February 2010


The Seminarian
By: The Seminarian

…for certainly no one has yet altogether escaped love, and none shall
so long as there is beauty and eyes to see.”

A ‘Greek author’ as quoted by Johannes de silentio.

Because I was lax and easy with myself, I came upon the summer and my thesis had yet not been finished. Too many nights at the bar, watching Syrah and Cabernet pass under my nose while I made the usual liberal political noise and the most trite of philosophical observations.

“There’s always tomorrow.” I would tell myself. “Give yourself some grace. Cut yourself some slack.”

In this way, my thesis examining history through a humanistic lens and borrowing heavily from Hegel and Marx was twenty pages behind schedule and even farther from conveying a single coherent thought. This gave me a whole other summer to live off loans, off the sweat of my presumed future brow.

Through my years at seminary, I was not the god hating type. I was the god apathetic type. I knew the week’s liturgy reading by mere glance at the calendar. I had sermons on jurisprudence, temperance, and constancy that I could tailor to fifteen minute to half hour installments memorized. The god to whom one would pray I knew only through Tillich, Bonhoeffer, Fosdick. I squirmed in my seat at the utterances of others from the pulpit. I knew their theologies were absolutely forty years old and I would scribble notes like “falsifiable? No! Gulp.” and “standard operating procedure of the patriarchal machine” in my sermon notes.

I had everything figured out with the one exception of how to make money over the summer.

There are some that are made for labor. I am not one. My hands are too weak, and my back too strong to bow to any work beneath me. I am a thinking man and the only career that I’ve considered honorable other than professorship, are those homeless philosophers in the park near my seminary’s coffee shop of choice. These Cynics, these heroes of resignation have their own great plaza there, replacing the Stoa of old, the open air markets where the free exchange of ideas and politics were cherished bulwarks of culture. Theirs is a philosophy fringed with madness (just as it always was and should be) and now meth, crack, Boone’s Farm Wine. I envy them. When they give up job, sanity, acceptance from family, culture, church, they do so boldly and never look back. I would walk by them after my Christology class and see them there, smoking the butts they’d found on the street and incarnating their own divine breech into the world. But I couldn’t join their number. I had a thesis to not think about. I had loans to defer. I was after all, a seminarian.

I went out into The City one weekend with my friend Verna who herself had just found philosophical credibility by dropping out of her Masters of Philosophy program. She of course had overdressed for either the occasion or for me. Or else I had underdressed, but in any case I felt uncomfortable. (This is most typically the case. How can one feel comfortable in a Post-Structuralist world?)

We found a table in the back of a dingy little place who’s inhabitants seemed to be that auspicious class known as hipsters. Their definition escapes me at the moment, but you know them when you see them: their public veganism wrapped around them in thinness, their convenient smoking habits displayed at the right moments, their drinking bordering on the obscene (even from my perspective!), and most usually sardonically happy.

Verna asked me about my summer plans.

“I’ve got to find something to supplement my income.”

“What’s that?”

“Well, I’m expecting a tax return.”

“Okay.”

“And I sometimes sell blood.”

“Really?”

“Well, I did once. But I hate needles. So, hence the supplementing.”

“Yes. Well, have you thought about tutoring?”

I’d tried that before. Last summer. I’d posted on Craigslist:

“Learn Philosophy and Theology! Personal Tutor-15/Hr.”

But no responses came back even after two weeks. I later went back on and edited my add listing by adding:

You don’t deserve to learn anything from me! You mouth breathing half wits! I curse you! I wouldn’t stoop to teaching you a thing for anything less than 30/hr. you cretins!”

Strangely enough, I got a response after that from a high schooler who instead of seeking my tutelage, left me a snarky message quoting C.S. Lewis and Rick Warren (whoever that is).

Verna’s presentation that night, apparently didn’t make other beaus in the bar uncomfortable, because they made a veritable queue when I left the table to smoke. I sat back down and glumly cleared my glass as the most recent suitor laid his best lines on Verna, who played along kindly enough.

“Lust is a Siren.” I said to neither in particular. “But worse yet is the lie of love.” The fellow tried to ignore me, but through his drunkenness and leering gazes, I knew that I was getting through to him. “At least lust understands that we live temporal lives. There is a narrative ‘curve’ to lust.” I flagged the waitress and she steered back to the bar to get another wine. “Love mocks us with its eternality. Entertaining its demonic thoughts, makes liars of ourselves.” The waitress set my Syrah on the table. “In wine there is truth. Its joy is fleeting, its recompense is headaches and fatness. For every night of wine there will be equal to or greater many nights of loneliness and dread. And I’d much prefer that that to the lie of ‘I love you’.”

Someone must have been listening to me, because the two of them agreed to go back to his place. I waited on the sidewalk with Verna for the cab while the fellow settled his long bill inside.

“How’d he know that we weren’t together?”

She laughed.

“What? Couldn’t we have been on a date together? How’d he know that we weren’t?”

“Oh, Ian. You’re no threat.”

I got the keys to Verna’s-since the train had stopped running I’d have to stay the night at her place. “Have a great night.” I said to the two of them as they got in the cab.

That night, I tooled around on Verna’s laptop over a bowl of her ice cream I’d poured some Bailey’s I’d found in the cupboard. I figured there was no better time than three in the morning to find a summer job, and I stopped at the usual sites before sifting through Craigslist again.

In The City’s service section, there was the entry that caught my eye.

“Seeking help. Tutor needed immediately. Soren Kierkegaard and other Theologians.”

It had listed a phone number believe it or not in place of the standard encrypted email reply, and I scribbled down the number. Two things struck me about the message: one, there was no mention of money. This would usually have caused me to pass right by it but the second thing that jumped out at me so piqued my interest that I had to find out more.

I looked up at Verna’s Pet Shop Boys poster on her wall. “Kierkegaard and other Theologians?” I asked the Pet Shop Boys. I’d not really looked into the Dane so much, but I knew that he had misrepresented my Hegel and had been largely a waifish misanthrope with a chip on his crooked shoulder.

Whatever the reason, whether the drink or the excitement of having a possible tutoring job in my future, I followed the internet rabbit hole into places that Verna would have objected to both on principle and fear of viruses.

She found me on the couch in the early morning, the birds doing their ‘shame on yous’ and the sun breaking the bad news of a new day to hungover drunks.

“How was it?” I asked but she ignored the question and set to work on her French press. “Coffee?” she asked.

I struck a cigarette and sat in the tiny kitchen.

Verna hustled off and showered as I watched the boiling water and poured it into the press. I poured her cup and handed it to her through the shower curtain.

I sat on the toilet lid. “So how was it?”

“We’re meeting for breakfast in an hour.” She gave a little peek through the curtain and smiled.

She put on some music that was fashionable enough for me not to recognize what it was and just loud enough to her neighbors to if not wake them, at least invade their dreams.

“What is it about this guy that deserves a breakfast?” I asked.

“He’s different.”

“Different in that the sex was actually okay?” I knew enough about Verna’s weekends to know that they were generally unspectacular.

“We didn’t have sex, smartypants.”

“Oh no!” I jumped up from the couch. “This is the kind of guy to watch out for. You’ve got to cancel this breakfast.”

“What are you talking about? He’s very nice.”

“I knew you were going to say that. ‘Very nice’. ‘Different’. No sex! Can’t you see what this guy is doing?” I had been grossly unimpressed by the fellow last night-his martini glass, fashionable pants, his hair mussed in just the right way, facial hair that was too ‘forgotten’ looking to be truly forgotten. He had all the markings of another City crawling scenester. But this new information exposed him for what he really was: an artist.

“Look, Verna. It’s like this. Either he’s playing towards the beauty of a romance or he’s a Romantic.”

“What are you talking about?”

“If he’s building up from lust, he’s a deceptive artist who’s looking to create a romance. You’ll know it if he brings to breakfast for you a flower he’s stolen from a yard or is playfully aloof. But it could be even worse! He could be building upon love which means he’s self deceived and could be so caught up in it that no behavior could ever give him away.”

“What about ‘we’re two people who had a good time together last night and want to have breakfast together’?”

“Where are you going?”

“To some vegan place.”

“Oh just great! Great! Did you suggest it or he?”

“I don’t remember, Ian. Why?”

“If he did, that’s better. That means he’s probably an artist who knows the right fashionable place to go. If you did and he agreed to it, that’s worse because it means that he’d be willing to sacrifice a good proper breakfast of sausage and eggs for a love interest. And that’s bad news, in that case.”

She threw on a tidy little coat and wrapped a scarf around her neck. “What’s so bad about love, I wonder.”

“Love? It’s an uncrossable sea! It’s a universally adored dream. If it was an idea proper, then I could get behind it. But ask people to explain it or define it and they get all misty eyed and start talking like William Blake or Kahlil Gibran or something! Its attraction lies in its untouchable nature.” I shook my head, “If this fellow,”

“His name is Sabastion.”

“If Sabastion means to provoke loving feelings, he is as dangerous as an asp.”

“An asp?”

“Who can question love? Mention it and you’re free to do whatever you want. Every ethical system will at one time or another appeal to it. It’s a sacred cow. In the Hindi sense of cow. Not the slaughtered sacrifice kind. The sacrifice will be you-your sanity, your dignity, your Self!”

“Lock up my apartment when you leave, will you?”

“No, I’m leaving with you. I’m going to head home.”

I walked her to the corner and turned to go to the bus station. As I was walking away, Verna asked, “Just for a moment imagine that…Well, it just sounds like you’ve been talking about ‘love’ abstractly. What if he loves me. And I love him. Isn’t that not really about some detached nebulous idea…”

“Dream. Remember, love is no idea proper.”

“Okay. But what of that anyway? What if I love him?”

“Who is he? Who are you? Are you anything more than a wisp? Or maybe you imagine that you are as constant as the number ‘three’. Or a Platonic Form. Either way you think of someone: a vaporous illusion or a constant substance, both are ridiculous and dangerous.”

“I’ll call you later this morning and tell you about our ridiculous and dangerous breakfast. I hope yours is more reasonable and safe.”

I held up my cigarette, “You’re looking at my breakfast.”

I pulled the morning paper off my sidewalk and read it on the porch where I found an article headline reading: “The Least Likely Happiest Place On Earth: Denmark Happiest Place You’d Never Want to Visit” which reminded me of the number crumpled in my pocket. Without thinking if it was rude to call on a Sunday morning before noon, I dialed the number.

“Hello.” A featureless voice said after one ring.

“Hi. I saw your listing about a tutor.”

“Yes.”

“And I uh wanted to know…” the voice on the other end had shaken me a bit and I wasn’t sure how to proceed. “Uh, how much are you offering?”

“Are you a minister?”

“…I currently attend seminary. I’m in training.” I conveniently neglected to say that I was in academic training, not ministerial. “I’m in my last year.”

“You’re in religious training?”

I figured that getting a Masters in religious studies counted. “Yes.”

“What do you know about Soren Kierkegaard?” The voice said it strangely: Searen Keergegor.

“I know him first through his criticisms of Hegel.” Silence. I continued, “And I like him a lot. There’s no better place to start in discussion of existentialism than Kierkegaard.” More silence. I was grasping now, “And his theological understanding of course.” I guessed that he was a Christian, “As far as his comments on Christianity…I just love him…and what he’s got to say…About Jesus.”

“Are you available today?”

“Well,” I gauged how hungover I was and how quickly I could recover. “I’m available after four this afternoon, yes.”

“Great. You live in The City?”

“East bay, yes.”

“Perfect. Are you familiar with….” The voice mentioned a beautiful white hotel resort in the hills.
“Yes, I live quite nearby, actually.”

“Go there at five o’clock. There is a fountain by the tennis courts that looks like the statue of Lady Justice. There will be a key in the fountain. Are you there?”

“Yes, I’m here.”

“I want you to speak to my father. Tell him everything you know about Kierkegaard. But listen. When you go in, just sit on the couch. That’s it. Just sit on the couch. How long will it take you to tell him everything you know about Kierkegaard?”

“Oh,” If I had answered honestly, I would have said ‘two minutes’. “About two or three hours, I guess.”

“Perfect. When you’re done, the money will be in the top drawer of the desk by the door. When you’re done, you can put the room key on the dresser and take the money. You understand? Tell me what you’re going to do.”

“Get the key from the fountain, tell your dad everything I know about Kierkegaard (Keergegor I said) and then when I’m done, put the key on the dresser and take the money.”

“And sit on the couch.”

“Right.”

“Thank you very much.” The voice intoned flatly. I got the sense that our conversation was over.

“And what is your dad’s name?”

“John. Thank you for doing this. Goodbye.”

I was going to say, ‘good day’ or something polite sounding but they’d hung up already. I popped a cigarette into my mouth and thought: “They’d better be at least forty bucks in that drawer.”

After brunch of a coffee and bearclaw, I stopped at my seminary’s library and checked out as many Soren Kierkegaard books as I could. I surprised to see that the ol’ curmudgeon had written about Christianity. In my survey courses we had mentioned him as a footnote to existentialism and though I knew that he was popular among fashionable ‘liberal and educated’ Christians, I always thought it was because he had coined the phrase “the leap of faith”. (It wasn’t until recently during my transfer to the state penitentiary-a long, hot, four hour drive-that I learned that he never actually wrote “leap of faith”.)

I filled up my backpack and bicycled over towards the ______ Hotel and Resort, an old landmark of a place in the hills which had strangely survived a fire some hundred years ago. Some had said that it survived ‘miraculously’ but the farm owners, from the viewpoint of their destroyed crops and barns thought otherwise. I always figured by the haunted look of the place that it had made some demonic pact with the Devil like Robert Johnson at the crossroads, Faust, or St. Theophilus. However it had survived that fire long ago, it now housed the rich and famous at times for an entire season while they relaxed and enjoyed the fresh bay air.

I parked my bike by the tennis courts and tried to look as though I belonged as I passed white clad tennis goers. I found the small fountain with a statue atop whose raised arm held a double edged sword and whose other arm held scales. The Lady’s head was down turned as though eyeing her target of her raised blade and she wore no blindfold. I liked this because what kind of judge allows oneself to be blinded? Shouldn’t Justice very much care to look, inspect, watch, and examine? I thought that it went back to the Myth of Scientific Objectivity. Or maybe it was just a patriarchal stamp disempowering a goddess of such strength and importance. How quickly the Goddess of Victory, Nike had been forgotten! The Queen of Gods, Hera now lost! The current age had bypassed blinding them and skipped straight ahead to their burial.

In the lily pad covered water, I found a hotel key with the number 237 on its tag. I sat in the shade of a spreading tree until my watch read five minutes to five.

Inside the hotel, everything was placed at an extravagant scale and had a pristine cleanliness of an upscale convalescent home. In the grand entrance, there were broad and low oak tables and leather chairs with the indents of many fat and important backsides. The concierge and her bell boy cronies eyed me suspiciously and I tried to walk with the same confidence I’d seen from my fellow seminarians in the M.Div. program.

I clicked open 237’s door and found the lightswitch. The room’s heavy curtains were drawn and none of the still strong sunlight found its way inside. Desk lamps and a ceiling light revealed a large and eloquent room whose décor was definitely in the style of “too rich for their own good and too old to know better”. At the far end of the room, I saw a small human frame under the heavy comforters of the king sized bed and near it was set medical looking equipment: a buzzing thing, a whirring thing, maybe a clear bag sending medicinal liquids racing through veins.

“Hello.” I said three times, consecutively and louder each time.

The small person didn’t respond. I closed the door and stepped into the room and made a lot of purposeful noise in case the old man only needed to be jostled from a nap. As I came a bit nearer, I could make out a prunish bald head propped on pillows and what may have been open eyes.

“I’m here for…” What was I there for? To ‘tutor’ this vegetable? The sheer ludicrousness of the task had at first been enticing but the prospect of teaching a geriatric who would be better served in an ER than by a wanna-be philosopher discussing a cranky Danish hermit was just too much for me to bear.

At that time, I almost reached into the drawer to withdraw the money promised me and thought “I’m out of here. I’ll tell him what I know, all two minutes of it, and I’ll get outta here.” But something wouldn’t let me. I know it wasn’t ‘honesty’ because I’ve never relied that to motivate me before. I think it was my own strange curiosity about Kierkegaard and figured what better way to learn that by teaching? So that was that. I sat on the not-so comfortable love seat at the front of the room, a fair distance from the bed and opened my backpack.

“Well, John: Here we go.” I said. His machines clicked and whirred as a response.

I read him passages from a number of sources, all seemingly under pseudonyms and I became quickly frustrated at figuring out exactly what Kierkegaard was trying to say through all the convoluted mess. I finally found one essay that he had had the courage to put his own name to called Works of Love.

“Here’s the answer to that old question, John: ‘who wrote the works of love’?” I sang. “Tell me tell me baby, oh, who wrote the works of love?” I scrutinized the bed to look for movement. “Better not sing too much.” I thought. “My singing’s so bad that for a fellow in his condition, it could be deadly!”

“Listen to this John!” I read,

“Something that in its total richness is essentially inexhaustible is also in its smallest work essentially indescribable just because essentially it is totally present everywhere and essentially cannot be described.”[1]

“This is exactly what I was saying to my friend this morning, John! What a buncha malarkey!” I thought malarkey might appeal to one from the older generation. “What’s the sense of talking about something ‘that’s all around but indefinable’?” I caught myself because that sounded like the same context that godtalk often occurred.

This is where my analytical philosophy training kicked in, seeking to understand clearly the definition of terms, only now its peering gaze was uncomfortably aimed at me. How was I thinking and using both ‘love’ and ‘god’? It was taking my mind down passages I didn’t want to go. Passages I had boarded up for good reasons long ago. Or at least what had seemed like good reasons.

I read on where it quoted Matthew 22:39 about loving your neighbor as yourself.

It was written in caps, “YOU SHALL LOVE”

“What’s the point of commanding someone to love? Can it really be love if its commanded? Then isn’t just a buncha brownnosing?” I caught myself. Such a term as ‘brownnosing’ probably wasn’t professional, and since I was a paid private tutor, I said, “Excuse me, I mean, isn’t it a bit silly to make a legalistic command something that should be freely given?”

There was written below,

“if one is to love the neighbor as oneself, then the commandment, as with a pick, wrenches open the lock of self-love and wrests it away from a person…Just as Jacob limped after having struggled with God, so will self-love be broken if it has struggled with this phrase that does not want to teach a person that he is not to love himself but rather wants to teach him proper self-love.”[2]

We have to make the choice of how we love, I thought.

“Choice.” I said aloud. “That sounds like Heidegger-constantly engaged with the proposition of choice.”

I felt that love wasn’t as far away as it had seemed a moment ago. As I related to my self as Subject, I could so meet others in the same way. But what struck me was that Kierkegaard (as far as I could tell from the picture I have always seen of him as a frail black-clad mope) himself was a depressive melancholic Dane (I would have thought that a tautology before that newspaper article I’d just read). I was awakening to relationship as an intimate Subject among Subjects; not among objects, not as shadowy imaginings of solipsism’s garish nightmares.

“John. Are you awake? I hope that you can read my mind over here, because there’s some great stuff happening. If I could only put to words half of it….half of what I say is meaningless; but I say it so that the other half may reach you.[3]” I quoted from John Lennon’s Julia.

I felt waves of interest, the purest drives of duty, and ecstasy wrack me in the swirl of thoughts. I needed a cigarette. I walked forward into the room towards John on his bed and opened a window in which I sat and ravished a delicious smoke. I thought of Verna, of my hidden love for her and in a moment of introspection wondered if my scheme to make her fall in love with me was working. It’s hard enough to love someone, harder still to entice them to love you, hardest still to not let on that that is exactly what you’re doing.

I was broken from my reverie by a new sound from the area of the bed. It was not a machine clicking or whirring, but the lightest moan. I snapped up, slammed the window shut and scurried back to the couch. Maybe I didn’t love Verna at all. Maybe I was too interested in the romancing of a perfect subject who would never want to be romanced by me and even deeper I wondered if I would ever really want her love. I felt the pang of self doubt-and more dangerous still (as through the back door of my mind) a doubt against doubt. It was only this last doubt against doubt that kept me from unraveling.

I read aloud,

“Even in Goethe’s understanding of Faust I miss a deeper psychological insight into the secret conversations which doubt has with itself…Only when one turns Faust back in on himself in this way-only then can the doubt appear poetically, only then does he himself genuinely discover in reality all its sufferings…Anyone with any idea of what it means to live on spirit knows also what the hunger of doubt means, and that the doubter hungers just as much for the daily bread of life as for the sustenance of spirit.”[4]

I looked at the body in the bed. Was there another whimper? Had I imagined it?

“John, what do you doubt? Are you questioning the love or absence thereof in your life? Had you played the fool? Attempting to tempt a smoke and vapor? Do you doubt your love? Or your destination after…”

I hadn’t thought of the ‘after life’ in the decade after my first receiving my driver’s license and it was difficult to even think in such terms.

“Do you doubt your destination once you…pass on?”

Again a machine clicked in response. I read to him,

“There was a time when the Gospel, grace, was changed into a new Law, more rigorous with people than the old Law…Through petty self torments, they had made God just as petty…”[5]

The wind howled about the ­­­­­­______ Hotel then, whipping along its stately eaves and its many wings. It was downright terrible and necessitated another cigarette. The wind of course blew all the smoke right back inside so I snuffed it out and closed the window again. The floors creaked and high whistles of wind found invisible cracks in walls. A feeling of haunted presence filled the place like opera box number five in the Phantom of the Opera-an unseen menace seemed to bear down on me. I was left with only a faint hope that it was only a loveless creep named Erik with a penchant for French opera.[6]

“What are we to do, John?” I asked without thinking.

From the bed, to my great surprise and horror, I saw a skeletal arm raise off the bed from the elbow. The hand was nothing more than bones, twisted and crippled with arthritis. The white death’s hand hung there and then just as slowly lowered back to the bed.

A change came in the air. The wind died, a crack of lightning afar sent a tremor in the electric lights and the room was momentarily dark. I repacked my bags, went to the dresser and in the top drawer found thirty two hundred dollars in worn fifties.

I left the room as I had found it and stepped into the now dark Resort grounds. That was the entirety of my time spent in the _____ Hotel and Resort.

And that is exactly what I never uttered a word of to the well groomed investigators when they had set me under the bare light bulb lit interrogation room. My bike’s tires, surveillance cameras and tennis playing witnesses made a quick trail for me to be found and before I even had the chance to return my library books, flashing lights lit my apartment.

How did I come to visit room 237? Well, when the cops tracked down Verna for questioning, the websites I’d visited the night at Verna’s had crashed it and there was no history showing any information about the Hotel and Resort. My phone did show that morning that I’d called a pay-phone located in Arcata but no one at the orphanage across the street was able to say they’d seen anyone ever use the phone.

The fact that I had such a large amount of money whose issue numbers had been recorded at the old man’s bank was perhaps a little strange, sure. “Mighty good pay for a couple hours, ‘tutoring’, I should think huh?” said one of the many suit-clad cops.

As I sat there on the first of many hard plastic chairs, facing alone the hours of questioning after denying my right to an attorney, I thought of some passages I had also seen that night.

“…because the human being is able to speak, the ability to be silent is an art, and a great art precisely because this advantage of his so easily tempts him. But this he can learn from the silent teachers, the lily and the bird.”[7]

The silence was the easiest part. There were other passages that came to me in the trial which I was allowed to ruminate on in the short proceedings which I declined to defend myself.

“-No! God is greater than your own heart! Ah! Whether it was a sickness of soul that so darkened your mind every night that finally in deadly anxiety, brought almost to the point of madness by the conception of God’s holiness, you thought you had to condemn yourself; whether it was something terrible that so weighed upon your conscience that your heart condemned itself-God is greater!”[8]

As I’ve been spending my days now in solitary, I have greater things to think about than any fear of justice and condemnation. I think back to that statue of Lady Justice and her raised double edged sword: wherever there is punishment, there is some sort of mercy, alleviation, and freedom. I think of that wasted away living corpse, John _____, the owner of the Hotel at the time of our meeting and what I taught him and what he taught me. There are some things that they cannot teach you in seminary and it is exactly those things that one must learn.

Something broke in me that night, and maybe there was a breaking outside of that which occurred in me. The ______ Hotel and Resort was swallowed up by the fires that fall, lost to time to be forgotten just a month after its owner.

Above my bunk I have written one passage that I first found that night, and there just as there is no escaping my prison, my solitary, there is no escaping it:

“…love’s judgment is the most severe judgment…Thus there comes a new sin, a new guilt, the gult of being forgiven only little, a guilt incurred not by the sins committed, but by the lack of love. If you want to learn to fear, then learn to fear-not the severity of justice, but the leniency of love!”[9]

Reader’s Note: As a seminarian once upon a time myself, I can assure you this is a piece of fictional literature in specific details only. This kind of thing happens to me all the time.  –Eric Hanson


[1] Soren Kierkegaard Works of Love in The Essential Kierkegaard (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997). p. 278.

[2] Kierkegaard, p. 279.

[3] S. is only partially right. Lennon did take and change this line for The White Album but as quoted here it is a line from Kahlil Gibran’s Sand and Foam. –Eric Hanson

[4] Soren Kierkegaard Fear and Trembling (New York: Penguin Books, 1985). p. 132-133.

[5] Soren Kierkegaard For Self Examination in The Essential Kierkegaard (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997). p. 394.

[6] Gaston Leroux’s ‘Phantom’ Erik seemingly adored alongside Verdi’s Othello, Gounod’s Faust.                   –Eric Hanson

[7] Soren Kierkegaard The Lily in The Field and The Bird of The Air in The Essential Kierkegaard (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997). p.333.

[8] Soren Kierkegaard Christian Discourses in The Essential Kierkegaard (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997). p. 330.

[9] Soren Kierkegaard Two Discourses at Friday Communion Discourses in The Essential Kierkegaard (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997). p. 388.

Brother Eupsuche
By: Semper Sansrespite
It was in the summer of most extreme heat, when the dogs lay in the streets panting and dying that I came to take on the case Brother Eupsuche. It was my sixth and last year at the law school[1] and the city’s heat wave was a picture of my own exhaustion and feverishness.
My nights were spent by the river, a wet rag on my neck, reading by the gaslights and actually watching the fleeting thoughts pass through my head without a single one holding tight. My failing grades, I wrote mother, were not a reflection of my commitment to Law, or of my ability to succeed as a magistrate in the future.

“Sweat blinds me” I wrote. “Send money for ice and new shirts!”
She answered back on a pretty stationary,
“If the heat is getting to you, take your mind from it by marrying.”
She had always seen my endeavors in law as merely a point of advertising in the proper circles “of available young women who are well situated.”

As an aside, my mother did convince me to pursue law. It was either stay at the Villa and become an artist, or come to the law school three hundred miles from home.

The decision was made for me.

That year, I had interned at a small legal firm overseeing minor quibbles of unpaid dues to a miserly old shrunken head named Dowling. Dowling had come to build a slum around him that should have been exposed to the police Chief for any number of offenses against humanity, but his ghetto’s tenets had come to terms with being at the whims of one who is more shrewd and merciless.

He paid our firm to represent him in cases where a family, broken by debt and newly appeared children, had lapsed on a payment of some sort or another. I won most of these trials without ever revising my notes from the first. I would simply fill in the appropriate destitute family’s name in the blank.

Kerner, Troble, Arnoun, Jornaut…they all stared at me weakly from across the sweltering court. What they all would have loved to know is that I lived not but a block away in an equally squalid tenement filled with rats just as lousy as theirs. I was grateful that I never met these families in the street, but it was not by accident.

I frequented a market and park nearly a mile away to assure it.

These menial cases of the sort that any first year student could win were the only successes I had. My firm took me off Dowling’s roster and allowed me to delve into a few meatier projects where large sums of money and citizens of respected classes were brought before the jury.

For all my work, all my contrived and theatric arguments, I won only two cases of this sort. I was pulled repeatedly into my Superior’s office.

“Troulle.” he always called me by my family name, “Come sit.”

I would sit on the piano stool in his cramped sauna of an office.

“Tell me again how our client seemed to, despite all evidence to the contrary, be found at fault?”

I would tell him that it was the heat, I was sick, my mother was sick back home, that I was doing the best I could and that I would be able to come back and win the next, just give me a chance.

My chances wore out and finally one morning I found Dowling sitting at my paper piled desk, looking pallid in the heat and handing me a file for a family in need of eviction.

What I never told my Superior and what I never breathed to anyone save but once in a veiled way to my army-time friend Lucas who had served with me in the Provincial Wars when we were young, was that every case I had lost was the cause of our City’s sect, The Fellowship of Dror[2].

This ancient philosophy had made its way westward by boats filled with mysteries of far off lands and exotic bodies whose colorful loose wraps enticed the imagination. The Fellowship had found like minded and sympathetic patrons in high society who in return for massive financial backing were given audience with the darkly mysterious priests and priestesses who would sweeten their ears with agreeable prophecies.

In this way, The Fellowship soon had a marbled complex in the City center, a place of cultural and political power. Their Temple was more a city onto itself and housed thousands within its columned exterior. Its influence on life was as palpable as the Temple itself. One could not hear any orator’s address without the necessary Fellowship preamble of reverence towards Dror and the rite of hand wringing in respect.

On the young people’s lips were the stories that had come through The Fellowship’s writings and none other. The old epics, the stories of the field, the songs of the mountains, all were choked and consumed by the narrative of their books, their holy writ until one could hardly find another to toast with him the name of Ardenides, patron of women, hearth, and victory.

A foreign philosophy, brought like pestilence to our shores had like the roots of a barren tree, gripped our city.

To come to the conclusion that this obscure, albeit popular, philosophy was the cause of my legal failures and humiliation is only a matter of course. It was plain to me that in each occasion, enough members of the jury recognized the dress and manner of the accused as that of their shared brethren. No amount of reason and tangible and irrefutable evidence could convince any member to decide against one of their own.

Once this idea came to me, I knew that there was no one to whom I could turn with the terrible truth: nearly everyone within the City was connected to the Fellowship in some way, either by secret initiation or by childhood sentiments towards the yearly festivals. To air my conviction would be to commit professional suicide.

As well as I was able, I surveyed each jury during the selection process to weed out those who would be sympathetic towards the defendants. I studied closely the language of the brethren on endless afternoons near the Temple gates to find any linguistic cue that could give one away. I approached potential jurors with my hand outstretched as though to make the handshake of the rural people to survey their expression. I found that to unearth them was a nearly impossible task without out and out asking and this would have been a deeply offensive intrusion in the court’s eyes.

So, I returned to picking away at the poor like a scavenging dog where the accused found no affinity within the Fellowship.

The summer went along, I lost weight, my shirts became more and more grey, and I was seriously looking at the prospect of graduating law school a failure. I had seen those like me whose school careers ended and were summarily spit out into districts in the hills representing cases over lost goats, or perhaps worse, living in the City without

the honor due them, professionals in the labor class.

I wouldn’t stand for it.

The country was for irrelevant minds, for the married and fat. It was where only memorials for dead soldiers were cause for beautiful things. It also was where my mother lived.

I could not abide by the thought of serving among the sick and dirty endless poor of the City either. As far as any lawyer might go within those circles, he simply could not make entrance to any society worth attending.

I was becoming more and more anxious as my graduation date approached. I cancelled an appointment with my student loan officer and my school’s career placement office. I began drinking during my study sessions by the river. A flask cooled me in place of the wet rag.

I was absolutely desperate. Whatever good looks my dear old mom gave me were melting off me and I must admit my behavior became at times erratic. My pastime of meeting girls at the bowery and letting my gilded tongue do its work had allowed me to keep a fresh font of women passing through my date calendar. Throughout my school years, I had had no problem revolving them about me as though they were at a dizzying game of Musical Chairs and I was the last remaining chair. It remained happily this way until upon these last hot drunken days I became possessed with the evil idea that I should settle down and find a wife for me.

Then, by accident, I was invited to a dinner.
I was standing on the front steps of school finishing an essay due for the afternoon’s ethics class when I overheard two classmates discussing plans for the upcoming full moon. I had known them for a number of years, as they were only a year behind me in study and made a reputation for themselves as class clowns who always traveled in the pair. I fortunately even remembered their names, but not which name went to which.

“Hey Bernard, hey Jack.”

“Oh, hiya Ian.” Said back one.

“How’ve you been?” said the other.

We made small talk then about the sports events of the week and the topic on everyone’s lips, the heat.

I managed to get out of them that some of the school’s professors were attached to certain civic organizations and might be appreciative of the mention of their Clubs founding fathers in term papers. I let them believe that my father too was currently a dues paying member of two Clubs. This allowed the forced conversation to continue for another few precious minutes until a bounding girl approached us.

“Hey Bernard, hey Jack” she said to the pair. She too had most likely forgotten which was who.

“Hiya Meg.” said back one.

She looked at me for just long enough in silence that I knew I was not going to be introduced my either Bernard or Jack.

“Hi. I’m Ian.” I shook her hand politely, but a bit longer than might be necessary.

I made sure she noticed me pull my flask from my coat and take a daring pull.
“I just wanted to ask again if you fellas could make it to my Father’s place for dinner after all.”

She glanced in my direction ever so quickly also.

The pair made some weak noises and two hasty excuses came from them followed by half hearted thanks.

“I’m free.” I said.

Meg looked a bit flushed and caught off guard.

“Good. We’ll love to have you.” She made a motion as though to check her bag.

“Oh no! I don’t have an invitation. Father’s is really hard to find. Especially by street car. It’s way down by the marina.”

“I’d be taking the river ferry.” I lied.

“Here you go, I’ve got my invitation with me.” Said Bernard or Jack.

He handed me a thick papered envelope and I tried not to let on that Meg

looked not a little betrayed.

“I’ll see you there. I look forward to it.” I even bowed a little.
I jumped on a street car for as long as I could without the ticket taker seeing me before hopping down to walk the rest of the long way to the marina.

I had put together as much of a dinner ensemble as I could from my army uniform and some items picked up from a consignment store. I looked half way good when I first put it on, but in the evening humidity I began to feel like a clumsy doorman.

The house was an egoists dream. No detail was left overlooked. The family crest was etched on every wall and its resident’s intention to intimidate every visitor was plain.

I made my way through the greeting room, and stopped at the busy bar in the open courtyard. I recognized faces from school, the faces that belonged to students of good blood, students who had been raised in the City and had been handed everything that I had fought for.

I drank too much too quickly but without allowing anyone to notice, making use of a large potted plant to hide my empty wine glasses.

We were escorted to a large dining hall and I sat between two young women whose hair had obviously met extensive attention before arriving.

“Good evening. My name is Ian.” I announced to the both of them, which was awkward since I had to turn my head one hundred and eighty degrees to see them both.

The one on my left was a horrible bore and I was happy when she entered into a conversation about taxes with a couple across the table.

“What do you do?” said the one on my right.

“What’s your name?” I asked.

“Ana.”

“Asking someone’s profession at dinner is dangerous idea. What if I was a fisherman? Do you really want to discuss the ins and outs of gutting flounder all day and hitting tuna on the head with a five pound hammer? This is why at the Clubs popularly, members can let years go by before finding out they’re dining with their son’s prison warden.”

She made a polite laugh.

“Well, I think I know your opinion of Clubs then. And I wouldn’t have asked if I imagined you were a fisherman.”

“What did you imagine I was?”

“When I first asked, maybe a philosopher.”

“My god, am I that thin?”

“No, but you’re drunk and do a good enough job pretending you’re not.”

“Well, I think I know your opinion of philosophers then.”

She took a bite of her salmon and sipped her white wine with her long fingers barely touching the glass at all.

“Who do you know here?” She looked at me and my already empty plate.

“I don’t.”

“Well, aren’t I lucky to be sitting next to you?”

“Yes.”

“Meg is my cousin. This is my uncle’s estate.”

I looked at her quietly.

“What do you do?” she tried again.

“I’m a lawyer.”

She made an impolite laugh.

“Meg isn’t one either. But she’s been saying that for 4 years.”

“I graduate this winter. I am currently a lawyer for a firm…”

“Internship. Who?”

“Small private. What do you do?”

“Nothing.”

“Everything, even nothing, is something….hmm! Maybe I am a philosopher.”

“Drink this and we’ll see.” She beckoned the passing servant and he filled my glass.

She continued, “I spend most of my time on the marina and watching my father’s boats going in and out.”

She saw my question.
“He owns fishing boats.” She took a bite of salmon.
We drank a lot more and left before dessert. We walked the long paths towards the marina and the rising full moon. She showed me four objects in the moon that I had never seen before, one of which made me gulp and become lustfully plotting for long minutes. Perhaps she heard the wheels turning in my head because she made an excuse to walk again along the docks.

We ended up at her family’s house which made her uncles estate look downright dreary and we sat on a balcony overlooking the sea.

“Are you married?” Ana asked me as she lit a cigarette.

“Oh yes, of course” I played, “but she lives in the country. I’ll go back to her when I’m graduated. I imagine all the kids will be grown by now.”

“Oh! Maybe she knows my husband. He’s there too. Yes. A farmer. Joseph is his name. Does your wife know him?”

“Maybe.” I stole her cigarette.

“Maybe intimately.” She said flatly.
“How dare you!” I tried to sound convincing. “Polly would never betray my trust!”

“And what are you saying? Joseph is some bigamist? Didn’t he make vows to me too? But the country is a lonely place where only ghosts reside. Oh, it’s sad, Ian. So horrible. Our fates are so entwined. Could there be any way to heal our broken hearts?”

“Let’s go give ourselves to the Mer-people. Tie rocks to our ankles and sink to the bottom of the sea.” I stood up with the cigarette courageously clenched in my teeth.

“No… My father’s boats would snag us in their nets and he’d never forgive me for the shock to his men.”

“Well, I’m going anyway. Your father be damned.” I made to take off my shirt.

Ana stood up and stopped me only to begin doing it herself.

Weeks passed until one morning while I was walking by the Temple, on my way to meet Ana for a picnic, I heard what sounded like a festival or riot. I turned down one of the Temple’s many narrow avenues and wound my way through the vendors and past shrine processionals until I was emptied out into a large courtyard where around a small stage, hundreds of screaming brethren had gathered. I received only looks of confusion when I asked those gathered what had happened. The Fellowship and the Temple especially was well known to be quiet in civil matters and this was a complete reversal of their popular image of reserved and methodical people.

At last, a trio of brethren ascended the stage and the crowd seemed placated enough by the mere presence of their bright priest’s robes to quiet.

“Brethren!” the oldest raised his hands.

Those gathered took postures of bent backs and submissive attitudes. I, although short on average now stood the tallest in the square.

“The Tree that gives life has many branches does it not?” the crowd murmured in ascent. “These will grow ‘though there be war or peace, fire or flood’ and each branch grows together ‘alike in sameness, alike in difference’.”

The priest made a dramatic sweep with his little arms.
“Today two branches have been removed from the Tree. One to everlasting glory.

One to everlasting damnation. It is not we who judge but Dror. It is not we who cast brethren from our midst, but Dror. Our sole commission is to love and love alone. For it is ‘love alone that heals’.” He turned to someone on the side of the stage and immediately, a small framed brethren with the dress and appearance of a monk was brought onstage by another grim faced priest.

“Brother Eupsuche. You will be banished from this community and sentenced to exile on the island of Forgiveness. There you will toil in solitary for the rest of your days….”

The priest went on like this fleshing out the details of the gravity of exile as punishment. I pressed forward through people that stood transfixed and came almost to the foot of the stage. I pulled at the robe of a priest.

“Father, what did this man do?” I whispered, using his title as a sign of respect.

“Just but an hour ago, he killed a man in the street. In full view of us all. He will be exiled….”

“Father, how could this happen? Has this ever happened before?”

“Never. We only know what to do because Dror had the forethought to prescribe the punishment for murder in our book.”

“He is a monk.”

“Yes, he is a monk.”

“Father, how could a monk do this?”

“There is evil in the world.”

“He will be exiled? When?”

“Now. He must leave for the island of Forgiveness before nightfall of the day of his offense.”

“That’s impossible. He needs to have a hearing. A trial of law.”

“He killed another brethren. It is in our jurisdiction.”

In short minutes I had found my way out of the Temple and was racing towards the City police headquarters.

With the production of my law apprenticeship papers and the description of a murder whose accused was being summarily exiled in the Temple’s walls, the Chief of police followed me with two of his lieutenants.

At the Temple, the Chief made a grand entrance and I’ve never seen brethren jump like they did at the sight of a City official daring to come in their walls and barking orders. This was a novelty to the Chief too, who seemed secretly ashamed to be demanding to speak with the council of priests on the matter of a cold blooded murder. He disappeared into their chambers for three tense cigarettes before an orderly from the Temple came alongside my arm.

He introduced himself as Brother Veritas and he pulled me along cool corridors.

Somehow, in the middle of the Temple, they had achieved in escaping the heat. Maybe they knew something after all.

“We have made allowance with your Chief for a trial. It will occur this evening and a jury of Brethren will hear it. Our book makes no distinction about these matters. He must be exiled and aboard a boat by nightfall to fulfill our law. I assure you that your prosecution of this man with be quick. We have several witnesses.”

He was a mousy little man, weak legged, and he huffed as we climbed and descended endless stairwells into the Temple’s labyrinthine guts.

“Veritas,” I stopped him, blocking his way. “I will be defending Brother Eupsuche not prosecuting him.”

“I was told you were a Prosecutor. We were arranging to have one of our Brothers defend him. What is this?”

“You were only mistaken. I will be his defense attorney.” I stepped out of his way and begged him to continue. “Take me to my client.”

Veritas took me down through endless hall where engravings of Dror looked down on us with stern expressions.

“I will need my legal books.” I told him as we went where to gather them.

“I will also need my assistants.” I scribbled a note for him as we went.
We came to a small arched stone door.

“Here. The address of where my assistants will be found is on the front. Make it your first priority. Time is of the essence. Is this his cell? Open it.”

“This is Brother Eupsuche’s room. And it’s open.”

Veritas felt my disregard for him, his robes, his faith and he left me with what he knew could hurt me most.[3]

“Goodbye, and blessings to you.” He was gone with a bow.

I opened the door and found Eupsuche sitting on his bed with a small book in his lap.

“Come in.” He said uselessly as I was already seating myself on a plain wooden chair.

“Have they hurt you?” he blinked questioningly “have they hurt you at all?”

“No. Of course not.”

“Why aren’t you under arrest? Why is your door unlocked?”

“I’m not going to try to escape. I told them that.”

“My name is Mr. Troulle, I will be your legal council.” I said, trying to sound competent and sure.

“I don’t need legal council, Mr. Troulle. I will be exiled tonight.”

“No you’re not.”

He stood up and walked his room’s floor. His body was small and early aged. It showed the wear of years worshipping and studying. His eyes had been dimmed by too much reading. He placed his book gently on the room’s one bare desk.

“I did it, Mr. Troulle and the book is clear on my fate.”

“Who did you kill?”

“I killed a man. What more is there to say.”

“You’re a monk. How long have you been a monk?”

“All my life. I was born to be a servant. If you are called, you know it.”

“Who did you kill? If you’re a monk than you have to tell the truth.” I stood up for effect. “What are you hiding?”

“I killed a man who I knew to be dangerous.” He looked me in the eye with the piercing eyes of one who has seen god. It made me tremble. It was the look of a madman.
“Tell me more. Whatever you tell me doesn’t have to leave this room.”

“I serve the Fellowship by serving the poor. The poor of your City. Daily I serve food to those whose hunger is overlooked by the City. Each day we give generously as much as the Fellowship can, yet we see them become thinner and thinner. A woman named Mira and I became close and I invited her to live in the Temple.”

He slowly sat on his narrow bed.

“She came to us and became a brethren.” He paused, “and with her came her husband. In the Fellowship, we don’t have these problems, but in the City you do. We tried to help them….”

“What problems? What do you mean?”

“He beat Mira, Mr. Troulle. He beat her and we knew it. We were trying to help. We don’t have these problems and we didn’t understand it. This is what happens in the City. Not here.”

“So what did you do?”

“We tried to help. To counsel. Then today, I saw Mira.” He paused and dug out prayer beads from his robe. “And I went to the kitchens and got a knife.”

I opened the monk’s door and flagged down a passing orderly and had him send up two bowls of strong stew for us and found from him that time was passing quickly. The trial was but an hour away.

We sat and ate, the monk and I and ate our bowls slowly. Eupsuche seemed especially to not have a stomach for his.

“I cannot eat.” He said again and again, but with a little prompting, he began again.

As we sat and waited to be gathered for the trial, he tried to read from his book but would nod off from time to time.

I looked at him as a fox might a rabbit.

The trial, by the Chief’s orders was to be held in the public court in the City’s central plaza where only the trials sure to garner public interest were held. My client and I were sat at the defendant’s table on the court platform and already there was a large public crowd of Citizens and brethren from the Temple. The jury comprised of entirely Temple priests and priestesses sat stunned in the jury box waiting to hear a trial the first of its kind.

The heat was amazing. The sun seemed to draw close to us also in interest of hearing the case. I felt that before nightfall would come, we would all be burned.

Lastly, a quorum of City officials took their seats, and a judge I recognized from the City’s High Court took the bench.

Not a sound was made throughout the plaza. Even as workers were headed home from their day’s work and stopped to watch the goings on, not a sound could be heard. From all districts then came the crowds, having received word of the trial and soon we were in a sea of people soundlessly sweating.

The judge made his cursory and necessary introductions.

The prosecutor, a young and fashionable lawyer I recognized as a graduated fellow student, connected socialite, and Fellowship sympathizer if not outright supporter.

Of course he would have to be. At any given time of day, the Temple’s shadow fell on some high office, some wealthy bureaucrat, some elitist Club.

He made his introductory statement overly long and flourished as though he would not have another chance to speak again in the trial.

Maybe he did believe this. If he did, he was right.

It was the defense’s time to make opening statements and I turned to Brother Eupsuche to see how he was holding up. He wasn’t. He was fast asleep with his chin on his chest.

“Citizens, we are hear for a sad reason indeed. A friend, husband, neighbor, co-laborer, and son is dead. Our City has lost a Citizen, loyal and true.”

I walked the perimeter of the platform as my sweat dripped audibly to the floor.

“This is perhaps not an unusual occurrence. Unfortunately. Our City sees violence in the streets from time to time. Perhaps, it will always be so.”

This got a rise from some of my audience.

“But today was different. Our Citizen was murdered in the Temple. By my humble client, a monk. There within the hallowed ground of marble and glass. I will not deceive you, it was a horrific crime.”

The jury was looking piqued in the hot sun. They were used to the shade of porticos.

“My client committed the crime. I cannot change what happened. We have all been introduced to our noble prosecutor’s assembled witnesses. What I am here to convince you of is not of a different telling of today’s events.

“I am here to convince you of his innocence.”

I wonder to this day if the prosecutor had his arguments prepared to answer my assertion that the monk acted out of pity, out of justice for the young abused Mira. I will never know.

“Is a man not innocent when he acts within the nature that that has been burned into him like a brand onto cattle? Was this monk acting out of the ordinary when he found it in himself to kill another? As one devoted to Dror, a god who appeals to the strong and the mighty, could he not become strong himself and exercise his power on one Dror had forgotten?”

The jury seemed to be tightened harp strings in their seats and looking to the judge whose hand was moving towards his gavel.

“Placed in a marble tomb in the heart of our City, could he not become cold himself?”

Portions of the crowd stirred as through embers were dancing across their feet.

Brother Eupsuche slept still, the contents of my flask sitting in his full belly. He was unaware of what his act of justice just hours previous would accomplish.

I raised my voice to a pitch like that of the priest I’d heard announce Eupsuche’s exile.

“We won the Provincial Wars but we had truly lost before they began. Our City had been taken by a foreign body, by those whose allegiances lay elsewhere! Their origins are from far afield and whose concerns are not of The City, nor of this world at all!”

Brethren from all throughout the crowd were uneasy and shouting negations but they seemed half hearted and self conscious. The jury of Eupsuche’s peers were livid and some priests stood in objection. The judge was unable to move.

“Everywhere we see the murder of our people, our families, our very City itself!”

I was screaming over the noise of a few scattered fights.

“What is one more? My client is innocent in the face of the Fellowship’s guilt!”
Screams were loosed and I think at that time a child was trampled towards the bank as simultaneously its front windows were shattered, broken glass exploding.

My assistants that I had asked Veritas to alert had indeed come to my aid.
Kerner, Troble, Arnoun, Jornaut, they and their families, they and their drinking mates from the ghetto pubs, all as many as could from the poor districts had all answered my anonymous note.

Within its few hand scrawled lines, I had told them that the Temple would fall tonight, along with Dowling, along with all those in power who kept their ilk above them. The disgusting autocrats who came in a hundred guises but all hearkening back to the Temple and its Dror loving murderers.

I saw a woman in Fellowship robes in the first rows away from me be stabbed in the neck and bright crimson misted the blazing air.

The jury had made its decision and the case had been won.

I was stepped on and my clothes torn as I made my way towards the marina. Before I passed over the hill, I looked back and saw black smoke pouring from the skyline. It looked that the Temple had already been breached and I could see that my district too was burning.

Ana found me sitting on her front porch smoking and I held her as though I loved her.
I led her down to the docks and had her show me how to launch a boat.
Out beyond the breakers, we felt the heat increase through the night and I lied to her, telling her that we would move to the country.

Editor’s Note: Never in our contemporary literature have I found a more apt and honorable hero. As much as I look up to Mr. S’s invention of such a one as his Ian Troulle it is a shame that there is none so brave as to become the hero he is. Our male readership has echoed the same in many letters to The Orphan and I do hope that Mr. S finishes his sequel tentatively titled Both/And: Both My Thoughts And Life Are Wrong very soon.


[1] “Law school” has a number of meanings in The City. It can refer to the training of lawyers, judges, magistrates, etc. or it can refer to those who live sordid lives in the criminal underground. In this latter sense it is like “the school of hard knocks”, learning the “law” of the street. In The City it can also refer to Seminary or Yeshiva. In the case of the narrator, its meaning should be plain. –The Author

[2] The Fellowship of Dror is one of the two major sects in The City and I just as well could have picked the other. However, it is the Fellowship’s credo of “loyalty, honesty, fidelity, chastity” that attracted me.

–The Author

I’ve frequented some of the parties held at their temple and let me assure you, that any rumors of their piety being only toga deep are unfortunately false. It turns out that not even a flask of mead is permitted in their Spring festivals. –The Editor

Dror may be etymologically connected to “swan” or “goose”, however it is of interest that in recent years the ostrich is most commonly depicted on their banners. –The Seminarian

[3] How often have I felt my wife’s most damning reproach in her simple silence? The most barbed retort is the one not uttered and is the secret weapon of both the wise and the wife. –The Editor

The Religionist
By: Aletheia Sansrespite

“Talk [Abraham] cannot, he speaks no human language.
Though he himself understood all the tongues of the world,
though the loved ones understood them too-he still could not talk-
he speaks a divine tongue-he ‘speaks with tongues’.”
-Johannes de silencio

I am waiting for a thunderstorm. I haven’t left my apartment for close to three weeks, or however long it takes to deplete one’s food pantry. As I’ve just thrown one more cigarette pack sized tin of sardines into the pile of rotting garbage in the corner of my living room, I believe that it may be close to three weeks. And yet I wait.

What will be the effect of this thunderstorm?

That remains to be seen entirely, but I have clearly seen the streets washed clean in a dream and that is enough.

I live on the South side of the City, where the forgotten go to make tenements so that they can pile their forgottenness on top of each other so as to drown out the crushing roar of their vacuous lives, and the ignored cries of unwanted children in the stairwells.

I had always thought that I was the only one who imagined that life could be better. After the fire that swept the City after the Eupsuche Riot, I was momentarily hopeful that change would come. It was like the corner Punch and Judy show where the laughter rises quickly and surprisingly-so much so that you find yourself laughing too-and then it ends abruptly and after the show you realize that it was not funny at all. You realize the puppeteers were horrible, you couldn’t hear a single word of it because of the coughing and muttering in the crowd, and the sidewalk smelled of urine. And yet you laughed. At show’s end, all you have is urine smell and the shame for having fallen into laughing.

And then I found it.

I had been travelling past the orphanage on Rue Montaigne when I spied behind a rubbish bin a small black book that spelled for me the answer and gave me hope that I was not alone in the world. I was not a solitary and lone voice in the wilderness screaming only to myself. There was another, who like me knew that change could come. The change would be not only momentary change that would be forgotten in a flash, or remembered faintly in dreams, or be made to exist only in the drunken imaginations of pub-dwelling philosophers. The change we sought would be real, lasting, revolutionary, necessary, can I even say divine?

Not only did the book tell me there was another, but it told me how the change was to come.

I looked on the first page and in the small and faint type of a local printing shop was the title: The Religionist.

I was on my way to work, so I slipped it in my purse and during break I went and sat on the dock and flipped through the pages ravenously as I nursed absently on my pipe.

It was written in the style of a diary at times, a story at others.
April 17th I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.[1] I had a dream last night where I saw a child dying in the stairwell. This is not an uncommon sight in waking hours, but for some reason, in the dream this one struck me particularly as sad. I took its light body into my arms and began to run to the hospital. (This is especially dreamy, for there is no hospital at all in the South side.) As I went hurriedly, the streets became so clogged with debris and dead bodies that I couldn’t move at all and soon I was being swept under by a tide of death and filth. I was so scared that I crushed the child in my arms like an empty plaster mold.

I never did go back to work that afternoon and I’ve never gone back. A few days ago someone slipped an envelope under my door that contained my last paycheck that had large deductions in it to cover my shipyard uniform that I hadn’t returned and my sail mending kit that was on loan from the company. All told there wasn’t much money left in the check for me so I ripped it up. I didn’t want to benefit from that work anyway.

Sept 8th –I met with my last remaining friend today at the market. She is a neophyte in one of the City’s two great sects.[2] This being the case, she is under the belief that she knows everything. This is the great bane of everyone who learns something. All the world seems now opened to them and they are just at their wits end holding back their great new theory. I told her of some of my thoughts towards the End which I had been devising in my mind and she placed her coffee cup down politely and stroked at her chin.

“Well,” she said. “That certainly would seem to work, but it wouldn’t.”

I leaned back in my chair and said, “Good. That’s what I wanted you to say.”

She looked a bit puzzled and continued to give her reasons why my approach wouldn’t work. She kept a list of reasons tallied on her fingers as she counted. It is a dangerous mind that wants to count things.

When she had finished I said again, “Good. That’s what I wanted you to say.”

More flustered now, she asked what I meant by that.

Says I, “If I had constructed a plan so that you would have believed it, I would have surely wasted my time. Do you imagine that I spend sleepless nights organizing my thoughts in such a way so that a young untrained and easy excitable mind might appreciate it? If you were to have in any way understood or had faith what I was saying, I would have had to start from scratch. As it stands, I know my way is correct.”

She finished her coffee in deep thought. The young and beautiful looking waiter came and collected our cups and gave us the nonverbal impression that he wanted us to leave his table so that waiting customers could take their turns and swill the café’s horrible cappuccino. We did those in the queue a favor and sat for another half hour in silence until she finally said: “Okay. I think I understand it and it just might work.”

I left her then alone at the table with the bill to pay and only one last remark,

“You’re a liar and I don’t ever wish to speak to you again.”

I decided to leave my apartment. My time of confinement was over and I was ready again to face the world. But it was not the same world that I had left those many weeks ago. Or I should say that it was the same but I was seeing it with new eyes. It was not the cesspool that I remembered. It now was a cesspool with the shadow of a thunderhead, or falling comet, darkening it.

I went to see my analyst at her office at my scheduled time. She was quite surprised to see me, but happy I am sure, since I am her last remaining patient.

“Come in! I thought that you had died! No word from you for over three weeks!”

“Why would you imagine that I was dead just because-?”

“The last time I saw you, you’d said that you’d ‘rather be dead than live in a world like this’.”

“Oh. I don’t remember that.”

“Surprising.” She said sardonically.

She had me lay down on the couch and I told her my conception, my plan, my direction of life. As I spoke, I joyfully heard her scribbling notes on her pad. I saw the hands of the clock pointing near the end of our session and I concluded my thoughts with the flourish of throwing the bust of the Respected Psychiatrist on her mantle against the wall.

“Well, when would you like to schedule your next appointment?” She asked.

I told her, “I refuse to be analyzed by any shrink that will accept me as a client!”

“You say that every week.” My analyst said.

“I do? Well, that exactly proves my point! What am I paying you for anyway? You wouldn’t know madness if it looked you in the face!”

“Please! Tell me about madness.”

“The first type is that of the Madness That Enjoys Madness. This is where everything presents itself as completely ridiculous and the Madman revels in it. They imagine themselves quite the life of the party but their Madness interesting in that it is interesting, which is quite boring actually. You will find them at all the best parties in mismatched clothes drinking absinthe from a shoe and scratching at their waxed mustaches with mirror shards. The second type is the Madness That Is Purely Mad. This is the sort represented in the dirty insane that pluck lice from their scalp, show it to the world and eat it on the street corner. You can spot them in the hills howling at the moon. They draw crowds and exorcists and no chains can hold them. They have Madness so in control and wholly explored that to watch them is like looking up “Madness” in the dictionary. This type of Madness is sure to catch the eye of the Charitable Sisters, whose ethical laws demand that they care for Madness. I pity them both-the Madman of this type and the pious who seek them. The last type I hardly dare mention because of the high esteem in which I hold them! This is the Madness Which No One Knows Of. You hear of them typically only after they are dead or imprisoned. ‘She seemed like such a nice young woman. So quiet!’ The neighbors will say. ‘We never suspected them capable of such horror!’ the family says. Oh! What artistry this Madness is! This last type of Madman is so hyperaware of the beauty of Madness that they never question the Sanity or Insanity of any individual because they know the dark inwardness that the best kind of Madness brings. Many have been married to these specimens without the slightest idea that inside them whirs the gears of paradox, insanity, and a mute madness that if screamed would either wrench the world from its orbit or be so totally bonkers that it would be mistaken for a belch or sneeze.” I concluded this with the flourish of gathering the broken pieces of the bust and throwing them against the opposite wall.

“Gesundheit.” Said the analyst.

I left her in a hurry vowing to never see her again. “You hack!” I yelled up the stairs.

June 2nd –I’ve left my apartment. What a world. I overheard a street preacher say on the corner that “this world is a love letter to you,” and I stopped in my tracks.

“From whom is it addressed?” I asked. “I may only guess, because it’s written in my blood. The very blood produced by the paper cut it gave me!”

He only looked puzzled. Funny how preachers always seem surprised when someone listens to them.

I’ve got four red strings tied around fingers. I forget when I tied them there, and what they were to remind me to do, but I do know for a fact that they were supposed to remind me to do something so they’ve served their purpose.

These strings are the clearest picture of what I strive for my life to be.

My way to perfection is clear and now comes to the doing of it.

There are those who are happy with loving themselves and they become great to a certain extent. There are others who love of others and they too become great. I am not satisfied with this sort of greatness and I reject both of these loves.

I have met those who say a better life, a better world is possible. I may have at one time entertained this as wisdom. I also have heard from those who look into all things at once and absorb all eternity and stare longingly into the infinite. This perspective is to me now too limited. I seek only the impossible and that which is either forgotten or reviled by all others.

I see the lines of kings and conquerors, generals and heroes, who have fought with and dominated the world. Let them rot with the world! Their end is no different than that which is eventually rejected even by termites. To say that they will burn with the world is to suggest that they bring light or warmth and I will not ascribe to them such value.

I see those who have through great adversity come to control and subjugate themselves. I pass by the hunger artist in the Market only to ignore him and allow him to see my upturned nose. I see the monk atop his Stylite and I laugh to myself.

I got to where the others would never dream. The altar is ashamed of itself as I pass. The temple wishes it could crumble and destroy itself as my shadow graces its steps. I am alone in this perfection perfectly.

Or so I thought until I found the book.

Its appearance in my life assured me that there was at least one other who went beyond mere heroism.

I set to the work. For doing is all there is. Thinking is the work of the philosopher and is really no work at all. I bought a long knife at the Market and concealed it in my dress.

No one expects a religionist to be a woman it seems, and I was allowed into the Temple of Dror without hassle. There I came to a chamber where there were a number of adherents quietly praying. My knife and I did our work and again, the knife was hidden and I repeated this process in a number of annexes and chambers.

I then made my way to where the Family of Aelia hold their rites and rituals and again, the true religionist apparently is not assumed to be a quiet and calm looking woman for they greeted me warmly. Their greeting became crimson as my vocation realized itself. As I made my way unto the boulevard, my stained blade became veiled under my dress’s many folds.

I was as I passed behind the orphanage that I was stopped by a young woman.

“Miss,” she said “You dropped this book behind the rubbish bin there.”

She said, pointing.

“I did?”

“Yes. Just now.”

“Oh! I don’t remember that.” I took the book from her and read the first page.

The Religionist’ it read. Had I seen this before?

“I’m sorry, I don’t remember this book. I don’t think it’s mine.”

“Oh, you always say that!” said the young girl, handing it to me before returning to the orphanage’s steps.

Editor’s Note:

I found this story at the bottom of a rubbish bin this past fall. I included it in this current edition again because of the appreciation it received from our female readership. Our mailroom was almost flooded with thank you letters saying ‘How nice it is to see woman’s literature!’ and ‘Finally! A story that isn’t all from a man’s perspective!’ I commended Mr. Sansrespite on his daughter’s work when I saw him in passing on the street and he incontrovertibly denied that his daughter Aletheia could be the true author.

“She has no interest in religion at all. It must be someone else.” He said.


[1] Harry Jaffa wrote this into Barry Goldwater’s 1964 Republican nominee acceptance speech. –The Seminarian

[2] That is, either ‘The Family of Aelia’ or the ‘Fellowship of Dror’. One commentator hints that neither of these Sects proper are alluded, but individual teachers, either The Historian or The Self-ist. –The Editor

I Know Now What It Is To Shudder
By: Malleus St. Antonius

[Recently, a collection of works from the Brothers Grimm was released containing the story “The Tale of a Youth Who Set Out to Learn What Fear Was”. In this tale, a young boy sets out to learn what it was ‘to shudder’ and in the process meets with indifference corpses, ghosts, flying skulls, zombies, etc.
He is later married and one night his wife throws cold water and fish on him
and he ‘shudders’.]

David was the younger of two brothers who, while quite smaller and more frail than his brother, was nevertheless quite undisturbed by anything.

His brother saw a skunk one morning in the field of their farm and quickly ran away. David however picked the skunk up by the tail. He was consequently asked to complete the school year sitting at a desk outside the school’s downwind window.

He would often step on tacks, walk through sliding glass doors, eat strange looking mushrooms, take naps in intersections, and play “Whack-A-Mole” with rattlesnakes using his face instead of a mallet.

“Boy, ain’t you got a lick a sense to even be scared just a peck?” His father (an oafish old curmudgeon) asked one day. “Nope. Not a lick or a peck.” David answered.

“This boy durn’t know how ta shudder a’tall!” His dad announced to the family gathered at the dinner table, exasperated.

“Gosh.” Thought David. “What’s it mean to shudder, I suppose?”

So he headed off one night with his packsack to find out what it was to shudder.

He met a fancy dressed man who introduced himself as “Major Kalm of Easy Company” who asked if David wanted to join him.

David liked the sound of ‘ease’ and ‘calm’ so he was conscripted on the spot and sent to the frontlines of a battle.

David met many grumbling men in the trenches. But David had a great time lying low when his Sergeant told him to during mortar attacks because he would make sand castles.

“We need someone to go get up this Hamburger Hill and roust out that machine gun nest!” said Sarge.

“Hamburgers? Nests?” thought David. He loved both burgers and birds and was fascinated by the possibility of combining the two. “Sign me up!” he yelped.

Three days later, David came back with the enemy machine gun in hand.

“All they had was this noisy broomstick, unfortunately, Sarge.” He said.

“This boy don’t know how to shudder, I think.” Said Sarge and David felt a pang of sadness.

Soon David’s sand castle making days were over with the ending of the war and so he continued on to the City where he got a job making candles. The candle making shop was between a deli and a bakery and David would know that he had got to work in the morning when he had just passed the smell of meats, headcheese, and BBQed bear claws and just begun to smell sweetmeats, cheesecake, and bearclaws.

One day while making a candle, he completely became encased in wax. The butcher from next door came in and found him thinking ‘I’ll just take this candle and pay David back tomorrow.” The butcher then used him to light up his shop as he made bratwurst throughout the night.

The next day, the baker came into the deli and found David all burnt to a crisp and said “I’ll just borrow this slab of salt pork from the butcher to make mincemeat pie and pay him back tomorrow.

The next day at a wedding feast when those gathered had thought that there was no more mincemeat pie, someone said, “Sure, there’s a big one right over there. They’ve left the best mincemeat for the end!” When they tried to dish up a slice, however, David said “Don’t take and eat. This is my body.”

The bride and groom looked at each other and said “This boy sure don’t know how to shudder!” and David felt disappointed in himself again.

David, having seen the fun people were having at the wedding got the idea that he should enjoy the rite of marriage. His friends at the bar all tried to talk him out of it, but he could not be dissuaded. After all, he had heard from all the ‘loose women’ in the bar that they would sleep with any man who was “well groomed” and he thought, “Well, I’ll be Groomed!”

So he was promptly married to a caring, intelligent, funny, creative, and heavenly beautiful woman. They were very happy and had two successful children who were each respected intellectuals and movie stars.

One night, David came in through the garage and as he slipped off his shoes on the mat, he noticed that he didn’t hear his wife Madrigal busying herself as usual making dinner. “Maddie? You home?” He said at the base of the stairs. He went up to find her sitting in the dark with a folded magazine in her lap. “Maddie, what are you doing sitting in the dark?” She shot him a glancing look.

There was a half bottle of Syrah on the living room table. “Are you drinking already?” Usually they would finish a bottle together over the dinner she’d prepared. It being Tuesday, David had expected to smell the usual Tilapia, but it was absent.

“Dave, are you happy?” She asked.

“Yes, I’m happy.”

She sighed loudly.

“What? What’s going on? What kind of question is that?”

She stood, throwing the magazine aside. “I mean, are you happy?

“Sure.” He left her there and rattled dishes in the kitchen, not so much as to start dinner himself, but to encourage her to.

“Dave.” She said from the other room, “Shit. I mean…I’m not happy.”

Madrigal heard the broiling pan drop in the sink. A silent moment later, David came into the living room holding a bottle of olive oil. “What do you mean?”

She sighed again and took the wine glass and bottle with her into their bedroom.

He sat at the dinner table and stared. Tilapia thawing on the counter and asparagus awaiting their steaming alongside, he only stared blankly until the light from the Krupps coffee maker glowed in the dark.

David lifted himself from the table and found Madrigal crying and curled on the bed. He took off his watch and absently placed it on the nightstand. He wrapped his body behind her and felt a cry rattle her when he played with her hair like she liked it.

As David and Madrigal slipped off to uneasy sleep, he thought,

“Now I know what it is to shudder.”

Editor’s Note:

When Malleolus brought this story to me, I saw that some of my genius must have been passed on in my venerable seed. Of course, I was saddened that my talents had made the decline from the mythical Golden Age to a type of Silver Age as my son had apparently forsaken my dream of his becoming an editor of my own stripe. I should say that while I don’t understand a single line of this ‘story’, I have included it here in hopes that my son will consequently face the embarrassment of the reviewers and perhaps make the only wise decision and become my assistant editor in the future.

–Auguste St. Antonius

Author’s Note:

My father is our City’s most well-known lout, and his dalliances with women have become fodder for whispers and teahouse rumors and the source of my great shame. His affair with a ventriloquist became legend when they were caught in compromising circumstances in the antiquities wing of the museum and yet he still clings to the fantasy that it is a secret of his own. O! how our behavior is never a private matter! Why my mother has still clung to the hope of him changing his lecherous ways, I will never know. In my own giving up of the expectation of my father ever shuddering, I wonder if my resignation toward my father is itself a shudder or the abnegation of shuddering.
–Malleus St. Antonius

Solitary
By: Yorick Touchstone

“Perhaps someone thinks that it is frightful arrogation to attribute
the designation of “humorist” to myself…the person who makes this
this objection obviously assumes humor to be the highest.”
-Johannes Climacus

What was I saying? It seems that I’ve forgotten. I’ll just have to begin with the beginning.

The beginning should start by telling you that there was a man named Peter who lived in the City and he came to be sentenced to a life term of solitary imprisonment. That’s not the story though. The story is how that sentence came to pass. And that I should say begins with Peter reading a local paper one morning.

The humble paper was a seedy rag, whose pages contained the most recent accepted lies, twisted fantasies, whispered rumors of celebrities and commoners alike. The paper was read by only the most rotten of the City’s populace. On the back page this particular morning, Peter found an advertisement reading: “Attention! All the City is invited to meet a Respectable Employer in the City Market today for the purpose of finding those who would like a very easy job with a great reward. Signed, Mr. S”

Later that morning, while Peter was fishing in the harbor, he was approached by a foreign looking man in a long coat with a stylish beard whose accent was immediately apparent when he addressed Peter.

“Good sir, I am sorry to interrupt your fishing, but may I ask you if you would like to help me today?”

Peter went with the man who introduced himself as ‘Mr. S’, and Peter asked him if he was the same of the advertisement. He said he was, and Peter asked if he hadn’t had any response to his posting. “Oh yes,” he said “In fact the City in its entirety showed up and they are waiting there still!” As they crested a hill, Peter was able to see the Market and it seemed it was true, a complete census could be taken.

Mr. S led Peter outside the City into the pasturelands. There, they came to a high place where there was a churchyard.[1] As they passed by the tombstones, one in particular caught Peter’s eye which read:

Don’t grieve for me because I’ve died

Grieve that whilst I lived, I was not alive.”[2]

Peter turned back again and Mr. S had vanished. Instead he saw the church’s gathering congregants milling into the church for services. A lovely woman in vibrant green and smelling of rose hip oil bid him to come inside. Since his employer was not to be found, Peter joined her.

He sat between the woman in green and a small man whose weathered look came not from age and whose back looked twisted and brittle. The service began by a series of congregants speaking at the front and giving short messages of their faith. First, a woman spoke of the historical truth of their great faith and confirmed it by citing all the most learned historians. The Brittle Man next to Peter whispered to him that she was ‘mad as a hatter. Or, at least as mad as a hatter’s wife whose mad husband had more lovers in the City than history could recount’. The next came and gave great signs of wonder: he healed a man of pleurisy and a boy of melancholy. The Brittle Man told Peter that he ‘was a violent man, and the healed man was his father whom he poisoned with herbicide and the boy was his son whom he beat days either sunny or overcast.’

They began signing beautiful hymns that elevated Peter’s soul and drew his thoughts from the lowly things of common life and felt like a one who had been to the seventh heaven. The Brittle Man whispered that the organist was a known arsonist.

All of this was only prelude to the Sermonist who was to come but seemed to be running late. The congregation waited patiently and reverently, the great reputation of the Sermonist held them rapt even in his truancy.

“He will not come.” Said the Brittle Man. “He never comes. Why would he?”

Peter asked who this person was and he was told that the Sermonist was the greatest and most wise teacher there had ever been. He wore a simple peasant’s coat and a long shepherd’s beard, and every message he gave cut to the individual’s heart. “But he won’t waste his time coming here.” The Brittle Man said.

In the time of their waiting, the Brittle Man took the stage and began telling a simple story that he again retold again and again but with slight variation. He continued in this way as if the story a gem that could be turned and new facets revealed. Peter, along with everyone else found it quite uninteresting[3]. But, since he was a first time visitor, was the only one who felt the freedom to excuse himself quietly.

On the front stoop sat Mr. S smoking leisurely on a cigar. He told Peter then what his job was: “take this kerosene and lighter and burn this church down.” So Peter soaked the base boards and foundation in the gas and set it alight. When he had done so, he found Mr. S again to be missing.

“He sure does walk away quietly!” Peter thought.

The flames began eating at the church at good speed. Peter walked down the hill a distance to a small farm where he found the barn shed empty. He helped himself to a long coat which he donned and then using shears and pitch, attached some sheep’s wool to his chin to create the effect of a beard.

He re-entered the church then and the congregation gasped. “The Sermonist!” an old man said with awe. “How handsome!” said one young woman to another. He stood in the front of those assembled and after clearing his throat, began his Sermon.

He whispered in one man’s ear: “That you are the most wise of all is clear because you can see demons in disguise who tempt your vanity.”

“I have no vanity, you demon!” He hollered back at Peter, his face red.

Peter whispered to another, “If you do not tell anyone that I will burn you to death, I will burn you to death. If you tell even a single soul that I will burn you to death, I will not burn you to death.[4]

“You’re going to burn me to death? He says he’s going to burn me up! Hah! You fiend! I would dare you to try!” he screamed back looking quite tricky and cunning.

Peter turned again and whispered to another, “Because of my death, you all shall live.”

The man slapped Peter on the cheek. “Blasphemy!” He yelled.

At that moment, Peter let slip from his hand the lighter that Mr. S had given him. Seeing it, the organist grabbed it and suggested that they give the Sermonist a bit of a lesson. The congregation quickly agreed. Between blows, they set fire to him and Peter was quickly a waving torch. The frightful smell produced by this motivated the assembly to exit the church quickly. Most returned to their homes for dinner, some made time to watch the boats enter the City’s bay.

The church burned to the ground in minutes.[5]

What was I saying? It seems that I’ve forgotten. I’ll just have to begin with the beginning.

You see, it’s so difficult to keep my mind on track recently. I must take this occasion to thank you for your patience. Many times when I begin these stories, my audience asks me to ‘get to the moral’ as though the meaning of the story could precede the telling of the story. Besides, I don’t tell stories with morals. Those types of stories are for children and I don’t tell children’s stories. My stories don’t have morals, or meanings, nor are they metaphorical or contain mythological themes. I tell stories as they happened and it seems to me that the truth of what happened shouldn’t be burdened with ‘meaning’.[6]

But I live with stories exclusively now and they keep me company. I’ve heard people say ‘oh how hard it must be to be a monk!’ and I wonder how they form this impression, for I’ve never once seen a monk grumble. I am quite certain that both the lives of monks and prisoners in solitary are kept quite content by the telling of stories. The monks have their gods to talk to and the prisoner in solitary also can talk to themselves, the rats in his mattress, or perhaps the passing prison guard.

Now, where was I? Oh yes. The beginning.

From the cindered wood of the church, believe it or not, came Peter, all burnt up to a crisp and he found Mr. S there again, enjoying the sunset. Peter told him of the events that had occurred since he had last seen him and Mr. S began to laugh.

Mr. S tried to pay Peter then for his services, but Peter declined. After his day of lying, deceit, and tempting others to violence, he gave himself a life sentence of solitary and this seemed the best recompense for his day’s work.

Editor’s Note:

I’ve known Mr. Touchstone for a great number of years. He is The Orphan’s premier comedic writer and while his work is never directly quoted to me, it seems that it greatly influences the temperaments of my landlord and The Orphan’s board of directors.

Humor is always a welcomed tonic in the daily hustle and bustle of the City life and I commonly tell jokes on the morning train that are not funny to amuse myself. The greatest of my jokes are those I play on myself. I will misplace my pipe whilst drinking just to summon the inevitable hilarious reaction of stomping about my apartment the next morning and cursing. I have a running joke that I only know and when I am attending dinner parties with my (sometimes) wife Cordelia, I’ll mention my love of ‘the antiquities wing of the City museum’ and I’ll smile coyly to Cordelia’s chagrin.

My humor is often over the head of the majority of folk, but that is the curse of the genius, to be only understood by your equals who are scarce and jealously intimidated. While I can appreciate the pedestrian humor of Mr. Touchstone and respect his ability to speak to relate to the hoi polloi, I must say that he makes for a horrible dinner guest.             -Auguste St. Antonius

Author’s Note:

After I finished writing Solitary, and gave it to Mr. St. Antonius, I was surprised that he began laughing. I was quite disappointed since my intention had been to laugh at him, not with him. This is the greatest challenge of a humorist: keeping the jokes you wish others to enjoy separate from those meant only for your own benefit.


[1] In my translation, I had to choose between ‘churchyard’ and ‘graveyard’. The two terms in the original language are of course synonymous ever since an Architecture Critic once reviewed an impressive and newly built cathedral, “A beautiful whitewashed and gleaming tomb, which is filled with the rotting dead.” –the Editor

[2] Rabbi A comments: “This tombstone was written for a young infant who died without the chance to experience the pure meaninglessness, sadness, and horrors of life and hence could not enjoy heaven fully.” Rabbi B comments: This is the tombstone of an old man who had never fully experienced the joys, delights, and ecstasy of life.” Rabbi C writes: “This was a tombstone whose grave was still empty and ready to be filled by the next of the congregation to die.” Rabbi D writes: “This grave was occupied and in fact its occupant still moved the ground with their writhing in suffocation. How one accepts, rejects, or identifies with this macabre image determines their destiny.” –The Editor

[3] I have seen my grandfather chew the same piece of mincemeat pie for several minutes as though in great anticipation of it becoming sirloin. It is a terrible process to witness. He also blows his nose at the dinner table with the inventiveness of a contortionist playing a broken trumpet. Perhaps he believes that his endurance will produce gold dust in his kerchief. –The Editor

[4] It is said that Cupid had given Psyche a similar direction. The divinity of their daughter Voluptas (the Goddess of sensual pleasures) depended on Psyche’s keeping secret her nature. The efficacy of my prayers to Voluptas so far suggest her mother was a blabber mouth. –The Editor

[5] Think of the panic that arises when you begin a statement with, “now, don’t panic….” Victor Eremita once edited a paper on the subject: “In a theater, it happened that a fire started offstage. The clown came out to tell the audience. They thought it was a joke and applauded…This is the way…that the world will be destroyed—amid the universal wits and wags who think it is all a joke (Either/Or).”  –The Seminarian

[6] I once told someone that I had burned my eyes while fishing because of the sun’s reflection on the water. And though I couldn’t see the fish I was eating, its taste was not diminished. “Oh, yes. I understand.” She answered back, winking. –The Author

The Witness
By: Semper Sansrespite

“I know very well that I shall not soon forget that banquet in which I participated without being a participant; but just the same I cannot now decide to release it without
having provided myself with a scrupulous written memoir
of what for me was actually worthy of memory.”
-William Afham

The Hall of Courts, a great wide cavernous gallery with giant pillars the size of sequoias and a thick glass ceiling, largely opaque with grime of centuries and overlaid with layers of ivy which gave light in blurry swaths weakened by smoke and dust on its way to the floor far below, sits in the center of the city square. From place to place in the gallery, in which no end can be seen from the inside, clusters of the street people and onlookers formed rough rectangles of dense crowds wherein a single magistrate paces around one criminal or another. Guards and attendants hunker or lean on their pikes at the inner edge of these courts whose only partition one from another was the coughing, jostling huddle, leering like dogs their eyes red with smoke and the tedium of endless witnesses.
There is always motion to the scene, the men with their box legged straggles, the prostitutes swishing and pushing their perfumed clouds around, and the furtive young boys skipping school chasing in circuits. There also was the traffic of onlookers from case to case, as one would lose their interest. Petty theft, incest, embezzlement, all the charges that may bring on into the Hall had been heard of, and had lost their power to hold attention without the creativity of the magistrate.
The invariably aged and rakish men in their scarlet robes had become long ago aware of the problem and had resolved it with ever-increasing showmanship to keep their huddled courts robust. Though their reputations were known and their celebrity in the city center secure, their names were never revealed. Citizens in the Hall only speak of magistrate “Murder Two Hundred” for the number of cases successfully wrought, or “Madam Sheik’s” for where they adjourned for recess.
One afternoon, as even larger crowds than usual were being driving in by an unforgiving rain, and the magistrates were announcing their third session cases, winding up in their bombast, I found myself at the front of a favorite magistrate of mine who had overseen many tens of cases I had witnessed. The case being announced as one of murder, the guards had pushed a sallow and emaciated urchin boy into the clearing and there followed the usual applause for the beginning. A man beside me was jarring with elbows and with impropriety came to be before me and at the edge. His hair, while smelling of rich pomade was now awry and wild. His jacket was missing and his tailored shirt untucked. His white neck showed veins.
The session underway, the sleeves of the magistrate were now flags with ivory wrists sometimes flying and the charges summarized. The boy in the dock looked over those gathered, with not hope in his eyes, but alarm. Waiting not for a rescue, but someone to rush from the assemblage with a knife or tearing hands, which was not unheard of, and of which I had seen times past. “Murder! Most grievous, and mean. The State, most blessed and assured, will have no mercy on this act. Murder is your charge young man, and if it stains you, it marks you for death!” The magistrate boomed, his trained voice reaching above the roar, his speech curling his r’s as a thespian. The boy’s head hung from his spine as an afterthought.
“Magistrate! I beg you hear me out!” The man before me stepped into the square. Small but effective movements from the guards poised them for instantaneous action should they infer it from the magistrate who like a magician, only flared his sleeves and held his arms out as for embrace. He saw dramatic appeal to this interruption and saw to play it. My heart raced.
“You may speak before the court. Please identify yourself, sir.”
“I am Dr. Saul, veterinarian, your honor.”
“Sir Doctor, The Court is open to you.”
The new man’s shoulders came up and his toes out, like a bird. His face came hard from the stares of those around him. My mouth went dry for embarrassment for him; his shoes brown with mud, his face showing pits under his eyes. I saw the faces around me rapt in his appearance also. They gazed with attention at a man who they felt at once ashamed for and thankful towards, for he represented a novelty to the dreary afternoon. My heart rode his, and stirred with his as the magistrate stood almost toes to toes with him.
“Your Honor, this boy is innocent.” His adam’s apple lurched. “I am the guilty. I murdered her. It is me! You have heard me.” He motioned to us, “You all have heard now. I am guilty.”
There was no stirring now, nor speaking for we had got our tasting. Now we wanted more and the magistrate glowed. He scanned us, and saw in the back, the men of the outer row quietly stopping those passing with but a look. He gave us a moment then,
“Give us your story, Sir Doctor.” He turned his back to him to face the boy. “The Court will hear you.”
“Where do I start? I killed her. Is more needed? I am Dr. Saul, my office is in the Red Brick End,” that is of the old quarter, “where I attend to carriage horses, cattle. Mostly hoof rot I see. I can mend bones, or treat worms. The fishermen come to me to sew up their hands. I am a doctor and man and animal differ little in medicine. I was returning to my shop the day before yesterday when I was stopped at my own gate. I guess I could begin there.”
“Make no delay in it then Doctor. You have the Court.”
So he began.
“He requested I make a house call, and come at once. I told him that was only getting back from one call and the hour was late, but I would join him as soon as able. He insisted that I come immediately and his carriage drew up to ensure his seriousness. I went. He had promised three times the normal rate for a house call. I went.” I looked to the boy to see if he bore any sign of familiarity with the Doctor or his testimony. He instead only looked on as we all did, confused and curious at the Doctor’s narration.
“The carriage had no windows and in near darkness I rode with the messenger. We turned numerous times and for a distance that felt it may have carried us near the city limits.” All skin turned cold at this. “When the door opened we were in a lamp lit drive of a huge estate. There was an open door of a carriage house. He led me in.”
The rain had not let up, and would not cease all that afternoon. That season I remember was one of remarkable changes, raising the water about the piers and giving masons much work bracing walls that had got rotten and cracked. But the rain from inside the Hall, under ivy and heavy brass torches, seemed a faint and remote thing not touching our world. We gathered were closer to the carriage house that the Doctor spoke of, could smell the hay.
“In the stall the messenger showed me a pregnant bay-horse. She was very full, and ready to birth. The man excused himself. That was that. She had a fever, and I culled more lamps from the garage to give me work light.” He faltered. “Your Honor, you wish me continue?” The magistrate bid him on. “She gave sign of infection or trouble and I feared a breach birth because of the way that her belly sat. I gave a first probe and saw the calf was coming. With assistance, the calf came right, and I quickly helped in its cleaning. There was quite an amount of accompanying fluid, darkish. I feared internal infection, or a cancer. I knew that it could be nothing more than the sign of a failed twin pregnancy. The afterbirth came forth, but with more of the same, and the bay was in discomfort to where she could not attend to her calf.
“I gave a search, Your Honor. I…and I pulled, by the ankle, an ankle no thinker than my finger” and he lifted his finger to show “a tiny human male. Three pounds, no more. It had been covered by a scab, and by pus to where its face was almost indiscernible.” The Doctor’s lips curled in spite of his formal air.
“God,” said a man to my right, and whistled. His breath, our breath all stunk in the crowd.[1] It carried cheap cigarette smoke, greasy drinks, and passed our grey, leaning teeth. In that moment though, our breaths hung and our mouths agape stopped. I felt cold despite the nearness of the crowd. A long audible exhale from the boy broke the trance.
“I called out.” The Doctor continued. “I held the boy in my hands and cried out. I cleaned the tiny infant off as well as I could but its caul was thick. I also came to see that the body, the flesh of the boy had been…It had been circumcised. Its umbilical cord had been crudely cropped and tied. The body fit in my cupped hands. It was dead, it fit in my hands.” He gave a pause as if to remember what, if anything had happened next. “The messenger boy from the carriage came and took the body; he said not a word to me. I swear Your Honor, I swear he was not surprised that it was but annoyed that it was dead. I followed him out to the yard, trying to get words, to ask him what this meant, to call on him curses, to ask him explain. He spoke with a man well dressed near the house briefly, handing over the body. He told me my payment was in the carriage and thanked me. He thanked me courteously.
“I found the payment in the carriage, but Your Honor, I could not touch it. I don’t know why. I also don’t know what brought me to slip out the door of the carriage as it exited the drive. I managed to slip out unseen by the driver, who was minding his two black haired mares with his crop and night had come in full. I came back up the drive. I came to the house. Your Honor, I entered the back door I had seen the two men enter. I cannot explain my actions. Forgive me, this was the first of crime. I chose to enter like a thief.
“I found I was in a kitchen greatly arrayed with dishes and platters ready for the serving and the sounds of entertainment came from all around; music, gaiety, and such. I cleaned myself quickly in the basin, as the kitchen was empty. I entered the hall to find a ball of beautiful women and finely dressed men. It was a ball. They were like the kind that you see in the Theatre District, finely dressed. I passed among them, unseen or unnoticed. I traveled room from room looking for either man I had seen before. Like an interloper, a trespasser in their home. I found the dapper man I had seen earlier. In a parlor. He stood with a woman in tow. It was her. In a dazzling green dress and smelling of rose hips. It was her. O! what have I done?”
He came to tears, but not to crying. They seemed to begrudge him, a Doctor, a man of stature and respect, and a man of our city he may not have been familiar with tears, and known the sounds that usually accompany them. They slowly inched down his tired face, individually at first then in a row. They followed his cheeks, coming near his mouth’s corners then hung on his jaw. His lips drew back and I could see the strength that it demanded him to refrain from howling, from losing himself in a fit.
“The woman in green[2]. She stood with him and they were in the center of the room with a large, blonde haired man seated in from of them. It was a game they played. They put a paper crown on him, and were singing “Fine A Man for Smiling”. A parlor game, apparently. The blonde haired man was sleeping. It was his face, the face of truly an innocent, that made me want to flee that place finally and forget the horror of the child in the stable. His face was untouched by evil or care, and all the while they sang again and again, ‘fancy you, crafty, wily, card up your sleeve…so fine a man for smiling!’
“I fled down a side hall and entered the dining hall, which I imagined was adjacent to the kitchen I had entered. As I made my exit, loud voices and accompanying sounds of an altercation from there stopped me cold in my tracks, and I at once, without thinking slipped my self under the long buffet table whose light white cover had concealed its glass top. Not a second after I came to rest under the table, a boisterous group came from the hall and the owners of the quarrelling voices also. I watched their feet from under the table, and could have reached out and touched them if I had dared. I then saw a pair of bare feet and legs, and soon a man was laid on the table. He was naked, Your Honor. I watched him from not but a foot underneath him, and with the lights now turned on, I could make out the faces of those who stood around the table, their faces white like ghouls through the tablecloth.
“They poured wine into his mouth and I assumed it was another game like the one I had witnessed earlier, when they held a rag over his face that as a veterinarian, a medical doctor, I knew was drenched in ether. From the smell, you see.”
“On and on it goes! Where it stops nobody knows!” cried an onlooker from the safety of the crowd around the convened court. The Magistrate had fire come to his eyes and he scanned the faces looking for a smirk, a sign of disrespect that he could lambaste.
“Silence in my court!”
Anonymous voices heckled back, and a passing vendor joined in the cacophony with a good natured and excusable call for his goods, “Dates, almonds!” He mewed. Faceless others from around me complained
“Have him get on with it!”
“What of the murder?”
“Tell us of your crime, sawbones!”
“Her heart, doctor, her heart[3], were they saved for your studies?”
The Magistrate at last managed to calm the noise from the tawny air.
“Doctor, can you expedite your testimony? Your confession?”
“Your Honor, members of the court: I ask your patience. From the moment I stepped foot into that carriage house that night to the very moment I stepped into your presence, every event is linked to the next, like the lines of a poem. Lose yourself in the middle, and you must start from the first line to regain memory. It is all one unit, you see. Patience! Please, your agreement upon my guilt rests on my testimony!”

“Don’t tell us Doctor, that like your poem, you will have to begin from your stories’ first lines?” Quipped the Magistrate to the chuckled response he desired.
“No sir. But please, let me finish uninterrupted.” Eyes bounced to the Magistrate to catch his reaction to such a pointed remark in his court, but mine swiveled to a motion I detected from my periphery and I caught sight of a man in the crowd employing the services of a Dirne-frau, a courtesan of the Great Hall.
The Magistrate must have given the witness allowance for his free speech, for he continued, “Once the ether had taken hold, the guests at the table would begin to lean forward and bite from his skin. They did so at his extremities first, then started at his trunk. It took great force to remove their morsels.” The witness stopped at that, perhaps amazed at his own choice of words. “They then rolled him over so that his face was nearly to mine own and with his drugged eyes meeting mine. I immediately feared that he would give alarm and I would be found, but whether by his stupor or the disadvantageous light he could see me not. More and more they came down on him and came away with bites from him. Blood began to gel over the glass, and soon I could see the man’s face no more. Their feast ended after what seemed many days and they left me alone with him.
“The party retreated to farther reaches of the house and I assume people retired to bed because calm finally fell. I took my chance, and with only a brief glance at the man on the table, I dashed through the kitchen and out the milk door and leapt onto a readied carriage that had been harnessed near the house. I let into that poor nag like a devil with the whip and it tore from the cobbled drive as though its tail were afire. I dozed off at the reins after fruitlessly circling endless tracts of mansions, each grander and yet identical to the last. I awoke to find the nag chewing up the lawn near Meore’s monument near Ellenshill. From there, I was able to wind my way by luck and chance to the State Market Grounds.
“I left the carriage there, Your Honor. Its whereabouts now I cannot say. If you wish to add theft to my charges, I will have to concede. I had never taken anything that was not mine before that morning, but at the time I had somehow justified it. At the Market, I lost myself among the crowd, seeking safety in the numbers. It however was torturous. I saw in every face the same beatific glow that was held by the man at the party, the ‘fine man for smiling’. Yet, I felt not safe. I was at once certain that I was being watched by those from the night afore. In a sea of strangers, I was the only stranger.”
He paused and looked at the court, his audience.
“I then saw the woman, from the night before,” he started.
“Which?” pressed the Magistrate.
“The woman in the green dress.”
“From the house?”
“I think she was wearing a green dress.”
“Which? The woman at the house or the woman at City Market?”
“I think both. Now it’s hard to say. Please, let me think. I only remember that I was struck with paralyzing fear when I saw her, then anger, finally, unmeasured hate. She had been there, had done those things.”
“And you killed her? How?”
“What does it matter? I killed her!”
“How?”

“I don’t remember. I only recall that I began to follow her down a vacant alley. When I returned from my momentary lapse, my suspension of consciousness, I knew I killed her and I came here. To confess!” He began to weep, his mouth unhinged.
“Do you remember anything at all? Are you certain you killed the woman?”
“I left her there.”
“Where?” The Magistrate stepped forward, placing a heavy hand on the witnesses arm.
“The alley behind the Orphanage!”
I saw, which afterwards in my questionings I found no one else did, that the young boy whose hearing began this mouthed the words “No. Dance Hall.” towards the witness, who was not aligned to see as I.
The magistrate had left bombast from this question, his patrons forgotten.
“How son, could this be, when she was found in the dance hall? Not this morning, but last night?” The witness looked up, his eyes searching. “This young man here, he was seen last going into her dressing room.”
The boy whelped, “It wasn’t me,” half-heartedly.
The witness began again,
“Your Honor, check the alley, look over it good. She must be there!” A thought grabbed him, “Perhaps I took her to the dance hall,” The Magistrate shook his head. “Is there another murder case, another death? I was told this case was the only death case. Is this true?”
“This is the one and only murder case in all the Hall. Check the listings yourself.” He pointed towards the giant chalkboards at even intervals within the Hall where in bright white on black there read charges being heard.
The Magistrate gathered court guards to him and ordered a search of the area detailed by the witness. Together, as a single organism they moved in a clatter of armor.
In the recess many milled, most smoked, the witness sat on the floor with his tailored shirt hanging from him crookedly like his face, and others threw a ball back and forth. I moved a few pillars down to the ivy curtain and pushed through to the now dry fountain. I had sat there many times, my first being when I was but a child. It had been running then, and many magistrates would confer with each other there on court precedents and ask advice on judgments. I had once seen a death penalty or life sentence decided by a coin pulled from the fount. A half pence-death. A shilling-life. I forget what he pulled out, but I remember my father was with me.
The fount is dry now- only cracks where lucky coins once lay. I walked around it and looking at the statuette that crowned it, I found its name came back to me: “The Lady Justice”. Long ago, someone had taken the gold sword from her marbled hand and later the arm itself. Her legs and waist were withstanding and I forget now her exact pose when she had been whole, but I remember my father had told me the statue was modeled on my mother and my mother modeled after Lady Justice. It was quiet there behind the ivy. I pushed back through in time to see the guards in their leather jerkins returning to the court. “They have found nothing,” the Magistrate announced after reconvening. The witness visibly shrunk and the young defendant did also.
The Magistrate quickly heard witnesses from the dance hall, the night of the girl’s murder. The case against the young man, whose bones showed all over under his sallow skin, was firm and the Magistrate quickly came to his conclusion. One of the forty traditional scepters of judging was brought by one of the forty couriers who ran from court to court, delivering their time-honored tool when a court official raised the flag of judgment. The Magistrate touched the boy’s shoulders with the scepter, wording the customary lines of a death sentence, and the boy was quickly shuttled away amidst a throng of jeering voices. The commotion followed the boy and his escort towards the execution fairgrounds, up the long steps of the promenade, but I stayed back in the now emptied area where the court had just stood.
I saw the witness approach the magistrate, with pleas on lips that I couldn’t make out. The Magistrate shook his head and excused himself walking with a guard towards the lagoon, with a picnic on his mind no doubt. I followed the witness through the crowds, bypassing large courts, overhearing court documents, witnesses, and magistrates with audiences captivated. He made the long way to the Hall’s edge, looking out on the square and the bustle of the evening traffic. A train slowed in a mist, stopping to take on its load of workers heading home. Lengthening shadows from dark buildings and temples sliced the square into unequal fourths, and the train restarted slowly moving from light to dark alternately.
The witness turned about and entered the Hall of Courts, under the ceiling of dusty glass and with his shoulders low entered the mob of bodies watching the opening statements in a newly begun trial. I watched him for a time then lost him in the crowds as he moved to another court. In the years following, I have seen him many times watching the courts with conflict on his brow, an ambivalence of hope and dread, his eyes dead until the announcements of guilt where a flash of ecstasy would appear as if it were he receiving the judgment of guilt, he being condemned.

Editor’s Note: When I was first given The Witness by Mr. S, I was a not a little upset by there being yet another legal themed short story for our humble periodical The Orphan. It seemed that the court-drama had run its course of fashion and I had wanted a fresh feeling to the issue. I encouraged the author to meet with me over dinner and he being an author of course could not pass up free food. Over a bottle of Syrah, I managed to swallow my editor’s pride and do what comes most unnaturally to my profession: praise the writer. Anyone who has the high calling of editor, you understand, sees in themselves the real source of art and not the flea bitten and drunk artist. We see them as the formless granite blocks for our sculpting, and sometimes even let them feel that they have control over their creation. After buttering him up a bit and ordering us dessert, I asked him if he couldn’t do a light comedic piece like Mr. Touchstone. “Legal stories are just simply not en vogue this season.” I said. Mr. Sansrespite looked quite surprised and informed me that his story was indeed a piece of romantic literature. “If that is the case, I shall run it as the featured story!” I said. “I’m sure it will have all the City swooning! I do believe it. In fact, let me correct myself for belief is assailable by doubt-I’ve decided it!”
-Auguste St. Antonius


[1] This is, in the entire story, the most unbelievable notion: that one would now their own participation within a larger group’s unpleasantness. I asked the venerable author to strike this passage, but he insisted it stay in to raise the story’s fantastical nature. –The Editor

[2] It has been said that in the wild, turkey cocks ruffle their feathers at the sight of red. It has been my experience that the colour of green gives even greater effect.

[3] I translated the word “meore” in the original text as heart. Meore’s fuller meaning is that of ‘spirit, soul, being’ or at times colloquially as ‘love’. –The Editor

Ray Kurzweil is a thinker for the daring of mind and the courageous of heart. In his book “The Singularity Is Near” Kurzweil gives a perspective of the world and a future that can either inspire and encourage one’s life or destroy one’s worldview and prompt shivers of revulsion. What is either so terrifying or reassuring about his vision is that he is not easily dealt with or written off. Kurzweil writes not just to his cadre of like thinkers, but comes equipt to deal with the hard skeptic.

Kurzweil has the history and experience to back up his vision too. He’s founded ten companies whose specializations include artificial intelligence, speech recognition software, and educational programming. He’s one of the five members of the Army Science Advisory Group which acts to advise the US Army on issues of science research, and has decades worth of awards and commendations for his work as an inventor and futurist.

Has his predictions always been spot on? Arguably no. Have they been close or at least reflect the correct tendencies? Yes. (With perhaps his prediction of an American economy booming through to 2019–) To read Singularity is to take a trip with an earnest and enthusiatic prophet surely, but not one who’s wearing the Nikes and readying for Hale-Bopp. So concerned with credibility is he, that almost the first quarter of the book founds his basic premises and throughout the book he reiterates his points (all well cited) and devotes a weighty chunk at the end to deal with skeptics and detractors.

So what is all this about?
In a word, it is about the cataclysm of change which is due to the planet in just a few short decades. It is a statement of what the human species is and is becoming.

What is the Singularity?
Well, that depends on who you ask. But, in Kurzweil’s case how he explains it is something like this. Imagine a graph depicting developments in technology–their refinements and their ability to bear more and more of the human work load both physical and cognitive. Just as fire cooking offloaded some of our stomachs’ work in digestion, language (especially written) opened the boundaries of our brains to a giant degree. Because of technological improvements being recursively self improving and building upon the last generation, technological ability grows exponentially. The leap from your Nintendo to Super Nintendo reflected one big jump, but that step was not incremental–nor has video gaming sophistication since.
This upswelling wave of technological capacity (think processors, chips, speed, bandwidth) says Kurzweil is due for an explosion of growth of a size we are yet not able to imagine. This explosion is the Singularity. Or Singularities. Just like the Protestant Reformation was really a series of reformations, so too can we figure that there may be a number of events whose impact will forever radically change the course of the human species. This I imagined would be like pouring different colored dyes into a sink where separate colors represented biotech, artificial intelligence, information technologies, energy technologies, etc. As the sink plug was pulled, these colors would converge and gather speed on each other as they drained out. This is how we can expect our future developments to occur also. All of these technologies will inform each other and cross pollenate the best ideas and applications so that in a number of areas of life, we will see transformational change. Such events could include development of solar capture panels that harness enough of the Sun’s light that all people on Earth would have abundant carbon neutral energy, or a refined cloning technique that allows an individual to replenish their body to stave off death indefinitely. These events and more will be occurring says Kurzweil and will be aided by perhaps the most important event to come: the invention of machines that can out perform the human brain. 

Aren’t predictions of the future foolhardy?
Yes, there have been a lot of mistakes made in predictions. Just ask anybody in the horseracing or religion business. However, there are some predictions that are made on more surefooting than others given more data about past events and current directions. We can look through any back issue of Popular Mechanics and see the flying cars and personal jetpacks that have yet to fill our grocery store aisles. But to accept Kurzweil’s basic thesis, one needs only to understand the industries and sciences he is charting (primarily Genetics, Nanotechnologies, Robotics, Strong and Wide Artificial Intelligence).
I do believe that the type of discussion that Kurzweil invites is absolutely necessary. So much so, that if his predictions are off by many decades, we still benefit from having careful and intentional dialogues about the course we are setting with our technologies. We need to concern ourselves with what makes a human a human and what beings we are ethically obligated to respecting and feeling compassion with as sentient beings. We need to consider what an immortal existence could mean to humanity. We need to ask the questions of the “not yet” because by exploring questions of possibility, we can make our current systems of ethics more robust and less apt to shock and kneejerk reactions.

When Kurzweil says the Singularity is near, how ‘near’ are we talking?
Here’s some of the predicted dates of events Kurzweil gives in “The Singularity is Near” but I would wish that like me, you would not take the dates as rigid lines in the sand. We can expect them sooner or later I believe, and again: even if they are much later, we need to begin the conversation about their effects, challenges, and opportunities now so that our theologies, values, practices and habits, can be better prepared for the radical changes.
2020’s: Nanobots throughout the brain will create a highly detailed portait of brain activity.
2020’s: Nanobots will regularly course through our blood, for surveillance and replacing red and white blood cells.
Late 2020’s: nonbiological brains will meet and exceed human brains in all manner including emotional intelligence.
2029: The Turing Test will be passed.
2040: Individual human consciousness will be uploaded into a machine.
2045: A nonbiological intelligence one billion times more powerful than all of humanity.
2050: A thousand-dollar computer will exceed the processing capacity of all humanity.

Isn’t all this techno SciFi stuff a little cold? Where’s the humanity?
Exactly. What is humanity and what do we expect from ourselves? Let’s ask that question of the way we live our lives right now. Many of us seem to accept hunger, poverty, death and illness on grand scales right now. We have made classism, racism, and war policies of our nations. Please show me a current utopia so I can move there and corrupt them a la Kevin Bacon in Footloose. Kurzweil appears quite concerned with human and animal suffering and he details how both can and will be largely solved through technology. Kurzweil appears to know the truth of it: a new iPhone is meaningless without love, compassion, and deep connection in one’s life.
Each one of us needs to come to the hard facts of the course our species is charting. Nothing is written in stone. We see the milestones we are quickly passing by and they point to a future I believe will be much like what Ray Kurzweil is portraying. What is missing largely from his predictions is the cultural, ethical, and religious variables. Each of us is able to day by day decide the values we want to encourage or discourage for our families’ futures. Will greed, graft, and corruption continue to rule our politics? Will our faith communities continue to define themselves by the people they exclude? Will our fears and narrow vision keep us bound to nationalism and colonialism?

I’ve brought before you just a first snapshot of Ray Kurzweil’s understanding of the Singularity and I hope to bring more specific issues and details of his writings to light and consideration in the future.

This post was written after reading:
Ray Kurzweil “The Singularity Is Near” (New York: Penguin. 2005)

Check Out These Helpful Sites To Continue Your Reading:
http://www.kurzweilai.net/index.html?flash=1
http://www.kurzweiltech.com/aboutray.html

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