… poetry in Robert Silverberg The Stochastic Man, these lines pages apart and yet necessarily connected by their improbability:
pale petrol nostalgia
penguins in the veldt
The first line is slightly modified from its near copy found in the text. A smidgin of a proposition has been lifted out in the transposition. Otherwise it may have sealed the suggested enjambement and ruined its balance with the hinted caesura. If it were not removed the “of” would cause the reader to loose the delicate tension between two readings: one showing to the one side the pale petrol penguins and to the other the veldt as nostalgia; the other, the nostalgia penguins at play in the veldt and ready to be ignited.
Both lines are used to characterize the same depicted relationship. Laying them out in this fashion here underscores the point iterated throughout the novel about frame of mind affecting perception and thereby the ability to act out of neither fear nor self-pity nor doubt. Silverberg does not explicitly connect the elements of the listing but the fashion in which the narration steps through the story underscores that All are linked by an “of” of boxes within boxes. Mind, perception, action. Fear, self-pity, doubt.
The “of” belongs there in the novel just as it does not belong here in the non-novel. There it serves to remind the careful reader that it is not nostalgia directly but a derivative that supplies the relationship:
What powered our relationship was the thinnest of fuels, the pale petrol of nostalgia, that and such little momentum as remembered passion can supply.
Nostalgia, like a veldt, is too vast to provide refuge on a human scale. It too is too small not to be a home a way for home.
Silverberg’s narrator may not have fully learnt the lesson (or is wise enough to allow the implied reader to project a koan). At the close of novel, he articulates a moment of writing in which the quotations from Monod and Einstein, quotations about chance and necessity, are set up as a choice.
I write this in early December, with the true beginning of the twenty-first century and the start of a new century just a few weeks away. […] One of these statements is wrong. I think I know which one.
The reader remains ignorant if the implied reader is meant to be sensitive to the reinscription of doubt. Or to leap into faith.
And so for day 20