The Voice, the Song, the Vision, the Light

[Video: 10,000 Maniacs and David Byrne (live), performing Iris Dement’s “Let the Mystery Be.” (Lyrics here.)]

From whiskey river:

Mysticism keeps men sane. As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity. The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic. He has permitted the twilight. He has always had one foot in earth and the other in fairyland. He has always left himself free to doubt his gods; but (unlike the agnostic of today) free also to believe in them. He has always cared more for truth than for consistency. If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and the contradiction along with them. His spiritual sight is stereoscopic, like his physical sight: he sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that. Thus he has always believed that there was such a thing as fate, but such a thing as free will also.

(G. K. Chesterton [source])

and:

Old Man At Home Alone in the Morning

There are questions that I no longer ask
and others that I have not asked for a long time
that I return to and dust off and discover
that I’m smiling and the question
has always been me and that it is
no question at all but that it means
different things at the same time
yes I am old now and I am the child
I remember what are called the old days and there is
no one to ask how they became the old days
and if I ask myself there is no answer
so this is old and what I have become
and the answer is something I would come to
later when I was old but this morning
is not old and I am the morning
in which the autumn leaves have no question
as the breeze passes through them and is gone

(W. S. Merwin [source])

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Mysteries of Potential

Alternate-reality game 'mood board'

[Image: a “mood board” generated by a team brainstorming the design of an alternate-reality game (ARG). Found it here. Click to enlarge.]

From whiskey river:

We don’t know what’s going on here. If these tremendous events are random combinations of matter run amok, the yield of millions of monkeys at millions of typewriters, then what is it in us, hammered out of those same typewriters, that they ignite? We don’t know.

(Annie Dillard [source])

and:

The Unwritten

Inside this pencil
crouch words that have never been written
never been spoken
never been taught

they’re hiding

they’re awake in there
dark in the dark
hearing us
but they won’t come out
not for love not for time not for fire

even when the dark has worn away
they’ll still be there
hiding in the air
multitudes in days to come may walk through them
breathe them
be none the wiser

what script can it be
that they won’t unroll
in what language
would I recognize it
would I be able to follow it

to make out the real names
of everything

maybe there aren’t
many
it could be that there’s only one word
and it’s all we need
it’s here in this pencil

every pencil in the world
is like this

(W.S. Merwin [source])

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Book Review: The City & The City, by China Miéville

My full review of this book is up, over at The Book Book.

Part conventional murder mystery, part dark urban fantasy, The City & The City is constructed on a bizarre high concept which the author makes somehow believable: two Eastern European cities are not just neighbors, adjacent to each other; they’re even closer than that. They […wait a beat…] overlap.

Note that this departs from the parallel-universes or -dimensions premise employed in many science fiction and fantasy novels since the mid-20th century. Those other narratives generally suppose that the two places have completely different timelines, perhaps branching off from each other, so that events in one place have no direct impact on the other; people can move between dimensions only with difficulty, by way of some exotic technology or talent.

The people in The City & The City have no such weird abilities or devices. They’re just normal human beings. Physically, they can move from one city to the other just by stepping from one to the other.

The key word there: “physically.” For the two cities have developed legal and cultural barriers preventing crossover. They have different languages. They have different architectural and clothing styles, favor different color schemes. Their cuisines smell and taste different. (They even differ in their diplomatic relationships. One city is recognized by the US and Canada; the other, by Canada only. If you want to fly from the US to the latter, you must do so from some other country — like Canada.) From childhood, people learn to unsee the people and objects in the other city. They are forbidden to cross back and forth except at one location, a single otherwise conventional border crossing with gates and guards.

All of which has no bearing on the investigations and solutions of most crimes. But now, an American woman has been killed in City A, and the body found in City B…

When I started reading this book, I knew pretty much nothing about it. I’d seen comments on it on various blogs I read and respect; these comments praised it highly but never for specific reasons (other than with expressions like “blew my mind”). Even after I began reading, it took me a while to catch on — by Miéville’s design, I think. The body is discovered; the detective talks with eyewitnesses and colleagues, and collectively they start developing some theories. But then at the end of Chapter 1, a dozen or so pages in, I came to the following passage. The detective-narrator, in an idle moment, finds himself watching an elderly woman on a nearby street.

… In my glance I took in her clothes, her way of walking, of holding herself, and looking.

With a hard start, I realised that she was not on GunterStrász at all, and that I should not have seen her.

Immediately and flustered I looked away, and she did the same, with the same speed. I raised my head, towards an aircraft on its final descent. When after some seconds I looked back up, unnoticing the old woman stepping heavily away, I looked carefully instead of at her in her foreign street at the facades of the nearby and local GunterStrász, that depressed zone.

That screeching sound, that crash you just heard? That was the echo of my collision with the word unnoticing. Even when I read back a few sentences, and then ahead — “should not have seen her”? “her foreign street” vs. “local GunterStrász”? — I was still confused as hell. I couldn’t wait to turn the page.

And that, above all else, is what I want from a mystery.

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