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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Plateau - an artist's fable

**with insincere apologies to Edwin A Abbott**

CHAPTER 1 - Be patient, for the world is broad & wide.

This is a simple, repeatable tale. It rolls in on itself like a hoop, plotless and unremarkable.

I call our land The Plateau, dear readers, but not because we call it so - oh no. We have struggled and sweated to arrive even here, and to most, it is called Summit. This is said without irony - in fact it is said with pride. One to another, our people congratulate each other heartily on making Summit, on scaling Summit, on being Summit-bound. But I call it The Plateau, dear readers, for that is its true topography, which I believe will become clear momentarily.

First a word on the nature of our people. We are round, mostly. In fact, our primary physical attribute is our roundness, and in that we are almost homogenous. You could say that we are spheres, and this remarkable fact probably would seem to you two-legged folk, blessed with easy volition and strideful locomotion, an impossibly inconvenient situation. How to navigate, when one can only roll? How to change direction? Indeed we rely on The Plateau to give us both direction and velocity. In the process of rolling about, we are especially attuned to its subtle ridges and shallows, its pits and ramps.

As we roll, we make the most marvelous patterns - in fact I doubt someone of your legged bias could even appreciate the complex patterns we make as we whiz gracefully through the implied mazes and curlicues of our largely featureless land. At times we seem to fall into line, tracing figure eights with precision, though the forces that created such a parade would be invisible to you. At other times we spin feverishly in divots, faster and faster, marking the same path for extended time. A blur of motion - the divot-spinners often trace out their whole lives thusly: not rising, not falling, not exploring any other slope. Their devotion is almost priestly.

Surely at this moment, the conundrum of the The Plateau is as apparent as it is perplexing. How did its inhabitants arrive at this place? Though there are tales and myths of those who suddenly appeared, or were dropped from the sky (it is rumored there is a sky), or even more fancifully: rolled down from some other place, most of us actually travailed... upwards. On several sides, The Plateau is skirted by slopes of varying smoothness and inclination. Each of us began at the bottom and through sheer determination and will, drove our corporal selves up and up and up. Though gravity worked against us, we drove ourselves up. Though the falling bodies of our backsliding peers threatened our progress, we drove ourselves up. Though the very fundamental nature of our shape and leglessness worked against us, miraculously, we indeed drove ourselves up.

And so it is no wonder that most call this Summit. How improbable that any ever reached it - and how wonderful and rare it is to be here! Myself, I found an upward path that was horribly jagged and scarred, nearly impossible by the look of it, but I will tell you those crags were like hooks that held me tenderly still when I lost direction and skidded back nearly to the bottom. In short I am grateful for that journey - its apparent ugliness was its greatest asset. I too came to this land inexpressibly relieved, grateful, and proud. I was ready to join my place in the parade. I was willing - even exhilarated - to find a divot in which to endlessly spin.

I had no idea at the time that I would end up where I am now. I stared awestruck at all my varied brethren whizzing gleefully to and fro. Though assorted in size and color, they moved primarily in unison, with only the occasional rogue sphere stubbornly twirling in one place or dodging pugnaciously through established processions. Some were perfectly crystalline, some shot through with color or swirls of opacity, like the winnable marbles of your legged-world game. Most were dark and opaque, but primarily reflective, mirroring distorted images of all that was around them. And gloriously they spun! In the largest divots, great masses of them rolled all together. The largest was named the Sea, and its colony seethed and roiled just as one of your world's seas would do. In another, the plane of the sides was deeper, bowl-like, looking truly like one of those "fruit bowls" your people covet. There was even, you will scarcely believe, a huge divot dedicated solely to the glories of your own leg-bound kind.

Around and around they went, merrily, singing praises for their paths. Each went on its tried and true route, and over time it might pick up something from very ground beneath it, appearing to change, appearing perhaps in some cases, to become gilded. (Oh and it is true that some precious few spun so fast in their gilded state that they were lifted... that they actually rose from their places and flew!) I joined in the first parade I could find, and bounced happily from divot to divot. I learned all their glorious songs. I was terribly, horribly happy.

Almost immediately, I learned that our world was called Summit, and told quite forcefully that nothing lay beyond it. What happened to those, then, who flew? I asked. They were certainly deposited elsewhere on Summit, they replied. But if we came here from some other place, I asserted, then surely there must be other places yet! None exist, it was declared, and they spun happily on.

So then how did it happen, you could ask. How did I come to this dark place? And are there others? I am not entirely sure, because I am not certain where it is that I am. I do not know whether I am above or below the grade of The Plateau. I know that coming here felt something like dropping off an edge, and something like rolling up a spiral, very fast, hearing only wind and thunder.

Others are here and I can sense their tenuous, strange songs, so unlike the cheerful, unanimous chants I heard at The Plateau. Much of it is wordless. Much of it is not; there are frequent cries of "Me! Me! Me!" There are these new songs, some almost unlike music, but there is more - there is a glow. As I am here, unsure if I am spinning, rolling or moving at all, and hearing almost entirely my own voice in my ears (so strange!), I do see, or think I see, intermittent lights. Light is unexpected from my kind, and sometimes I think I am misinterpreting a particular thrumming noise. But then there it will be again, light. And light again. And again. I turn toward it and struggle to see... It is almost as if I have never had eyes.

1 comment:

Novysan said...

Oh my god! A Flatland reference! I love it. Artists, atoms, photons, thoughts, memes. Yes, all structured but fluid. To spin, to ascend, the live.