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Kaya York tries to comprehend Everything.
“In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it.”
Jorge Luis Borges, ‘On Rigor in Science’
The night that Boonsri Amudee discovered The Truth she felt rather empty. After fervently writing down her basic insight until the early hours, she brewed a cup of sweet tea and watched the sun rise with no thoughts in her head. “I finished my tea,” she said in a later interview, “walked home, made normal love with my spouse, and dreamed about a featureless sphere.”
Her findings were published five years later in the ten-thousand-plus page tome The Truth. The first draft had been incomprehensible, as alien to any reader as the landscape of the Moon. Amudee responded to this problem by releasing another book, How to Interpret ‘The Truth’, alongside an additional sequel, How to Interpret ‘How to Interpret “The Truth”’ just for good measure. She left it at that, feeling that two levels of recursion were quite enough. (Although later, gradually, debates grew, even outside the usual literary circles, about how exactly to interpret How to Interpret ‘How to Interpret “The Truth”’.)
The Truth was found, drawn and quartered, subjected to the proper book-keeping, and available in the ‘T’ section of all major bookstores (the ‘ค’ section in Thailand, of course, and so on: translation into other languages was less difficult than expected).
The critical responses took years to emerge, and are exemplified by William Jacobson’s brief review: “Yes, I think that about sums it up.”
Once people could be persuaded to read the books, it was clear that the game was up. Philosophy departments shut down. The sciences were revised. Historians kept records that sounded increasingly like dream-journals. Postmodernists continued as before, unfettered by The Truth – not necessarily to their discredit. Theocrats banned the book. Televangelists protested the book’s existence despite (or because of) not having read it. Trappists remained silent. Buddhists laughed. A few people created a church dedicated to the book. After telling them that such a church was unnecessary, Amudee herself was asked by the congregation to kindly sod off. When she appeared on talk shows, people asked her questions like, “Yes, but when writing this incredible book, did you get a sense of beauty?” She would frown back and say things like, “I got a sense of neutrality.”
Most politicians paid lip service to The Truth and showed how their various positions were vindicated by it. A coalition of right-wing parties avoided the whole mess by publishing their own fifty-page book, titled The Alternative Truth.
After the first assassination attempt on Amudee, she moved to an undisclosed rural location, unheard from again except for an occasional poem.
The most understandable chapters of The Truth were compiled into various abridgements. Those who read these books did seem to change over time in subtle, almost non-documentable ways. Some developed a habit of looking at the ground as they walked so as to avoid stepping on insects.
Others found themselves unsatisfied with The Truth. People complained online. One online poster wrote that reading The Truth seemed not to provide “any sort of deep, existential (sic) satisfaction.” “If this is the best Truth can give me,” another commentator wrote, “then screw it.”
High school students were forced to read An Introduction To The Truth, and most found it tedious. The suicide rate didn’t go up; but it didn’t go down, either. In truth, most people just didn’t care to read it.
Apocryphal stories arose that Amudee had withheld certain devastating or beatific material from The Truth. In these myths, commonly, the True, sexier version of The Truth would draw the reader inevitably to suicide, or enlightenment, or catatonia. These confident speculations about what Amundee had left out of her book evolved into entire books of their own, eventually together selling more copies than The Truth itself. Indeed, far, far fewer read the original, unabridged book, as it was very abstract. The book’s final thousand pages, which were dedicated to issues arising from the book’s capacity to represent and account for itself, were, like much self-referential writing, barely readable. However, some chapters, particularly ‘Modera As Quipt In NAWIA’, ‘Ormahian Reactions In An Ideal Context’, and ‘The Real Reason That People Smile So Much When They’re Around Each Other’, were surprisingly humane, and prone to set the careful reader into fits of cathartic laughter: a laughter of simultaneous discovery and recognition.
The Truth had some practical effects. Technology improved – causing new problems, which technology then solved – causing new problems. Wars and bombings continued, with greater efficiency. Fashions changed. Art continued. James Bond movies were still produced, although people familiar enough with The Truth found themselves inexplicably embarrassed while watching them. Social inequality continued.
Amundee was speculated to be anything from a Celestial Being to the Antichrist – but only among those who had not read her books.
Boonsri Amudee had been somewhat eccentric, but not particularly remarkable. She wasn’t a former spelling bee champion, a Macarthur Fellow, the recipient of any grant or prize. The daughter of Thai rubber tree farmers, she worked quietly as a statistical researcher at Kasetsart University, publishing the odd Philosophy of Mathematics paper in her free time. None of this seems to account for the book she is best known for. Mathematics only amounts to a fragment of The Truth. Amudee herself considered her sudden insight about The Truth in all its completeness and totality as a matter of “happening to be the right blip in the structured radio static of statistical aberration, the right words coming together, the right neurons happening to fire at the right time, to be a crest on Fortuna’s rigorous waves.” No one quite knew what she meant, but we nodded and scribbled it down.
Five hundred years later, when the Earth was much wetter, aliens visited.
The visit was pleasant, if awkward. The aliens were presented with The Truth as a gift. They presented us with the same gift – their own civilization’s version of The Truth. A superintelligent supercomputer was taken out of a basement (where it had been kept so as to cause no further trouble) to translate the alien version of The Truth into human. It could not. A brief fight ensued, followed by tense silence. Then, before it was shut off by a much less intelligent computer, the superintelligent computer announced that it had found a way to translate the works into a common meta-language, but that this meta-language required the invention of 84.217 intermediary languages. The processing power necessary to produce these other languages would require employing the total energy capacities of human civilization plus those of the alien civilization. The matter hardly seemed worth it. Both civilizations decided that their own Truth was satisfying enough.
Two thousand years after this, a demon appeared on Earth. It was Japanese for some not very clear reason. The demon offered to grant a wish to Earthlings.
Having already solved the problems of scarcity and mortality, the humans, ravens, and octopuses talked, and soon decided to ask the demon for a translation of the human, alien, and now raven and octopus, versions of The Truth into a universal language, understandable to all. The demon made a face that was the demon equivalent of a smile, and disappeared. There appeared in the sky a large book. It grew. It grew until the planets were pressed between its pages like dried leaves. Earth would have been the size of a period on the end of one of its sentences, except that the sentences remained normal font sized. To read one page would have taken centuries.
The book grew some more. Stars burned small holes in its pages in final attacks of self-defense as it subsumed them. The book stretched to the size of the observable universe, possibly larger, before collapsing under its own weight.
At first it turned into a giant star, the heat tearing its atoms apart. Its collapse continued until the book that was the universe became a single point, infinitesimally small and infinitely dense. Some say that for 10-43 seconds there was silence. Some say time did not exist at all. In either case, there was the silence, the point, the mysterious source of order in existence, and the ground of being itself. And then, another Big Bang! The universe again: another Earth, another sentient human life, another Boonsri Amudee, another Truth, another contact, another demon. And on and on it went, ad infinitum.
© Kaya York 2017
Kaya York is a graduate student in Philosophy and has taught English and Western Culture in China. You can follow Kaya’s fiction at kayayork.wordpress.com.