Thinking of a Thing

There’s a machine as smooth and as monumental as cut marble, its face offering no buttons, dials, levers, or sliding knobs, no means at all to control its actions.  The machine is one monolithic thing, and, though many picture its face covering gold and jeweled innards moving with balletic precision, the best listener will hear and see no evidence, not a click, sigh, or squeak, no whirring or grinding or trembling.  If you could pick it up and shake it—you can’t, it’s too big—you wouldn’t find a speck of dust rattling inside. The internal atmosphere sealed in the machine could be just as solid as whatever workings it conceals.  In every way, it’s perfect.

Its purpose is also hidden.  Some people say they know what it does, and others believe them.  They claim to see its products everywhere, though no exit port or other means to emit or broadcast appears on any of its surfaces.  To all but a select and suspect few, its effects are invisible—no odor, no palpable movement, no echo or taste on the wind.  And, because no one entirely knows what he or she has felt (or trusts another to say what he or she has felt), people sometimes speculate the machine has no purpose we can understand, perhaps no purpose at all. They say expecting a function is underestimating the machine’s power. Doing is not the only reason for being, they state, and besides, “Must a machine have utility?”

The question often sets off shouting over definitions.  If we call the machine a machine, we have to expect something to come of it and, if nothing comes of it, we cannot call it a machine.  Heady reasoning spins in a perpetual whirl.  Some try to end the cyclone by renaming the machine, but we’ve called it what we have for so long, just about everyone rejects semantics. Sometimes they turn on those who dare to name it.  Presumption like that is hubris, they scream.

Though many try, no one has made another machine.

Where is the maker?  Who remembers back that far? A few meek voices try to assert it’s been around as long as we have because its workings are our workings, its face our face reflected back by its impenetrable and shiny surface, but the idea we invented the machine seems to pierce a pipe under pressure—the emotion jets.  You can’t hear anyone over the din of its spray.

Maybe the machine is broken, as some say. Maybe we stopped it with our stares.  Or maybe it’s time to store our perceptions of the machine in our imaginations—inexplicable factories themselves—and move on, living our lives with all the love we can muster.



Filed under Allegory, Doubt, Essays, Experiments, Fiction, life, Meditations, Parables, Thoughts

5 responses to “Thinking of a Thing

  1. No noise?
    Internal atmosphere solid?
    If we could store it in our imaginations, it can’t be “imagination.”
    I can’t think about this anymore.
    I need more clues.

    Spoiler Alert:

    I read this to my son, and he was lost too. It’s another experiment telling a story that is more about a psychological state than about the literal terms of the tale. I wanted to think about how we interact with what isn’t scientifically verifiable or knowable or empirical at all. There’s a clue.

    If that’s not enough, less broadly I was thinking about all the arguments religious assertions engender… because they must be assertions and no one can know for sure if they’re right.

    I’m sorry you got hung up on the solid atmosphere and the specific terms of the parable. I didn’t mean them so exactly and my go back to clean them up so they’re more logically consistent.

    • Oh.
      All right. One of my first thoughts was that the “thing” would be of a spiritual nature, that idea suggested not least by the high emotionality of discussion about “the thing,” but the “no evidence” disqualified that for me.
      Your “thing” is a difficult subject about which to write, even in this veiled way.

      And maybe a dangerous thing too–I don’t mean to offend those who see evidence everywhere. I often wish I were one of them.

      • Oh, I’m not a slavering wingnut about it so I wasn’t offended, just confused.
        Since that’s the case much of the time, please don’t worry about that!

        My worry list is long, so any new worries will have to wait in line.

        It’s always strange as a writer when you are and aren’t trying to be clear. Maybe that’s why I’m uncomfortable writing fiction of any kind. At least in poetry mystery is organic, an essential part of representing what can’t be described.

  2. “Doing is not the only reason for being…” “Must a machine have utility?”
    You have posed philosophical questions, but left it up to the reader to decide what those questions are to be. The elliptical way of examining what is largely unanswerable by means of only applying logic promotes efforts at thought and consideration by a reader. This is good! G

    I know it’s grand self-delusion, but I’ve thinking about the little pieces of Kafka and trying to imitate his combination of clear writing and cryptic content. I don’t mean to be frustrating. It’s just fun to write a metaphor without clearly identifying the referent, and everything here is, to some degree, an experiment.

    It’s so great to see your monkey here! Thanks for visiting and commenting. —D

    • There is nothing better than to give in to “grand self-delusion”. and why not? Because to not stretch along lines laid out by great writers is to limit the possibilities of what one might fruitfully explore. Besides which, we do need to have models we yearn to emulate, in our own manner. It is all good and useful. Play on, David! G

      Thank you for indulging my grand self-delusions. You’re right that we need models, and sometimes it seems they pick us instead of the other way around. I’m not a Kafka fan, but I often feel myself following him.

      Thanks for visiting!

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