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The Mirror’s Own Collapse
A short story by Mike Fuller.
Kaseer, an old friend of mine, was in charge of the Philosophical Department of a big Joke and Novelty Shop. His ‘department’, on the top floor of the building, directly under the roof, was in fact no more than a broom cupboard, but he had lined the walls so cleverly with mirrors that in reality it appeared much bigger than it actually was.
One arrived at Kaseer’s department by climbing a long ladder, past shelves of rubber spiders, exploding cigars, and carnival hats. The top half of this ladder was concealed under a curtain, and the prospective customer, ducking his head under the curtain, discovered to his surprise that the remaining part of the ladder had had all its rungs removed, halting his ascent.
At this point, most people just stood there, half way up the ladder, their heads covered by the curtain, looking and feeling rather foolish. Then, often with a shrug, they would climb down again. On the ground again, they generally stood and stared at the ladder for a while, with a puzzled and sometimes indignant look on their faces. Not infrequently they complained to the manager, although what sort of explanation he offered them I’ve no idea. After all, it was a joke shop…
More enterprising customers, however, would bring their own ladders, and this, of course, was Kaseer’s intention. “I wish to discourage the passively curious,” he would explain, “for unless a person is actively, inventively curious, curious enough to bring their own ladder, how could they be expected to appreciate the beauties of my Square Circle, my Seeing-Being-Becoming, my Greek Grammatical God, or my Eternal Box of Time?”
Frankly, I found his attitude rather pretentious, all the more so since his jokes themselves, like so many good jokes, lost a great deal by their representation. They were mostly mechanical contrivances, relying heavily on sensory and mnemonic illusions, and vague semipoetic impressions for their effect. Many were genuinely inventive, but just as many were clumsy atrocities. For example, I remember especially well his constant modifications on the theme of the Square Circle. This, in essence, was always in the form of a circular serpent devouring its own tail. Kaseer had somehow or other rigged this circular serpent to a control device which enabled him, at the flick of a switch, to transform the circular figure into a square. Truly, this transformation was incredibly quick, but by no stretch of the imagination could it be said to have represented a square circle. I often reproached him for his treatment of this particular theme, but he would never listen. “It’s getting faster all the time!” he would cry, sucking his moustache in excitement.
But there was one ultimate creation which no customer was ever allowed to see. Kaseer himself called it his Supreme Joke, and he would never do more than hint at its construction. He called it “The Mirror’s Own Collapse” or, more colloquially, “Narcissus disappearing Up His Own Asshole”. It was apparently a special kind of mirror that folded up and disappeared. Even more interesting, anyone who happened to be looking into the mirror at the time also folded up and disappeared. And even more interesting still, the mirror could apparently reconstitute itself in such a way that the person was now inside the mirror gazing out at themselves gazing back into the mirror. Various other permutations, Kaseer assured me, were also possible.
I pleaded with him so frequently and with such persistence to allow me a glimpse of this marvellous invention that he finally relented, although not without a show of great reluctance. He permitted me to pass through one of the mirrors that lined the walls of his broom cupboard into an adjoining cupboard, which he dubbed his ‘secret studio’, where, so he said, he kept his fabled contraption safe from prying eyes.
Predictably, perhaps, there was nothing there.
I did feel a little cheated, but I had to admit that the joke was on me, and, if not quite supreme, was at least not bad for Kaseer, who was normally so serious about his square circles and other philosophical jokery that I had never really thought of him as possessing a sense of humour.
Passing back into the broom cupboard, I was met by Kaseer’s reflection grinning at me triumphantly from all sides of the mirror-lined walls.
Predictably, perhaps, he himself was not there.
© Mike Fuller 1991
Mike Fuller lectures in philosophy at Manchester Polytechnic