Elove: What Does Fiction Know?

Otherworldliness

That’s what Morel had in mind in Adolfo Bioy Casares’ The Invention of Morel with his machine capable of recording all five senses. The recordings would forever perpetuate the live experiences recorded. The narrator witnesses these recordings, taking them for live events and falls in love with Faustine, a product of the recordings, who is sitting on a rock contemplating a sunset. Still unaware that the events are a projection, he does not pretend that these events are real, as we do when we watch a movie, play a game or read a work of fiction simulating a certain reality, but takes them as a genuine part of his reality. He soon starts to understand that they are recordings, but this does not attenuate his love for her, nor his desire to interact with her and join her. He is unable, of course, to turn off the machine and walk away, as we do when we close the book of fiction we are reading and go on with our daily life. Neither is staying in his world and simulating an interaction with her an option since he does not pretend to be in love with her but genuinely loves her. His only option is to leave the space-time of the narrative and enter the space-time of the recording, to let himself, that is, die in his world to join Faustine in the projected world. He may thus be conforming to the principle demonstrated by Bioy Casares’ friend, J.L. Borges, that an event can only happen once, that a duplication of even a spontaneously generated and identical chapter of the Quixote is necessarily different than the original because they occupy different space-times.
 
In Cassou-Noguès’ “Le Jeu," the narrator entertains a romantic relationship with a woman, also the product of a machine projection. He only has to put on Virtual Reality equipment, a mask, glasses and a glove, to simulate Marcel and join momentarily another player who figures as a simulation of Proust’s Albertine in 1912-14 Paris. The machine gathers its information from documents, books, films, newspaper articles, postcards archived on servers throughout the planet and applies to them very sophisticated algorithms to create a somewhat convincing décor. In contrast to Bioy Casares’ narrator who takes the bizarre phenomena produced by the machine for reality and ends up having to choose to exist in one reality over the other, Cassou-Noguès’ narrator is fully aware that he is playing a game, that what he witnesses while playing is an illusion, as are, I might add, the short story and Proust’s novel. The short story, in fact, takes place and maintains simultaneously several superimposed sets, each with their own time, space, décor and narrator’s identity. The accessible space of the apartment where Marcel and Albertine meet in 1912 is constrained by totally transparent walls configured exactly like the space in the 21st century where the narrator is playing. The same goes for Albertine: her space is constrained on exactly the model of the space the person who is playing her is located. We have, then, the world of the apartment on the Boulevard Haussmann onto which is superimposed the respective worlds of the spaces where the players are playing. There are thus at least three space-times, in each of which there are different identities (or as Cassou-Noguès calls them, “existences individuelles”): that of the two players and that of the roles they take in playing the game. The result is a highly complex labyrinth wherein “reality is neither in life nor in the Game but in this labyrinth, a kind of limbo, which seems to be an inadequate expression for both the level of life and that of the Game” (4, my translation).
 
If, from the perspective of space-time constructions, the Invention of Morel is perhaps a far take on Borges’ “Pierre Menard,” “Le Jeu” could be considered a take off of the “Garden of Forking Paths” where the forks of space-time cross and occur simultaneously in our own space-time, the duration of our reading of the short story.
 
What we learn so far from these works is that the question of otherworldliness is inherent to any consideration of love between a human and a machine, that a simulation of an event is not its duplication (Villiers), that in order to take a simulation for a duplication, you have to pass into the world of the event (Bioy Casares), and that there is an important difference between characters who know that they are playing a game and those who do not. In playing a game, you walk in and easily walk out of that game. It is like reading a good novel, except that you become the main character. When you put on the VR gear and begin to play, you enter another world where the genuineness of your feelings and that of the characters you interact with is no longer relevant. On the other hand, Bioy Casares’ narrator and Villiers’ Ewald have not left their respective worlds (it is actually we readers who are visiting another world, the one fabricated of the fictions we are reading): Ewald ends up convinced of the genuineness of the android Hadaly’s feelings, and Bioy Casares’ narrator, not knowing at first that Faustine is a machine projection, is in love with her but when he discovers that she is a machine projection decides to join her and her world.
 
 

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