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manhole 69

"...What do you think the next step forward will be?"
"Forward where?" Morley asked.
Lang gestured expansively. "I mean up the evolutionary slope. Three hundred million years ago we became air-breathers and left the seas behind. Now we've taken the next logical step and eliminated sleep. What's next?"
Morley shook his head. "The two steps aren't analogous. Anyway, in point of fact you haven't left the primeval sea behind. You're still carrying a private replica of it around as your bloodstream. All you did was encapsulate a necessary piece of the physical environment in order to escape it."
Lang nodded. "I was thinking of something else. Tell me, has it ever occurred to you how completely death-oriented the psyche is?"
Morley smiled. "Now and then," he said, wondering where this led.
"It's curious," Lang went on reflectively. "The pleasure-pain principle, the whole survival-compulsion apparatus of sex, the Super-Ego's obsession with tomorrow -- most of the time the psyche can't see farther than its own tombstone. Now why has it got this strange fixation? For one very obvious reason." He tapped the air with his forefinger. "Because every night it's given a pretty convincing reminder of the fate in store for it."
"You mean the black hole," Morley suggested wryly. "Sleep?"
"Exactly. It's simply a pseudo-death. Of course, you're not aware of it, but it must be terrifying." He frowned. "I don't think even Neill realizes that, far from being restful, sleep is a genuinely traumatic experience."


"Eliminate sleep," Lang was saying, "and you also eliminate all the fear and defense mechanisms erected round it. Then, at last, the psyche has a chance to orientate towards something more valid."
"Such as...?" Morley asked.
"I don't know. Perhaps... Self?"

From J.G. Ballard's 'Manhole 69', from his short story collection 'The Disaster Area' (1967). Another story from this collection is online: 'Minus One' (PDF).

For the ultimate in Ballard's bizarre dystopic visions, see 'The Atrocity Exhibition' (some excerpts are online), the precursor to 'Crash' and inspiration for the Joy Division song of the same title. In his introduction to the book, W.S. Burroughs wrote apocalyptically:

The line between inner and outer landscapes is breaking down. Earthquakes can result from seismic upheavals within the human mind. The whole random universe of the industrial age is breaking down into cryptic fragments.

the seventh sally

Died yesterday, Stanisław Lem , the Polish science-fiction writer best known for his book ' Solaris ' and its film adaptations by Tarkovsky and Soderbergh , was really a philosopher in sci-fi disguise. Take his short story 'The Sev… Read the full post »

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