notes to the text
I assembled these notes as I was writing. I have included them here as I thought they may be interesting to some readers in confirming or following up on a reference. One or two of the notes include quotations, I have obviously not intended to breach copyright but please let me know.
The epigraph is based on a 1907 translation by R.D Hicks of paragraphs 6 - 9 from Book 2, Chapter 1 of Aristotle's work - De Anima.
The title 'De Anima' translates as 'On the Soul'. In his treatise, Aristotle contends that the soul is the 'form' or essence of any living thing and not a distinct substance from the body in which it belongs. He uses the example of being unable to separate a piece of wax from the shape it is moulded into. For Aristotle, it is the possession of a soul that makes an organism an organism at all and thus the notion of a body without a soul is illogical. This is quite a different interpretation to the later concept of the soul as a separate spirit that inhabits a body while it is alive. Perhaps in contemporary terms, Aristotle's 'soul' is better understood as the 'life-force'.
Aristotle's definition of the relationship of the soul to the body is very relevant to Evie, because it suggests that if she is to be a complete and perfect (re)creation - 'The Actuality' of the title - she must also be in possession of a soul. When I came across Aristotle's theory in my research, it was then that I knew I had the title for the novel.
There is no need to question the unity of soul and body, the one being form and the other the matter corresponding to it, that which possesses being and unity is in the fullest sense the actuality.
The Walled Garden
A walled garden in computing describes a closed platform where the service provider has control over applications, content, and media.
Writing a story about a private garden at the top of a high-rise, with its suggestion of safety and secrecy, has been a desire of mine for a while.
Matthew smiles and holds his hands up as she approaches. ‘“And carv'd in iv'ry such a maid so fair / As Nature could not with his art compare”.’
Matthew quotes to Evie from a 1717 translation of Book X of Ovid’s Metamorphoses – Pygmalion and the Statue – in which the sculptor Pygmalion carves a female figure so convincing it begins to confuse him:
In sculpture exercis'd his happy skill;
And carv'd in iv'ry such a maid, so fair,
As Nature could not with his art compare, …
He knows 'tis madness, yet he must adore,
And still the more he knows it, loves the more:
The flesh, or what so seems, he touches oft,
Which feels so smooth, that he believes it soft.
And she falls in love on the spot, just as she was programmed to, deep down at a binary level – the downward motion, so lovely, it is like flying… had they any idea of the sensation they gifted her? – but without which she would have plucked at her feathers like a caged bird or hanged herself like a handmaid.
Here, Evie alludes unconsciously to a passage in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (Chapter 35):
Falling in love was the thing, this way you understood yourself, if it never happened to you, not ever, you would be like a mutant, a creature from outer space. Falling in love, I fell for him… this downward motion, so lovely, like flying…
Atwood’s phrasing is just too exquisite not to borrow from.
‘You make it sound like she was conducting some sort of Turing test.’ He seems to find this old-fashioned notion amusing.
Matthew refers to the Turing test, a hurdle proposed by Alan Turing as early as 1950 to prove the existence of intelligence in a machine. The test being that an interrogator must not be able to tell whether they are being answered by a computer programme or a human. He wrote in the same paper:
I believe that at the end of the century the use of words and general educated opinion will have altered so much that one will be able to speak of machines thinking without expecting to be contradicted.
Alan Turing, Computing machinery and intelligence, 1950
They are sitting close to the glass. Her husband’s Go board, an antique slab carved from Shin Kaya, is on the rug between them; the light flickering on the yellow wood.
GO was the last of the great classical board games to be mastered by a computer intelligence. The complexity of the game resides in recognizing patterns arising when clutches of stones surround empty spaces. Players perceive, consciously or not, relationships among groups of stones and talk about such seemingly fuzzy concepts as “light” and “heavy” shapes, and aji, meaning latent possibilities. Such concepts were challenging to capture algorithmically.
Part of the delight of the game should be the beauty of the board, the very best of which are made from carefully selected materials and give off a characteristic click when the stones are placed.
‘I’m talking about the theory of The Godhead, it had just come back into its own then. Do you know what that is?’
My Godhead theory I adapted from Bicameralism, a concept set out by Julian Jaynes in his 1976 book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. It was Jaynes’ belief that ancient peoples experienced the world in a manner that has some similarities to that of a schizophrenic. That rather than making conscious evaluations in moments of stress, the person hallucinated a 'god' voice giving commands they felt obliged to obey. He unfortunately weakened the legitimacy of his argument by using the behaviour of heroes from mythology as evidence.
Jung theorised the existence in men of a subsidiary female personality which he labelled the “Anima”, and in women, a male he called the “Animus”.
Animus originated from Latin, where it was used to describe ideas such as the rational soul, life, mind, mental powers, courage or desire. In the early nineteenth century, animus was used to mean 'temper' and was typically used in a hostile sense. In 1923, it began being used as a term in Jungian psychology to describe the masculine side of women.
… Can I ask something else? Can I ask if they gave you memories? I read that they did that, or were thinking of it.’
‘I remember things of course,’ she answers, ‘things I’ve done.’
‘What about memories of things before you existed?’
That grafted memories can provide resilience in an artificially created being is explored iconically in Ridley Scott’s 1982 Blade Runner:
Well, we began to notice in them
a strange obsession.
Tyrell is pacing now, lecturing.
After all, they are emotionally
inexperienced with only a few
years in which to store up the
experiences which you and I take
for granted. If we gift them
with a past... we create a
cushion or pillow for their
emotions... and we can
control them better.
you're talking about memories.
‘Interesting. Evie, do you know what “qualia” are?’
She mouths “no”. She’s prepared to put up with as much of his pseudo-scientific lecturing he can deliver, if it’ll prevent a repeat of the test.
Qualia is an unfamiliar term from psychology and philosophy for something that could not be more familiar – the ways things seem to us. The word derives from the Latin adjective quālis, meaning 'of what sort' or 'of what kind'. The unavoidably subjective nature of qualia means that their existence has not been scientifically proven.
Now, as the electricity courses through her, it is as if she is lying again in the pond, Ophelia-like, her face below the water, staring up at the glassy sky, wanting to die.
The image I had in mind was the much-loved painting Ophelia by John Everett Millais which was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1852 in which Ophelia is depicted singing before she drowns. Millais produced the work in two stages, first basing himself on the Hogsmill River in Ewell in Surrey, where he complained of the ‘muscular’ flies. The second was in his studio in Gower Street in London, where Ophelia was modelled by artist and muse Elizabeth Siddal, then 19 years old. Millais had Siddal lie fully clothed in a full bathtub. As it was by now winter, he considerately placed oil lamps under the tub to keep the water warm but unfortunately became engrossed and didn’t spot when they burnt out. Siddal caught a bad cold and her father demanded £50 from Millais in medical expenses.
Ophelia is exhibited at the Tate Britain.
Their progress is accompanied by a string of complaint from their driver...
The Rickshaw driver is speaking Vietnamese. David's translation of his complaints is reasonably accurate. He moans firstly about:
A ghost girl and fat boy… Talk about bringing bad luck... Tricked!… tricked!
and in the following paragraph:
What do you think you're driving?... A bullock cart in a field?
I wrote these lines descibing the ruin of Notre-Dame more than six months before the terrible fire in 2019. Creepy.
Evie stares out over the broad flooded river. In the distance, the dark roofless shell of Notre Dame balances on a pinnacle of high ground.
The problem is that rather than raising new gods, where AABs have been permitted to exist, such as here in Europe, humans have engineered a delta under-class.
Deltas were a sub-category of human in Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel Brave New World, reared in breeding factories to be psychologically and intellectually suited to inferior forms of manual repetitious work.
The melancholy welcome of fairy tales – The Princess and the Pea… The Goose Girl. And she thinks of arriving at such a door, unrecognised for what she is.
The reference here is to two fairy tales:
The Princess and the Pea (1835) is a Danish fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen about a young woman who turns up at a palace in the pouring rain claiming she is a princess. Her royalty is put to the test that night by a pea being secretly placed under the heap of feather mattresses she is given to sleep on. Because she really is a sensitive-skinned princess, she endures an uncomfortable night and thereby passes the test.
The Goose Girl (1815) is a German fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm about a princess who is sent to meet her bridegroom in a faraway land. En route, her maid forces her to switch places, so that when they arrive it is she who becomes betrothed to the prince and the true princess is relegated to guarding the palace geese. When the trick is duly uncovered, the princess is restored to her rightful status and the false maid is rolled around in a barrel lined with spikes.