Thomas Pynchon, V.

“Profane wandered up by Rachel’s cabin again. He heard splashing and gurgling from the courtyard in back and walked around to investigate. There she was washing her car. In the middle of the night yet. Moreover, she was talking to it.

“You beautiful stud,” he heard her say, “I love to touch you.” Wha, he thought. “Do you know what I feel when we’re out on the road? Alone, just us?” She was running the sponge caressingly over its front bumper. “Your funny responses, darling, that I know so well. The way your brakes pull a little to the left, the way you start to shudder around 5000 rpm when you’re excited. And you burn oil when you’re mad at me, don’t you? I know.” There was none of your madness in her voice; it might have been a schoolgirl’s game, though still, he admitted, quaint. “We’ll always be together,” running a chamois over the hood, “and you needn’t worry about that black Buick we passed on the road today. Ugh: fat, greasy Mafia car. I expected to see a body come flying out the back door, didn’t you? Besides, you’re so angular and proper-English and tweedy – and oh so Ivy that I couldn’t ever leave you, dear.” It occurred to Profane that he might vomit. Public displays of sentiment often affected him this way. She had climbed in the car and now lay hack in the driver’s seat, her throat open to the summer constellations. He was about to approach her when he saw her left hand snake out all pale to fondle the gearshift. He watched and noticed how she was touching it. Having just been with Wedge he got the connection. He didn’t want to see any more. He ambled away over a hill and into the woods and when he got back to the Trocadero he couldn’t have said exactly where he’d been walking. All the cabins were dark. The front office was still open. The clerk had stepped out. Profane rooted around in desk drawers till he found a box of thumbtacks. He returned to the cabins and till three in the morning he moved along the starlit aisles between them, tacking up one of Wedge’s contraceptives on each door. No one interrupted him. He felt like the Angel of Death, marking the doors of tomorrow’s victims in blood. The purpose of a mezuzah was to fake the Angel out so he’d pass by. On these hundred or so cabins Profane didn’t see mezuzah one. So much the worse.

After the summer, then, there’d been letters his surly and full of wrong words, hers by turns witty, desperate, passionate. A year later she’d graduated from Bennington and come to New York to work as a receptionist in an employment agency, and so he’d seen her in New York, once or twice, when he passed through; and though they only thought about one another at random, though her yo-yo hand was usually busy at other things, now and again would come the invisible, umbilical tug, like tonight mnemonic, arousing, and he would wonder how much his own man he was.”

The Borges Machine

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Following Raymond Lull’s plans and sketches, he devised a crude mechanism which would produce texts similar to that of his favorite and most hated writer, Jorge Luis Borges.

He began by carefully feeding pages from El Aleph to the machine; at first, the only results were worthless scribbles and something just below glossolalia. But he kept trying, he would spend days and days adjusting the wheels and choosing the best pages from Borges’ books (he owned his complete works, from stories to screenplays to prologues to film criticism to love letters), until some hesitant experiments came out. A short sketch brimming with naivette about a young man being initiated in the “art” of knife-fighting; a long rambling (but polite) diatribe against Latin American surrealists. The machine was learning.

He was pleased and a little scared when the machine started writing stories that Borges had come up with but never wrote (the plot he summarized “as a gift to his readers” about a society where young men conspire to murder the elderly, the gospel according to Judas, a narrative poem about Plato meeting Socrates in Heaven and being assured that his Forms do not exist, only the individuals). One afternoon, he chose some non-Borges books and fed them to the circular artifact; it produced a translation of Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince. He was startled; that translation was Borges’ first literary work.

His creation was obviously learning quickly; he felt as if he was standing before a lifeless reincarnation of the nemesis he owed everything to. He questioned his lack of faith, and briefly considered the idea of both the immortality of the soul and demonic possession.

Then, the inevitable (or at least, what he considered inevitable as soon as he saw it) happened: the machine, one night and without prompting, slowly spewed forth a manuscript of Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote. He held the pages—still warm—in his hands and came to the conclusion that the machine was mocking him. He ran back to his bedroom and spent all night filled with horror. He remembered Borges’ own poem, The Golem, about a rabbi who gives life to a creature made of clay, and with compassion and pity he voices his regret at having made this poor abomination, this new symbol in the infinite series of cause and effect and sorrow and pain.

When he finally went to his studio he saw that the machine had something new for him. Pages and pages: monotone descriptions of a place where there are no lights, where the narrator can only hear the laments of those around him, and the chains around his arms and legs, constantly tugged at by other men who are bound together, blind and suffering “until the day of reckoning comes, if it ever does.”

He wouldn’t accept what this implied. That very day he dismantled the machine.