. .

The Saving Power

by Luke Jackson

The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity. (One is unable to notice something because it is always before one’s eyes.) The real foundations of his enquiry do not strike a man at all. – Wittgenstein

The ideas swarmed around his head like angry bees. His writing hand was cramped from the pages he had scrawled trying to capture them all before they dissipated. He had at last propounded a solid theoretical framework that built upon the work of Martin Heidegger, but that also revealed several flaws he had found in the great philosopher’s work. More precisely, he had rejected the mind-body duality, as Heidegger had, but had managed to avoid some of the reductionism inherent in the concept of Being-in-the-world. He had also greatly developed Heidegger’s ontology beyond the ontological-ontic distinction.

His wife Althea had left him earlier that afternoon. It was probably best this way. She hadn’t understood the importance of the work.

“You’re spending all day writing God-knows-what,” she had said to him when he had been making notes on his new ontology. Just like her, to follow the social ritual of divine referents when she was a nonbeliever. Lately her voice had become a shrill background noise to him, a distraction. He tried not to look at her pale face, lined with worry and discontent, peering out from a hood of short black hair.

“This work is extremely important, you have no idea,” he had said, putting his notepad to one side and running his fingers through his long hair.

“More important than me,” she had said, and he was forced to silently acknowledge that it was true. She was but one person; his work was all-encompassing. “A book that no publisher in its right mind would publish,” she said, trying to cut him.

“Perhaps,” he had said, scratching the weeks-long growth of beard on his face. “Most people think that philosophy is in its death throes, or has died. Postmodernism claims that everything is in the language and the subjectivity of the reader. That’s why this book is so important! I’m framing a completely new philosophical model, improving upon the masters…”

“I hope that, on some level, you realize that you’ve lost it,” she had said, carrying her battered duffel bag in one hand as she slammed the door on him.

Now he was putting the final touches on the preface to his treatise, Towards a New Ontology:

Thus, we see the end result of the ‘new’ philosophies. First it was necessary to displace the theological systems that weighed so heavily on the human mind, ably performed by Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. Martin Heidegger started the work of developing a new ontological model, outlining the path of Being from being “thrown” into the world through its inevitable Being-towards-death, but his work was unfortunately tainted by associations with Nazism. Now most see philosophy as fractured and dead, torn between the primitive pragmatisms of Rorty and the Americans, and the abstract language-obsessed models perfected by the French. Modern philosophy has burned itself in effigy.

 This need not be the case. Indeed, everyone lives according to a philosophical model, usually obtained from the dominant culture. We all know that the U.S. values individualism and materialism. What I am proposing is a new way, a new ontology.

 He kicked back in his chair and reread what he had written, then went out onto his rickety iron balcony to smoke an American Spirit. The New Orleans night was black with swampy murk, cut sporadically by the headlights from traffic below. He inhaled deeply and watched the smoke curl up around his nose and eyes, feeling the blood rush to his head. A twinge of self-loathing mixed with the nicotine rush — Althea had trained him well when they’d lived together, and he’d grown adept at hiding butts for months. No more.

He stared at the burning embers of the cigarette, thinking how distinctly American it was to steal the herbs natives smoked in peace ceremonies, then intensify and mass-produce them into a powerfully addictive and carcinogenic drug. Strangely, when things were pared down into their absolute essence, they lost all authentic meaning. Plato was wrong and the indigenous people who had refused to have their photographs taken were right. Somehow they had seen the soulless future of reality television and Las Vegas simulacra[1].

It was absurd, how Althea had left him. He was propounding a radical alteration in human consciousness. She was consumed with bills, paychecks, the trivial epiphenomena of capitalist existence. How could she fail to realize that her concerns were only mental constructs enforced by the dominant ideology?

He pushed his cigarette out in the overflowing ceramic Mickey Mouse ashtray and dreamed of Chapter One.

* * *

The catacomb of empty tile corridors stretched out in all directions, the fluorescent lights dimmed to dull orange strips to preserve electricity. His mop made a squishing sound as he drove it back and forth across the floor, leaving a sudsy brown trail. His muted and blurred shadow mirrored his struggles underneath him, as if it could escape from its underworld through the perfection of its imitation[2].

As his arms repeated the endless left-right swishing stroke, surrounded by the hums of the computer banks, he thought of Althea. He had met his wife in an Eastern philosophy seminar, during a brief phase of fascination when the illogic of it had seemed an inscrutable mystery rather than a collection of non sequiturs. She had talked so eloquently and passionately about Eastern thought, unconstrained by the Aristotelian logic systems inherited by the West. He had been enrapt by her voice and surprised himself when he had asked her out for coffee; he’d been even more surprised when she had said yes.

That was all before he had been laughed out of the program by those slaves and sycophants, so content to interpret and reinterpret the masters without producing anything new. He had been powerfully moved, and wounded, by philosophy: by Schopenhauer’s dark visions of a godless world ruled by will, by Nietzsche’s development of this theme and his exposure of the mental chains that enslaved men, an exposure of mediocrity and mendacity. Finally Heidegger — the last true philosopher of Being to alter his consciousness and vision of the world.

The other graduate students had only memorized and regurgitated tenets and theories, all completely unmoved and rational, pretending that their consciousnesses were that of the long-discredited Cartesian cogito. These “positivists” might as well have been memorizing for an OChem exam; they were no more than trained monkeys — what they did to the ideas of the great philosophers every day was a disgrace and a travesty.

That was all before his wife had abandoned philosophy completely and entered the paralegal certificate program.

To distract himself, he propped the mop in the doorjamb next to the main computer array. The graphs and formulae on the screens and the blinking lights were indecipherable to him, but he knew that the computers were searching the vastness of space for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence.

He had seen the words in bold, three-dimensional letters in the marble lobby: The Institution for the Discovery of Intelligent Extraterrestrial Species.

A nearby laser printer hummed as it added pages to its overflowing output tray. He picked up the paper and flipped through the gibberish, mirroring the contents of the screen before him:

ASTHBRWTYYTJTYUEWRTQWERTHFJDFUAERTAERGJNK%^&Q%$TWVSDFH RT YRETU TYU RWTYBWERRGVATRQRWETBVWERYBWRTBWRTYBTR

He flipped through the pages, craving a smoke. Whenever he had an assignment in these science research laboratories, they were usually pretty strict about cigarettes on the graveyard shift. You couldn’t smoke anywhere anymore — the tyranny of the majority, and all that.

He stopped on a page:

HIHIHIHIHIHIHIHIHIHIHIHIHIHIHIHIHIHIHIHIHIHIHIHIHIHIHIHI

The letters “HI” repeated for several pages before returning to gibberish again.

These computers were supposed to know when a non-random sequence had been received. He was sure of that. And endless pages of “HI” certainly appeared non-random.

He leaned over and stared at the screen. It was just the same gibberish; the HI sequence had ended.

He tried typing a few keys, but the only result was an angry beep from the system while the string of gibberish on the monitor froze for a second.

He sighed, folded up his extraterrestrial message, and put it in the pockets of his baggy blue work overalls. The next two floors still needed cleaning.

* * *

The next morning, he was back on his balcony. The traffic gleamed dully in the cold winter sun; bare tree limbs groped through fog, smog, whatever it was. He had been distracted from Chapter One by petty financial troubles: the beefy landlord, sweat stains dribbling down the sides of his buttoned shirt, had paid him an uncomfortable and subtly aggressive visit. The bills were stacking up, and he had no idea how to pay any of them.

He fondled the crinkled pages of repetitive HI’s in his nicotine-stained fingers. For all he knew, these HI’s were the output of some diagnostic test and had nothing to do with the English word. It was something that the scientists and the computers could understand, not an overeducated and under-skilled janitor like him[3]. He had been stupid to think otherwise.

He opened his fingers and let the wind take his alien greeting, now white doves fluttering over the dull metal cars. A hatchet-faced man in a sharkskin suit swatted at them, annoyed, and briefly looked up.

He quickly looked up, too, to avoid eye contact with the suit and saw a strange tripartite orange balloon with smudged contours hanging in the foggy sky.

He had no idea what it was, but it looked huge. It did not follow the linear path of an object moving through space, but seemed to swell, flutter and diminish according to his own internal mental equilibrium.

He gripped the wrought-iron railing until his hands hurt. If the object did not obey the laws of physics, then it was not a creature of external reality but of his own mind. That much seemed certain. The actions of the people below confirmed this conclusion: the sharpie walked on, a few teens clutching skateboards snickered by the curb, cars rolled on, oblivious to the orange object.

He stared at the orange thing, willing it to cease tormenting him with its existence. The only result was that it assumed a frozen rigidity, its aspect becoming more definite with each passing moment.

He did not want to make it more real. He went indoors, locked the windows and closed the blinds.

This must be payback for taking those five tabs of acid at that horrible Grateful Dead concert twenty years ago. He wrapped a throw blanket around his head, lay down on the couch and tried to conceptualize nothingness.

* * *

The thing was still there. It had grown larger, until now its salmon glow took up a third of the sky, day and night.

Nobody seemed to see what he saw. He implored people on the street to look up. They brushed by him, irritated. Some who looked up just shrugged and kept walking. A few looked lost or confused for a moment, but then muttered something about “strange weather phenomena.”

The small black-and-white TV on the dinner table never mentioned it. He couldn’t even get local channels anymore, and the national 24-hour news channels were concerned only with electoral politics and the recent flare-up of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

He Googled “orange smudge” and “orange balloon” on Althea’s ancient 486 laptop sitting on a dusty barstool in a corner of the room. After searching through hundreds of pages regarding children’s parties or more distasteful links, he found something:

“HAVE YOU SEEN IT?” was the title, with an animated graphic of the pulsing thing at the top. The graphic was clearer than what he saw in the night sky outside his window, and looked more like some kind of swollen organ than a balloon.

He skimmed the web page, run by some guy named Bob Savage, but what he read had few specifics. Some people could see it. Most could not. Nobody talked about it. The writer believed that there was some kind of mental block preventing most people from either seeing it, or, if they saw it, acknowledging its reality or its strangeness. The writer speculated that it was a recurrence of the Europeans’ first landing in America, where the wooden ships on the water were so alien to the native’s experience that the natives couldn’t even perceive them.

Standard UFO conspiracy-theory stuff… if he hadn’t seen the thing himself.

The laptop abruptly froze. He cursed and banged on its touchpad and keyboard. He was about to do a hard shutdown by holding down the power button, when his screen went blank and began to fill with repeating text:

“NONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONO,” it said.

* * *

He was sitting on the shrink’s plush couch. He had finally taken Althea’s suggestion. She stared at him like a curious bird, her eyes small and animated over her large nose. He knew how this was supposed to work: she was supposed to say general non sequiturs expressing curiosity, in order to draw him out and make him express himself. She would be quiet and noncommittal, but would eventually try to pressure him into conformist modes of socialization[4]. The gaudy knickknacks scattered around the room, the crucifix prominently displayed, did not impress him with her scientific objectivity.

He started to tell her his story, skimming through the uninteresting details of his childhood, the moves, his parents’ divorce. He told her how he was in the process of developing a new ontology that would revolutionize human society and interaction. Of course, she maintained her bland, open-but-distant demeanor throughout his monologue[5].

“It appears that you’ve been living this isolated and intellectualized existence, dissociated from friends and family, for some time. You’ve kept a buffer between yourself and the world. This buffer may be comforting to you, but it also presents a severe obstacle to living a full, human life. Why do you think it is that you have built this buffer?” she finally asked.

“I have made sacrifices in order to pursue my work, but that is only because I find the work so important,” he lied, not telling her that he’d only completed a rough draft of the preface. “Many great thinkers have isolated themselves in order to pursue their work. Would Nietzsche or Van Gogh have created masterpieces if they became one of the herd and started popping Prozac?” He remembered how the great Heidegger had attacked reductive psychologism almost one hundred years ago.

“I see, the myth of isolated genius,” she said, scribbling in her notepad. She bit on the eraser tip of the pencil for a few moments. “I think it might be helpful if you discontinued the work temporarily and tried to reestablish ties with your loved ones…”

He remembered Althea and did not want to.

“Just look outside the window with me,” he said.

The shrink choked for a few moments, nibbling warily on her pencil.

“Just pull up the blinds and look through that window behind you,” he said, pointing. “Look at the goddamn thing out there.” He shivered.

“Mr. Jackson, if you are suffering from hallucinations, you had best disclose that now. It is a symptom of schizophrenia, which will get no better unless treated. It’s a very serious matter[6]…”

He leaped up and strode towards her desk and the window behind it. She drew back, as if he might strike her.

He yanked the cord and the room became suffused with a malevolent crimson light — the thing was growing into a visual manifestation of hell. Part of it now had the aspect of a face: dull orbs had become deranged, seemingly blind eyes; its metallic grille had become a ravenous open mouth. It mocked him as it leered at him, pushing against the fabric of the sky, pushing towards him as if trying to break through some membrane.

“Tell me what you see,” he muttered to her, looking down.

She blinked in the new brightness. Her eyes seemed unfocused, looking inward, and he wondered if she was nearsighted.

“I see,” she said. “Perhaps not hallucination, per se, but more of an agnosia, an inability to recognize familiar objects. . .” She was talking to herself and scribbling something down.

“Why won’t you tell me what you see?” he asked softly.

She finished scribbling and held out what appeared to be a prescription.

“Mr. Jackson, you know that would be entirely inappropriate.”

She was one of the worst shrinks he’d seen — he knew she wasn’t allowed to get entangled in his world, but wasn’t she supposed to be a bit slower and subtler in her diagnosis and prescription?

“Now you want me to take your drugs, make me insensate and manageable,” he spat at her in disgust. “Never, Nurse Ratchet,” he said, growing bolder. “Remember that: Never. My work is my life. My life is my work.”

“You are my concern, Luke, not your work,” she replied.

He opened the door and started walking, away from her office before she could call in the white-clad goons.

* * *

Inside his apartment, he collapsed against the front door. He drew the deadbolt and chain against the outside world.

His apartment was a mess without Althea — cigarette butts carpeted the balcony, half-rotted food was beginning to attract insects.

He had tried to run the several miles back from the hospital, but his burning lungs and side had sent him a clear message that he was in no shape for it. Running was certainly an unpleasant reminder of his pale, pasty bulk and his shriveled, inefficient organs — the way of all flesh. The bustling city streets of cars, crowds and skyscrapers had weighed too heavily on him, and he felt his individual essence erased by the throng[7]. He had eventually collapsed into a taxi, grateful for the change to escape the press of people, happy to direct the glum driver to his apartment.

The shrink thought he was insane and suffering from some sort of mental impairment, but he knew he needed to speak with others who understood what was happening and could tell him how to avoid the self-contained heuristic loop of his own reasoning.

He dialed the long-distance number he’d copied down from Bob Savage’s website — somewhere in the 909 area code, wherever that was.

“Bob here,” said a gruff voice.

“I saw your website, Bob.” He paused for a moment. “I’ve seen it too.”

“Who’s calling?” Bob snapped.

“Dean Moriarty,” he lied. “Can you tell me what it is?”

“Where are you calling from, Dean?”

“That’s not important. What is it?” he asked again.

“A lark,” Bob said. “A joke. I thought it was obvious. Ever heard of Flying Spaghetti Monster, the Flat Earth Society? Same thing. The website’s already been taken down.

Forget about it.”.

He dropped the phone back in its cradle. “Bob” had been compromised and now his number went directly to some military psyops agent. Or worse: “Bob” had never existed and the website was a lure to track down and catch people who could see it — people like him.

The apartment wasn’t safe anymore. He grabbed two of Heidegger’s texts — Being and Time and Basic Writings — and made a beeline for the door.

He left behind his just-begun magnum opus, Towards a New Ontology, now only a scattering of scrawls on yellow notebook paper. There would be no time to complete it now… his chance for immortality had been stolen from him.

As he unlocked the front door, he saw a leftover bottle of ’73 Pinot Noir from the reception of his wedding. Althea. It sat dusty and neglected on the yellow refrigerator. He slipped it under his arm and closed the door behind him.

* * *

Luke sat on a dilapidated park bench on the fringes of the French Quarter, where few tourists dared venture outside of Mardi Gras, and finished off the dregs of the Pinot Noir. The close, meandering streets now looked softer and warmer in the gathering twilight. Across the street, distorted acid jazz, a bad imitation of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, squealed and thumped from one of those “edgy” dive bars with the horrid name Katrina’s.

As the liquor worked through him, he rolled the empty wine bottle on the wooden bench in one hand and flipped through the pages of Heidegger’s Being and Time with the other. In timesof crisis, many turned to the Bible — how strange that they would all turn to that old and outdated tome, when there had been so many philosophical upheavals since it was written! Did they even know of the great philosophical framework that had been built up in the millennia since? In all of his studies, nobody had developed a theory of Dasein, or Being, to match that of Martin Heidegger.

It was easier to ignore the thing now that his mind was consumed with the familiar dense prose of Heidegger. It was now only a distant fluttering in the corner of his eye as he turned to the dog-eared page 269 and read an underlined passage:

Dasein, as constituted by disclosedness, is essentially in the truth. ‘There is’ truth only in so far as Dasein is and so long as Dasein is. Entities are uncovered only when Dasein is; and only as long as Dasein is, are they disclosed. Newton’s laws, the principle of contradiction, any truth whatever—these are true only as long as Dasein is. Before there was any Dasein, there was no truth; nor will there be any after Dasein is no more. For in such a case truth as disclosedness, uncovering, and uncoveredness, cannot be.

Per Heidegger, truth was an uncovering wholly dependent on Dasein, the human Being. Truth was mediated through Dasein—and Luke was Dasein[8]. Skipping ahead, he read:

To say that before Newton his laws were neither true nor false, cannot signify that before him there were no such entities as have been uncovered and pointed out by those laws. Through Newton the laws became true and with them, entities became accessible in themselves to Dasein. Once entities have been uncovered, they show themselves precisely as entities beforehand already were. Such uncovered is the kind of Being which belongs to ‘truth.

This gave him pause. Newton was the catalyst for new truths which then uncovered entities that had always existed. Similarly, Luke had uncovered some malevolent unknown entity in the sky, which sought to invade and conquer his world. Now that it was uncovered, had it always existed?

Was the “uncovering” of this maniacal sky daemon wholly his fault? Like Newton, had his singular Being operated as a channel for this manifestation? If this entity now always existed, through his own doing, how could he possibly reverse its divine invasion?

He looked up and it had become only a small orange dot in the distant sky. For all he knew, it could be Venus, not the maleficent entity that had harassed him for the past few days.

He sensed that it was afraid of the power of Heidegger’s thinking. Like a Rabbinical scholar, he returned to his close reading of the sacred texts: “Because the kind of Being that is essential to truth is of the character of Dasein, all truth is relative to Dasein’s Being.”

It seemed he could destroy his Dasein[9] and therefore destroy the truth of the entity, returning it to concealment. To his knowledge, nobody else was capable of truly seeing it, so his passage would return it to covering. The situation was different from that of Newton, who had published and popularized his findings to others and thereby sacrificed his power of concealing and unconcealing.

He remembered the words of Holderlin: ““But where danger is, grows the saving power also.“[10]

He immediately knew what that path would be. He would not follow the path of death, but a third way, a direction where Heidegger’s formulation of Being could no longer take him. He closed the thick black text and held it to his chest in the gathering wine-warmed night.

* * *

Dr. Lugosi put the functional magnetic resonance imaging (“fMRI”) film on the backlit screen, a glowing representation of Luke’s consciousness with red and yellow patches lit up. From his online research, Luke knew that the fMRI was able to produce a three-dimensional model of his brain which analyzed oxygenation levels to determine which sections were most active. The technology was only now becoming inexpensive enough for common use.

“Hm,” the doctor said through the wad of gum in his mouth. “No gross anomalies or tumors… but something very strange in your medial temporal lobe.”

“What’s that?” Luke asked.

“The medial temporal lobe is crucial in the formation of declarative memory — the retention of facts.” Lugosi spat his gum into a biohazard-display wastebasket. “I could be wrong, but it looks like there’s actually a section missing.

“Do you mind?” the doctor asked him, then began running his gloved hands through Luke’s long and mangy hair. The shower in the hourly-rate motel where Luke had spent the night hadn’t worked.

The doctor’s fingers ran over a raised protrusion of flesh bisecting the length of Luke’s skull. It felt sore, and Luke winced.

“What’s this?” Lugosi said and peered in for a closer look. “What did you do to yourself?

“I need to get in there and see what’s going on,” the doctor continued. He had a strange expression on his face that Luke couldn’t read[11]. “Wait here while I get a nurse and a shaver,” and he left.

Luke was scared. He didn’t want to uncover the reality of whatever lurked within his skull — he was already responsible for the horrible thing. What new horrors would lurk in his skull? Some kind of implanted device or, worse, an alien life form able to control and manipulate him?

He remembered Heidegger’s words: that whatever it was, it would not exist until it was uncovered. While the doctor was gone, Luke rolled up the fMRI film and pocketed it inside his jacket.

Throughout the entire brain scan, Luke had concentrated on the orange thing, mentally visualizing it up in the sky. Therefore, the fMRI had scanned which parts of his consciousness knew of and were responsible for revealing it.

Perhaps those parts could be excised[12].

For a moment he wondered if his analysis was completely deranged and mad, lacking any basis in fact or reality. But Heidegger consoled him:

One must seek a way of illuminating the fundamental question of ontology and then go this way. Whether this is the sole or right way can be decided only after one has gone along it.

Luke left before the doctor could return.

* * *

He returned to consciousness reluctantly, opening bleary eyes in a crowded surgery room that swam around him. Strangers in white robes, blue scrubs and surgical masks surrounded him, speaking loudly in a foreign tongue, trying to poke and stab him with their scalpels through a numb haze. Plastic tubes intertwined with and penetrated his limbs.

Martin Heidegger sat near his bed.

“Mr. Heidegger,” he said under his breath, sick of hallucinations and not wanting anyone to hear how sick he was.

“Yes,” Heidegger replied in a thick German accent, leaning his bulk over the bed and peering down his prominent nose and bushy moustache. His gaze and his manner were cold.

“Why are you here?” Luke whispered, wishing he could know at last if this was real, the afterlife or madness.

“Causation of my presence is irrelevant,” Heidegger stated curtly. He paused for a moment, running his fingers over his moustache. “It appears you have misconstrued my work.”

“Me?” he asked. He hadn’t expected this, of all things. He thought he had understood it better than all of his peers in the graduate seminar.

“Because it affected you strongly does not necessarily mean that you understand. Indeed, even I have come to question what I have created, what there is to understand. Much is learned upon leaving here.”

“If you could tell me there is life after death, that would resolve one major philosophical question,” Luke said, perturbed.

“It would resolve nothing. You would never know if I am merely hallucination. One of the drawbacks of being a creature connected to the world only through sensory apparatus,” Heidegger replied.

“You are right,” Luke said after a moment. “Once I begin questioning what I perceive, I cannot accept any of it. It is all madness. I am insane.” Luke was forced to acknowledge to himself that the idea had a certain appeal and gave him a certain freedom.

“Perhaps.” Heidegger startled him by reaching forward and taking his hand, careful to avoid the IV protruding from its back. “Caught in the trap of solipsism. But if there is one thing I want people to take from my work, it is the importance of Being-in-the-world. Life is lived in action, usefulness, not in the rarefied air of an isolated mind. Remember: ‘Resoluteness, as authentic Being-ones’-self, does not detach Dasein from this world, nor does it isolate one so that one becomes a free-floating ‘I.’

“I had hoped you would at least take that away from our meeting here today.”

“Yes,” Luke replied, disquieted by how Heidegger’s visage was becoming dimmer and more transparent as the reality of the hospital team became more solid. “But…” It was difficult for him to think. “But if I am merely a direct physical actor in the world, doesn’t that strip philosophy of its meaning? It becomes a meaningless abstraction… and my life’s work[13] does as well.”

He gazed up into Heidegger’s small, slightly beady eyes, hoping to glean some hope or inspiration from them.

“Perhaps it does, Mr. Jackson. Perhaps it does. But Camus was right, you know, about the question of suicide. Either be in the world fully, or don’t.”

Heidegger delivered his command with stern solemnity, hair and ruddy flesh slowly dripping from his face and paunch, his eyes growing larger and brighter. Luke resigned himself to more hallucinations, to a life of entropic thought and disintegrating meaning, eventually institutionalized or wandering the streets, shouting philosophy into filthy alleys.

“At any rate, you have made the issue moot,” Heidegger said through a thin and distant voice. “You have chosen to surgically excise me,” he said, now no more than a whisper and a ghost. “Perhaps it is best this way.” Then he vanished.

When Heidegger disappeared, the surgical team around Luke abruptly materialized as reality instead of a mute background. Luke saw what seemed to be blood trickling down the side of his nose. It felt as if the hospital staff were trepanning his skull; he tried to scream in pain but only coughed and choked around a plastic tube in his mouth. He made desperate eye contact with one of the nurses standing by, who instantly began yammering unintelligibly.

Then a syringe plunged into his thigh and he returned to the welcome blackness.

* * *

He lay back and listened to the strange chemicals dripping from the hanging plastic bags into his bloodstream. He looked around at the broken and twisted figures, also wired to intravenous machines, populating the beds beside him. They stared at him with quivering and encrusted eyes, their messages unintelligible to him.

“Luke,” said a large man with close-cropped gray hair standing nearby.

He looked at the strange man. Was ‘Luke’ his name? It seemed wrong, somehow.

“It’s me, Luke,” said the strange man sitting by his bed. “Your old buddy, Bob. Bob Savage.” Bob gripped Luke’s shoulder and stared into his eyes, his face sad but his eyes something altogether different.

“I don’t remember,” Luke said.

“Maybe I should call you Dean,” Bob said, and his frown became a small, mean smile.

“Okay,” Luke said.

“You remember the last thing we talked about, Luke? On the phone? Come on, I know you can remember if you just try to jog your memory…”

“Hey Bob,” Luke said with a thick tongue. “It’s all gone. Everything.” Bob’s face was stone.

“Don’t give up so easy,” Bob said, quieter now. His grip tightened on Luke’s shoulder. “Don’t you remember what you saw in the sky? The thing? Let’s go outside for a second, just you and me and take a look together…”

Luke’s heartbeat became faster and his palms were starting to get wet. Luke noted these physiological changes from a distance; he would never, ever go outside again.

“Bob,” he said. “Go away, Bob. Sorry to be rude, but I need to recover. If you make me go outside, I swear to God I’m going to scream for that nurse over there,” he nudged his head towards the dark, portly woman. “I’ll make a scene, Bob.”

“Well, we wouldn’t want that,” Bob said flatly. He abruptly stood up. “Nobody even speaks English in this God-forsaken country, Luke,” he said with a sneer. Then he strode away and flipped open his cell phone.

“The Unemployed Philosopher is secure,” he said.

As Bob left, Luke looked up at the small, slightly scrambled television screen in the upper corner of the room. The show was familiar; even though he couldn’t understand anything that was said, it was one of his favorites. People guessed the right number and received untold miracles if their guesses were right.

Now a woman had the right number. She jumped up and down, her voluminous flesh dancing on her bones, her face ruddy and flushed with ecstatic joy. She clapped her hands together, her large forearms quivering as bells whistled and music played. The audience applause was thunderous.

It was a glorious thing to behold.

[1] Baudrillard would contend that this new, imitative “reality” was as “real” as its precursors. But he couldn’t help but think that, even though strictly “real,” it was stripped of any real meaning.

[2] His shadow made him think of Lacan’s Mirror Stage. The infant, upon seeing its reflection in a mirror, first suffered the trauma of knowing itself as a delimited and finite being, no longer as the all-encompassing id and center of existence. This realization of the self’s inadequacy began the desperate, futile quest to incorporate and subsume external reality, beginning with the mother’s teat and extending through the varied toys of late capitalism. What if, since birth, his world had been only these empty corridors and his smudged shadow? In this modern-day Plato’s cave, would he actually become the blurry doppelganger trapped beneath him?

[3] His occupational predicament reminded him of the post-Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser, who had developed the model of the Ideological State Apparatus (“ISA”), i.e., those means of state control through ideological and propagandistic means rather than the brute force of the military and police. The ISA’s would “educate” citizens only for their preconceived social role: laborers only needed simple tales of patriotism to make them efficient workers, whereas professionals and others would receive that education necessary to prepare them for their vocation. Perhaps his crisis was born of the extreme disjunction between his academic indoctrination and the janitorial function he actually served within late capitalism.

[4] She appeared to be the perfect manifestation of Heidegger’s notion of “idle talk”—i.e., that conversation was not to convey rational information, but merely served as a bland palliative to socialize and soothe the human animal.

[5] Psychology, the pseudo-science based on Freud’s philosophical system. How’d he end up here? These pop psychologists just regurgitated the mantras of psychology without knowing wherefrom they derived; it was the new religion. He remembered the marriage counselor with irritation, how she had always scolded him for leaping to generalized abstractions, insisting that he focus on the irrelevant minutiae of the everyday. She was more a creature of Dr. Phil than Freud or Lacan. Such a process could be deemed “beneficial” only in a culture consumed with the trivial.

[6] He was no follower of Michel Foucault, but his Madness and Civilization had ably demonstrated how the divide between madness and “reason” was basically a social construct, meant to enforce the dominance of rationalism, not necessarily based on any inherent physiological properties of the patient. Psychology was not science or medicine; shrinks were not doctors.

[7] He knew that the shrink would say that he was developing agoraphobia as well. But his philosophical training let him see what was actually happening—Heidegger had written about the “anxiety of individuation,” the pain that always results when an individual breaks from the herd in order to become truly authentic.

[8] Or at least, a part of Dasein.

[9] Per Heidegger: “Death thus reveals itself as the most proper, nonrelational, insurmountable possibility” of Dasein.

[10] See Heidegger’s essay “The Question Concerning Technology” for further analysis.

[11] Dr. Lugosi was so disturbed because psychosurgery was a rare and tightly controlled procedure. The early lobotomies, where the doctor would force an ice pick through a patient’s eye socket and randomly “scramble” the frontal lobes like eggs, had become common knowledge and an object of universal disgust. Now, the few psychosurgery operations were made only upon the specific instance and request of the doctor. Moreover, modern psychosurgery used the latest in technology and only created the mildest and most minimal brain lesions.

[12] Luke was well-aware of the seemingly contradictory nature of his path. Whereas Heidegger had rejected the reductionism of the field of psychology, Luke was now adopting the far more reductive position that his Being (or Dasein) was composed entirely of the grey matter within his skull. However, the great master Heidegger was, fairly or not, seen as more of an existentialist than a metaphysician, and indeed, all empirical evidence seemed to suggest that human consciousness was composed of the activity of neurons in the brain as opposed to an intangible “soul” or other theological notion. More importantly, Luke was driven by an urgent necessity— he had no time to oppose the horrible thing through spiritual self-scrutiny or chanting mantras in light of the dire threat it presented.

[13] If Luke were to be completely honest with himself, he would acknowledge that his scribbling bore a closer resemblance to “self-help” books than a magnum opus of philosophy. Thankfully, he was rarely honest with himself.

Copyright © 2013 by Luke Jackson

At birth, Luke Jackson’s massive cranium cracked his mother’s tailbone. She was eventually able to sit again, though Luke remained a more metaphorical pain in her arse for years to come. As for Luke, critics suggest that he may have suffered permanent brain damage from the incident, and never had the chance to be “normal.” These critics are fools. In his 29 years, Luke has revealed brilliance and acumen far beyond the standard capabilities of his hominid species.

© . .

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