by The Reverend Professor Henrietta A.
( * )
In addition to this web version (below, in a single scroll), Chorus is available for free as a Made for iBooks ebook. Download it here, then add it to your iBooks Library (File > Add to Library). Or download it from Apple’s iBooks Store. It is also available here as a PDF.
The Chorus enters. It files from the wings onto the stage, arrays itself across the risers: indoors in rooms, chambers, and halls; outdoors on lawns and along the shore, the quays, the docks, and among ruins and fields of stone. It climbs steep slopes, onto crags and glaciers, settles there too and in countless other places, any we can imagine, from depths to heavens.
The members take their places. Some stand facing us. Others stand in profile or facing away. Some show agitation and a will to speak. Others hesitate. All pose like dancers, their legs angled outward, arms uplifted, hands at ease, fingers relaxed.
Some stand in dark corners. Their faces glow faint as the first light of day, soft as escape. Others stand in silhouette, the light around them brighter than sun, harder than halogen glare. They dress variously. Some wear black blouses or jerseys, pleated skirts or slacks, stockings or socks, black slippers or shoes. Others wear rough woven robes, cowled about the head. Their robes hang low, heavy as castle drapes, and sweep the stage when they move.
These are our ancients. They are modern enough to attract our young, and wise enough to welcome strangers. We invite them. They bring us ideas, kindness, and presence. They speak to us, tell us stories, and sing to us, addressing us in one voice and many. They come to us as dear friends who report intimate and important news, and who give us advice that changes us. At the same time they declaim past us, over our heads, to an audience that watches and listens from distant mezzanines and balconies.
Which of the members will speak or sing to us next, and what will they impart? I do not know. I bring them into being, but I do not predetermine or control them. In that respect, I do not author. I write about them in an effort to comprehend them. I would learn what they can teach me. I watch them with desire, want them to touch my heart, mind, and body. I want to create from them, bear their children, fill my world with them. If need be, I will throw off my clothes and offer myself to them. This is no time for restraint, no place for modesty. Glory, be not proud.
* * *
Thus I exercise my ignorance. Like everyone, I live incomplete and unaware, immersed in the unknowable, possessed of more doubt than I can recognize. The Chorus suggests to me beyond my limits, to the eternal me as well as the mortal, the divine as well as the human. Vassal Squeezeshot’s saga is thread in that weave. Like all histories, it travels twists of metaphor and pulses of sense. Some readers may dismiss it as a hollow apologia that I, an insular female academic, have fashioned about an important man’s life and work. But its descriptions and opinions are fair as any, significant to some readers. Like fruit of all flesh, it falls from its parent, to decay, disperse, and grow again, into whatever its readers nourish.
Meanwhile, the news that is hot, that fills us all, is this: Vassal’s invention has become everyone’s, and is proving inestimable. We want to learn its possibilities, and determine what to do with it. Toward that end, some people are turning to my works, including this one. Most people, however, are proceeding more directly, using Vassal’s invention and watching others use it. They are discovering that its drama is not static. It is changing our minds and worlds, leading us to revise or abandon much that we know. What we mean to ourselves and each other, what everything means to us, is in flux.
eople are distraught. Some are begging for as much guidance as Vassal and I can give. He and I have done what we can; we have responded in advance, first by creating Prelude and our online presence, and now these pages. But those only say what is ours to say. They cannot suffice for others, nor should they. In this matter, we must all guide ourselves.
The coming of Vassal’s device will prove less harmful than many of us fear, and less transformative than many of us wish. Its news is old, from a past we cannot make peace with. As he wrote years ago, at the start of his journal, “The sere schoon of the deep while the was.” There is always more than we know—more that exists, more happening, more that we are, more for us to do. We occupy space that we cannot be fully aware of, fully imagine, fully discover. In that regard, no matter how we live and what we do, we cannot gain. But we try to, as we must.
* * *
Samuel Beckett wrote, “if you really get down to the disaster, the slightest eloquence becomes unbearable.” Vassal’s gift to us is no disaster, or not entirely. People may disagree about that, especially now that it is disrupting us in so many ways. But by enabling us to observe so much of our worlds and ourselves, it fascinates us, and empowers us.
Many of us are taking advantage of that. We are embarking on adventures with it, seeking to fulfill our desires and satisfy our curiosity. We are using it to clarify things, and to dispel illusions that we no longer want or need. That seems helpful to us, and feels uplifting. It leads us to think we understand and control more than we do. It confers a measure of certainty. We like that, and want more. To us, that is no disaster.
Yet it is a disaster, too, and of our own making. With Vassal’s invention, as without it, our every thought, perception, and deed speaks to us, often with eloquence, but changes nothing. Or, same thing, it changes infinitely less than we wish, demonstrates to us the perversity of our consciousness, dramatizes for us the gulf between the real and the ideal. We must bear that, so we do.
* * *
A few days after releasing his invention to everyone, Vassal said to me, “I have done my part. By giving my device to the world, I have shown that I have nothing to offer. Beyond that, I can’t help.”
Exit Vassal, then, stage left, stage right, down a hatch, up into the flies, out through the audience, and everywhere else. He is content to fail at eloquence. So am I. Except fleetingly, neither of us can comfort or enlighten anyone, convince anyone of anything, or otherwise inspire, motivate, or help. Like the Chorus, like everyone, he and I have too little to show and tell. As he says, we have only nothing to offer. Our words and images can yield no more. May no one hope that they can.
stomped into the street
detritus of the parade
they feint at delight
remind us of happier times
reveal how far we fall short of eloquence
*CHORUS and its author/artist,
The Reverend Professor Henrietta A.,
are fictional creations of Marcus Parsons.
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