The Material of an Idea
The Zero Rock
Discharge is the best word for it. Now I see that it was actually like an electric discharge. The pulse of my last few days had been becoming dryer and dryer, more and more rapid, more intense. The opposite poles had been drawing nearer and nearer, and already I could hear the dry crackling; one millimeter more, and — an explosion! Then silence.
Within me there is quiet now, and emptiness like that of a house after everybody has left, when one lies ill, all alone, and hears so clearly the distinct, metallic tick-took of thoughts.
Perhaps that “discharge” cured me at last of my tortured “soul.” Again I am like all of us. At least at this moment as I write I. can see, as it were, without any pain in my mental eye, how O-90 is brought to the steps of the Cube; or I see her in the Gas Bell. And if there in the Operation Department she should give my name, I do not care. Piously and gratefully I would kiss the punishing hand of the Well-Doer at the last moment. I have this right with regard to the United State: to receive my punishment. And I shall not give up this right. No Number ought, or dares, to refuse this one personal, and therefore most precious, privilege.
Quietly, metallically, distinctly, do the thoughts rap in the head. An invisible aero carries me into the blue height of my beloved abstractions. And I see how there in the height, in the purest rareﬁed air, my judgment about the only “right” bursts with a crack, like a pneumatic tire. I see clearly that only an atavism, the absurd superstition of the ancients, gives me this idea of “right.”
There are ideas of moulded clay and ideas moulded of gold, or of our precious glass. In order to know the material of which an idea is made, one needs only to let fall upon it a drop of strong acid. One of these acids was known to the ancients under the name of reductio ad absurdum. This was the name for it, I think. But they were afraid of this poison; they preferred to believe that they saw heaven, even though it was a toy made of clay, rather than confess to themselves that it was only a blue nothing. We, on the other hand (glory to the Well-Doer! ), we are adults, and we have no need of toys. Now if we put a drop of acid on the idea of “right” . . . Even the ancients (the most mature of them) knew that the source of right was — might! Right is a function of might. Here we have our scale: on the one side an ounce, on the other a ton. On one side “I,” on the other “we,” the United State. Is it not clear? To assume that I may have any “right” as far as the State is concerned is like assuming that an ounce may equilibrate a ton in a scale! Hence the natural distribution: tons — rights, grams — duties. And the natural road from nothingness to greatness is to forget that one is a gram and to feel that one is one millionth of a ton!
You ripe-bodied, bright Venerians; you sooty, blacksmith-like Uranians, I almost hear your protests in this silence. But only think, everything that is great is simple. Remember, only the four rules of arithmetic are unshakable and eternal! And only that mortality will be unshakable and eternal which is built upon those four rules. This is the superior wisdom, this is the summit of that pyramid around which people, red with sweat, fought and battled for centuries trying to crawl up!
Looking from this summit down to the bottom, where something is still left swarming like worms, from this summit all that is left over in us from the ancients seems alike. Alike are the unlawful coming motherhood of O-90, a murder, and the insanity of that Number who dared to throw verses into the face of the United State; and alike is the judgment for them — premature death. This is that divine justice of which those stone-housed ancients dreamed, lit by the naïve pink rays of the dawn of history. Their “God” punished sacrilege as a capital crime.
You Uranians, morose and as black as the ancient Spaniards, who were wise in knowing so well how to burn at the stake, you are silent; I think you agree with me. But I hear you, pink Venerians, saying something about “tortures, executions, return to barbarism.” My dear Venerians, I pity you! You are incapable of philosophical, mathematical thinking. Human history moves upward in circles, like an aero. The circles are at times golden, sometimes they are bloody, but all have 360 degrees. They go from 0° to 10°, 20°, 200°, 360° — and then again 0°. Yes, we have returned to zero. But for a mathematically working mind it is obvious that this zero is different: it is a perfectly new zero. We started from zero to the right and came to zero on the left. Hence instead of plus zero we are at minus zero. Do you understand?
This zero appears to me now as a silent, immense, narrow rock, sharp as a blade. In cruel darkness, holding our breath, we set sail from the black night side of-the zero rock. For centuries we, Columbuses, ﬂoated and floated; we made the circuit of the whole world and at last! Hurrah! Salute! We climbed up the masts; before us now was a new side of the zero rock, hitherto unknown, bathed in the polar light of the United State — a blue mass covered with rainbow sparkles! Suns!—a hundred suns! A million rainbows! What does it matter if we are separated from the other black side of the zero rock only by the thickness of a blade? A knife is the most solid, the most immortal, the most inspired invention of man. The knife served on the guillotine. The knife is the universal tool for cutting knots. The way of paradoxes follows its sharp edge, the only way becoming to a fearless mind. . . .