Thursday, January 28, 2016

"Pillow-Talk of the Late Oneirocalypse" by Vajra Chandrasekera

To begin a story with "—not how it started nor how it ended," and then to go on from there, is perhaps to acknowledge that by beginning to write one begins to carve the world into pieces, the ones that will be written and the ones that will not — an acknowledgment without which writing is much more likely to work to make us forget that such carving has taken place. The last Chandrasekera story I wrote about, the superb "Stick a Pin in Me", also concerned itself greatly with what will and will not be spoken, and who wants it that way and why; also like that other story "Pillow-Talk" takes the form of a rambling monologue — or, rather, a dialogue of which we only see one part, the interlocutor's contributions having been carved away. There is a joy to seeing a writer find a form perfectly suited to what they need to say, and watching these two remarkably different stories unfold is one such. (Which is not, of course, to say that Chandrasekera should only ever write carved-out monologues!)

A major difference here is that where the narrator of "Pin" was desperate, dying, to hold on, the narrator here is much more willing to let go of what they themself call "basal reality" — ambivalent, but willing. If the narrator is to be trusted, it is only one subjective year (it's different for everyone) after they reluctantly, or accidentally, followed most (or all?) of humanity through "the door in [their] dreams". If they are to be trusted, they feel pain at having been separated from their loved ones, from their context. If they are to be trusted, they are just as disoriented by the rapidly receding memory of a basal reality "which is actually quite an unfashionable thing to believe in now" as anyone else is. (I think, perhaps, we should trust them every bit as much as we should not; every word they say contradicts another, but all, somehow, are true to the same degree. This might mean that I believe the narrator is both what they say they are and the "evolved oneiric life-form" they describe as being a hypothetical other.) But despite, or at any rate in addition to, or maybe instead of, this inexperience, pain, and disorientation, they have reached an accommodation with mortdieu, the death of the "gods of order"; with an Earth that "moves so easily now, people are always breaking worlds in their enthusiasm"; with a self even less stable than our theoretically waking selves. It may be the only kind of accommodation possible — or, and, or, to make it seem so may be nothing more than brutal self-justification.

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