explosive amnesia (aka: explaining Infinity Plus One? again!?)

I must be bored.

Ain't no such thing as writer's block. Just a scared writer.

Scared of losing the line in to the place things come from. Which can only be severed from the one end, this one. Scared of sucking. Fear of one's own disapproval has stopped more people from writing, drawing, composing, designing or instigating excellent works than all the dictators in hades. Matter of fact the dicators probably helped people get over the hump in an indirect sort of way.

'S like Keokotah said to Jubal Sackett. In the afterlife, he planned to ask the powers that be for an enemy. Nothing but an enemy, he maintained, could keep a man really sharp and challenge him to constantly outdo himself. And how much fun could the afterlife be without a reason to strive?

Demetri Martin had a fantastic segment in a standup routine which me and Dave watched a month or so ago. A little song / monologue / live action thingy called "The Place Where My Jokes Come From." Yes, it was funny, but it was also one of those things that had THE PRETTY poking around the corner of it, in the way that makes me tear up a little. Everything loves to be praised. Especially the place where one's jokes come from.

This morning, for the first time in quite awhile, I took some mental solace in Infinity Plus One. Not any of the dozens of things by that title I got Googling the phrase, but the Reverend Doktor's Medicine Show. It's a goofy little fortune-telling device / non-linear novel created by the makers of KoL. I am about 95% sure these guys invented it themselves as a way to test their text manipulation program. The text manipulation programming in KoL is truly excellent. Each monster you fight, each weapon or spell you can use, all have a number of different action messages. All of which are sensitive to plurality, gender, and a host of of other grammatical rule-changers to which randomized text is not normally expected to conform.

Infinity Plus One is a novel of sorts and a tarot deck of sorts. Of sorts. As a novel it's sort of a cross between cyberpunk and the sort of book Cathy Acker might have written had she been born male. There are a limited number of chapters, twenty-nine or twenty-seven or some such thing. These are mostly narrated by the same main character, though they occur in no particular order and the events across chapters have a rather tenuous, metaphorical-at-best, relationship to one another. Each chapter is symbolized by a card with a name (which is also the chapter title), a pencil-line-drawn picture, and a unique combination of the three symbols infinity, plus, and one. These can be thought of rather like alchemy's mercury, sulfur, and salt. Namely (and respectively): that which analyzes and separates (infinity), that which empowers and synthesizes (plus), and that which stabilizes and brings into fullness (one). The website describes infinity, plus and one as being mind, spirit and body, but I like mine better. The way you know what mystical forces a card represents, apart from its symbols, is by reading its chapter of the nonlinear novel and coming to your own conclusion about the spiritual meaning of the insanity within.

Dave says he doesn't like this thing; he finds it creepy and not useful.
When I think about it, I'm not sure I find it all that useful. Just interesting. The particular way in which is it creepy is very much my wheelhouse. Under the umbrella of one of my hats. I trust this fortune-telling device to a certain extent, as one trusts, say, one of those finger-poking blood test machines that diabetics use. Using it isn't exactly what you would describe as fun. It can only detect a specific type of problem and is silent on all other issues. And if you don't actually need to be using it, doing so is painful, pointless and confusing.

So what the fortune-telling device does is this. Three cards appear face-down on the screen with little text boxes under them for you to add your own starter text. The left-hand one is the "infinity place", the center one the "plus place", and the right-hand box the "one place." You type in each of the three boxen things which express how that aspect of yourself is feeling. (I have found that the more creative juice I expend on this part, the more fun the end result is to attempt to analyze. I will explain the reason for this later.) Then flip over the three cards to reveal the name and drawing of the chapters that have been randomly selected for you. Then click on each card, and a pop-up window appears with the "interpretation."

Now, this is where the text manipulating software comes in. This program takes the starter text you entered in each box, analyzes it grammatically, and combines it in some weird way with the chapter of the card under which that text was entered. The results, which appear in a pop-up window, are invariably even more like gibberish than the original chapters, which were all at least half gibbous to begin with. (Yes, I wrote gibbous intentionally.) And as a sidenote, the software re-interpolates the two bodies of text each time you click the card on the original page. So if you close the pop-up window or click on another card, you can't go back and look at an interpolation a second time. I favor copying and pasting, then posting the interpolated results elsewhere. Because I'm silly like that.

So what good is it at all, I imagine you asking me. Why knowingly use a device whose sole purpose is to mix gibberish with more gibberish in order to produce a third text mangle even less comprehensible than the original two gibberishes? Doesn't that merely encourage mental instability?

To the second question, it surely can, and someone as susceptible as me should use it carefully.

To the first question, the answer lies not in the text, but in the mental and emotional assembly of the ideas around which the text was spawned. Now I will explain why the more "juice" I expend coming up with the text for the boxen, the better results I get. (It seems self-evident to me, but on the off-chance someone else might end up enjoying the use of this thing someday, I should be showing my work.) A metaphorical excursion will help here.

Imagine for a moment that you are recovering from a blow to the head and have temporary amnesia. You wake up in a room which contains a large, black box filled with miscellaneous items. After dumping the items out on the bed and taking a quick look at them, you don't immediately recognize any as your own. In fact they are so jumbled that you don't know how to begin even sorting them.

You pace over to the window, and when you look outside, you see a large dog outside. It's dirty and rather shifty-looking, but you recognize it. You've met this dog b efore. You don't get the feeling it's your dog, exactly; you just feel as though it was an animal that might trust you and doesn't espcially mean you harm. (Though it does smell bad and have fleas, that's not precisely the dog's fault.) Thinking quickly, you grab as much of the miscellaneous crap as you can carry and head out the door.

When you get downstairs, the dog looks at you curiously. Being a dog of very mixed experience, it isn't quite sure whether to run from you or approach you in hopes of a treat. Careful not to startle the animal, you settle down on the grass next to it and begin to show it some of the items you've brought.

Some it will sniff and move on without much interest. Others will cause it to look at you expectantly, or wag, or attempt to take the thing from your hand to chew it because it smells like there might be food in it. Any number of different reactions. You can't be sure of anything, of course, since you don't have much context to go from. However, you have some familiarity with this dog. However tenuous it may be in your conscious memory, the place in your brain that stores muscle memory will still be able to observe and react to the dog's body language.

Thus, you have a source of clues, if not actual information. Your existing relationship with the dog can help the dog tell you more about the objects, and ultimately yourself, than you would ever have been able to dredge up just staring at or handling the objects by yourself.

If it perks up its nose and wags when it sniffs an object, looking up at you expectantly, you know the object either contains food or belongs to someone it likes.

Just to be entirely clear on how I'm linking my metaphors up:

The dog represents the communication between the "personality" embodied in the novel text and my own personality, which communication is made possible by the text manipulating software. We can picture the things to which I am paying attention and the things the imagined "speaker" of the novel cares about as two circles of a Venn diagram. The place where they intersect is the emotional content carried through into the interpolated text.

The box of miscellany represents the contents of my personality during the time period in which I am composing my starter text. The product of the writing process is words on a screen, yes. But the process involves the whole self. Things alter one's thought processes all the time, things of which it is virtually impossible to be consciously aware. Emotional states, emotional responses based on reflexes both conscious and unconscious, give rise to chemical and hormonal influences on memory pathways which alter conscious access to the contents of memories. Mental processes can be shaped or skewed by limitations and drives imposed by the chemical state of the body--hunger, fatigue, subconscious responses to smells or shapes or other factors in the environment. At any given time the contents of our minds are as much a mystery to us as the chemical composition of the grit under our fingernails. Unless we've been through an overwhelming experience which left distinctive traces all over the place, the multitude of interconnections between every emotion and piece of information we have makes the precise source and significance of any given thing virtually impossible to pinpoint. (I personally feel I suffer from this general confusion of pathways a little more than the average bear. Could be the ADD, could be good old absent-minded professorness, who knows. Or it could be that everyone is equally as confused as I!)

So, as in the analogy above, when I "grab an armful" of the contents of my personality and try to bring it outside, I have no idea what is in that armful or whether it pertains to my goals or the questions I wish to answer. I don't even know if it was in my mind as a result of internal personality forces or of influences on my mind or body from my external environment, physical or social. This is true for anyone, at any time, in any circumstance. Only with hindsight can we get even a reasonably guesstimable picture. The amount of information, let alone quasi-informational slush, that goes into the interactions of any real-time thing with any other real-time thing is orders of magnitude too big to process unless and until one has developed a filtration system.

The filtration system provided by Infinity Plus One can be considered from two sides (Like anything else.): The exoteric and the esoteric.

The exoteric side of the process, the part that can easily be told and is the explicable reason for anything happening at all, is the grammar-shuffling software. This software takes note of certain properties of the words in my text and certain properties in the text of the chapter and tries to smoosh them together in ways that fit. The result is, from this perspective, unlikely to produce any coherent information at all. If a complete sentence hangs together here and there, it's a fun curiosity at best.

The esoteric side of the process is the communication between my state of mind and the state of mind of the narrator in the novel (this communication being represented by the dog character in the analogy). Certain emotional or spiritual things I brought into my text will resonate with the emotional and spiritual contents of the novel text.

Speaking of emotional and spiritual contents, and to be more precise: In my imagination I try to form a sense of presence of the particular chapter, the way you can sense the emotional presence of a living creature which can be smelled and felt, but neither heard nor seen. I can consider this sense of presence and come to understand, just a bit, the shape of this imaginary living creature's desire. What is its emotional vector, what sort of a being is it turning itself into, sort of thing. It's exactly like considering a poem to discern the actual intent of the poet, sometimes in seeming contrast to the chosen words. Except in this case, rather than a human being, you're discerning the actual intent of the spirit of the text, an imaginary entity.

The emotional and spiritual vector of the interpolated text will be the sum of those emotions and desires which resonate with both me and the spirit of the text. To return to our metaphor, these are things which, once the dog sniffs and wags at them, I turn over in my hands and find I vaguely recognize.

Which is what makes Infinity Plus One useful to me.
The finished product itself, the interp text, is mainly a diagnostic. My reading of it tells me how well I have performed the more important, but unobservable, middle steps. Which in turn gives me clues about the relative stability of my mental state and where the likely problem areas are.

These days I only tend to use it when a very unpleasant or dangerously quirky mood overtakes me AND I am in serious doubt regarding its source.

(post finished 10-2-08.)