Coming like an echo of a poem I wrote and posted just the other day, are the following paragraphs from the futuristic novel, Mockingbird, by Walter Tevis. The context is that, Paul Bentley, one of a dwindling and degraded population of human beings, in a world now populated primarily by robots, has taught himself to read; a skill that has been lost by the rest of the human race. As a result of his rare skill, he is assigned the task by his robot boss, in what is apparently the archives of the New York University Library, of viewing ancient silent films and making voice recordings of the words from the films’ frames of text. Bentley is also given the equipment necessary to keep a verbal journal of his activities. Below is the entry from Day Twenty-Two of that journal:
XXOne compelling thing that keeps appearing in the films is a collection of people called a “family.” It seems to have been a very common arrangement in ancient times. A “family” is a group of people that are often together, that even appear to live all together. There are always a man and a woman—unless one of them is dead; and even then that one is often spoken of, and images of the dead one (“photographs”) are to be found near the living, on the walls and the like. And then there are the younger ones, children of different ages. And the surprising thing, the thing that seems characteristic of these “families,” is that the man and woman are always the mother and the father of all of the children! And there are older people sometimes too, and always they seem to be the mothers and fathers of either the man or the woman! I hardly know what to make of it. Everyone seems to be related.
XXAnd further, much of the sense of feelingfulness that these films have seems profoundly connected with this being related. And it seem to be presented in the films as good.
XXI know, of course, not to try being a moral judge of anyone. And certainly not of people from another time. I know the life in the films is contrary to the dictum “Alone is best”; but that is not what bothers me. After all, I have spent days at a time with other people—have even seen the same students every day for weeks. It is not the Mistake of Proximity that bothers me about those “families.” I think it may be a kind of shock that the people take such risks. They seem to feel so much for one another.
XXI am shocked and saddened by it.
Here is the poem that I mentioned above:
in old times
they stayed at home
until they married
or even after
XXXXrather than subtracting from
now the glue is gone
all is aimed at separation
are we reptiles? fish?
this is wicked
a cup of filthy twigs
some molted fluff
a random feather
self is a number
XXXXit is not the number one
XXXXself is legion
covered in bright scales
When I compare my poem to the excerpt from Mockingbird, well… I am shocked and saddened by it.