Sport 1: Spring 1988
Origins, Authority and Imaginary Games
Elizabeth. First Person. Speculative.
Where does a narrative come from? In a culture that has insisted for over two thousand years that there was an Author, a First Word, a Beginning in silence, a Light flowering in blackness, a land forming, crystalising out of chaos on the face of the waters — in such a culture for there to be a story there must also be an author, and, later, a reader to recreate the story by reading.
What would it mean to be, at once, the reader and writer of a story? To be telling and being told. To be telling and being told a world?
Say there were five people who were all, at some time, simultaneously the speakers of, and listeners to, a story: a shared, partly oral, partly written narrative history. Where would the meaning in such a story come from? Would it have a dominant, or consistent narrative intention? Would it reflect the psychology of the society in which it was produced, or of the individuals who produced it? Where would be the centre of such a story, from where would it get its shape, its significance, its authority?
For me, the Game is a view backwards. Through it, more than through my personal past, I have a sense of history. Perhaps because it is a narrative — because, unlike my life, it never focused on one figure who must occasionally learn of the inception and conclusion of events at second hand (what happened before I arrived, what happened after I had gone). Not that the Game didn't have its share of detours, deadends, parallel strands of traffic running either side of wide rivers, false trails, and traps. Just — I remember it more clearly than my 'own life', because it is necessary to remember the details of the story you are telling, the story you are being told.
For instance, I remember only patchily what I, Elizabeth, did in page 108Takaka those five days in December of 1971, when we were staying in the house of the headmaster of Golden Bay High. I remember picking raspberries, and reading at least fifteen Tintin books; I remember watching Mary lying on her stomach on the hot concrete, sprinkling drops of water before a slug so it could cross the dry path to the garden. But really I have no conception of the 'me' who did the raspberrying, reading, watching — I was so different, so young. Yet I remember very clearly how it felt to be lying in a strange bed, looking out a gap in the curtains at the silver street lamp, and being one of my deceitful characters, an Angel, prophesying to Carlin about his far future; distances, deaths, alienations, losses. Expanding on a theme of exile and age.
The prophet, Earth, believed what he was saying, Carlin believed it also (Sara believed it) and was crying, a young man of twenty-three being given the choice of having an ordinary life, various, untidy, or a life like a story, full of moment and meaning and grief. (As Isak Dinesen said, it is only the story that can answer its character's cry from the heart: 'Is this the promised end?')
'Either way,' Earth said, 'You'll grow old and be forgotten.' And he made a mirror appear before Carlin and in it Carlin could see what he would look like at fifty, at seventy — an exhausted face scarredby encounters with a hatred he hasn't yet inspired.
Sara, nine years old, crying because she was learning what it was like to grow old and be forgotten.
In fact, sometimes, to remember my own life I find the nearest way into my past is to go back to some point in the story, look around then look out at where I was at the time I was telling, and being told, the story. And I might find myself kneeling on the floor with Mary and Carol, around our paper dolls, or lying on a narrow bunk in the caravan at Tata beach, looking up at the rain speckling the window, or having been wrenched out of the narrative — after successfully switching off the sound of Dad's raised, drunken voice as he follows Mum around the house complaining and advising — by the sound of Mahler's fifth at full volume, at two in the morning, for the third time that week (and we would play our Game till the house was quiet and it was safe to be ourselves again). Or I am sitting sedately on my bed with Mary, with the sun coming through the window of the L-shaped room, while Carol and Sara are squabbling about leg room, sitting on Sara's bed. Or I am sitting on the floor in front of Mary in the livingroom of her house, and she is pregnant, enthroned
page 109in an armchair, with her grey cat in her lap. Or I am lying on two lambskin mats on the floor of the E Morris Jnr Funeral Director's offices on Kent Terrace, at three in the morning, looking up at the dimmed spotlights, like eyes with yellow irises. And I am
(wherever) because I can find myself through my characters and their amplified sense of being. Because they constantly occupy my voice, my breathing, my time, to declare themselves — as imaginary characters must do, and are more able to do than me, Mary, Sara, Carol, Madeline, because
the story can show them who they are
— saying, with my breath, in my voice, for themselves: 'Here I am. Here I am.'
There is no beginning to this story. Yet, for one of the storytellers there is already an end. I'm sure that if I gave a report on the Saga to Carol — travelling around the world on the hundred thousand dollars she won sueing the State of Queensland in connection with a car accident — it wouldn't feel at all familiar to her. But nine years ago it was her creation also. Some of her characters are still alive: Bronwyn, a recluse in Caer Ischia, Verlaine still setting fashions in the court at Eramanca — both only ever spoken of by report. (And now, writing this, I recall what Sara's Vlad wrote to my Starfire, sometime last year: I feel like an empty theatre, or a broken movie projector, packed with the ghosts of images and words, the faces of long dead actors and actresses. Right now, here, I feel like a lost part of a child's puzzle put away after the holidays. And I know that to Carol the report would be a piece of a child's puzzle — part of a 'put away', 'childish' thing.)
There isn't a beginning to this story, because when it — what it was to become — began, I wasn't to meet another one of the storytellers for twelve-and-a-half years. Trying to trace its beginning is like trying to pick the point in history where any place becomes a 'nation'. I can only make a timeline of its origins, where every beginning concludes something else — even the first beginning.
Timeline of Beginnings. Third Person. Present Tense.
Early 1970. Elizabeth and Sara, after a couple of years entertaining themselves at night in the room they share by inventing various action-adventure story games — that always seemed to degenerate into rituals of rebellion, imprisonment and escape — finally come up with a story with an atmosphere of some sort of import. Sara's single character
page 110(single, so central) John, an explorer of places extraterrestrial, gets trapped in a giant system of caves by an icefall, and discovers a group of dreamy superbeings, Angels, who are creating universes by drawing planets on the floor of a great cave with handfuls of coloured sand.
Mid 1970. Elizabeth, bored one Sunday afternoon, goes over to the neighbour's house to play with her friend Carol, and finds Carol and her younger sister playing with some ugly, shop-bought paper dolls, in a dolls' house set-up in an alcove under Carol's dresser. Elizabeth sits down to watch the action.
Julie, a doll with red hair drawn in a sixties bob, is getting ready to go out and, at the same time, arguing with her flatmates. Rick, Julie's boyfriend, arrives in a plastic car. Carol makes a manly voice issue from the car, but Elizabeth, a stickler for consistency, points out that there isn't any doll in the car. 'I haven't got a boy doll, so Rick is invisible,' Carol says, aloofly. 'I'll draw you a Rick if you like,' Elizabeth offers, and that afternoon makes five paper dolls. The younger sister drifts off, bored, and Elizabeth and Carol invent a different game with their six paper dolls.
Mid 1971. A science fiction program on TV inspires Sara and Elizabeth to invent a game about a top-secret organisation defending earth from an alien invasion, sometime around 1990. This story line soon gets sidetracked when Carlin, Sara's only character, and the central character, inherits a mansion in East Anglia (near the river Stour, which flows down from the Cog and Magog hills) from his grandfather — a wealthy recluse archeologist, who discovered the world's richest treasure, the tomb of Pharaoh Suria-Mem-Huptec, back in the early thirties.
Late 1971. Elizabeth invents a thirteen-year-old orphan street-kid, whom Carlin catches stealing food and valuables in his apartment. This waif inspires Carlin to convert his grandfather's property into an orphanage. Around this time Carlin finds a trapdoor off a corridor in his grandfather's labyrinthine cellar, which leads him, one mid-winter day, into a sunlit summer wheatfield, where he makes the acquaintance of some beings who call themselves 'Angels' and claim to have created the cosmos.
1971-1973. Carol and Elizabeth have established a village populated by paper dolls. The village exists in a quiet spot in England in the
page 111year two-thousand-and-fifty (in fact a canyon, or an old quarry — the site of a mysterious explosion fifty years earlier — in East Anglia, near the Stour).
1972. The 'Angel' Earth begins an education of Carlin, Carlin's wife Cassandra, and the orphan, named — in a fit of early seventies quaintness — Starfire. This education consists of a series of 'dreams' in which Carlin, Cassandra, Starfire, and later, others, are sent to live other lives with other identities, and are thereby stretched and tested (they might 'dream' they are hostages in a hijacked plane, or strangers caught in a haunted house in a storm — anything imaginable). Earth's alleged motivation for doing this, it is later learned, is to train the orphan Starfire into Godhood; to make him comfortable with shadows, reflections, distortions, inversions, half-truths, with timelessness and contracted time, with dramatic postures, and extreme experiences.
Elizabeth's and Sara's game becomes entirely involved in these short 'sequences' of stories, and in interludes where the characters analyse their other lives in these mini-narratives — these bits and capsules of life. Elizabeth and Sara, making these many worlds, become better and better mimics of various TV, movie, and literary genres, more adept at plotting, at quick characterisations. And slowly — speaking their people and the Sequences' shifting scenes — they begin to develop a certain proficiency in the effective use of language.
1973. Elizabeth, bored with the life of the little community of dolls, decides that — they don't know it, but — they are situated right beside an open inter-dimensional gate, leading to another world. A world whose nations are all historically stationed somewhere between feudalism and an imminent industrial revolution. When some of the doll characters find their way into this world, Elizabeth introduces Carol to 'narration', the present-tense, third-person narrative/ exposition/description and dialogue, which she and Sara have been using in their still-secret game.
1973. Sara and Elizabeth's older sister, Mary, in a mood of generosity, makes two paper dolls for Carol and Elizabeth. Their faces are so different from the faces Elizabeth draws that neither she nor Carol are able to imagine what sort of personalities they would have. So, quite casually, they invite Mary to join their game and 'work' her two dolls. Out of curiosity Mary accepts and is sucked into the story,
page 112which comfortably resettles itself around her presence — having not yet developed for its discourse a discipline which must be mastered by newcomers.
1974. The 'other world' Acturus (Arcturus misapprehended and misspelled) and 'narration' now comprise half the game time.
1975. Because she is obsessed with one of her characters in the 'secret', game — the Angel Luriel, an archetypal anti-hero — Elizabeth decides she will join the universes of both her games. The village and Acturus must exist in the same universe the Angels claim to have created. It must be possible for her favourite characters from either game to meet each other. Elizabeth decides that the village and Acturus are in the other game's future; so, long after the 'education' has ended, when the now semi-immortal pupils of the Angel Earth are wandering aimlessly around, they can accidentally meet Sicilia, Genevieve, Thomasina, Yleona . . .
From this point on the paradoxes proliferate, because the past (1990-2000) and the present (2050+) are happening simultaneously. The Earth, Luriel, or Cassandra of the Acturan Saga have histories and experiences that are still evolving in another time. Elizabeth's 'one consistent universe' must necessarily contain amnesiacs and liars — amnesia, deceit. and reticence being the only feasible explanations for these characters not expressing, or even appearing to know, what has happened in their own personal pasts.
1976. Sara begins to create other characters in the no-longer secret game (though she has always contributed her fair share of incidental innocent bystanders, crowd scenes, accidents, geography and weather conditions). Importantly, she invents Vlad, who becomes Starfire's lover. Later, to give Vlad a past (and moral support) she invents his family.
1976. Sara joins the Acturan Saga. All four girls begin writing stories about, letters between, and poems by their characters.
February 1977. The use of paper dolls is finally completely abandoned in the Acturan Saga. The village in East Anglia is deserted by its inhabitants, who 'emigrate' to the other world, establishing themselves at Caer Avergild in Avernum.page 113
November 1977. Carol meets her first boyfriend, starts going to parties and discos, and neglects the Game.
December 1977. Elizabeth issues Carol an ultimatum: she must either pay attention to, or get out of, the Game. Carol promises to be loyal to the Game, and breaks her promise.
February 1978. Elizabeth persuades Carol to neatly tie up some loose ends in the narrative, by killing off her major character and having several of her people depart from those places which are the usual spheres of action. In one dramatic, traumatic, exhausting session, the four kill off the two heads of a family clan the story revolves around — and a group of Sara's and Elizabeth's characters leave for another country. It is understood that the story will follow these people from now on.
Carol leaves the Game. Mary is cast out of it by default — because she is unable to see the whole thing continuing without Carol — and besides, she too has decided it is about time she 'grew up'.
1978-1980. The Acturan Saga limps on with only Sara and Elizabeth playing. Elizabeth has ambitions to make it more like a fiction, with a dominant theme and direction. She finishes the process, begun several years before, of excluding from the story all elements of fantasy and wish-fulfilment. The Game becomes grim and difficult. The Sequence game escapes from Elizabeth's fiction-making ambitions, because she thinks it is frivolous and secondary.
Elizabeth spends eight months of 1979 writing a novel — a fiction about a crisis in a friendship and in a fantasy world when a friend and co-creator defects from the fantasy world.
In 1980 Carol emigrates to Australia with her family.
1981. Mary is unemployed; she moves into the flat shared by Elizabeth and Sara. Elizabeth is a temp-working computer operator; at times when she is home she and Mary begin to play the Acturan Saga. Due to the lively atmosphere characteristically created by Mary's imagination, the action between she and Elizabeth is freer, more energetic and inventive. In Sara's and Elizabeth's part of the Saga, Elizabeth is beginning to turn her now favourite character, Starfire, into an archetypal leader. Starfire becomes remote and unapproachable, and, because he is the focus for the emotional lives page 114of Sara's main characters, this part of the Saga begins to disintegrate. To 'play' is no longer to experience power, freedom, amusement and engagement — instead it is to experience necessity, duty, repression, resentment and helplessness.
The Sequence game is still thriving.
1982. Sara 'comes out'. Mary gets married. Elizabeth attempts a mature, work, a novel concerned with love and death, family history, life in New Zealand. Bored with it through the entire time of its writing she stubbornly completes it before deciding it is a failure. All game playing continues.
March 1983. Elizabeth goes to university. There she befriends Madeline and Phillip.
June 1983. Madeline moves into Elizabeth's and Sara's new flat. Sara meets her first lover, Ailsa, and subsequently the Sequence game ceases. Earth's 'education' of Starfire is completed — the 'past' of the 'present' time Saga has stopped happening.
8 August 1983. Sara, Elizabeth, Ailsa and Madeline come home after watching the fireworks over the Fowl House. Ailsa and Madeline start clowning around being, respectively, a Latino revolutionary, Rosa, and Rosa's hysterical mother. After a short improvisation, the joke disintegrates into everyone yelling mock-Spanish insults at each other (ordinary nouns like 'umbrella' and 'leg-warmer' rendered in fake South American accents). The following morning Elizabeth walks up to Madeline in the bathroom, picks up a tube of toothpaste as a microphone and begins to be Hugh Skevot, an Australian reporter, interviewing Colonel Madlena Guevara, member of the new revolutionary government of Leguama.
September 1983. In conjunction with a party the flat is throwing Elizabeth puts up a graffiti board, which ends up being covered in messages between Leguaman characters. When it is full she puts up a replacement so starting 'Democracy Wall' (the outside wall of the Leguaman Presidential palace, on which companeros and companeras can express themselves). Democracy Wall becomes an on-going graffitti narrative, consisting of cryptic messages, opinions, slanders, arguments, declarations, rumours, lies, diagrams, pictures and poetry.page 115
August to December 1983. Leguama flourishes; the fourth flatmate of 76a Kelbum Parade, Veronica, is frequently perplexed and annoyed to arrive home and find scenes like: every chair in the house lined-up to represent airliner seats and Madeline, Sara, Elizabeth and Ailsa jumping from seat to seat being different characters. The Acturan Saga continues, frequently between Mary and Elizabeth, and sporadically between Elizabeth and Sara.
December 1983. Sara breaks up with Ailsa, and shifts into another flat. The Saga between she and Elizabeth virtually ceases (without any agreement that this is what has happened). Phillip shifts into Madeline's and Elizabeth's flat for the summer — he is already marginally involved in Leguama, but becomes actively involved over the next months. Sara gradually retreats from Leguama also; since it is no longer happening around her she cannot keep up with it — it is exploding, taking up more time, energy and concentration. Phillip, Madeline and Elizabeth are writing letters, sketches, songs, histories and newspaper articles for their Leguaman characters. At this period their upstairs neighbours are frequently disturbed by loud shouting matches in Spanish accents, or can see the downstairs tenants sneaking around outside the house at night clutching plastic machine-guns.
Wanting a solution to the spiritual death and loss of identity she is feeling through Starfire, Elizabeth decides to let him 'talk out' his troubles — to speak where he will be able to speak, to people who have never met him and don't know of him. She decides that Leguama is on another earth in a series of linked, nearly identical worlds in her 'one consistent universe'. Starfire could, somehow, dreaming, be there in spirit. So, on a fresh Democracy Wall she writes, as Starfire:
In the immortal words of Vincent Price in some PricelPoelCorman horror movie: 'What place is this?' Where am I?
One of Madeline's characters, the Miskito Indian sorcerer Ambre, replies: Who wants to know?
Starfire answers, and thereafter signs himself 'Ido'.
January 1984. Madeline attempts to introduce a character — Claire — to the Acturan Saga. The attempt fails.
1984. Leguama continues to mushroom. In May, Mary gives birth to a daughter, Helen, who proceeds to present problems to the playing , of the Saga. In April, Elizabeth begins a novel, which also threatens page 116available game-playing time. The novel begins as a salute to the Sequences — using Elizabeth's characters Starfire and Cassandra as though in a Sequence, and Elizabeth's version of Sara's characters, Elezebet, Vlad and Carlin.
Sara attempts to continue the Saga, in a cursory fashion, when she has time.
March 1985. Madeline is evicted from Elizabeth's flat and goes to in a flat attached to E Morris Jnr Funeral Parlour — the Game becomes a Friday and Saturday night activity carried on in the offices over the chapel and 'slumber-rooms' of the Funeral Parlour. During this time Madeline and Elizabeth begin to narrate, rather than act, their game.
September 1985. In an attempt to rescue her favourite character Starfire from oblivion in an apparently dying Acturan Saga, Elizabeth decides to transplant him in Leguama — by having Ambre go to Acturus and return with him.
Despite careful planning the whole operation collapses and Elizabeth tells herself that — after fifteen years — her Saga is finished. It is decided that Ambre's experience was only a dream engineered and monitored by some mysterious possible enemies of those engaged in sorcery and planet-hopping (whom Madeline and Elizabeth have previously invented as 'unknown outside quantities' to cover typical imaginary game mistakes and anomalies). Despite this precaution — which maintains the integrity of the storyline — Madeline's major character, Ambre, is 'traumatised' by these events. For Madeline to 'be' Ambre is to enter into the being of a person who is depressed, defeated and psychologically violated. Madeline wants to heal her character, and having been told about Sequences she thinks a Sequence using the Ambre character might be helpful.
November 85-February 86. Madeline and Elizabeth mothball Leguama and play a long mini-narrative using their major Leguaman characters and some of Elizabeth's Saga characters. During this time Elizabeth is trying to persuade Mary to help her conclude the Saga in a tidy and consoling way. Mary refuses, saying she is resigned to the story being slower and diminished in scope, and is content to go on playing when she is able, for as long as she is able. After all, it is recreation and should be regarded as fun, not as something at which one can fail or succeed, and not something that can be 'closed'.page 117
February 1986. Madeline and Elizabeth have both observed that, in the Sequence they are playing, Starfire is functioning. This because, in the Sequence, he hasn't lost anything. Elizabeth and Madeline decide that one way of easing him into Leguama would be if he didn't know what he's lost.
Using those unknown quantities, those devisive 'deux-ex-machina' aliens, it is decided that
— the self-appointed, judicial, 'nazi-hunting' Eirans — turn up in Acturus looking for Luriel through Starfire. 'They' want to question Luriel about his alleged 'cosmos-creating' activities. In the ensuing action Starfire and Luriel are 'disappeared' from Acturus and Vlad is killed. At this point, for the first time in the history of all these imaginary games, the cardinal rule of never-killing-a-major-character-without-first-gaining-the- consent-of-that-character's-creator, is broken. Shortly after these events, Starfire turns up in Leguama with total amnesia — which is not only necessary for his healthy transplantation, but metaphorically right at the time.
1986. Because of this 'buffer-solution' period of amnesia 'Ido' is assimilated into Leguama.
In September it is arranged between Sara and Elizabeth that Starfire will return to Acturus, probably to pass through the lives of Mary's and Elizabeth's persistently alive characters (citizens in Caer Topiora), but mainly to return to Carlin, Cassandra, Lenore, Miklos and Elezebet, to try to tell them he has found another life for himself, elsewhere.
Elizabeth. First Person. Codicil.
At any point in this timeline I could have said: 'This is where it began. This is where it became what it is. Just now it developed its concerns, its characteristic tone. No, it isn't complete, but at this point it begins to be itself.'
That narrative: germinated, sprouted, grown, grafted, pruned, and transplanted — opening with a creation-myth which is later said to be, found to be, a con-game, hearsay, slander, the falsified results of an experiment, or merely a manner of speaking.
Dialogue. Elizabeth and Sara.
'It was my fault it began to collapse. I tried to turn it into a story with a theme: revolution vs. reform vs. stasis. I should have let it evolve naturally, it would've gone on feeling like a story, anyway.'
'I know what went wrong for me; I never felt comfortable in the Saga, it wasn't my game.'
'Great. I spent years saying it was yours, and encouraging you to do things, even drastic things, even to overturn all my plans. I thought you never took control because you lacked the initiative.'
'So you were fond of saying. But it wasn't that — it just never felt like it was mine. When you and Mary and Carol were all playing and I joined, I could just sit back and listen to it —'
'Yeah, your characters speaking only when spoken to. I always felt obliged to tell Carol and Mary how really interesting and complex Vlad and Carlin were.'
'But they weren't interesting in Acturus, they didn't belong, they had culture-shock.'
'It felt that way to them. To me it was that the Saga had a different atmosphere to the Sequences. The Sequences had a little less of the ridiculous and more of the sublime.'
'For me they were both silly and sublime. But different, yes.'
'All that trivia! All those characters of Mary's who never shut up, but always went on about cooking and kids!'
'But the thing is to distract her from the domesticity — me, I just used to start a fight, or a disaster, or something. I think you were just too snooty to, sort of, jump in, boots 'n' all.'
'I liked to delicately develop conflicts. Drama is a matter of atmosphere, you can't have a crime of passion or a lovers' quarrel appear in the middle of a description of what kind of fruit is in the muesli, or the consistency of the bread —'
'I don't know — it makes a nice contrast. What Carol used to do to distract Mary was have one of her characters pick a fight with one of Mary's. I'd do that too, sometimes, though I was inclined more to, "Suddenly a messenger arrives, out of breath. . ." I was fonder of my "suddenly"s than Dostoyevsky. Now I find I'm lulled by the food descriptions — though there was a period earlier this year when all her characters were obsessed with food — freaky! Anyway, while I'm being lulled by these deluges of domestic trivia my characters go page 119on thinking as they listen. I might be thinking "I can't get a word in edgeways", but Astrella, who's depressed, can be thinking, "My world is disintegrating and Thomasina's talking about parsnip soup." I might never tell Mary what Astrella's thinking, but it's still part of the story.'
'Yeah, what they think and don't say is really important, even if the other players never know about it. A whole plot could develop because one character was acting in a way which was untrue to their own feelings, never saying what they felt — and, plotwise, the way they acted would be the central thing, but the way they felt inside, the way it felt to be inside them, that would be the most memorable part of the story to you.'
'That's right, and the other players might be having the same experience — '
'With several characters at once.'
'And, in the end, each character and each creator could give a different account of the same events in the story. Perhaps, Sara, what went wrong with you and Acturus was that being inside a culture-shocked Carlin and Vlad was too painful. That's what went wrong with my first attempt to introduce Starfire, in person, into Leguama. He was supposed to think he was only there temporarily and of his own choice. I knew that he wasn't just visiting, but that I intended to transplant him. He was supposed to think that good old Carlin and Vlad were still going about their business back at Shriven, but I knew you had given them up, that they were not waiting because you weren't being them waiting. Consequently, Starfire kept having this mental picture of Carlin and Vlad, when he turned his back on them, suddenly frozen in a world gone still like a jammed film. It didn't matter how many "breathers" I took being other characters, or how hard I tried to turn his thoughts — he went on feeling like an exile or refugee from a stopped world.'
'It wasn't "painful" being Carlin, Vlad and so on in Acturus — it just never felt like home — my characters couldn't be themselves, I had no control over what went on around them.'
'Really you mean that you hadn't learned the discipline of the discourse. '
'No I don't — what does that mean anyway?'
'A discipline is "a principle of control over the production of discourse". Every discourse,subject, what can be said, has a discipline, a way in which it can be said; a "right" way to express and process information. I learned this in literary crit, it's quite helpful. The Acturan page 120Saga had a different discipline than the Sequences — they were different discourses in some ways. I helped develop both disciplines, I was used to both modes of operation. That's what Carol meant when she said to me once, defending you: "But you must realise how difficult it is for everyone else, Liz, you were the only one there the whole time."'
'I like that: Whole Time.'
'When Leguama got serious Madeline would do things with characters and plots that would shock and scandalise me, and I'd tell her, "You just can't do things that way in imaginary games!" and she'd say, "Why not?" That doesn't happen much any more — so either my discipline had begun to accommodate her "madness" (anything that doesn't fit into the discipline tends to be called mad, inappropriate, trivial or marginal) or she's conformed to my discipline. Or a little of both.'
'So, are you implying that when I say what Mary used to like concerning herself with was trivial — '
'— or just trimmings, i.e. "marginal" — '
'— it's only because I had a different mode of operation?'
'But she could spend ages talking about imaginary food! Imaginary food isn't serious.'
'Really, Sara, is imaginary food any less real than imaginary romance? Is real food less real than real romance?'
'Imaginary food is boring!'
'Mary obviously didn't think so.'
Narrative/ Exposition. Third Person. Past Tense.
Figuring it was time to put up another Wall, she found four A4 sheets of typing paper and stuck them together with spray adhesive. Then sellotaped the sheet to the toilet door.
The last Wall was boring; covered in ritual rumour-mongering, halfhearted insults, threats and declarations of desire. It had remained sellotaped to the door for days after it was filled up, accusing her of a hiatus of creativity, of inattention, or preoccupation, or — worst of all — boredom with what she always claimed was the most interesting thing to her, the giant emotional stock-exchange of her imaginary game.
Generally speaking, Democracy Wall was a worthwhile institution. It was the nearest thing Leguama had to a diary of events.page 121
She had kept a diary of the events in the Acturan Saga for six years. It had been indispensible for remembering the less memorable details of who did what to whom, when, where and why. Conversely, the summaries of plots of Sequences she had made over the same period were, by and large, now completely inscrutable to her. This was probably because Sequences were not, like events in the Saga, part of a narrative web. (Not one of those symmetrical, apparently precisely surveyed webs, that have become analogous with well-told tales — but a thick, shapeless mesh, still being woven out on every side of a constantly collapsing centre; a centre that could no longer be seen, not because it was concealed, but perhaps because it was too full for its constituent strands to be distinguishable — like the centre of the galaxy; too bright, too crowded with stars.)
Democracy Wall couldn't truly be regarded as a diary of events in a fiction, because, although some of the events of the developing story were recorded on the Wall, so were rumours, slanders, falsehoods and fantasies. The events of the story might equally be determined by a well-told lie (or by a joke; like the one about Madlena, Fernando and Tomas being 'a nice young triple', which put ideas into Fernando's head). Madeline, Elizabeth or Phillip, reading the Wall in later years, might not be able to distinguish the facts from elaborations on fact, or from lies. As for someone who was neither telling, nor being told, the story, the Wall could never help them know what happened in the story. For them the wall would be poetry, fiction, libellous letters, pictures, transcripts of conversations, slogans, and jokes, all minced up and reassembled in no conventional 'documental' pattern — written not left to right, nor top to bottom, nor in one hand. Not developed, continuous, with the illusion of unity, not a book, a map of elapsing time — but a pathless wilderness of writings, only with edges, enwalled; an island, a great Caer with many corridors.
It is raining. I am sheltering beneath a crib of three leaning stones, halfway down the long road that winds from the Kalma pass, in a dark wood.
I have been here before, two years past. This is the second time I have stolen the stockmen's store of dry wood for my fire.
(Remembering turning back in the saddle to catch sight of Claire's page 122face, watching me patiently out from under the dripping hem of her hood, her cheeks sallow, her coat a slick tent, her fingers white — looking at me with quiet, watchful suffering, as though I was the weather and had to be waited on, not appealed to. Then, around the next bend, three leaning stones, beneath them dry ground, a heap of kindling and hard sheep pellets.)
It is raining and the forest is black behind a thin film of mist. I have miles to go — miles of winter again. (Remembering my attempt to write to Vlad about my first journey through this pass. Writing in the library of the Wand road house, waiting for the thaw, so I could travel up to Shriven and retrieve him from where he had retreated — his mother's house. Writing that I couldn't explain how I felt; going to sleep by the campfire under three leaning stones, asleep, still cold and grieving, still riding down through a dark wood in the rain. I wrote: When I woke at twilight there was no colour in the world.. . now I know what the world looks like after you — I mean me — after I have died. Using, then fearfully revising, the general 'you'.) But he died, Vlad died. When I was so sure that, the ways things were going, I'd get myself killed and so be obliged to leave him. I was so sure that I wrote my will — wrote I knew this would happen. But what did I ever know?
I am on my way back to Shriven to look at Vlad's bones, because without seeing them I won't really believe he's dead. As it is I still believe he's waiting for me, not here on Acturus, but in the past — say, in his father's house, and I'll find my way back there. As it is, walking in the hot, noisy streets of Leguama's capital, I sometimes put my hand out behind me, without turning my head, waiting for him to catch hold of my hand and step up beside me.
I am on my way back to Shriven to explain to Cassandra and Carlin that I haven't come back to them for good, perhaps saying diffidently, 'No, I wasn't a prisoner, I had amnesia — imagine that! I didn't remember where I had been, where I was supposed to be going. I was a road without end or edges, a blank book, sleeptalk. I didn't want to remember. But one evening I made the mistake of volunteering to draw for Ambre a face from my dreams — of a man in a black coat, who carried a blue-bladed axe — and the face took a different shape under my hand.
'Of course you know what Alexis looks like, Cassandra, Carlin, an how much he resembles Vlad.
'I sketched his face on some writing paper borrowed from Jules Gules, page 123the Leguaman poet-patriarch who was holding court in the Plaza bar. I drew, sitting at one of the drink-stained tables, with Ambre, Fernando and Louisa Hernandez hanging over my drawing. Aramantha, Marguerite, and the young dancers were singing along to Matthew's guitar; Carlos and Timo Peron were arguing about some failing they perceived in the Ministry of Culture's funding programmes; the officers of 127 were lined up along the bar doing some serious drinking. I struggled to draw Alexis's mild, murderous face, and instead drew a likeness; watchful, wanting and familiar.
'Then my mind tried to stop. But a dam dissolved inside me and I stood, buffeted by the currents of memory. I wanted to talk, to tell a story, to make a breakwater of web. I wanted not to remember, to make a tourniquet to keep in forgetfulness, ease, warmth (like keeping abed on a cold winter morning, lying down again, drawing up the covers). But I couldn't talk to tell a story (to divert memory, to defer knowledge, truth, an end).
'My new friends decided I needed air, and took me out of the bar. We walked down to the river, near to where a tree sprouts from the mouth of an old well. The river was moonlit, silkily opaque, reeking of mud and salt. I sat on the river wall and studied the picture I had drawn. And the sketched face called to me till I answered, shouting voicelessly like the corpse in Heyn's Autopsy, yielding up stinking secrets out of a punctured skull: I loved you so much. Shall I tell you how much I loved you? My love made of will and extravagant promises. Vlad, who heard, repeatedly, how I would never leave or lose him.
'Ambre, who I had only just learned to love, but who I had already promised not to leave or lose, was standing beside me. I knew I mustn't hurt her, mustn't get up and call out after Vlad, belatedly: "Where are you? Where have you gone?"
'(Falling on the slate paving stones outside Lenore's house, one hand opening in death against the cold rock, palm upturned, open, relenting. . . )
'And then in my mind I was crossing the rocks at the southern end of Veavane bay, at evening, looking at a candle burning in the window of Vlad's and my room at Cryheron. All time was one time and, as I promised I would never leave Vlad, I knew I could walk back into my own past and displace myself in my own warm body like some lonely demon. Because here was Cryheron, five years back, when everyone was alive and none of us were outlaws. And in my mind page 124I watched the herons dropping, clutching the air in curved wings, towards the reedy bed of the Shasta. Crying, harsh and dark, through the evening silence. The children were on the beach. Astrella and Kasrhett were coming up the path with silt on their boots from crossing the Shasta. You, Cassandra, were standing in the cabbage bed beside the house, your nose red with cold. This was my magical narrative: I dreamt I had lost all my people, and all the places I'd lived — but woke and went back.
'Then Louisa Hernandez cried out, "Look at those birds! What are they?" Seeing what I was only imagining. And I answered, "They're herons." Trying to stop remembering. Knowing these people had decided they needed me and I must behave, survive, not grieve. But loss asks the only unendurable question: "Where are you? Where have you gone?" And my past was no magical narrative, it was an abyss of longing.'
Yes. I will say to Cassandra, Carlin, Lenore, Miklos, Klara and Elezebet: 'I had amnesia. It was like not being obliged to understand the "rules" of speech. Speaking to people I couldn't know what they expected of me, or what I should expect of them — not knowing myself. I didn't have a position, opinions, a distinctive style. I could say anything. I was all process, no product. I was Democracy Wall, purer even than a manuscript draft, without overwriting and marginal marks serving to show readers what they can omit in reading. Indicating, "This may be what I said, but it wasn't what I intended to say." I had no self to explain and report; no degree of accuracy to attain; no anxiety about my ability to say myself; no obligation to be consistent, to recall personal codes, to offer an account, to analyse, to witness, to go back and find the bones. It was paradise, without the sophisticated pleasures of a fallen world — evasion, deception, reserve — without a style, without garments, without a persona to perform, without an arsenal of effects — I was happy!'
It is raining and I am thinking of the road ahead — one with an end and edges — of Kalma, Machiasha, Topiora, Vayporo, the Vordiswan and the Feln. And I am thinking of the psychologist's questionnaire Aramantha showed me, filled out by Colonel Maria Godshalk, the eccentric revolutionary heroine:
Q: Do you enjoy pain?
A: Only when I'm unconscious.
Q: In what way?
Elizabeth. First Person. Speculative.
But a road without end or edges is not a road, isn't a way. I would have liked not to organise this exposition/expedition at all, not to have mapped any of its themes: inside, outside, centre, margin, beginnings, ends, origins, priority. Because I understand that to organise the material of experience is to fictionalise it. Even if it were not 'fictional' experience (experience of fictional events), even then, remembering the story, I have somehow ranked the remembered information, reinforcing some messages, excluding others — creating a hierarchy of truth, of 'trueness to life'.
I have attributed actions to persons who didn't perform them, because it was less confusing, more unified, to use the same names. I have hinted at the vastness, the variety, of the imaginary information only where it was desirable to demonstrate 'variety' and 'vastness'. To best represent my world I have misrepresented it. None of this is what happened, it is only how I am able to say what happened. All writing is false witness.
Elizabeth: They all seem so young and unconcerned to her —
Madeline: Sitting around casually discussing Ido's name, when she has no idea where he is, where he went the night of Madlena's party, walking out the door into a wind blowing in brown leaves, from what should have been an equatorial night —
Elizabeth: And the smell of cold water, from what should have been a yard full of the guests' cars.
Madeline: He could have gone anywhere. He could have gone for good. Holding her hand saying, 'There isn't anything I want. The trick is to defeat desire. . .' Liar —
Elizabeth: 'There's nothing to tie me, tire me, trip me — not anymore.'
Madeline: And she's thinking she'll have to go to Don Ricardo, who's probably still using sorcery to snoop and spy, and get him to help her find Ido.
Elizabeth: That'll go down well with her critics — fraternising with the ex-Pola Pastrez chief.
Fernando is saying conversationally, 'his name's an affirmation, "I do", and it's a Hebrew name, meaning "love", and, according page 126to the dictionary, it's an Esperanto affix, used as a complete word, meaning offspring. An artificial auxillary language, a modified version of Esperanto.'
Madeline: 'Oh that suits him, all the travelling he does.'
Elizabeth: 'It's also a Mneone noun meaning "A hole in the wall where the smoke goes out",' says Jon.
'You're joking!' says Fernando.
Madeline: Ambre laughs, feeling a little better.
Elizabeth: Fernando's accusing Jon of getting into a little Taoscal 'creative lying'.
'I thought that so-called Taoscal institution was just a racist rumour,' says Jon.
'Why?' says Saula, 'lying isn't bad, it's just a different cultural practice. Good lies are rewarded, look at your western fiction.'
'But that's not the same, fiction isn't lies since everybody knows fiction is fictional.'
'How!' says Saula.
Madeline: 'Yes Jon, what about those people who write to their favourite characters in the soap operas.'
Elizabeth: 'They're just subnormal. Fiction doesn't report facts, it represents experience. Good fiction should lie alongside life, like parables —'
Madeline: 'But your Bible's parables are supposed to be the word of God.'
Elizabeth: 'Or are they just stand-ins for truth?' says Fernando, smirking in an irritating way at Jon.
'1f you want to look at it that way, then everything "truthful" is a stand-in for truth.'
'Oh, this'll be good,' says Fernando.
, — because truth is something we need, not something that exists. It's a value,' says Jon.
Fernando glowers, 'But needs are things, aren't they? Things that exist?'
Madeline: Ambre thinks that Fernando's needs probably must seem like things to him, since they push him around all the time.
Elizabeth. First Person. Speculative.
We kept speaking to conceal the fact we were speaking. Perhaps because, after some time, it seemed indecent to have started up in the silence, not apparently describing anything outside ourselves, anything 'real'. Not saying: 'This is how I perceive my world, myself —' Merely: 'This.' Labouring to make a world where it was possible to cheat uncertainty, whose inhabitants could claim: 'I know where I come from, where I'm headed, who I am.'
The Angels — Luriel, Earth, the Firstborn — used to act as excuses for Starfire's primacy in the story, always explaining to Carlin, Cassandra, Vlad and others that Starfire needed his excessive autonomy (sociopathology) because he was 'destined for great things'. They functioned as surrogates for my concealed authority. Their intentions represented my intentions. But all the great things they planned, I planned, never happened.
Why? Because when a story is precarious, threatened, unmanageable, when, like our lives, it goes where it is able to go, not where it is intended to go — then origins, intentions, destinies and ends all become intolerable. Certainty is unsatisfactory, no configuration of faith could accommodate all the Game's accidents, interruptions, journeys, untimely deaths, exiles, separations, curtailed recoveries, and unfulfilled desires.
Once, the Angels were not 'deceitful'. The devaluation of their vision, their identity as gods, was produced by years of evolving doubt. The Angels claimed to know how everything began, and the more we believed in our imaginary universe the more intolerable the idea of beginnings became. Because at its beginning there were no 'Angels', just a group of children indulging in unauthorised (secret, unproductive) dreaming.
We were behind the Angels. Once, Carlin innocently said, 'Earth, don't you think sometimes that someone might have created you?' Then, after a pause — while I considered an answer for Earth — Sara laughed crazily and said, 'I didn't say that! He didn't mean it!'
The more complex, conscious, complete those creations of ours became, the less we wanted to believe they were dependent on us. But, in this particular creative process, we, the authors, are a fundamental fact. I can say that Starfire turns off the road and pushes open the door of Lenore's house, after being missing for eight months, saying, matter-of-factly (which means he's at some emotional extreme), page 128'Here I am,' into the firelight and the smell of fresh bread. And I can be Cassandra answering him. But unless Sara is there to speak them, Carlin, Lenore, Miklos, have all mysteriously disappeared from this domestic picture, and their absence cannot be accounted for.
And that is the ultimate unendurability of creation-myths; the silence or defection of the creators.
I am being kept a prisoner in this room without windows, doors, fittings — without seasons or any source of light. I have no pen and paper, no keyboard, tape, telephone, or plumbing pipes on which I can tap out messages in code to other prisoners. This is Limbo, the Never Never, Easter Friday.
I am captive due to my objectionability. And I am objectionable not because I lied and interfered (I'm sure my captors appreciate that much of the art of making good representative fiction is knowing when the truth won't do), but because I performed the unforgivable insult of claiming to be a creator, having never understood that the possibility of origins must be put aside, concealed, locked away.
Some time ago, when Starfire came looking for me in the North Caracallan highlands, I left him a letter suggesting in what ways we Angels had lied to him. In this letter I proposed a small story:
There was a class of advanced anthropology students, whose 'ethnographic group' was a collection of peoples in a series of linked worlds. Though they had no conscious knowledge of each other, and made no contact, the peoples were all, in some way, strangely similar. The students were unable to discover why this should be so. Yet, obliged to produce results of their study, they invented an explanation for this strange likeness. What did the people have in common'! They had in common the students themselves, looking on. The 'creator' is always an easy explanation for likeness, coherence and consistency. 'Divine order' is an ideal common ground.
Likeness is always more alarming than reassuring, because it suggests the existence of something behind the ideas and practices of peoples divided by time and space: 'God', 'the collective unconscious', 'deep structures' — something inherent, inescapable, law-giving. But really, the meaning of likeness is meaning. We see only things that will mean something to us. 'Meaning' is how we perceive reality; we see patterns page 129because we think in patterns.
Before I was imprisoned here I spoke to Starfire, who was arrested with me, He was, as usual when confronted by reverses, vehement, elegaic, inflated. He told me: 'The only reason I'm here is because I told them I wouldn't show them where you were. I wasn't protecting you. I just didn't want to point you out, or refer to you at all — I wanted you to be forgotten.
'In the letter you left me, you wrote that you knew I intended to kill you Angels, because you were authority figures who claimed to represent the absolute limits of my self-knowledge. Of course it was true — and a valid motivation for murder. Oh, when I think of all that time I didn't know you were lying, and you made up my life out of your lies. I'm your living text. I imagine that pleases you.
'What is even more indecent is that, in your letter, you wrote about lying as though you only lied to exist somehow, and be significant: Lay false trails, you will always be remembered by those still looking for you. As your protege it's to my credit that the only "trail" I laid before we were brought here was a ring of names written in the dust on a window in your house — Cassandra Carlin Vlad Starfire — meaning we belonged together. Past tense. That's all I have.'
But I believe he has escaped. And if Starfire has escaped, then I've escaped too — the author who only exists in relation to his text. That's me; an Angel, an alien, an author — also an anthropologist who falsified the results of his study, though it is debatable that, in any description of an ethnographic group, an anthropologist cannot be objective, but must by their observation and description affect the lives and practices they oversee. Because, of course, where they oversee they will also overlook. 'As the Eye is Formed, such are its Powers,' wrote Blake, and I know that even I, an Angel, an alien, an author, am only able to see and say certain things. (Struggling to explain, asking myself, 'What do I mean!' — then, when beginning to speak, or write, not me, but the words themselves making sense, making meaning.)
I speak from the Never Never, the sealed tomb. Perhaps I have been pretending to speak to myself; but there is no 'putative event', nothing would have occurred were the cameras not rolling, there would be no words were you not listening.
I know you are listening to me. And your audience authorises my voice. Here I am.