The Great Switch by Boris Glikman

Art by Michael Cheval

Division of Prime Cause by Michael Cheval


After the cataclysm took place, people, or rather the beings that people transformed into, would refer to it as The Great Switch. When these beings recalled how the world had been before The Great Switch, what struck them above everything else was how blind they’d been in those times.

Back then, religious teachings and scientific theories kept mankind obedient, cowed through ominous prophecies of apocalypses and armageddons, when all life on Earth or indeed the Universe itself would come to an end. What no one had foreseen was that there could be far greater calamities than universal annihilation.

The Great Switch was a process which caused the inner and outer selves of human beings to swap places, so that the emotional, mental, and spiritual characteristics now became external and vice versa. It must be stressed that it wasn’t just a case of the intangible inner characteristics becoming visible; rather, the inner selves now literally became the outer physical bodies, while the physical bodies became invisible internal entities.

Naturally, the consequences of this event were momentous and far-reaching. No longer could anyone conceal their true inner self; it was exposed in all its glory and disgrace, in all its beauty and ugliness. Many lives were wrecked, relationships destroyed, and careers ruined, as a person’s internal neuroses, anxieties, delusions, hatreds, prejudices, insecurities, and character flaws were revealed to their partners, family, friends, work colleagues and strangers. The very structure of society was threatened, for its smooth running was greatly dependent upon people suppressing and hiding their true natures and feelings.

After The Great Switch, a large proportion of the world’s population disappeared completely. Of all the competing theories about this vanishing, the most popular one was that the superficial, soulless lives led by many had made them emotionally, mentally, and spiritually vacuous. Consequently, once the Great Switch had taken place, those people were rendered externally empty and became invisible.

Yet, for some, this turn of events proved to be a godsend. Before the Great Switch, physical appearance was of paramount significance; people’s impressions and opinions of you were predominantly based upon how you looked. In your daily interactions you were constantly, indeed instantly, judged on your looks. Your inner essence, being imperceptible to others, required much more time and effort to uncover.[1] Few were interested or willing to do that, as, in those fast-paced times, people hardly had the time to discover their own inner selves, let alone the inner selves of others.

And so, it was especially touching to witness the pride and joy of some of those who had been physically ugly before this event, those who, despite all the slights and the disregard meted out to them by the world, maintained their dignity and self-respect, their souls not begrimed by bitterness, self-loathing or envy. Now, their inner purity sparkled brilliantly for all to see and marvel at.

On the other hand, it was rare to come across someone who was strikingly good-looking both before and after The Great Switch. Maybe it should not have been surprising for, given the ceaseless attention, admiration and favouritism that was lavished upon those of great physical beauty, it was inevitable that they would become self-absorbed and incapable of empathy. And so, after this cataclysm, a large proportion of the blindingly gorgeous turned into some of the most hideous beings around, their ugliness causing others to turn away in shock and disgust. Yet there was pity for them too, and a desire to help somehow. 

It was particularly ironic how the mirror, once the most treasured possession of the beautiful people, now became the bane of their existence—something to avoid at all costs, lest they catch sight of their transformed selves. Indeed, mirrors and other reflective surfaces became horrifying and loathed objects for many in this post-Switch world. Few had the courage to see themselves exactly as they are. Perhaps they were terrified of facing the stark truths their reflections might reveal. Or, maybe they were afraid of what they might not see, given how easy it had been in the pre-Switch world to delude yourself about possessing undiscovered talents and untapped potential, and to convince yourself that all these marvellous gifts were supposedly hidden in the depths and shadows of your mind and soul. 

It should be mentioned at this point that The Great Switch was so all-encompassing that its effects were not limited to mankind. All living organisms, from bacteria to whales, and everything in between, were affected too. However, unlike many human beings, none of the other living organisms disappeared after this event, thus settling once and for all the age-old question of whether it was only man who possessed a soul. It was now indisputable that all microrganisms, plants and animals had an inner self too. Moreover, in stark contrast to the prevalence of ugliness in post-Switch mankind, they all became beings of simple yet distinct beauty. From this it could be concluded that every non-human living creature, no matter how loathsome or harmful it might have been in the eyes of humanity, no matter how devoid it might have seemed of any redeeming features, had a pure, beautiful soul. Regardless of how much suffering and death such organisms as typhoid bacteria, malarial mosquitoes and lice have caused to mankind over the eons, their inner selves all shone with the same plain, steady radiance.

How exactly did The Great Switch come about and what had caused it is still being fiercely debated: Was it God’s doing? Or was it a hitherto unknown, yet completely natural stage of the evolutionary process? Perhaps it was something else entirely; a singular, unprecedented phenomenon that neither science nor religion could explain. What is not debatable is the radical transformation this upheaval wrought upon the Earth, for it had affected each and every living entity. Even embryos and foetuses gestating inside their expectant mothers were not immune from its effects.

Perhaps the scenario that I have painted seems implausible and utterly preposterous. Yet, who is to say that our current reality is not actually a temporary aberration from the state of being described above? What if it is only during this period of existence that we briefly possess physical features on the outside, and emotional, mental, and spiritual features on the inside? And what if, once in the Afterworld, we exist for all eternity with our inner selves externalised?

Is that as good a reason as any for us to start working on our souls, to start devoting as much time to developing and improving our emotional, mental and spiritual selves as we devote to bettering and beautifying our physical bodies? For, after all, these fragile corporeal bodies belong to us but for an instant of time while our inner selves may live on forever.

I leave you to ponder these questions. And if you choose to dismiss my suggestions as absurd nonsense, let’s catch up again to talk about them when we are both dwelling in the Afterworld. I will then say to you, without a trace of smugness or schadenfreude in my voice: “I told you so!”

seeing souls

__________________________________________________________________________________

[1] Indeed, given that one’s inner self was invisible, it was easy for others to ignore, if not deny its existence altogether. And this sort of repudiation was not limited to amoral types like ruthless criminals and callous psychopaths. Entire philosophies, such as solipsism, were based on the premise that it is impossible for an individual to determine whether other people have souls and minds.

Boris Glikman

Michael Cheval

Reality and “Reality”: A New Perspective by Boris Glikman

Part I

Imagine if you had a friend who had the following characteristics and personality traits and behaved in the ways described below. 

Suppose that this friend considered it his sacred duty to visit you daily at your home and make a report to you of the day’s events, regardless of whether you asked for them or not. Out of the billion things that happen in the world each day, he would choose a minuscule number to tell you about. He would always be the one to decide, according to his own subjective preferences and whims, what are the most important stories of the day, and you would have no say whatsoever in those decisions. Inevitably, the stories would always be those that show the worst side of things, the worst side of life, the worst side of humanity. He would be determined to always discover and report back to you the lowest, vilest, most despicable acts of human behaviour and the most harrowing, most tragic, most horrible events that occurred that day.

In his reports, he would always interpret things in the most negative and alarmist way possible, not unlike a paranoiac who sees dire threats and perils everywhere. Not satisfied with indulging in his own paranoia, he would be intent on inculcating and infecting you too with his deranged fears and anxieties, thereby hoping that in such a way he would appear as sane. For in a world in which everyone has gone mad, it is the sane who would be considered insane.

He would pry, without any reservations, hesitations or scruples, into anyone and everyone’s business, and especially into every tragedy, every calamity, every catastrophe that befalls humanity, whether that tragedy be on an intimate, personal scale or on a larger scale. He would be fascinated and driven into raptures by natural and man-caused disasters, atrocities, massacres, explosions, crimes, fatal accidents, car crashes, murders, and fires. The more catastrophic the event and the greater the number of fatalities, the more excited he would become, the more frenetically he would talk about it, and with more enthusiasm he would pry into it. In his fascination and preoccupation with death and sufferings, his reports would bear a striking resemblance to the way Roman emperors entertained the masses with gladiator games. 

He would lack any morality or decency and would not think for one moment that he may be invading the privacy and exacerbating the suffering of those stricken by misfortune; there’d be no limits as to what he would do in order to sate his insatiable morbid curiosity. Indeed, if challenged about this, he would strongly insist that it is his God-given right to intrude into other people’s tragedies. He would then go as far as to claim that he is, in fact, providing you with a great and unique service that you should be grateful for, as otherwise you would have no idea what is happening in the world. 

Furthermore, he would be irresistibly drawn to and intrigued by power, wealth and fame, and, when not talking about the calamities and the tragedies, he would give much of his time and attention to telling you about the words and deeds of politicians, the very wealthy and the very powerful, the upper classes, royalty and celebrities.  Through the unceasing favouritism that he would show towards them in his reports, he would create an ambience of celebrity worship. Celebrities and their ilk would be portrayed by him as deities for ordinary mortals to look up to and revere, demigods whose every word and every action are heard and seen across the world.

Common people and their deeds and lives would be of little interest to him, except perhaps when they are struck by some great misfortune or when their lives end in unnatural circumstances, in which case he would condescend to giving them a few minutes of his time and attention, while displaying feigned sympathy and compassion. He would then quickly forget about them and never mention them again in his reports. If questioned about this approach, he would justify it by asserting that, no matter how cynical it may sound, the brutal reality is that it is only the deaths of ordinary people that merit mention in his reports, whereas the everyday lives of the common people are of no particular interest or importance to anyone.

This Modern World Cartoon Strip

If you were ever to ask him to not tell you about the doom and the gloom, the celebrities and the politicians, he would self-righteously retort that those are the important stories that must be told, adding as an emphatic argument clincher that in any case that’s what you really want and need to hear, even if you haven’t realized it yet. He would then accuse you of not caring about the humanity and characterize you as an egotistical, self-absorbed misfit who is out of touch with society and its values and morals.

In his reports, everything would be oversimplified and presented in dumbed-down terms. He would always depict reality in black and white terms and portray people as either heroes or villains, or as either victims or culprits, with no alternatives in between. He would never have the time nor the inclination to analyse the nuances of the events or to explore the complexities of people’s characters. His aim would never be to make you think or to make you question things; rather, it would always be just to make you accept as gospel truth the things he is telling you, to make you agree unquestioningly with his simplistic, binary views and judgements of people and events and to make you feel whatever feelings he is feeling—be it outrage, hatred, fear, anger. There would be no room left for any disagreement with his views; indeed, eventually, he would even go as far as to take it for granted that you must feel and think the same way as he does.

He would have no sense of proportion: he would blow up trivial matters as if they had global significance and would treat matters of global importance as if they were trivial matters of no consequence, if not ignore them altogether. Nor would he have the ability to look at things from a historical perspective—he would make no effort to connect the current events to events of the past or to put the current events into any kind of context. His overriding interest would be in the things happening at the present moment or which happened that very day, and that would be all he would talk about in his daily reports to you.

Sport would be seen by him as an absolutely vital and crucial part of the human existence and, regardless of what else occurred in the world that day, he would be sure to devote a good portion of his report to telling you about the latest developments, no matter how minor, in the world of sports.

Sometimes he would end his report with some lighthearted and offbeat story about the whimsical side of life, as if trying to reassure you that, despite all the tragedies and calamities, everything is still all right with the world.

He would be blind to the horrible inappropriateness of including stories of atrocities and disasters in the same report as sports stories and droll, quirky stories, and eventually you would become blind to it as well, not thinking twice about the inherent appalling incongruity of it all.

From what has been described above, it can be seen that this person would lack any emotional or intellectual maturity; be exceedingly morbid; preoccupied and obsessed with death, crime, disasters, tragedies, scandals, wealth, power, fame and sex; have no conscience or sense of objectivity; have a short attention span; be quick to anger and judgement, but would just as quickly forget about the things that were angering and upsetting him, and would move on to new things to satisfy his curiosity and titillate his nosiness. Any morality or principles this person might display would be just an act put on for his own ulterior purposes.

It would not be an exaggeration to describe his behaviour patterns as those of a voyeuristic sadist, given the way he would get big kicks from witnessing other people’s tears, pain, sufferings. Yet, not content with feeding off the misfortunes, agonies and adversities of others, he would then revel in describing them to you in great detail, taking particular delight in making you feel shocked, alarmed, fearful, outraged, angry, distressed, anguished, as well as impotent and small due to your inability to do anything about those events.

Still, he would be astute enough to realize that he cannot just keep hitting you with a metaphorical stick, and that he also has to offer you, via his reports, a metaphorical carrot. He would be aware that the way most people judge their life’s quality is by comparing it to the lives of others. And so, no matter how much you might deny it and no matter how abhorrent and unacceptable it might be to your moral values, his reports of the sufferings and misfortunes of others would, deep down (perhaps as far down as on the unconscious level), reassure you that by comparison your life isn’t so bad and inevitably make you feel better about your own life. That would serve as a strong incentive for you to keep listening to him, day after day, regardless of whether you are consciously aware of that motivation.

Through the steady, relentless barrage of his daily reports and because of his unvarying predilections for particular types of stories he would, over time, instil in you a certain underlying view of the world and man’s nature, eventually making you believe that his subjective, highly skewed, paranoid portrayal of reality is how reality actually is. In fact, you would become doubly confused: not only would you be unable to distinguish whether it is just his interpretation of reality or if it’s how reality really is, but additionally, due to you becoming so deeply ingrained with his portrayal of things, you would be unable to distinguish whether it is his view of reality or your view of reality. Effectively, the boundary between reality and interpretation of reality would become just as blurred for you as the boundary between his view and your view of the world.

You would be ill-advised to take this friend of yours at all seriously; his opinions and beliefs should be scoffed at and scorned, if not ignored altogether. He should be considered to be a hysterical fear-monger and scandal-monger; someone who should be avoided at all costs because of his unalleviatingly gloomy, depressing, paranoid and even apocalyptic perspective of things; because of his shameless snooping into the sufferings of others; for being emotionally unstable and having no control over his emotions; for being judgemental and subjective about everything; for having no sense of balance, no sense of reason and no sense of boundaries; for having the concentration span of an infant, quickly becoming bored with one story and turning to another to occupy his attention; for his unbounded and absurd obsession with power, wealth and fame, and for hypocritically pretending to care about the common people.

You would never accept his portrayal of reality or regard him to be a trustworthy authority figure who should be listened to when it comes to finding out about the world and what goes on in it, for you would clearly see how completely irrational, non-objective, opinionated and narrow-minded he is, and what a thoroughly unpleasant and dishonourable character he is, without any  principles, morals or personal standards. You would never want to be around this person, let alone allow him to visit you daily in your home, giving you his report each and every day.

Yet we all have just such a “friend” whom we welcome to our homes each and every day. We rely on this “person” for the vital information that informs our daily lives; information that influences our important decisions; information that determines our views of the world and of other people, cultures and countries, and indeed even our perception of ourselves. By willingly letting “him” tell us what to think and how to live, by readily swallowing up all that “he” tosses to us, we allow this “person” to turn us into bloodthirsty or indifferent voyeurs of tragedies and sufferings, we allow “him” to compromise our integrity and morality, and we let “him” shape our reality. It could even be said that we trust this “person” with our very lives, never seeing how blind we are to “his” methods and never realizing that “he” has us all fooled.

James Scott quote on mainstream media

Part II

In this section the issues discussed in the previous section are explored in more detail, and further questions are raised about the way mainstream mass media operates.

The first question that must be asked is: How does the media determine which stories to report to its audience? How does the media decide, out of a myriad of events that happen in the world every day, which are the important, newsworthy stories that must be told, and which stories can be ignored? What is the reasoning behind their decisions?

Given that the media either has a limited time span (in case of TV news programs) or a limited page span (in case of newspapers), the thousands of news stories that take place every day around the world need to be culled down to just a small number, so that the remaining news stories will fit exactly into a half-hour or one-hour news program, or into a newspaper of X number of pages. A very thorough elimination process must take place, during which the great majority of news is discarded; thus, the media must obviously have a method through which it winnows out the unnewsworthy stories from the newsworthy stories.

Yet has this method ever been made transparent by the media and shared with its audience? Or have its details been purposely kept secret, out of the concern that if the public were informed of it, they would find it completely unacceptable? Or could it indeed be that the media chooses which stories to report in an erratic and arbitrary manner, and that there is no rhyme or reason to its decisions, other than its own subjective, idiosyncratic criteria as to what constitutes an important story?

The next question that needs to be asked is: Does the media actually give its audience what the audience want to see and read about? Does the media provide the audience with what the audience believes to be the important stories, or is it the case that the media convinces its audience that what it provides are the important stories the audience wants and needs to see? Is it the case that it is the media that makes its audience become interested in and concerned about those issues in the first place, so that the audience now believes that the media only reflects their views as to what are the important and interesting stories, whereas it is the media that originally created those views in the audience? Has the media, through its unchanging, persistent preference for a particular type of material, made its audience believe that those are the issues that are important, vital, and fascinating? Consequently, does the audience accept without question that those are the stories the media must report and that they, the public must watch and read? Or perhaps it is a two-way process, with both media and audience influencing, reflecting, and reinforcing each other’s views?

propaganda

The third question that needs to be asked is: What kind of message does the media send when it treats only the deaths of ordinary people as newsworthy, but not their lives? What view of humanity does the media convey when it devotes most of its time to the lives of the wealthy, the powerful and the famous, and only becomes interested in ordinary people’s lives when those lives end tragically or unnaturally? Surely this is an extremely elitist, harsh and unjust perspective on the worth of human life, and it seems obvious that such an attitude would never be accepted or tolerated in our ostensibly egalitarian society, yet the media gets away scot-free with propagating just such a view each and every day.

Another question that needs to be considered is: What does the media expect to achieve by repeatedly and incessantly thrusting reports of deaths, tragedies, and disasters into our faces? Why are they so intent on reporting those kinds of stories? What is it that we are supposed to feel, think, and do when confronted by stories of tragedies and deaths of people of whose existence we weren’t aware until that point? What can we do? How can we help? How can we change death? There are a number of possible answers to these questions.

The bleakest and most radical, yet not an entirely implausible, explanation is that the media is possibly doing it for its own twisted, sadistic purposes in order to induce pain, panic and sorrow in the audience, while hypocritically pretending to feel sadness. Yet surely the only thing the media feels is faux sorrow, because for the media it is just another news story, part of their job, and they quickly forget all about that story and shift their attention to another story. So, bizarrely, in that potential scenario, the media would try to make its audience feel authentic emotions, while media itself would only feel fake feelings.

An equally bleak and extreme, yet also not an entirely implausible, explanation is that the media is possibly doing it in order to allow its audience to indulge in sadistic schadenfreude at others’ misfortunes and pain, and in order for the audience to be reassured that their lives are not so bad by comparison. If this seems to be an overly dark and cynical view of human nature, it should be pointed out that even though a person might not evince such callous behaviour publicly, it is entirely possible that in the privacy of their homes and in the privacy of their minds they would act, think and feel that way. And besides, the realness of those who appear on TV news programs or in newspapers is intrinsically diminished by that very fact, for they are automatically more remote and less tangible than the people one interacts with in the outer world. That potentially gives one the license to be indifferent and uncaring towards the plight of the people in news reports.

Another possible explanation (and one that is obviously related to the explanation immediately above) is that the media is only providing its audience with what the audience itself desires. If that is the case, then it is a sad indictment indeed upon the modern society, for it means that our society wants and needs those stories of violence, murder, catastrophes to satisfy its morbidity and bloodthirstiness. It would then follow that while our society prides itself on being law-abiding and highly civilized, its citizens actually behave in ways no better than those barbaric ancient Roman crowds that avidly watched the fights to the death in the arenas.

A more moderate explanation would be that the media is possibly doing it as a way of keeping the masses law-abiding and in fear—by showing them what happens when laws are not obeyed. For example, a very common news story is that of fatal car accidents. Surely, by reporting this kind of a story, the media is also conveying, directly or indirectly, a warning that if the road rules are not followed then this is what happens. Yet, even if this is a valid explanation, it is still only a partial answer as to why the media feels impelled to keep telling you those stories of deaths, tragedies and disasters, for surely the media plays a much bigger and more complex role than just being a broadcaster of public warnings. (Exactly what that role is would, however, require another article to address.)

It should be noted that this article is not about the bias the media may display in its reporting of news, overtly or otherwise. Rather, it concerns itself with deeper and more fundamental issues: What exactly is the connection between reality and the way the media interprets and portrays it? How does the media’s interpretation of reality shape the way its audience perceives reality? How does the media affect our views of the world? Does the media have a hidden agenda to influence the minds of its audience, and if so, what are the methods they use to instil their opinions into us?

If it appears by this point that the media has interwoven itself inextricably into the very fabric of our lives, and that we have no chance of ever liberating ourselves from its insidious grasp and its inflexible power over us, then imagine if you will a utopian scenario whereby we live in a world in which the media no longer exists; a world in which the media no longer intrudes incessantly into our lives; a world in which we are no longer ceaselessly bombarded by its paranoid ravings and no longer confronted at every turn by their reports of disasters, tragedies, catastrophes; a world in which we are able to form our own view of the world based solely on our own direct, personal experiences, rather than experiencing the world vicariously via the TV news programs and newspapers and having our opinions, beliefs, attitudes and our very reality moulded by the media; a world in which we no longer sacrifice our principles, our integrity, our morality, our decency on the altar of mainstream mass media; a world in which we are free to just live our own lives and die our own deaths.

Sure, such a scenario may sound hopelessly naive and unrealistic. Yet, perhaps hundreds or thousands of years from now, it will finally be realized how the media are just carrion flies that feed off tragedies and spread the diseases of meaninglessness and misery, and how gullible and short-sighted people were in allowing the media to interfere into and mar their lives each and every day.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: The final version of this piece is still to come, as I still want to work more on its language, wording, expression, structure, etc. and there are still some other ideas that I haven’t yet added to the piece. (For example, there’s my idea that, in some ways, news programs and newspapers serve the same function that memento mori served in medieval times, for they keep reminding you of death, over and over again. But whereas the medieval memento mori had a definite function in imbuing people with theological and moral lessons, the aim that the media has in talking about death over and over again is less clear and certain. It is entirely possible that even the media itself has not formulated clear and lucid reasons as to why it is always talking about death. But of course the modern man would recoil at the thought of such macabre, morbid and gruesome concept as a memento mori in our modern lives. The concept of a memento mori would be seen as macabre and overly superstitious by modern man. And yet, the modern man accepts with equanimity and without any argument the disguised memento mori that he is confronted with daily via the news. Seemingly, we live in an enlightened, modern, progressive society and yet, still, we have memento mori all around us, constantly confronting us and assaulting us via the mass media, so that their presence in our lives is even more ubiquitous than the presence of memento mori in the life of the medieval man.)

Boris Glikman

The Light of Their Lives by Boris Glikman

The Light of Their Lives by Boris Glikman

“Delighted by Light” by Michael Cheval

It was perhaps inevitable that some bright spark in the Research and Development Department of a certain, internationally famous company would, during a brainstorming session, come up with the idea of a beverage consisting solely of pure light. The essential concept behind it was simplicity itself: Why, in these modern, fast-paced times, go through the lengthy and convoluted process of needing the Sun’s light to be photosynthesized by plants into chemical energy, which then has to be converted into carbohydrate molecules, which we then have to consume and digest in order for us to finally incorporate the energy from the Sun into our systems? Why not bypass all the intervening stages and just capture, bottle and imbibe the sunlight energy directly?

The management loved the proposal and supported its realization by all means possible. Thus, less than a year after the go-ahead was given, the product appeared in the shops: a soothing, delightful elixir of natural sunshine, free of any preservatives, added sugar or artificial flavours.

The drink provided an instant energy boost, sating hunger without any necessity for digestion, as well as immediately quenching thirst and making one feel warm all over. And, of course, it was suitable for all types of diets including but not limited to kosher, halal, vegetarian, vegan, raw vegan, gluten-intolerant and fruitarian. No one could take any issue with it, for it was pure light straight from the Sun. And, fortuitously, it was also very suitable for those dieting, for according to the famous E = mc^2 equation, even a tiny amount of mass released a tremendous amount of energy and thus one could quaff great quantities of this potation with hardly any weight gain.

Amazingly enough, apart from satisfying the most basic physical needs (food, water, warmth) in the hierarchy of needs, this beverage also enabled the consumer, and this was a completely unforeseen consequence, to become instantly spiritually enlightened once they have drunk it and thus fulfil the highest need in the hierarchy of needs –  the yearning for self-actualisation. (Perhaps it should not have been so unexpected, for, by ingesting light one, ipso facto, became illuminated within, which is exactly what enlightenment is, and also as the very morphological structure of the word “enlightenment” indicated its intimate connection to light.)

This serendipitous effect was perfect for the contemporary society, for given that the online world now provided instant information, instant communication, instant entertainment and instant gratification of needs and desires, it was only natural there would also be a great demand for instant self-realisation. And with this product, one no longer had to spend countless hours meditating and repeating the mantra, or sit at the feet of a guru, or clamber up the Himalayan mountains in search of monasteries. Instead, there was the convenience of immediate spiritual awakening in a bottle, accessible to all.

The advertising campaign was built around the slogans “Instant EnLIGHTenment™ in a Bottle!”, “Fast Food for Body and Soul!”, and “Let the Light DeLIGHT You!”. For once the reality corresponded exactly to the promotional claims, as it truly was a unique kind of an invention the likes of which had never been seen before.

And so, as was to be expected, everyone flocked to buy the new drink, for, apart from its obvious appeal to the general public, its attraction was also irresistible to a diverse range of people with specific needs, such as the athletic types looking for an immediate energy fix, the spiritual seekers looking for the truth about themselves and the Universe, and the weight-conscious dieters, who immediately added it to their fastidious regiments. Of course, children loved it too, given its novelty value and its almost-magical properties.

This unqualified success gave the company the freedom and the impetus to experiment with new varieties of the product. The flavour of the original sunlight brand was a mixture of melon and orange. Later on, many more flavours became available, as the company’s researchers went about capturing and bottling light from other celestial objects, as well as from man-made sources.

It was discovered that each planet and star had its own unique taste: Moonlight was cooler on the palate than sunlight and had an indefinable element to it one couldn’t quite put a finger on; Mars tasted a bit like tomato juice; Venus was quite tart and almost vinegary, and thus was best drunk in combination with light from other sources; Jupiter and Saturn, as befitting their gaseous nature, were like the finest bubbly champagne; and supernovas had a mouth-exploding, extremely hot chilli flavour that only the very brave and the foolhardy dared to sample. It was also found that the illuminations of every city had their own particular flavour, although the health-conscious preferred only drinks made from natural sources and scorned the artificial flavours of light globes, fluorescent lights and neon signs, which invariably tasted like cheap wine.

With this product on the market, many believed the world was surely heading towards a utopian existence in which humanity would finally be liberated from its burdensome, imprisoning dependence upon plants and animals for nutrition; and the common man, having become instantly enlightened, would see beyond the constricting confines of self-interest and self-preservation and realise everything is inextricably connected and we are all one.

Yet, those who were optimistic that an idealistic state of being would, at last, be achieved had forgotten all about a deep-rooted and paradoxical aspect of human nature, namely that anything that brought pleasure and enjoyment was open to abuse, misuse, and overuse. Consequently, the very source of gratification and bliss, like for example alcohol, could and did mutate grotesquely into a dire threat to one’s very existence. Thus, obesity and all the maladies it caused was rife in those societies in which food was in ready supply; alcoholism was the scourge of many a land; addictions to both legal and illegal substances destroyed countless lives.

Given the way this beverage immediately satisfied, in one neat package, a person’s needs on so many levels, it was inevitable some would become hooked on it. As is often the case with addicts, they found ways to bypass the option of legally purchasing a limited quantity of the product, instead consuming for free limitless amounts by staring directly at the Sun and letting the light flow both into their open mouths, as well as into their eyes. Imbibing light through the eyes was something non-addicts would never do, and that particular experience was likened to mainlining heroin, giving an even greater kick.

These addicts quickly became known as “sunkies” (a portmanteau word blending “sun” and “junkie”), and this word coincidentally had the additional connotation of “sinking” which was very apt, for no drug addict had ever sunk as low as these sunkies. Most of those hooked on narcotics could be rehabilitated and again become respected members of a community. The Sun junkies however voluntarily gave up their sight and their mobility, two of the most precious and vital features a human being possesses, and assumed a static, plant-like existence, remaining rooted to one spot. They cared for nothing else but to follow with their turning heads the Sun’s daily progress across the sky, using their sense of warmth to locate it, their retinas having been burnt out, and to drink in the light.

“In Sol Veritas”, in Sun all Truths lie, was their motto and guiding principle, believing as they did that the Sun is the portal to the ultimate reality and the sole source of eternal, absolute truths. Their proselytising spiel to the non-addicts was quite persuasive, claiming that once you started staring at the Sun, you would quickly realise how petty and drab are the affairs of daily life, and how overflowing-with-meaning and magnificent are the inexhaustible revelations and infinite beauty emanating from the Sun, the place where perfection, transcendence, purity lies. The sunkies also extolled the stability and the security their lives now possessed, for the Sun’s motion, perfectly regular and unvarying each and every day, scorched away the unpredictability and the uncertainties of their previous everyday existence.

One saw these sunkies everywhere one went, sitting, standing or lying on the pavements, roads, grass, in the mud, in puddles, in gutters, totally oblivious to their surroundings. Their limbs became atrophied from complete lack of movement and turned into something resembling gruesome, withered tree branches, further accentuating their plant-like appearance. The sight of these addicts was both sickening and unspeakably sad, especially as many of them were young people who had sacrificed all the promises the future held out for them.

The greatest tragedy was that the sunkies denied their lives had turned into an irrevocable tragedy. Not only did they become physically blind, they also became blind to the reality of their situation, convincing themselves into believing they were the superior beings living superior lives, and the only ones in possession of the ultimate secrets of existence. They saw themselves as part of an elite caste, the vanguard of an egalitarian utopia to come, for, before the Sun everyone was equal. These Sun’s Sons (as they preferred to call themselves, in reference to their claimed filial kinship with the star, for they felt reborn through gazing unwaveringly at the Sun, and also in reference to the brotherhood they felt they had entered into) were totally untroubled by their loss of sight and mobility, for there was nothing down on Earth they wanted or needed to see or do. Indeed, they considered their blindness and immobility to be a godsend, for not only did it stop them from being distracted from giving all of their attentions to the Sun, but, even more importantly, it prevented their minds and souls from being contaminated by the imperfections and iniquities that so marked and defined earthly existence.

Thus, light in a bottle, previously the greatest blessing to mankind, became its greatest curse, causing a calamity the likes of which could not be imagined before its arrival on the market, for who could ever envision healthy people willingly becoming immobile vegetables, sacrificing their lives just so they could stare at the Sun and feel its warm smile upon their faces. The sunkies were now completely lost to society, both bodily and mentally, and no kind of rehabilitation was possible for them. In the bitterest of ironies that occur so often throughout the course of history, mankind, having liberated itself from its dependence upon plants, and thus attaining the greatest freedom it had ever possessed, now found an ever-growing proportion of its population choosing to lead a plant-like existence.

But this unfolding global tragedy was of little concern to the company that brought the beverage into the world, for its technicians were busily working on an even greater creation which would undoubtedly trump the bottled sunshine for popularity. Inspired by instant coffee, the new invention-in-the-making already had the brand name of Insta-Life, and, once completed, it would allow a person to experience their whole life in an instant. This surely was, or so the management thought, the ultimate desire and goal in this instantaneousness-obsessed era, for by condensing all of your life into one single moment, you no longer would have to trudge through decades of endless drudgeries and tediously repetitive routines of daily existence, through all the banal and boring stretches of life, and instead get it over and done with in a jiffy. Additionally, you would gain an unbeatable upper hand over your rivals in the field of fast living.

With the lure of holiday profits in their minds, the management kept prodding its engineers and scientists to work harder and harder, so that Insta-Life could appear on the market around Christmas time. And so, it was only a matter of time before this new invention swept the world, and people would begin to live and die faster than mayflies.

Boris Glikman

Michael Cheval 

 

Existential Prose: A Train’s Journey by Boris Glikman

Woman and man walk on train tracks

I live in a train. I have food, warmth, a place to sleep.

I feel certain that I am its sole occupant, for if there were anyone else on it I would know by now, as I have lived in this train my entire life.

Where it is heading to, I can not tell. On occasions, it stops entirely or even begins to move backwards, but I can never get off for all the exits are hermetically sealed.

In earlier times, I cherished the hope that the train contains something that would help me escape it, this unwieldy metal hulk, and separate my existence from its course. I searched exhaustively for a button that would throw open all the doors simultaneously or a lever that will allow me to prise open a window. Yet I dared not to go through every carriage and compartment, partly out of fear that I would find nothing of use and that thereby all of my hopes would be terminally dashed.

I can only perceive the outside world as it appears through the windows of the train. I know not how veracious my perceptions are, for it may well be that the windows are made of distorting glass. I often wonder what it would be like to experience life directly.

Occasionally, I see other trains go nearby and catch a glimpse of their solitary dwellers. My train might run parallel to theirs for a short distance but then the tracks diverge and I never see them again. There may be time enough to wave or shout out a few quick words but the words get mangled by the noise of wheels on the tracks.

Once, and oh, how the memory of that event heartens me still, my train travelled close to another with a young woman occupant for a considerable period of time, maybe as long as two minutes. I put my palms upon the window and spread my fingers and the girl did the same in her carriage. Our hands were perfectly aligned, and despite the glass between us, I was sure that I could feel her body warmth.

I can not jettison my dream that I will see her again, that our trains will run side by side forever and we will never be apart. In every train that I see, I continue to search out for her sublime features, yet at the same time I am wracked by doubts as to how I appeared to her, whether the windows of her train distorted her vision of me.

Does my train have a driver? Is there any purpose to its voyage? Is it moving of its own volition and choosing its own way through the land or has its journey been pre-planned by some unknown hand? Is there a Master Scheduler who has organised the timetables and the routes of every train? Shall I direct my prayers to him to allow me to see that girl again? These are the questions; the answers to which I am still searching.

With time, I grow to accept having one’s existence tied up with the train. The desire to leave the train now appears to be no less preposterous and unnatural than the idea of a foetus trying to make its way through the world, a walking miscarriage. Existence outside would be so precarious and haphazard, without protection from the elements and other vagaries of fate. The train gives me solid cover, carries me forward, brings certainty to my life.

There may be things in the unexplored compartments that would make my journey more meaningful and fulfilling, things that would allow me to grow as a person. For all I know, treasures and tools, placed there especially for me, might be waiting for my discovery.

But lulled by the rhythm of the train upon the tracks, I remain seated in my seat for hours, days, weeks, years on end. I look out of the window and watch the world go by, not moving, indeed afraid to move, so accustomed have I become to seeing things from this vantage point. In my deluded periods, I imagine that I can influence the train’s course and destination just by wishing for it hard enough.

Lately, I’ve been seeing vaguely familiar landscapes. Is the train taking me to the place whence it commenced its voyage and will my journey then be over? Will there be someone waiting for me when the train pulls into its last station, someone that knows where and when my train will make its final stop? Perhaps it will be the Master Scheduler himself and he will then explain to me the purpose of my voyage and why my journey took this particular route.

I live in a train. Although I have food, warmth, a place to sleep, sometimes a feeling comes over me that I have nothing at all, but I quickly push it away.

A TRAIN’S JOURNEY: Further Interpretations and Ideas by Boris Glikman


train tracks to heaven

  • It’s true that the most obvious interpretation of this story is that it is about isolation and alienation from society. However, there is another possible interpretation of this story, namely that this is an extended allegory about physical existence, the train being a metaphor for the body and being stuck in it, the windows of the train (which are possibly made of distorting glass) being the unreliable senses that are the only way we can perceive the outside world, the unexplored compartments that might hold the tools needed for liberation are the unexplored areas of the mind and the journey itself as an allegory for life, not knowing if it has been pre-planned. etc.
  • So, this story actually works as an allegory on several levels, for not only is it an allegory about isolation, but it’s also an allegory about the deep philosophical problems of solipsism, the unreliability of our senses, of how we could ever be sure if there’s anything out there and it’s not our mind that’s making it all up, predestination, free will, the meaning of life, of whether there is a God who has pre-planned our lives, etc.
  • Train as a symbol of destiny that carries us forward, despite ourselves and over which we have no control, no control over its direction, the route it takes, whether its route has already been pre-determined and we are helpless to change it, its destination point, when it comes to a stop or how fast it moves.
  • One is destined to be forever alone, for we all just pass each other momentarily in our own trains and then continue along our divergent train tracks. The most you can hope for is a fleeting connection with another being. We cannot connect with anyone; everything and everyone just passes us by and we are unable to make any meaningful or long-term connections with anyone. People and things just pass us by in our lives, you can’t/don’t have any control over them and they are never seen again. Life just passes you by, you can’t stop or control it. Each and every day we are closer to reaching the terminus, the terminal/final station of the train.
  • “In my deluded periods, I imagine that I can influence the train’s course and destination just by wishing for it hard enough.” – an allegory for trying to affect, control and influence one’s destiny/life through praying, by wishing for it hard enough. Not by doing anything, but just by desiring it hard enough, deluding oneself that one can change one’s life/destiny just by wishing for it or praying for it hard enough.
  • “But lulled by the rhythm of the train upon the tracks, I remain seated in my seat for hours, days, weeks, years on end.”  – symbolises the acceptance and resignation that comes with age, just weariness and loss of desire to change anything or change one’s life.
  • “I look out of the window and watch the world go by, not moving, indeed afraid to move, so accustomed have I become to seeing things from this vantage point.” – being afraid of change and so not changing our lives or our perspectives because we have become so used to particular lifestyles and we take comfort and security from that stability and consistency and so are loathe and afraid to change it in any way, even if the life we have chosen leaves a lot to be desired, is not ideal or is actually harming us in some way.
  • The glass between the man and the woman represents the social conventions, the pride and the ego, the prejudices, the unfounded fears, the preconceived ideas and the pre-judgements, the non-caring and selfishness, the rush of life and all the other things that stop people from establishing meaningful, friendly, loving connections with one another. The fact that the glass is transparent (so that the woman and the man can clearly see each other), invisible and impenetrable only accentuates further the parallel to real life in which invisible barriers prevent people from making real, authentic connections with one another.
  • The empty train that the protagonist lives in can symbolise the emptiness of our lives, whether physical emptiness, i.e. isolation from others, or emotional/inner vacuum/emptiness. As the train can be a symbol of the body/mind as described above, its emptiness can clearly represent the emotional/mental/innert vacuum of our lives.

People walking on train tracksA TRAIN’S JOURNEY: Interpretations from Other Readers

“One other interpretation of A Train’s Journey could be that the narrator just died but doesn’t know it yet, as in the movies “Ghost” and “The Sixth Sense” and “The Lovely Bones.” So he lives between two worlds, life and death, and he crosses another train where there is a woman living in the same two worlds.”

“I read the Train story, and though I found it beautifully written, it left me with a feeling of great sadness and loneliness (probably the feeling you intended to convey). I feel that the existential philosophy conveyed by that story is one of futility and impotence in the face of an incomprehensible universe, over which we have no power and against which we are totally helpless.”

“My interpretation of the story is a long metaphor about life.  Why are we here? What sense is there to be here? What’s the purpose of our life on this earth? On the Universe? We are born knowing nothing and we will die knowing nothing. We are born owing nothing and we will die the same way. Even in the middle of millions of people, we are alone in our own self but we can sometimes connect with another human being, even if it is for a very short time.”

A Train’s Journey is such a great story. I catch the train regularly for work now, and always catch myself thinking of it as a metaphor for life’s journey and the choices we make.”

“Intriguing but sad as I feel this is a lost soul from an aborted fetus.”

“I believe, at one time or another, we have all felt like the train in this story, trapped in the vacuum, we call our lives.”

“Feeling like you’re different from others and trapped inside your own world in your head. Thinking you are the only one to feel this way and to be in this situation and on the very rare occasion meeting someone who is possibly just the same. But this ‘someone’ usually just comes and goes because they are following their own path, their own journey, in their own train.”

“Train tracks represent your path in life. Tracks can change, take turns and lead you to things you never experienced before. But if you’re not in control of the train, if you’re only a passenger, then your life is not in your hands. You can choose to let this train take you on a random journey or take your life in your own hands and lead the train. Stop the train when you need to. Change the tracks when you have an option to do so and take the path you believe is right at any point in time. The other carriages may also be full of other passengers in this story. But I don’t think so. I think it’s your own train. It’s your own personal journey through life. You are the only one who can take the conductor’s seat or choose to remain a passenger.”

“A Train’s Journey is surely a journey through life, highlighting the way we’re all inclined to become fixed in respect of direction and speed of travel, and the way in which we ultimately all find ourselves alone. At the same time, it drew attention to the dubious ‘reliability’ of our sensory information about the world through which we pass. I felt (as I often do with your stories) that there was a touch of the Aesop in it, though the comparison with Kafka is no less fair.”

“One aspect of the train journey I liked is that lately he feels like he is seeing vaguely familiar landscapes. That is a lot like life, like the first time you see cruelty or love, it seems so shocking, and then, as you get older, you see it again and again, it has an air of familiarity about it, still distasteful (for cruelty) or encouraging (for love) but some of the shock value has leached away. It does make you wonder if you’ve seen it all, but I guess the traveller on your train often feels like he hasn’t quite seen anything properly.”

“The story’s opening and closing paragraphs start with a simple sentence, ‘I live in a train.’ Food and shelter are mentioned next in both paragraphs – the basics. But there’s more to human life, of course. The following paragraphs explore the existential questions of our journey through life, from longing to escape the train from its predestined course, its conformity, to reach higher grounds with our dreams fulfilled to connecting meaningfully with other people and finding answers not only to the purpose of life but also to the existence of God and afterlife.

With maturity comes acceptance of conformity although the wish is still there to change the train’s course. The last two sentences leave me with a sense of sadness, but then, I need to push that feeling away too.”

‘I live in a train. Although I have food, warmth, a place to sleep, sometimes a feeling comes over me that I have nothing at all, but I quickly push it away.’

Boris Glikman