they sometimes wait to see if other, bolder students speak first

 

4. Students who raise hands earn priority over those who interrupt or jump in line.

 

5. Recourse to any discussion that wanders: "What is the question we're trying to answer?" (Discussion-leader returns to question or topic--or text.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Mozart in Mirrorshades"

science fiction

references to science fiction gain prestige, reality-effect of science

225 Rice knew a little temporal physics

time holes and parallel worlds

 

229 how the portal works: just big enough for a phone cable and a pipeline full of oil

OED 5a Computing. Originally: a server or website that provides Internet access. Later also: a website or service that provides access to a number of sources of information and facilities, such as a directory of links to other websites, search engines, email, online shopping, etc. More fully portal site.

227 history like a tree, another branch of history

cf. Genesis & Revelation: Trees of Life and Knowledge

cf. Parable of the Sower: Acorn, trees in original garden, trees in post-apocalyptic garden (evolutionary? must relocate)

 

Symbol

common, familiar image, but meaning varies according to story, context

 

223 petrochemical x wilting oak

model for relation to alternate futures

relation to alternate cultures

Western Civilization & non-Western cultures: "The West and the Rest"

superimpose on branches

 

 

 

metaphors for alternative futures

227 history like a tree, another branch of history

230 shuffling the deck of history [alt. Image]

 

metaphors make the unknown familiar by comparing the unknown to the known

science is always changing as knowledge advances but becomes familiar itself through metaphors (sometimes called "models")

 

Doctors explaining to patients: 

The heart is like a pump.

Blood circulation is like the tides.

Your nervous system is like a network of wires.

The sensors on your skin are sending S.O.S. signals to your brain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. How successful are "Garden of Forking Paths," "Gernsback," & "Half Past Eight."as Literature of Ideas?

1a. More specifically, how convincingly do these texts represent or make you feel the possibility of Alternative Futures?

2. Especially in "Gernsback Continuum", observe scientific background for alternative futures, esp. quantum physics as "probability"

3. What images of alternative futures, besides "Garden of Forking Paths?" Branching tree? Maze or labyrinth? Altered mentality? Multiple personality?

4. What attractions, repulsions to alternative futures, compared to apocalyptic and evolutionary narratives?

5. How may alternative futures correspond not only to postmodern physics but postmodern humanity's evolution to a multicultural, alternatively gendered society?

6. How does "Better Be Ready" (1993) show a contemporary style comparable to "Somebody Up There Likes Me?" (1994).

1. How successful are "Garden of Forking Paths," "Gernsback," & "Half Past Eight."as Literature of Ideas?

Garden

6 precisely now [Literature of Ideas]

7 I possessed the Secret. The name . . . . 8-9 foreshadowing: name, newspapers  .  . . [11] In ten minutes my plan was perfected. The telephone book listed the name of the only person capable of transmitting the message

19 The author of an atrocious undertaking ought to imagine that he has already accomplished it, ought to impose upon himself a future as irrevocable as the past.

[26] I thought that a man can be an enemy of other men, of the moments of other men, but not of a country: not of fireflies, words, gardens, streams of water, sunsets.

 

[51] Finally, Stephen Albert said to me: "In a riddle whose answer is chess, what is the only prohibited word?"

[52] I thought a moment and replied, "The word chess."

53 "The Garden of Forking Paths is an enormous riddle, or parable, whose theme is time; this recondite [obscure] cause prohibits its mention. To omit a word always, to resort to inept metaphors and obvious periphrases, is perhaps the most emphatic way of stressing it.

not once does he employ the word 'time.'  . . . In contrast to Newton and Schopenhauer, your ancestor did not believe in a uniform, absolute time. [e.g., time as linear; a river or arrow] He believed in an infinite series of times, in a growing, dizzying net of divergent, convergent and parallel times. This network of times which approached one another, forked, broke off, or were unaware of one another for centuries, embraces all possibilities of time.

55 "Time forks perpetually toward innumerable futures. In one of them I am your enemy."

 

 

 

1a. More specifically, how convincingly do these texts represent or make you feel the possibility of Alternative Futures?

"Half Past Eight"

25 Well, it’s not my life, he thought. Nothing has changed for me.

27 “Women who’ve had the operation” . . .

“More than you’d think."

28 a little man, no question about that

32 “It’s shaken my understanding of reality. I can no longer trust what I see before my eyes.”

38 The universe had changed its very nature without his noticing.

 

Gernsback

[45] Roads of crystal soared between the spires, crossed and recrossed by smooth silver shapes like beads of running mercury.

cf. vision of Heaven in Revelation

 

Garden

56 infinitely saturated with invisible persons. Those persons were Albert and I, secret, busy and multiform in other dimensions of time.

 

2. Especially in "Gernsback Continuum", observe scientific background for alternative futures, esp. quantum physics as "probability"

“Mozart” 225 Rice knew a little temporal physics

 

"Gernsback Continuum"

1 a single wave-length of probability

 

23 episode, fragments, single wavelength of probability

 

[18] And one day, on the outskirts of Bolinas [SF Bay community], when I was setting up to shoot a particularly lavish example of Ming's martial [military] architecture, I penetrated a fine membrane, a membrane of probability. . . [quantum probability metaphor + organic metaphor of membrane + penetration as violation metaphor?]

 

 

 

 

3. What images of alternative futures, besides "Garden of Forking Paths?" Branching tree? Maze or labyrinth? Altered mentality? Multiple personality?

"Better be Ready" 28 [mirror image of Byron as woman]

29 A woman’s face materialized in the mirror.

It was his mother. [sf makes strange friendly]

cf. Gernsback 37

46 [string quartet conclusion]

[all parts play together]

 

Gernsback

[37] The speed [diet pill] limited my vision to the tunnel of the Toyota's headlights. The body could drive, I told myself, while the mind maintained. Maintained and stayed away from the weird peripheral window dressing of amphetamine and exhaustion, the spectral, luminous vegetation that grows out of the corners of the mind's eye along late-night highways. But the mind had its own ideas, and Kihn's opinion of what I was already thinking of as my "sighting" rattled endlessly through my head in a tight, lopsided orbit. Semiotic ghosts. Fragments of the Mass Dream, whirling past in the wind of my passage. Somehow this feedback-loop aggravated the diet pill, and the speed-vegetation along the road began to assume the colors of infrared satellite images, glowing shreds blown apart in the Toyota's slipstream. [classic cyberpunk metaphor-mix of information system, drug, tech, and motion ]

[47] "Amphetamine psychosis," I said. I opened my eyes. The dash was still there, the dust, the crushed filtertips. Very carefully, without moving my head, I turned the headlights on.

 

Garden

[21] A lamp enlightened the platform but the faces of the boys were in shadow. One questioned me, "Are you going to Dr. Stephen Albert's house?" Without waiting for my answer, another said, "The house is a long way from here, but you won't get lost if you take this road to the left and at every crossroads turn again to your left" [a standard direction for negotiating a maze or labyrinth—see below]. I tossed them a coin (my last), descended a few stone steps and started down the solitary road. It went downhill, slowly. It was of elemental earth; overhead the branches were tangled; the low, full moon seemed to accompany me.

22 The instructions to turn always to the left reminded me that such was the common procedure for discovering the central point of certain labyrinths.

24 Beneath English trees I meditated on that lost maze

a labyrinth of labyrinths, of one sinuous spreading labyrinth that would encompass the past and the future and in some way involve the stars.

 

33 path zigzagged like those of my childhood. We came to a library of Eastern and Western books. I recognized bound in yellow silk several volumes of the Lost Encyclopedia

 

[40] "A labyrinth of symbols," he corrected. "An invisible labyrinth of time.

to no one did it occur that the book and the maze were one and the same thing

 

34] the book is an indeterminate heap of contradictory drafts. I examined it once: in the third chapter the hero dies, in the fourth he is alive. As for the other undertaking of Ts'ui Pên, his labyrinth . . ."

 

4. What attractions, repulsions to alternative futures, compared to apocalyptic and evolutionary narratives?

 

destabilizes familiar reality, makes real less real

 

frees from destiny

 

playfulness but also indifference

 

 

5. How may alternative futures correspond not only to postmodern physics but postmodern humanity's evolution to a multicultural, alternatively gendered society?

"Garden of Forking Paths" 4 Irishman in the service of England

13 yellow man , Germany

"Gernsback Continuum"

[49] They were blond. They were standing beside their car, an aluminum avocado with a central shark-fin rudder jutting up from its spine and smooth black tires like a child's toy. He had his arm around her waist and was gesturing toward the city. They were both in white: loose clothing, bare legs, spotless white sun shoes. Neither of them seemed aware of the beams of my headlights. He was saying something wise and strong, and she was nodding, and suddenly I was frightened, frightened in an entirely different way. Sanity had ceased to be an issue; I knew, somehow, that the city behind me was Tucson—a dream Tucson thrown up out of the collective yearning of an era. That it was real, entirely real. But the couple in front of me lived in it, and they frightened me.

[50] They were the children of Dialta Downes's `80- that-wasn't; they were Heirs to the Dream. They were white, blond, and they probably had blue eyes. They were American. Dialta had said that the Future had come to America first, but had finally passed it by. But not here, in the heart of the Dream. Here, we'd gone on and on, in a dream logic that knew nothing of pollution, the finite bounds of fossil fuel, or foreign wars it was possible to lose. They were smug, happy, and utterly content with themselves and their world. And in the Dream, it was their world.

[51] Behind me, the illuminated city: Searchlights swept the sky for the sheer joy of it. I imagined them thronging the plazas of white marble, orderly and alert, their bright eyes shining with enthusiasm for their floodlit avenues and silver cars. It had all the sinister fruitiness of Hitler Youth propaganda.

67 black man with bad teeth and obvious wig (i. e., world that happened is not Nazi Germany with world covered by steely blondes but a world that contains narrator, Dialta, black man, maybe aliens)

"Gernsback Continuum" 67 human near-dystopia

"Half Past Eight"--maybe alternative futures reflect / express not just multiculturalism but multisexualism (metrosexual? transgender? queer?)

28 a little man, no question about that

32 “It’s shaken my understanding of reality. I can no longer trust what I see before my eyes.”

33 She put down the screwdriver she’d been using . . . .

46 Toby Glass, who could grow up to be anything!

6. How does "Better Be Ready" (1993) show a contemporary style comparable to "Somebody Up There Likes Me?" (also 1994).

25 Well, it’s not my life, he thought. Nothing has changed for me.

26 “But I’m still the same person.”

 

Alison Baker, "Better Be Ready 'bout Half Past Eight" (VN 22-47)

22 “I’m changing sex.”

23 didn’t believe in the separation of work and home

24 “I don’t want to hear any more.”

25 tried not to look at Toby’s breasts

25 Well, it’s not my life, he thought. Nothing has changed for me.

26 “What I don’t understand is why it bothers me so much. You’d think he’s doing it to spite me.”

26 “But I’m still the same person.”

Byron was not at all sure of that.

27 “come to feel as if my penis is an alien growth on my body. It’s my enemy, Byron. The surgery’s going to liberate me.”

27 “Your support group?”

“Women who’ve had the operation” . . .

“More than you’d think."

27 “As of next month, I’ll be Zoe.”

28 “It means life.”

28 “What’s he been for thirty-eight years--dead?”

28 [mirror image of Byron as woman]

28 a little man, no question about that

29 A woman’s face materialized in the mirror.

It was his mother.

29 “Everything’s sexuality with you these days.”

29 “it’s called the Tiresias syndrome.”

30 “you’re a typical woman . . . a prick”

31 [memory of dead mother singing title to Toby]

32 “It’s shaken my understanding of reality. I can no longer trust what I see before my eyes.”

33 “a magical process involved as well!”

33 “Are man and woman so different, so unrelated, that no transformation is possible? It’s this western culture . . . . In my country people exchange sexes every day.”

33 “A shower?”

She put down the screwdriver she’d been using . . . .

34 “We’re talking about a human being who has suffered for forty years, and you’re jealous because we’re giving him some lacy underpants?”

36 “You sound like your father.”

36 “Heaven! What an idea! . . . Your father’s idea of heaven and mine are very different.”

37 “It’s wonderful what science has done for your friend. . . . You should embrace change, son.”

38 The universe had changed its very nature without his noticing.

40 “Makeup? Lots of men wear it . . . .”

44 “I’m thinking of going to law school.”

46 Toby Glass, who could grow up to be anything!

46 [string quartet conclusion]

[all parts play together]

 

Gernsback Continuum

1 a single wave-length of probability

[9] The Thirties had seen the first generation of American industrial designers 

14 a kind of sinister totalitarian dignity, like the stadiums Albert Speer built for Hitler. But the rest of it was relentlessly tacky: ephemeral stuff extruded by the collective American subconscious of the Thirties

[16] "Think of it," Dialta Downes had said, "as a kind of alternate America: a 1980 that never happened. An architecture of broken dreams."

17  shadowy America-that-wasn't, of Coca-Cola plants like beached submarines, and fifth-run movie houses like the temples of some lost sect that had worshiped blue mirrors and geometry.

[18] And one day, on the outskirts of Bolinas [SF Bay community], when I was setting up to shoot a particularly lavish example of Ming's martial [military] architecture, I penetrated a fine membrane, a membrane of probability. . . [quantum probability metaphor + organic metaphor of membrane + penetration as violation metaphor?]

[33] "If you want a classier explanation, I'd say you saw a semiotic ghost. All these contactee stories, for instance, are framed in a kind of sci-fi imagery that permeates our culture.

[36] I had a meal, showered, took a crumbling diet pill that had been kicking around in the bottom of my shaving kit for three years, and headed back to Los Angeles.

[37] The speed [diet pill] limited my vision to the tunnel of the Toyota's headlights. The body could drive, I told myself, while the mind maintained. Maintained and stayed away from the weird peripheral window dressing of amphetamine and exhaustion, the spectral, luminous vegetation that grows out of the corners of the mind's eye along late-night highways. But the mind had its own ideas, and Kihn's opinion of what I was already thinking of as my "sighting" rattled endlessly through my head in a tight, lopsided orbit. Semiotic ghosts. Fragments of the Mass Dream, whirling past in the wind of my passage. Somehow this feedback-loop aggravated the diet pill, and the speed-vegetation along the road began to assume the colors of infrared satellite images, glowing shreds blown apart in the Toyota's slipstream. [classic cyberpunk metaphor-mix of information system, drug, tech, and motion ]

saw the city.

[44] The books on Thirties design were in the trunk; one of them contained sketches of an idealized city that drew on Metropolis [1927] and Things to Come [1936—visionary sf films with extravagant sets] , but squared everything [multiplied exponentially], soaring up through an architect's perfect clouds to zeppelin docks and mad neon spires. That city was a scale model of the one that rose behind me. Spire stood on spire in gleaming ziggurat [pyramid] steps that climbed to a central golden temple tower ringed with the crazy radiator flanges [ornamental ribbing] of the Mongo gas stations. You could hide the Empire State Building in the smallest of those towers.

[45] Roads of crystal soared between the spires, crossed and recrossed by smooth silver shapes like beads of running mercury.

[47] "Amphetamine psychosis," I said. I opened my eyes. The dash was still there, the dust, the crushed filtertips. Very carefully, without moving my head, I turned the headlights on.

[48] And saw them.

[49] They were blond. They were standing beside their car, an aluminum avocado with a central shark-fin rudder jutting up from its spine and smooth black tires like a child's toy. He had his arm around her waist and was gesturing toward the city. They were both in white: loose clothing, bare legs, spotless white sun shoes. Neither of them seemed aware of the beams of my headlights. He was saying something wise and strong, and she was nodding, and suddenly I was frightened, frightened in an entirely different way. Sanity had ceased to be an issue; I knew, somehow, that the city behind me was Tucson—a dream Tucson thrown up out of the collective yearning of an era. That it was real, entirely real. But the couple in front of me lived in it, and they frightened me.

[50] They were the children of Dialta Downes's `80- that-wasn't; they were Heirs to the Dream. They were white, blond, and they probably had blue eyes. They were American. Dialta had said that the Future had come to America first, but had finally passed it by. But not here, in the heart of the Dream. Here, we'd gone on and on, in a dream logic that knew nothing of pollution, the finite bounds of fossil fuel, or foreign wars it was possible to lose. They were smug, happy, and utterly content with themselves and their world. And in the Dream, it was their world.

[67] "Hell of a world we live in, huh?" The proprietor was a thin black man with bad teeth and an obvious wig. I nodded, fishing in my jeans for change, anxious to find a park bench where I could submerge myself in hard evidence of the human near-dystopia we live in. "But it could be worse, huh?"

[68] "That's right," I said, "or even worse, it could be perfect."

 

Garden of Forking Paths

1 WW1

2 multicultural

2 Two pages of the document are missing

3 —but this seemed, or should have seemed, very secondary to me— [Poe-like]

4 multicultural: Irishman for England

5 In spite of my dead father, in spite of having been a child in a symmetrical garden of Hai Feng, was I—now—going to die?

6 precisely now [Literature of Ideas]

7 I possessed the Secret. The name

8-9 foreshadowing: name, newspapers

10 square coin

the revolver with one bullet.

[11] In ten minutes my plan was perfected. The telephone book listed the name of the only person capable of transmitting the message

13 sensed that the Chief somehow feared people of my race [Chinese]—for the innumerable ancestors who merge within me. I wanted to prove to him that a yellow man could save his armies.

19 The author of an atrocious undertaking ought to imagine that he has already accomplished it, ought to impose upon himself a future as irrevocable as the past.

[21] A lamp enlightened the platform but the faces of the boys were in shadow. One questioned me, "Are you going to Dr. Stephen Albert's house?" Without waiting for my answer, another said, "The house is a long way from here, but you won't get lost if you take this road to the left and at every crossroads turn again to your left" [a standard direction for negotiating a maze or labyrinth—see below]. I tossed them a coin (my last), descended a few stone steps and started down the solitary road. It went downhill, slowly. It was of elemental earth; overhead the branches were tangled; the low, full moon seemed to accompany me.

22 The instructions to turn always to the left reminded me that such was the common procedure for discovering the central point of certain labyrinths.

24 Beneath English trees I meditated on that lost maze

a labyrinth of labyrinths, of one sinuous spreading labyrinth that would encompass the past and the future and in some way involve the stars.

[26] I thought that a man can be an enemy of other men, of the moments of other men, but not of a country: not of fireflies, words, gardens, streams of water, sunsets.

27 the music was Chinese

[30] "The garden of forking paths."

33 path zigzagged like those of my childhood. We came to a library of Eastern and Western books. I recognized bound in yellow silk several volumes of the Lost Encyclopedia

34] Stephen Albert

the book is an indeterminate heap of contradictory drafts. I examined it once: in the third chapter the hero dies, in the fourth he is alive. As for the other undertaking of Ts'ui Pên, his labyrinth . . ."

[38] "Here is Ts'ui Pên's labyrinth," he said, indicating a tall lacquered desk.

[39] "An ivory labyrinth!" I exclaimed. "A minimum labyrinth."

[40] "A labyrinth of symbols," he corrected. "An invisible labyrinth of time.

to no one did it occur that the book and the maze were one and the same thing

41 Two circumstances gave me the correct solution of the problem. One: the curious legend that Ts'ui Pên had planned to create a labyrinth which would be strictly infinite. The other: a fragment of a letter I discovered."

42 I leave to the various futures (not to all) my garden of forking paths.

[45] “Almost instantly, I understood: 'the garden of forking paths' was the chaotic novel; the phrase 'the various futures (not to all)' suggested to me the forking in time, not in space. A broad rereading of the work confirmed the theory. In all fictional works, each time a man is confronted with several alternatives, he chooses one and eliminates the others; in the fiction of Ts'ui Pên, he chooses— simultaneously—all of them. He creates, in this way, diverse futures, diverse times which themselves also proliferate and fork.

47 two versions of the same epic chapter.

a man of a remote empire

48 I felt about me and within my dark body an invisible, intangible swarming

[51] Finally, Stephen Albert said to me: "In a riddle whose answer is chess, what is the only prohibited word?"

[52] I thought a moment and replied, "The word chess."

53 "The Garden of Forking Paths is an enormous riddle, or parable, whose theme is time; this recondite [obscure] cause prohibits its mention. To omit a word always, to resort to inept metaphors and obvious periphrases, is perhaps the most emphatic way of stressing it.

not once does he employ the word 'time.'  . . . In contrast to Newton and Schopenhauer, your ancestor did not believe in a uniform, absolute time. [e.g., time as linear; a river or arrow] He believed in an infinite series of times, in a growing, dizzying net of divergent, convergent and parallel times. This network of times which approached one another, forked, broke off, or were unaware of one another for centuries, embraces all possibilities of time.

55 "Time forks perpetually toward innumerable futures. In one of them I am your enemy."

56 infinitely saturated with invisible persons. Those persons were Albert and I, secret, busy and multiform in other dimensions of time.

59 the city called Albert