[O]n the contrary, everything in it is both head and tail, alternately and reciprocally…. We can cut wherever we please…. Chop it into numerous pieces and you will see that each one can get along alone. — Charles Baudelaire, “To Arsene Houssaye”
It was that great modernist monk of the late fourteenth century, Baudelard, who first codified the principle of spontaneous generation. He had stowed away a porcelain saucer of skunk meat high in a cupboard where no animal–including the human kind–could reach it. In truth, he had set it aside like manna, afraid that one day the countryside would have scant meat if he and his fellow monks kept hunting as they had all that blustery fall.
A week later, as Baudelard dusted the cupboard, he rediscovered the meat, writhing with worms and quilled his findings in a thirty-pound volume of his accumulated observations.
Yet Baudelard was no one-trick pony of a natural philosopher who folds his hands to rest on laurels. He understood that this principle had to be developed to its fullest, for “To understand the essence of nature,” as he was fond of informing his fellow monks spraying a mouthful of his sibilant noon meal: day-old bread, goat cheese and wine, “is to understand the mind of God.” So Baudelard cut worms at varying lengths to see if life might sprout again.
And, lo, they did grow full and wriggling blood-red with both head and tail intact, whichever was the original of which. The confusion brought him to recall a minor poet friend of his, the Englishman Geoffrey Chaucer. He had started a series of semi-bawdy, semi-humorous tales of wanderers mocking the Old English tales of heroes, using the vulgar, common English tongue. Chaucer and Baudelard both saw the stories–pale imitations of Boccaccio–as best fit for lining refuse bins.
To test just how far the principle of spontaneous generation went, they took his original manuscript, mulched it, stirred in earthworms, water, and ink, and let the rotting mass germinate for several months. Chaucer was probably over-eager and exhumed the manuscript prematurely. The Canterbury tales were still unfinished and a bit raw, but Chaucer corrected the earthworms’ grammatical errors and found ways to punch up the bawdiness.
The triumphant success of Baudelard’s literary experiment, logically lead him to human beings as his next test subject. The rest, as you know, is history–eternal glory springs from temporary gore. Even now, a century later, Baudelard’s achievements remain the high-water mark of natural philosophy and letters.
This is a two-part piece; the conclusion will be posted tomorrow. Please feel encouraged to comment if you have feelings about this kind of thing one way or another.
Chico didn’t really understand how people were inserted into dreams; it was all a bunch of neurochemistry and electroneurology and interface science and software entity engineering, and those weren’t where his skills lay. But he didn’t have to understand it. All he had to understand was that a rich guy was having nightmares.
No nightmares so far, though. He just sat in the dim grayness of the subject’s mind, watching images spring up from the blackness, flicker, flatten, and fade.
Then he felt the gravitational pull of the dreamer’s mind as the dream began: a loose and imprecisely-defined ego coalesced out of a swamp of memories and habits among dark semi-human shapes. Dream interventionists were always pulled to the dreamer’s ego, because everything existed in related to it. Chico felt himself dragged down the thought vortex toward the dreamer: a generic shape, flickering with shadows, mostly in the form of a boy. Across from the boy sat a hugely fat, glowering woman with bull’s horns. The boy turned and ran, but his dream dragged the woman along after him effortlessly: she was too important to whatever he was worrying about to slip away. Chico could feel the fear in the air. The setting suddenly flickered into sharp relief, a school somewhere, all linoleum hallways and painted cinder block walls with grade school art projects taped up on them. The horned woman stepped out of a classroom door ahead. Then the hallway crackled and snapped and turned into a cafeteria crowded with shouting, oblivious students. The boy stopped running, knowing (Chico could share the thought) that he couldn’t leave the cafeteria during lunch without a pass. This was the time for Chico to step in: he would help the dreamer face the horned woman …
The huge woman lurched forward suddenly, scattering children who folded back into her wake. Then she reached out and and grabbed the boy’s head with one meaty hand. He screamed as she jerked on his head, snapping his neck. Chico cursed. Now the dreamer would wake up and he would have to start all over.
The dreamer collapsed to the floor and began to break apart into ash. Chico felt a sudden rush of panic as he realized the dream was not ending.
The horned woman looked up at Chico and shrieked wordlessly.
Your blog doesn’t have the guts to print this. Aliens are menacing our streets. They’re invading our borders, making love to our women, and taking our jobs. The time to act is now.
The aliens first arrived in an iridescent bubble, freely crossing Earth’s atmospheric border–our first mistake. That’s what my friend Mustafa told me. He said they shook hands with the president–our second mistake. Anyone, that I know who likes them, has been brainwashed. If they even brush your skin, they skim your mind and learn what pleases you. Everybody knows what they do to anuses. If we’d just patrol or, better yet, shut down our borders, we wouldn’t have this problem.
Second, women are falling head over heels for these guys. I mean, come on, they look like rodents with their big black eyes, long snouts, white fur coats that make them look like doctors or mad scientists, and long, whip-like metallic tails, which can slice open a can of sardines or batter innocent young children when no one’s observing. Who could fall in love with that? But women do. One lady was walking hand-in-hand with an alien near Times Square. When he stopped to buy hot dogs from a vendor, I asked why she was with him. She shot me a disgusted look (me a fellow human being while the alien she loved). She said he kept creeps like me away. I asked Mustafa if he’d gotten any since the aliens arrived. He said no. I hadn’t either.
Third and most important, they’re putting us out of work. I have friends, now unemployed, who worked as sewage divers. Lounging in the Baptist Shelter, they said aliens have swarmed the industry. They’ve taken over animal-insemination businesses and major political offices. Reporters tell us aliens only do the jobs that nobody wants, but have they asked the people who became unemployed? The kicker is that politicians made it so only properly licensed individuals can dumpster dive. That’s my trade. Neither Mustafa nor I live legally, crouching fearfully in fragrant dumpsters as aliens in patrol cars siren passed. Why is it that all licensed divers look like rodents?
So who’s next? Today, it’s the dumpster divers, tomorrow the trash collectors. When will it be your job? The world is in dire straits. If we don’t act soon, we may be destined for the compost pile of extinction… or worse.
At first I thought they were tire tracks, evidence of a child’s bike criss crossing the beach in all directions. But when Michaela said, no they must be basilisk tracks look at the way they stop right at the holes by the boardwalk, I knew she was right.
I didn’t think there were basilisks here, not on this island, certainly not on the beach. Must be young ones I guessed. If it wasn’t such a misty, damp morning and if we hadn’t gone down right when we had to claim a spot for our chairs we would have missed them. Like wind passing through trees maybe this was as close as we could hope to come without turning to stone. It was too dangerous to try and see adult ones at the acropolis. It had been a blissful few weeks on the islands with Michaela and we’d seen Roc’s nests and winged horses and even the tail end of a hydra fleeing into the marsh.
“They should put signs up to be careful at night,” I said.
“Oh, Francois, that would ruin the charm, might as well put in a Starbucks then.”
“Just want to be careful,” I said.
“I want to see them,” Michaela said. “Sleep with me, here on the beach. Tonight. Without protective lenses. It will be so beautiful.”
Poor beautiful Michaela. Never careful. How could she be when everything was about the moment, about the beauty, nothing coming second to it feeling right. I could see us locked in a sweaty tangle, surrounded by young basilisks creeping in the dark as we made love. I bet to her the risk of having our moment of bliss frozen in time, locked in stone forever sounded romantic. It did, but would I turn to stone for her?
“What are you thinking?” she asked.
“I don’t believe you,” she said.
If she ever left me, I’d miss her sweet gentle voice the most, I think. Everything I see in her is in that sound- her kindness, her visionary eye, and her passion for beauty. I can hear her now telling me she wants to plant Barcelonan moonflowers in my garden. And to be there with me decades later when they bloomed.
I thought of us hand in hand watching the bats at the seaside caves at dusk, taking her son to see the tame hippogriffs at the zoo, our days hunting for phoenix nests on the wild shores. Beautiful days. Pure and true and full of love. I hoped they would be enough.