19 October 2008

Bernard on Fragmentation

Suddenly, without warning, Bernard utters, “The elegy of bloom has left this room, there is nothing left to say.”

“Huh?” I respond unintelligently, caught unawares by what might have been some attempt at poetry.

“I’ve been thinking,” Bernard said with the careful deliberation and enunciation of someone who has been drinking. When he’s drunk, Bernard become loquacious and then suddenly stares into space for a few minutes before slumping forward and falling asleep.

“About,” I ask, taking the bait.

“Descendants of medieval serfs now surf the net, talk about cell phones on cell phones and blog about blogging.” He waves his arm with a flourish, “We’re using the limits of language to define the limits of language and struggling to become mindful of our own minds. Do you suppose that this is automated recursion, the curious math of evolutionary algorithms that don't know when to stop? Communication runs amok past the point of anything useful?” Bernard stops and stares at the table, seeming to actually contemplate his own question. “Or do you suppose that we’re just confusing self contained for self reliant? Our own interior life now so complex as to have completely distracted us from the reality outside, like a driver distracted by fighting kids in the backseat and forgetting to watch the road?”

“Bernard,” I begin, hesitatingly. “Yeah. The car metaphor works for me,” I say, not sure what to do with the rest. “Context defines everything, really and yet it is the last place that we look, focused as we are on everything but. The fight inside the car.”

Bernard stares at me, slack jawed. “This is about language, Ron. No one seems to get the joke - the fact that we're using linear language when the world is made up swoops and swirls and dynamic relationships so convoluted that no one even remembers what is being related.” Bernard is on a roll now, and he sits up, waving his hands so dramatically that I begin to fear that he’ll sweep the drinks off the table and into our laps.

“We tune into shows that translate our confusion into simple words. We create different tribes and different cultures by translating it into different words. We read books. We talk to each other. We make sense of our world, each explanation an elegy of things gone wrong or right. And yet each explanation is doomed to failure because it must be comprehensible, and really, how could it be? How could anything that made sense really make sense when none of this does?” Bernard sweeps his hand to enclose the room.

“And through this all we move forward in the clunkiest of time machines,” Bernard points to himself, “a time machine with only one speed and one direction – these bodies that carry us through time.” And then he leans into my face and chuckles, “and call ourselves ourselves even though everything about us changes, bits and pieces of us strewn behind us like a child carrying a bag of flour. A lost conviction here. A changed belief there. Our hair.”

At this point I make no attempt to respond. He’s on a roll and simply needs to express.

“And I have been wondering, Ron, if the Hindus aren't right about reincarnation and whether just a few thousand whole souls that began the world have busily divided into smaller and smaller fragments in each generation, dividing to keep pace with a population of billions. That means that each one of us becomes smaller fragments of soul as the world grows larger – a world full of specialists helpless on our own.”

"We think that communication has anything to do with communication when it has everything to do with connection." Bernard draws his hands together, like a bad speaker who is consciously trying to use gestures to communicate more clearly. “We’re fragments that are finally drawn together through cell phones and blogging and language and minding each other’s minds, drawn together by what’s missing on our own. Fragments made to feel briefly whole again each time we connect and click, like puzzle pieces trying to put themselves together again with no way to see the picture on the box or even whatever they’ve become so far, no way to step back to see the invisible context, the whole that determines if this is the right click for the larger picture – only knowing that this click doesn’t clunk.” And suddenly, improbably, Bernard speeds up.

“And all this communication and information might do nothing to explain these complex dynamics of the world – nothing to do with markets and financial madness and everything to do with the swirl of fragments coming back together. That might be all the motion – all the force – in the world. Maybe the world’s dynamic is nothing but the swirl and maybe there is nothing more to explain, no more need for language - not after these fragments click.”

And as if he’d suddenly had been clicked off, Bernard stared across the room for about two minutes and then, his chin fell onto his chest and his eyes closed. I decided to wait awhile before carrying him out to the car to drive him home.

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other blogs
Sara Paretsky on The Novel in the Age of Fragmentation
Cultural fragmentation

4 comments:

Jennifer H said...

This is one of my favorite Bernard stories. Of course, it's hard to choose.

That Bernard - he has a good soul.

Ron Davison said...

Jennifer,
Bernard thanks you for this.

exskindiver said...

ron are you really bernard?

Ron Davison said...

Chesca,
Not for another 30 years or so.