Part 1 of 3, in complete prose. A thought experiment on human genetic engineering.
Part 1: Tragedy
It took several moments for Turner to realize that he was lying in a hospital bed. In his hypnagogic hallucinatory state, he almost believed himself to be lying on a coastal beach, bathed in the light of a brilliantly white sun that pierced his eyelids, making them bleed in his sight. He was soothed by the soft sounds of the coastal birds, chirping and cawing, his mind outlining their shapes as they would be were he to open his eyes and gaze up into the endless welkin ever above him. It was a peaceful serenity, and he considered the eponym Pacific fitting for the sea.
The terrible thing about oceans, though, is that they are the Janus of the earth.
As his mind began to clear, he began to recall his narrative. His heart began to stroke faster and with more force, his breathing began to quicken, and the birds’ chirping became pulsatingly agitated and rhythmic. Clouds appeared in his vision, ridiculing the light of the sun and its inability to penetrate their depths. The waves began to crash horrifically on his head, sending it mercilessly here and there, the rest of his body numb to its fury. He was no longer on a coastal beach but rather in the midst of a storm, awash at sea and likely to drown.
At last he opened his eyes to the dreadful shipwreck. The clouds became men and women in monochromatic clothing. The birds became the machinery around him giving voice to his current physical state. The sun decayed into the florescent lights on the ceiling. And the waves, those deadly mountains of water crushing him and sucking the breath from his lungs, those were the repeated compressions of a doctor on his chest, killing him in order to save his life. For he was dying.
There are few individual events in human history that have the necessary gravity to amalgamate the disparate threads of our consciousnesses, with their own tendencies and interests, predispositions and ideologies, cohesively enough to precipitate change in a single direction. Far more have incited diametrically oppositional effects, like those that serve as the woodchips and turpentine waiting to transform the slow boil of political dissension into the conflagration of war. Others have to await countless decades, spawning innovation and change with the force and magnitude of glaciers, much in the same way that the vines of the woodbine and clematis ascending the bastions of a country cottage, becoming roost to the nightingales singing so sweetly when twilight is gone, transform its once-bare exterior into a forest recalling by-gone days like a dream before finally being appreciated for the impetuses that they were in the transformation.
Nevertheless, to yoke the ox of human progress with the stubborn mule of ideology requires a disaster of an astronomical level. Imagine the collaboration of nations that could only be the result of impending doom for all! Perhaps that is why most of the fields sown have been of medical consequence, stifling the potential eradication by diseases that do not strike nearly enough fear into the hearts of those who have yet to experience their vice grips of external desolation and internal decimation.
Which is why to the observer it might seem suspect that the disaster that once again aligned all the world’s disparate and diverging frequencies to a single, resonating note was the result of a potentially inconsequential stroke of lightning that, in this particular case, was the preambulatory deus ex machina that became the stroke of poor fortune for so many. But it was only the poor fortune of one man that incited the revolution.
Cole Turner had transformed the world by engaging with what the world truly wanted: the human experience. This could hardly be possible save for the priming of the world to receive his message through centuries of philosophical—and eventually ideological—reform. Yet by the time he began his career in Vienna as a burgeoning classical pianist at the end of his second decade, Turner knew exactly how to engage the masses in what could easily be considered an outmoded form of entertainment. To Turner, however, true music was only entertainment to those who raised a wall between themselves and the seeking of truth. Turner aimed to prove that the truth could always be found in the quivering of the air as his fingers translated the material, and the world was finally recipient to it. Music, as in all art, moved in a force against the entropic tendencies of the universe to a flat or blunted affect, charging it instead with the potential energy formed in man’s experiences: the relationships and blunders and successes and frustrations and defeats and acerbities and elations and solitudes and on and on. And with this energy, with the infinite webs of an infinity of moments, it takes only the glint of the flint to raise a force against this ever increasing apathy of the human spirit, creating order out of the disparate pieces of the world thrown asunder: the painter his portraits from globs of dye the flower could not hope to form, the writer a reality from words a million monkey could not hope to find, the musician a melody from tones the wind could not hope to arrange. The natural world found the colors, began the narrative, mustered the tones, but it was only man’s spirit with enough impetus to order them. To the emotionalist, his music was the direct and objective link to the deepest human ineffabilities, the intangible forms and feelings that could set any force in motion. To the intellectual, music could be understood as a rational explanation of the human experience, a biography not only of the composer but also of the ones receiving the message. The world craved the individual experience, and Turner gave them just that, making them feel or understand more than any hundreds of thousands of words could ever accomplish. For though they each lived their own lives, there were some universal truths that could only be seen in the external periphery, or perhaps disappearing in a blind spot near the center of one’s vision, which was certainly there but not directly evident, and always and forever tantalizingly near but never enough in focus to know entirely for the ability to share or commune; but with this human oddity of art, one could finally and at last glimpse but for a moment, a gloriously fulfilling and cathartic moment, that very elusive truth before its disappearing again into the edges of man’s limited view of the world.
Sorrow became sweeter when one could harness the power of the true agony Turner played, forcing him to realize that truth and beauty can both stem from anguish; joy became deeper when one coupled with the experience the elation of the pianist in creating something beautiful out of the chaos around him, organizing the incoherent waves and motion of the very air around him into the synchronized vibrations that could only last for a few seconds before dissipating back into disorder, forcing her to realize the transience of beauty, its reliance on what came before and after, and the necessity to create it on her own. And so on ad infinitum, or at least however long it would take for each niche of the human experience to be sufficiently defined by music.
Turner was hardly the first musician who attempted to mine the vast and unexplored chasms of his art, and neither would he be the last. In fact, had it not been for the insight of Johannes Brahms, a master composer in his own right, he may never have marveled so intensely at the philosophy of music, remaining content instead to lie in the catacombs of the concert hall without ever venturing to connect it with the world outside. But, as it were, one day while reading a collection of letters from Brahms to the pianist Clara Schumann, he came across an insight that forever changed the course of his life and the lives of every man, woman, and child that ever heard his music thence. Brahms was writing his friend about the final movement of Bach’s second partita for violin, confessing that “on one stave, for a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings. If I imagined that I could have created, even conceived the piece, I am quite certain that the excess of excitement and earth-shattering experience would have driven me out of my mind.” And it suddenly made sense. Music, like the spoken word or the written page, had every bit of influence—if not more—on the human soul as any other form of wisdom. We communicate through symbols, and whether these symbols were letters on a page, or strokes on a canvas, or clusters of notes, they were no different. And he was right.
As with any form of human consumption, the world soon lusted after more, desiring an even greater way to experience what Turner was giving them. Turner was handing them the secrets to the human condition, translating it into a universal language, packaged neatly into finite and conclusive packages. People seeking answers turned to the concert halls of world, but there was not enough Turner for them, the luxury of truth being spread too thin. Very soon, Turner’s gift became seen as entitled, as a fundamental right of the human experience next to breathing and thinking. And since the public had their demands, Turner found a way to bring his truth to the masses.
A set of cameras were mounted just above Turner’s eyes and were trained on the contrasting black and white of the keys before him, and a second sense was added to the first: sight to sound. Turner performed for his audience of circuits and processors much in the same way as he had the untold number of crowds who had heard him play. But in contrast to his usual sermons, where his body would sway to the undulating rhythm; or kowtow to the faintest of chords; or bend backwards, his face uplifted as though offering up his very soul to the Muses who, in their Faustian tradition, had allowed his mission to continue thus far—this time, those unnecessary portions of his body to the cause at hand remained still, permitting the most delicate and slight movements of his littlest finger to be caught and recorded for the benefit of all. It was a sacrifice, giving up part of himself, but what would a good man not relinquish for the betterment of all?
With this new technology, one needed only sit and raise a pair of glasses to his eyes to experience life on a new level—perhaps not life as Nature meant it to be, but definitively life fuller and more beautiful. The analgesia of memory was concatenated to the audiovisual stimulus that best helped one recall the exact situation and the context as it was, but in a way that brought to even the most embarrassing of situations a sort of justification to the greater good of human existence, even if only to avoid the same pain in the future. There was of course abuse and mistreatment from those who wished to escape life and be absorbed into the created world, but to most it exemplified a way to momentarily depart from the pain of ignorance and understand the why.
So it was in this new world that a random bolt of electricity connected the sky with the trunk of perhaps the grandest of trees in Germany, setting off what could only have been an explosive hidden deep in its rings, and sending flaming fractions of the once majestic column separating earth and heaven into the air. And so it would just be that the largest of these pieces, with the character of a Parthenonian column in an inferno, happened to land directly on the engine of a train traveling with the precious cargo of human lives, inciting its own explosion and redirecting the machine’s preordained path. Mors ex deo. The devastation was incorrigible, the damage irreparable, the survivors inconsolable. But perhaps the most terrible of all was what happened to Turner during that wreck: Having left his seat momentarily for a refreshment of water, his inertia sent him flying toward the front of the now-slowing cabin, sending him into a direct collision with the unforgiving wood decorating its interior. And in that instant where he remembered no more, one of his cervical vertebrae broke and neatly severed those fragile strands of nerve that connected his being with his doing, his mind from his body, and he was still.
Three years before his death, when his magnum opus, the Ninth Symphony, premiered, the profoundly deaf Beethoven had to be physically turned around after the final notes to see the visually cacophonous applause of the standing crowd to know that the orchestra had ceased playing. To know his thoughts in that moment could perhaps provide the antidote for all hopelessness, the thoughts of a man at the acme of his destiny despite a stumbling block worthy of Troy’s fortifications, the thoughts of a man who two decades previously despaired so greatly of his deafness—of the increasing weight of the loss of the very ability that had like a priest ushered him once into the temple that he dedicated his whole to—that the only force that kept him from taking his own life was his own impudent audacity against his physical and emotional lot to fulfill his aesthetic kismet.
A year after Paul Wittgenstein favorably premiered as a pianist himself, the Great War contracted his arms and hands for a different purpose. And one might suppose that another contract would have been ushered after a Russian shot him in the elbow, leading to the amputation of his right arm, an arm so very necessary for a pianist. However, his resolve did not leave him despite being in the gravest of scenarios, recovering as a war prisoner in a foreign Siberia, a resolve that perhaps as sane men supporting him we would quickly grasp away for fear of him falling into a madness at achieving the unattainable. Yet his solitary left arm commissioned works from the time’s artistic Archimedes and da Vincis, the first of which was composed by a blind man. When his own world collapsed, he simply built another one.
But for Turner, it was a new type of calamity. He and the other survivors were dragged out of their fiery wreckage in the night, the purity of the expertly crafted flecks of white snow swirling around them being tainted by the hastily forged mimics of ash. The dead, immune to the cold and unaware of their own wounds, were left to their imaginative chiaroscuric poses as all who were able attempted to quell the screams of those who could still see their breath. Helicopters flew the mortals away from the desolate scene, their fates delegated to some unknown algorithm. Reporters began to arrive, casting bright lights on the stage of their tragedy, the chorus seemingly forgetting their lines and instead creating any discordant sound they could must: shouts and sirens, the whirring of blades and the crackling of the ever-spreading fire. For everyone there, it was a page straight from the apocalypse.
Turner was nearly left for dead, the brief ghost of air escaping his bluing lips the only semblance of life still in him. Before any other sense could register, he opened his eyes to the static of the resplendent night sky blocked only by two shadowy figures over him. Next, he heard them shouting in what must have been German, a language he apparently temporarily had forgotten for all was nothing but a deluge of sound without any meaning. He then was hit by the unmistakable incense of a lustful flame, burning whatever was in its path. As if to complement, he was overcome by thought that his mouth had been filled with iron filings before realizing that its consistency could only be imitated with blood. And finally, he was overcome with a feeling as being on a boat in choppy waters, his head being sloshed back and forth. But that was all. There was nothing else he felt before his mind realized how horrific his situation was and retreated to that dark recess where nothing can exist. But there is still nothing you can do about it.
The headlines displayed the death of humanity, both the physical and the ideological. The loss of life was devastating, but there was something the people cared about more. Turner lay in a nondescript hospital bed, his mind still hiding from the truth, unwilling to reveal itself for fear of what it might find. Mourning began of the death of the human God, the man who had brought Life back into life, filling the soul with meaning in the same way that God had filled the dust with breath. Their work was cooperative, one creating the vessel and the other filling it up. But who could take the immortal’s place?
Yet for most, hope remained, hope in a restoration and renewal. The people, faithless as they might be, were sure of their hope for a miracle, and certain that this must come to be. It was a faith, though without reason, filled with their own expectations of what the future might be for their First Pilgrim, the one who had finally swept aside the raucous waters of uncertainty and let the people walk through to the other side, one full of the promises of the well-examined life. He would rise like Lazarus from his place of death, recover the strength—both of mind and body—that he once had, and continue in his lifelong mission of saving them from their destitute loneliness and existentialism, allowing them once again to live—to live and let live as life may be.
It was this expectation that inevitably caused so much strife, and it is here that the story truly begins, just as most stories truly begin, with Turner struggling to stay afloat in the midst of the roaring sea.
End Part 1.