Many authors have employed geometric metaphors for that so linear form: the novel (Dodgson’s chess board; Durrell’s four-coordinate quartet). The two volumes of “Dhalgren” might enlighteningly be considered two wings of a möbius strip (as in the Escher, two-dimensional projection, around which those ants are marching). Such a (s)trip needless to say, is only fully enjoyed the second time round; though one passes over the same space, one is on an entirely different surface. By extension, if you read Vol I, then Vol II, then Vol I again, it will seem rather different from the first time through, in the light of what comes after it—or does it come before? The ambiguity, any way, is held up intentionally (yes, gentle reader, Vol I was written first, and that is where to climb on.) Using an inner and outer work is also, certainly, not new (Shakespeare’s plays within plays; Nabokov’s critique of Kinbote’s critique of Shade’s critique of Nabokov.) To any one who wishes to take the trip three or more times (the invitation is, naturally, open to all) and who begins to note, once familiarity has allowed him to travel in more spurious directions than dead on, that the outer novel and the inner notebook are connected in more complicated ways than the ‘outer’ and ‘inner’ surface of a twisted band—indeed, bare more relation to the external and internal lugs of a klein bottle—I can only suggest this effect is not entirely an accident.
“But how,” the Life interviewer asked, “are you sure when you’re reading a piece of writing whether or not it’s pornography, Mr. Auden?”
“It’s very simple,” the greatest living poet answered. “It gives me an erection.”
And, question of author’s intent aside, I am content with this as a working definition of the object, as well as all the ambiguities contingent to it: what is pornography for one person might not be pornography for another. What is pornography at one time may not be pornography a few hours later. As well, what is pornography for the reader may not have been pornography for the writer, and in this last case, vice versa.
“They [the Lll] make me feel . . . sad?” Jo asked. Why?”
“They’re slaves,” Ron said. “They build—build beautifully, wonderfully. They’re extremely valuable. They built over half the Empire. And the Empire protects them, this way.”
“Protects . . . ?” Jo asked.
“You can’t get near them without feeling like this.”
“Then who would buy them?”
“Not many people. But enough so that they are incredibly valuable slaves.”
“Why don’t they turn ’em loose?” Jo asked, and the sentence became a cry halfway through.
“Economics,” Ron said.
“How can ya think ’bout economics feelin’ like . . . this?”
“Not so many people can,” Ron said. “That’s the Lll’s protection.”
“We’ll be in here five minutes.” The slab reached the floor and the line along the edge of the door disappeared. “We’re welded in now. We’re at the center of twelve layers of defense, all impregnable. Nobody even knows the location of the place—including myself.”
“After those labyrinths we came through, I certainly don’t,” T’mwarba said.
“Just in case somebody managed to map it, we’re moved automatically every fifty seconds. He’s not going to get out.”
“. . . You know, [Calli] was tripled with Muels Aranlyde, the guy who wrote Empire Star. But I guess you must, if you’re her doctor. Anyway, you start thinking that maybe those people who live in other worlds—like Calli says—where people write books or make weapons, are real. If you believe in them, you’re a little more ready to believe in yourself. And when somebody who can do that needs help, you need help.”
“Chimpanzees,” Dr. T’mwarba interrupted, “are physically quite coordinated enough to learn to drive cars, and smart enough to distinguish between red and green lights. But once they learn, they still can’t be turned loose, because when the light goes green, they will drive through a brick wall if it’s in front of them, and if the light turns red, they will stop in the middle of an intersection even if a truck is bearing down on top of them. They don’t have the symbolic process. For them, red is stop, and green is go.”
“Anyway,” Rydra went on. “Babel-17 as a language contains a preset program for the Butcher to become a criminal and saboteur. If you turn somebody with no memory loose in a foreign country with only the words for tools and machine parts, don’t be surprised if he ends up a mechanic. By manipulating his vocabulary properly you can just as easily make him a sailor, or an artist. Also, Babel-17 is such an exact analytical language, it almost assures you technical mastery of any situation you look at. And the lack of an ‘I’ blinds you to the fact that though it’s a highly useful way to look at things, it isn’t the only way.”
“I think I can explain that, General,” Rydra said. “You can program a computer to make mistakes, and you do it not by crossing wires, but by manipulating the ‘language’ you teach it to ‘think’ in. The lack of an ‘I’ precludes any self-critical process. In fact it cuts out any awareness of the symbolic process at all—which is the way we distinguish between reality and our expression of reality.”
“Brass, he can’t say ‘I’!” She leaned across the table, surprised curiosity impelling her excitement. . . .
“Me, my, mine, myself. I don’t think he can say any of those either. Or think them. I wonder where the hell he’s from.”
You know any language where there’s no word for ‘I’?”
I can think of a couple where it isn’t used often, but no one that doesn’t even have the concept, if only hanging around in a verb ending.”
“Which all means what?”
“A strange man with a strange way of thinking. I don’t know why, but he’s aligned himself with me, sort of my ally on this trip and a go-between with Tarik. I’d like to understand, so I won’t hurt him.”
. . . even as she walked to pick the words and images that would drive and push him to her betrayal and no yes, once struck by his fear and rebounding, she brought herself back to a single line that scribed through both perception and action, speech and communication, no yes, both one now, picking down sounds that would persuade with the deliberation this this lengthened time lent and she reached the platform beside the gorgeous beast, Klik, and mounted, hearing the voices that sand in the hall’s silence, and tossed her words now from the sling of her vibrant voice . . .