Debris of Logic
Wounds and Plaster
Last night, as soon as I had gone to bed, I fell momentarily to the bottom of the ocean of sleep like an overloaded ship that has been wrecked. The heavy mass of wavy green water enveloped me. Then, slowly, I ﬂoated from the bottom upward, and somewhere in the middle of that course I opened my eyes — my room! The morning was still green and motionless. A fragment of sunshine coming from the mirror on my closet door shone into my eyes. This fragment did not permit me to sleep, being thus an obstacle in the way of fulﬁlling exactly the rules of the Tables, which prescribe so many hours of sleep. I should have opened the closet but I felt as though I were in a spider web, and cobweb covered my eyes; I had no power to sit up.
Yet I got up and opened the closet door; suddenly, there behind that door, making her way through the mass of garments that hung there, was I-330! I have become so accustomed of late to most improbable things that as far as I remember I was not even surprised; I did not even ask a question. I jumped into the closet, slammed the mirror door behind me, and breathlessly, brusquely, blindly, avidly I clung to her. I remember clearly even now: through the narrow crack of the door a sharp sun ray like lightning broke into the darkness and played on the ﬂoor and walls of the closet, and a little higher the cruel ray blade fell upon the naked neck of I-330, and this for some reason seemed to me so terrible that I could not bear it, and I screamed — and again I opened my eyes. My room!
The morning was still green and motionless. On the door of my closet was a fragment of the sunshine. I was in bed. A dream? Yet my heart was still wildly beating, quivering and twitching; there was a dull pain in the tips of my ﬁngers and in my knees. This undoubtedly did happen! And now I am no longer able to distinguish what is dream from what is actuaIity; irrational numbers grow through my solid, habitual, tridimensional life; and instead of ﬁrm, polished surfaces, there is something shaggy and rough. . . .
I waited long for the Bell to ring. I was lying thinking, untangling a very strange logical chain. In our superﬁcial life, every formula, every equation, corresponds to a curve or a solid. We have never seen any curve or solid corresponding to my square root of minus one. The horrifying part of the situation is that there exist such curves or solids. Unseen by us they do exist, they must, inevitably; for in mathematics, as on a screen, strange, sharp shadows appear before us. One must remember that mathematics, like death, never makes mistakes, never plays tricks. If we are unable to see these irrational curves or solids, it means only that they inevitably possess a whole immense world somewhere beneath the surface of our life. . . .
I jumped up without waiting for the waking Bell and began to pace up and down the room. My mathematics, the only ﬁrm and immovable island of my shaken life, this, too, was torn from its anchor and was ﬂoating, whirling. Then it means that that absurd thing, the “soul,” is as real as my unif, as my boots, although I do not see them since they are behind the door of the closet. If boots are not a sickness, why should the “soul” be one? I sought, but I could not ﬁnd, a way out of the logical confusion. It looked to me like that strange and sad debris beyond the Green Wall; my debris of logic, too, is ﬁlled with extraordinary, incomprehensible, wordless, but speaking beings. It occurred to me for a moment that through some strange, thick glass I saw it; I saw it at once inﬁnitely large and inﬁnitely small, scorpion-like, with hidden but ever perceptible sting; I saw the square root of minus one. Perhaps it was nothing else but my “soul,” which, like the legendary scorpion of the ancients, was voluntarily stinging itself with . . .
The Bell! The day began. All I saw and felt neither died nor disappeared; it merely became covered with daylight, as our visible world does not die or disappear at the end of the day but merely becomes covered with the darkness of night. My head was ﬁlled with a light, a thin haze. Through that haze I perceived the long glass tables and the globe-like heads busy chewing — slowly, silently, in unison. At a distance, through the haze, the metronome was slowly beating its tick-tock, and to the accompaniment of this customary and caressing music I joined with the others in counting automatically to ﬁfty: ﬁfty is the number of chewing movements required by the law of the State for every piece of food. And automatically then, keeping time, I went downstairs and put my name down in the book for the outgoing Numbers, as everyone did. But I felt I lived separately from everybody; I lived by myself separated by a soft wall which absorbed noises; beyond that wall there was my own world.
Here a thought occurred to me. If that world is only my own, why should I tell about it in these records? Why should I recount all these absurd “dreams” about closets, endless corridors? With great sorrow I notice that instead of a correct and strictly mathematical poem in honor of the United State I am writing a fantastic novel. Oh! if only it were a novel and not my actual life, full of X’s, square roots of minus one, and downfalls! Yet all may be for the best. Probably you, my unknown readers, are children still as compared with us. We are brought up by the United State; consequently we have reached the highest summits attainable by man. And you, being children, may swallow without crying all the bitter things I am to give you only if they be coated with the syrup of adventures.
The Same Evening
Are you familiar with the following sensation? You are in an aero and you dash upward along a blue spiral line; the window is open and the wind rushes past your face, whistling. There is no earth. The earth is forgotten. The earth is as far from you as Venus, Saturn, or Jupiter. That is how I live now. A hurricane wind beats into my face; I forget the earth, forget rosy, dear O-90. Yet the earth does exist, and sooner or later I must plane down to that earth; only I close my eyes to avoid seeing the date at which the name O-90 is written on my Tables.
This evening the distant earth reminded me of itself. In order to fulfill the recommendation of the doctor (I desire sincerely, most sincerely I desire, to be cured), I wandered for two hours and eight minutes over the straight lines of the deserted avenues. Everybody was in the auditoriums, in accordance with the Table. Only I, cut oil from the rest, I was alone. Strictly speaking, it was a very unnatural situation. Imagine a ﬁnger cut off from the whole, from the hand; a separate human ﬁnger, somewhat hunched, running over the glass sidewalk. I was such a ﬁnger. What seemed most strange and unnatural was that the ﬁnger had no desire to be with its hand, with its fellows. I want either to be alone or with her; to transfuse my whole being into hers through a contact with her shoulder or through our interwoven ﬁngers.
I came home as the sun was setting. The pink dust of evening was covering the glass of the walls, the golden peak of the Accumulating Tower, the voices and smiles of the Numbers. Isn’t it strange: the passing rays of the evening sun fall to the earth at the same angle as the awakening rays of the morning, yet they make everything seem so different; the pink tinge is different. At sunset it is so quiet, somewhat melancholy; at sunrise it is resounding, boisterous.
When I entered the hall downstairs I saw U-, the controller. She took a letter from the heaps of envelopes covered with pink dust and handed it to me. I repeat: she is a very respectable woman, and I am sure she has only the very best feelings toward me. . . . Yet, every time I see those cheeks hanging down, which look like the gills of a fish, I . . .
Holding out her dry hand with the letter, U- sighed. But that sigh only very slightly moved in me the curtains which separate me from the rest of the world. I was completely engrossed by the envelope which trembled in my hand. I had no doubt that it was a letter from I-330.
At that moment I heard another sigh, such a deliberate one, underscored with two lines, that I raised my eyes from the envelope and saw a tender, cloudy smile coming from between the gills, through the bashful blinds of lowered eyes. And then:
“You poor, poor dear!” A sigh underscored with three lines, and a glance at the letter, an imperceptible glance. (What was in the letter she naturally knew, ex officio.)
“No, really? . . . Why?”
“No, no, dear, I know better than you. For a long time I have watched you, and I see that you need someone with years of experience of life to accompany you.”
I felt all pasted around by her smile. It was like a plaster upon the wounds which were to be inﬂicted upon me by the letter I held in my hand. Finally, through the bashful blinds of her eyes, she said in a very low voice: “I shall think about it, dear. I shall think it over. And be sure that if I feel myself strong enough . . .”
“Great Well-Doer! Is it possible that is my lot? . . . Is it possible that she means to say, that she? . . .”
My eyes were dimmed and filled with thousands of sinusoids; the letter was trembling. I went near the light, to the wall. There the light of the sun was going out; from the sun the dark, sad, pink dust was falling thicker and thicker, covering the ﬂoor, my hands, the letter. I opened the envelope and found the signature as fast as I could — the ﬁrst wound! It was not I-330; it was O-90! And another wound: in the right-hand corner a slovenly splash, a blot! I cannot hear blots. It matters little whether they are made by ink or by . . . Well, it doesn’t matter by what. Heretofore, such a blot would, have had only a disagreeable effect, disagreeable to the eyes; but now — why did that small gray blot seem like a cloud, and seem to spread about me a leaden, bluish darkness? Or was it again the “soul” at work? Here is a transcript of the letter:
You know, or perhaps you don’t . . . I cannot write well. Little it matters! Now you know that without you there is for me not a single day, a single morning, a single spring, for R- is only . . . Well, that is of no importance to you. At any rate, I am very grateful to him, for without him, alone all these days, I don’t know what would . . . During these last few days and nights I have lived through ten years, or perhaps twenty years. My room seemed to me not square but round; I walk around without end, round after round, always the same thing, not a door to escape through. I cannot live without you because I love you; and I should not, I cannot be with you any more — because I love you! Because I see and I understand that you need no one now, no one in the world save that other, and you must realize that it is precisely because I love you that I must . . .
I need another two or three days. in order to paste together the fragments of myself and thus restore at least something similar to the O-90 of old. Then I shall go myself, and I myself shall state that I take your name from my list, and this will be better for you; you must feel happy now. I shall never again . . .
Never again. Yes, that is better. She is right. But why, then? . . . Why, then? . . .