8 December 2010

Code Name: The Icon

Filed under: Culture, Fiction, First Lines — ktismatics @ 11:47 am

This morning I sat down to write the first chapter of the second part of a novel I’ve been working on. In this part I intend to introduce a character whom I variously think of as Tyler Misch, the Underground Man, and the Portalist. He is, as they say, shrouded in mystery, having disappeared without a trace some years prior to the time frame in which the story unfolds. Is he dead or alive? Is he transnational tycoon or Mafioso, CIA or revolutionary, genius or madman? Whoever he is, it’s important that he have a Secret Project, the scope of which seems to be enormous. This Project might purport to save the world from Apocalypse, or it might push the world over the edge. I want the nature of this Project to be revealed gradually, enigmatically, in a series of letters he writes to a daughter whom he has never seen.

So, in Chapter One of Part Two I wanted to write the first of these revelatory yet obfuscatory letters from Tyler Misch. What should be the tone of this letter? In what oblique ways might he begin trying to describe the Project? Here, drawing on my extended engagements in the theory blogs, is what I drafted this morning. Some of you who are still stopping by might get a kick out of the allusions.

*   *   *


Its code name is the Icon. When up and running, the Icon would serve as a nexus. Multiple vectors or trajectories converge into the Icon; from it others diverge. An omnibus portal, a grand central station.

Of course the Icon would not be installed in a single centralized location. It would need to be distributed across an extremely wide area. Not just wide, but also deep and tall. Not just on the surface, but above and below. Earth and sky and sea. Separating the three vertical levels of the Icon’s installation should be regarded more as a matter of linguistic convenience than as an absolute or relative distinction within its material reality.

Speaking of its material reality, critical to the Icon’s subtle elegance is that it seems not to be there at all. It is assembled from real components to be sure, but these components consist primarily of ordinary materials and objects. Or should I say they seem so to consist. It has been proposed by some of the Speculative Realists that the essence of any and every object always withdraws from every interaction. In other words, every thing is always more than it seems. If these theorists are right, then all objects hide not just from human perceivers but also from one another. They hide even from the universe as a whole, a part of and yet apart from the larger Reality in which they are embedded. As a consequence of this principle of withdrawal the Icon’s essence would remain forever covert, occluded, occult, impenetrable by the most sophisticated and impersonal devices that have been invented or that ever will be invented by human or artificial or alien intelligence. More: objects withdraw not only from one another but from themselves. Therefore, no matter how sophisticated the Icon becomes, it can never become aware of its own essence, can never reveal itself to those who would seek to corrupt or destroy or exploit it.

Trajectories passing through the Icon may continue unchanged or they may be deflected. They may be terminated or merged into other trajectories. They may be altered in quantitative and qualitative ways. Most startlingly, some trajectories become something else altogether, evidently without passing through any sort of transformative processes or intermediate stages. When it operates in this way the Icon functions as a creator of Absolute Difference.

Love to you and your Mother,




  1. Hi John,

    Good to see you making a tentative return to the old blog!

    I really like this. The love to you and mother ending is very funny. I get the feeling that Tyler is using the essential withdrawness of objects to justify his disappearance to his daughter.


    Comment by NB — 12 December 2010 @ 5:16 am

  2. That’s very good, NB — I can work with that.


    Comment by ktismatics — 12 December 2010 @ 7:22 am

  3. You’re back! :-) (& I agree with NB this is very funny.)


    Comment by duncan — 15 December 2010 @ 2:56 am

  4. There is an absurdity intrinsic to the theory isn’t there, and clearly we’re not the only ones who see it. In part I’m exploring the inherent conflict — and also the mutual attraction — between the hider and the seeker, between the mystery man and the private eye who’s on his trail, between the mystifier of gods/ideologies/objects and the empiricist fact-checker, etc. etc. If I can have some fun while I’m at it all the better.


    Comment by ktismatics — 15 December 2010 @ 9:53 am

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