Icarus Transfigured by m. l. teague (page 18)

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Chapter Seven

Dear Grasshopper,

There is something undivided in our ancient memory, something so true it cannot find earth pure enough in which to plant itself. Man, cursed and blessed to remember it, toils in the stony soil to make a Heaven of his Earth, but reaps endless dualities: good versus evil, order versus chaos, free will versus determinism. All assume fixed points in his mind, but the only thing fixed is the pointer in the moment of his pointing. The dream he clings to is not a lie, yet in attempting to objectify it, the mere existence of a point of view distorts all but the aspiration.

The world of matter appears less muddled than our thinking about space/time, though at the molecular level it is Heraclites’ river that always looks the same, even as its water of whirling atoms changes each time we put a foot in it. As quantum physicists Bohr and Heisenberg concluded in their ‘Copenhagen Interpretation’, subatomic particles have no real existence, only probability, until an act of observation forces them into a single state. In Kantian terms there is no actual “there” there until one is posited in perception.

If space, time, and causation are limited to perception, and do not describe reality as it exists in itself, then objects, which require these categories for context, cannot exist as distinct differentiated things in themselves outside perception either, for there can be no space, time, and causation to separate them. Hence, objects are not objects in themselves, but perceptual representations of something the observer can neither divide nor divine as a relational idea: what Schopenhauer called (outside our space/time/causal vantage point) an undifferentiated noumenon: Kant’s “thing-in-itself”.

In short, I as a perceiving subject impose duality where none noumenally exists. This difficulty is appreciated when, like Hume, I go to look for myself in my thoughts and find only the thought of myself looking for myself. I must be a perceiver to have a perception, but I can never know myself outside the act of perceiving myself as a perceiver. Mind and matter, hence, cannot be separated as phenomenon or operations, so what remains outside the puzzle is only the insatiable will to deconstruct the puzzle: And this will, by Schopenhauer’s reckoning, is hardly an object of our possession. It is the oroborus that devours itself in pursuit of its own dissection.

This noumenal realm may be thought of as the last refuge of a scoundrel, in that the great philosopher sought to vilify its one definable attributewillas blind and rapacious. And yet, by the same cloak of invisibility, its fruits of art, music, and fellow feeling were deified as acts of omission, in being miraculously spared the cowcatcher. (Duality, even of a dissociative order, undid those mindful of its perils.)

Yet we no more dissolve into madness at this paradox than did Schopenhauer. Through the firmament of our intuitions, we perceive more than we generalize in concepts, and conceive more than what strict experience provides. Whatever barriers remain in our limits to knowledge, they do not extend to separating us from our shared fundamental essence. We perceive reality as being something outside ourselves, but this is merely an accident of our birth. As children of Prometheus, we pay a price for having stolen fire from the gods, and for having forsaken our heavenly identity to forge another: Amnesia is that price, every time we go to look for ourselves in our thoughts. ~Omar

         The Day The Earth Stood Still, Part Four

Aloysius stepped into the house in a perplexed state. The snowy television screen heralded the arrival of electricity, although his start in seeing it was checked on remembering Brae had switched on the TV that morning. The bluish glow nevertheless threw a new disquieting architecture on the walls, one upwardly shifting in dark columns of shadow.

The sofa lamp was turned on to reestablish equanimity, but the bulb was faulty and sputtered out. Simultaneously, a brief image jumped across the flickering TV screen. He approached the set with apprehension and tried to raise a better signal; the same tantalizing snippet of an image darted away with each click of the dial. Seizing the channel knob firmly, Aloysius turned it with measured pressure in hopes of stitching together a complete picture, but the incremental bursts were too short to yield anything intelligible.

The resident gave up and switched off the nuance, unwittingly plunging the house into darkness. He moved toward cloaked steps in a vague heading, and found in its bower a heaven big enough to take on incandescent feelings he had neither the will nor conceit to call exclusively his own.

Pulling himself along the banister, more by reverie than careful deliberation, he rounded the corner at the top to enter his bedroom. A second lamp was attempted on the night table and, succeeding where before he failed, light produced the edge of the wavering bed.

Indescribably tired, Aloysius removed the tuxedo and sat for a time staring at his socked feet. He was shot-through with more emotion than he could bear, and between the dizzying alcohol and nameless woman, it was doubtful sleep would come because he welcomed it. A glance at the table clock revealed a flashing twelve. It would need to be reset in a moment of greater sobriety than was presently had. He muddled a minute or two around the room before peering out the drapes.

The view, like the previous evening, was black but for the same beacon-of-a-window across the way. Pondering the coincidence, he spied what must have been the same woman moving back and forth in front of curtains. She resembled a blurry microorganism until she dropped, pointedly, into an austere chair. The occasion of happening upon her felt scripted, like a performance had been delayed on his account. It was only with her reaching over to turn off a lamp that it dawned on the voyeur she was nude.

At the precise second her apartment went dark, the light over Aloysius’ shoulder succumbed to the impression. He skirted a bedpost and hit the rim of the lampshade; shaking fingers turned up a loose bulb in the socket. The sleep medication was on the same table. He sobered briefly, long enough to park the barricade chair, used the night before, in front of the bedroom door. After returning from the bathroom and swallowing a pill with water from the tap, nothing was left between him and begrudged sleep except the lamp switch.

His careening head had no thought but the pillow, yet in looking through the dark veil, the red eye on the camcorder was spotted hovering over him. Like the television downstairs, it was inadvertently switched on when there was no electricity. He tried to crawl out of his sinkhole to deal with it, but only succeeded in knocking the water glass off the table.

As the glass rolled away on the floor, he blearily saw it, and even thought about retrieving it, but was too mired in drowsiness to care. It was directly in the hallway and dropping down stair steps, which was impossible given the obstacle of the blocking chair. Still, the descent stretched far beyond the point where it should have hit bottom, and with each additional pop on hollow wood, the echo grew…

Feeling vertigo, the sleeper looked to his feet for assurance. They carried him along a footpath between two shadowy buildings. He pushed out into an open courtyard, under a radiant cerulean sky, and was planted safely in the gothic architecture of Purcell College. Fragrant flowers bloomed everywhere: jeweled pansies, deep carmine mallows… Being unsure of his destination, the dreamer walked unhurriedly to savor a rush of feeling. It was romantic sentiment remembered from youth, where manifestations of natural beauty produced a languid, catatonic state.

A shadow soon set a chill at his back, and each time it lurched in his direction he turned to find a spire blocking the Sun. Undeterred, he ambled on until his mysterious companion swooped down to set a riotous breeze loose in the trees. Sycamore branches heaved; their enormous bat-like leaves nearly took flight. This eruption did not mask, entirely, the thump of a teetering stone gargoyle perched on a nearby ledge. With pollen-dusted brow, the grotesque loomed indifferently over the campus visitor, though Aloysius sensed another pair of eyes, higher up, intent on his movements.

He tried inconspicuously to glimpse what followed him, to find its image in one of the many windows in buildings, but its form always molded itself to an expectation, like a low cloud. His gaze eventually dropped to his feet on comprehending jagged leaf shadows crowding the path. Crescent-shaped slivers of dimming light separated them, indicating through their mosaic that a solar eclipse fast approached.

Something else merited attention in a faraway window: a bird trapped in blinds. Or was it a beckoning hand? By the time the searcher reached the ledge, the disturbance had evaporated. Nevertheless, a little girl was some way fixed in the dark, transparent panes, and nestled in the growing womb-like shadow.

The solar eclipse, nearing totality, coaxed the last acre of campus under its umbra. Aloysius turned into its twilight to see the wino materialize under a towering oak. The pirate peered into the sudden starry sky with frightful expression; he could see it. The dreamer, wanting to see it too, reached down to pick up a rock and hurled it into the air…

T   H  U  M  P  !

The empty glass struck the bottom of the stairs. Its shattering defined the outer edge of an event, but also a faint cry.

Unaware he had been asleep, Aloysius glanced at the flashing twelve on his clock. He tried to close his eyes again, but light from the open doorway caught in his lashes like splinters. The chair had scooted forward, nearly to the middle of the room, and revealed how the lamp downstairs was trying to come back on. To his greater consternation, the Daedalus Monet painting now rested against the baseboard in the hall floor, and was subject to the intermittent illumination.

The resident threw off his covers with newfound sobriety just when the living room lamp resubmitted to darkness. He crept to the doorway and discovered, to more dismay, glass shards underfoot. The unfastened attic door creaked from a cold draft above, leading him to surmise that a gust from the open skylight shot down to unhook the painting and shattered its glass cover. Yet nothing so straightforward explained the repositioned chair.

Aloysius braved the second staircase. Switching on his studio light, a punch of icy air greeted him with more lamentable news: Loose schematics—drawings unknown to him—blew over the floor. The found suitcase had toppled from the edge of his worktable to unleash a whirlwind of ashes and papers.

The skylight was hurriedly closed and the spilled contents examined. Charred pieces of old canvases composed most of the debris, but there was also a twine-bound bundle of blueprints, which appeared to have tumbled from the lid compartment of the case. Given the original occupant of the house was a professor of design at the college, this was likely work of his, though why documents of historical value to the school should be casually mislaid was strange.

Being too sleepy to deal with the mess, the tenant brushed off the stack and returned it to the suitcase; the loose pages could wait until morning. Handfuls of cinders were also hastily heaped into the lower compartment; this unearthed a piece of unscorched paper materially different from the schematics. The handwriting was the same: Here sleeps Sublimity. The Eternal-Feminine. ~Daedalus Monet

The peculiar proclamation was replaced with everything else, and the lid clasped shut. The make-do urn was interred in an out-of-the-way corner of the studio before heading back to the door.

Switching off the light, Aloysius glanced down the multiplying stairs to see the fickle lamplight again flickering in the living room. A faint, indistinct voice accompanied it. The light faded as suddenly as the summons, but not before leaving the indelible impression of a figure’s shadow on a wall.

The mortified man scanned the dim interior room, or what little of it he could see, and listened for footsteps. He thought he spied a cloak, or white gown, flung it over an armchair, or believed some aspect of luminescence clung to the upholstery. This must have been his mysterious companion from the party, who followed him in and hid downstairs while he prepared for bed. Did she intend a midnight assignation? A surprise? The suddenness of this proposition was more troubling than any thought of a ghost.

Aloysius knew she was the tipsier of the two, so it was probable she signaled him with the faulty lamp switch in a childish attempt to rouse him from bed. When this failed, a skirmish was made upstairs in search of his bedroom, where she bumped the blocked door and knocked the painting off the wall. Embarrassment left her no choice but to bungle back downstairs. Perhaps she believed that, in a house so large as this, he lived in a shared residence, or dormitory. It was something a college woman would be accustomed to in these matters, although there could be little clandestinity where she knocked things off walls.

He was left in fitful doubt of this reasoning some seconds later. No pitter-patter of mismatched shoes (or bare feet) took to the stair treads; no giggle (which by now he would have readily identified) rose to meet him. He strained to recast the situation, and concluded it had all been an unfortunate confluence, where an unfamiliar house, faulty wires, and a chance speaker calling from the open courtyard outside inspired the worse speculation. These excellent deductions notwithstanding, his curiosity was insufficient to send him downstairs to fuss with the lamp, or to confront a drunken woman, so he returned to his bedroom.

More out of fright than a precaution against sleepwalking, the chair was again propped against the closed door and he crawled into bed; the attitude of his body in the still-warm sheets made him feel like he never left the comfort of them. His narrowing gaze stayed fixed to the slit under the door, where light from downstairs continued to dance. The irksome lamp eventually succumbed to the defect in its connection, and after a while this welcomed development reinforced a belief that whatever spirits were afoot in the house were settled for the night. The reassuring silence eased him back to the edge of sleep, and the surrounding shadows, hesitant at first, began to drift in and out of his failing eyes.

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