Friday, April 8, 2011

The Dream Of Perpetual Motion - Book Discussion

Book discussed is "The Dream Of Perpetual Motion" by Dexter Palmer

The dream of perpetual motion is the useless hope of a better world while evidence of widespread decay of the actual world is all around. “Dream” is apt because the characters seem to be willing themselves not to see how far gone their world is, clinging to ideas or people (in this case, people embody ideas) as salvation when they are clearly not. The dreamers are everyone. The world is collectively trying to dupe itself. Which, one would think would work if everyone is in on the game, but what they want is impossible (happiness) and nobody is really trying anyway. What everyone wants stays a wish and the world crumbles with no effort put into its maintenance.

This story might only work provided the reader is male. The salvation everyone believes in is a girl. Do women also believe salvation comes from women? I’m working under the assumption that this is a man-myth or romanticization (the process of romanticize-ing) or women. Maybe it works because children (majority of the story the female is a child) equal innocence and girls especially so. Sexist? I think it’s a common enough idea for anyone to at least grasp it.

The narrator, Harold Winslow, is detached from humanity, no longer understanding what one does or how one feels as a human. He can recognize where emotions, and which, are appropriate but lacks the will to summon them or the understanding of why he should. He isn’t unique in this regard and apathy  runs rampant. A powerful form of nostalgia too, that has older members of society believing that angels and miracles walked their earth. But the present state of the world, as Harold navigates it, is dead. Nothing oppressive or invasive. No pervading darkness. Because even that would be motion and life. Harold’s world is devoid of color and life. The cover of the book does a great job of setting this up. I pictured the whole novel in shades of bronze. Additionally, the current onslaught of new technology so confuses civilization they lose sight of any meaning to their lives, falling back on old stories (in a general sense, not specific ones) to make sense of their life and tell them what to do next.

All hopes of this lost world rest with Prospero Taligent. Genius inventor. Lives in a tower (never leaves). Eccentric. Sounds too close to an archetype character to be interesting but Dream is also commenting on the role of stories in people’s lives. So he’s supposed to instantly be familiar. Actually, Prospero turns out to be the most fun and weird characters of the novel. He is the one building the hope of all people; his daughter Miranda. I love this: Humanity’s only salvation must be built by humanity itself, it won’t come from anywhere else, but humanity rejects any savior that itself makes because it then lacks some mystical property (which nobody can define, if they could it wouldn’t work) essential to it being a savior. Prospero knows this. He tries to create the perfect girl with a mixture of odd tech and force of will. It’s like he’s trying to summon the answer all the while knowing there is no magic. Very desperate world. The conflict, at its core, is the feverish human search for meaning that proves people are special but humanity itself doubts it’s capable of being anything. Like wanting to be a superhero and knowing it’s impossible and that want just eats away at a person until they’re sick. Confusion infiltrates even fundamental understanding so every possible action is tried in desperation, disregarding any moral system or sense of how ridiculous it might be. Great quote from Prospero ,“ If you're so damned concerned about the few pounds of flesh that holds the information matrix - what! You come to me now with talk of ethics? A little late for that, I think. Now you'll do what I say. You cut her there, and you cut her to the bone, and you cut her in C-Sharp, with a blueness".

I don’t know how it all works out in the end. It gives some evidence that Prospero failed all throughout (his perpetual engine isn’t perpetual) but the closing words are upbeat and hopeful. One of those hideously ambiguous, “pick your own ending” type, horseshit. The author should tell or show me what happened, and not cop-out at the very end. It’s their story they’re telling, don’t leave it to me. [Anger]. Here’s how I see it, since the author doesn’t have an opinion. The groping for specialness is growing pains, an adolescent yearning for the magic of childhood when the world seemed bigger and there was always something to look forward to (the nostalgia in this story). Left to define themselves, people can’t, their imagination defaulting them to helpless victims in an endless struggle to (but they don’t know it) come up with an identity. Too scared to take the next step, or seeing all possibilities of the future as just fictitious childhood imaginings, but well past the stage of believing in magic they stagnate. Choosing an identity is integral to everything else in life. What does one do, what do they want, how do they feel, what do they think of? Identity gives purpose to life. Rejecting stories as “fake”, and thus rejecting adopting the personas of, the test is to come up with something completely unique / new and validate the notion that life is dynamic and limitless. Which, put like that, is again slaving under the past / old / fake because that concept of life is an old idea (but a true one and thus exempt?). It’s a paradox. Human language and understanding don’t allow one to invent something completely beyond them yet there is this idea of doing so, and wanting to do so very badly. To become alien. That’s a good thing, right? How else is new achieved or the next stage (of evolution or thought) gained without impossible standards being set? What better goal, and better tribute, to all that is life then surpassing it? Fill every possibility, work within in completely, but to stay would be the same as dying, so moving on.

I give all this extraneous thought in lieu of providing another ending. I can’t get past the paradox or come up with something new. If Harold leaves in a portal of light to the fulfillment of all, then is that good or just a trite happy ending? Does he just curl up and cry, never able to rise above childish instincts? Critics, if they poke holes in a work, should fill them. Sorry I can’t.