Tuesday, October 8, 2013

A Great Book that Hasn’t Been Written, but Should Be

The film-producer character in Argo says, “If I’m going to make a fake movie, it’s going to be an award-winning fake movie.” In a similar vein, I’d like to announce today that I’m pretending to write an award-winning novel. It’s a completely derivative book, this imaginary, award-winning novel. And the book I’m deriving it from is Charles Williams’s Many Dimensions.

In Many Dimensions, characters deal with the amazing properties of a cubic stone imprinted with the Name of God. Most of the characters see the stone as an object to possess, buy, steal, or legally confiscate. They treat the miraculous virtues of the stone as powers to be manipulated and used. Others see the stone as an incarnation – or, to coin a parallel word (as long as I’m being derivative) using the Latin word lapis, an inlapation – of God, an entity not to use but to submit to.

All of that second set of characters and some of the first discover that the tiny stone, which appears to fit in the palm of a human hand, actually holds the whole world within it. As one character observes: the stone is not in time, time is in the stone. Several characters have visions of being inside the stone. In one vision, the light in the stone radiates to become the other objects in the room. The character receiving this vision comes to realize that everything in our world exists only by the creative and sustaining power of the stone.

It’s that last vision that got me started writing my new book. I’ve experienced the presence of God in music many times. It’s not just that I’ve had a spiritual epiphany while listening to music, but that the music itself seems the very echo – a viscerally solid echo – of a primordial Sound from an immaterial dimension. Imagine being under the water in a pool and hearing the dim, muffled sound of music playing from a radio on the deck above. As the beautiful sounds coming out of the speaker plunge into the water to join you, they take on wetness. They get thicker and spread more slowly and enter your water-logged ears as the muffled, wet translation of the crisp, clear music ripping through the dry air above. Well, when I listen to music in the normal, nonswimming way, I often get the sensation that the sounds have plunged into our material world from an even drier realm, that our gross atmosphere has muffled the unimaginably coruscating music of Heaven itself.

In the opening chapter of my award-winning novel, a musicology professor named Brister McConnell has found a glassy shell on the beach of Martha’s Vineyard. (His family is rich; he could never afford to summer on the Vineyard on a musicology professor’s salary.) The shell thrills in his hand as he holds it. And when he puts it to his ear, he hears a noise whiter than the whitest white noise he’s ever heard before. The professor wants to analyze the sound with a spectrograph and finds that the mystifying shell registers frequencies beyond the capabilities of the microphone.

Prof. McConnell doesn’t run the experiment himself, of course. He has his graduate assistant, Lucy Graves, do all the work. And when Lucy puts her ear to the shell (she can’t bring herself to say that she puts the shell to her ear), she has a different experience. Rather than hearing blended noise, she finds that she can hear every frequency individually, as if an aural prism separates all the colors for her. In time, she learns that she can hear the frequencies moving from one to another, and that she can in fact focus in on individual lines of the infinite counterpoint to hear any piece of music ever played, any line ever spoken. She hears Lincoln’s voice delivering his Second Inaugural. She discovers how Caesar pronounced both his name and his famous three-word report. (There’s a definite labial buzz to the opening sound of each word. Pace classical pronunciationists.) In one mystical experience, she perceives the divine sound to be emanating from the shell and becoming the sounds of her voice, of the cicada in the tree outside, of the hum of the fluorescent light and the whisper of the air rustling through the air-conditioning vent. Before she falls into a blissful coma from which she never recovers, she utters ecstatically her claim that the blessed shell bears the Voice of God, the master Melody with which every symphony has only made the attempt to sing along.

Prof. McConnell goes to prison for attempted murder, unjust charge though that may be. The university’s lawyers, however, are unable to abrogate his tenure on the grounds of something as slippery and inconsequential as a felony, so he continues to teach and direct dissertations online from his cell.

My book will receive all its awards posthumously in the year 2063.

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