Wednesday, May 08, 2013

SarahAbraham

Through a harmony of dendrites, Sarah came to feel touch upon Abraham’s skin. They were waltzing upon the beach, Ishbak on the immutable piano, and a frond brushed Abraham’s back. Sarah felt the frond as though on her own back. She caressed Abraham’s left shoulder and felt the caress as though upon her own shoulder. Abraham’s right hand was touching the skin under Sarah’s arm, and Sarah felt not only his fingers there in the usual way, but also a new complement: the smoothness of her ribs upon her own right hand. She had been feeling that smoothness for a while, she realized, intermingled with the more familiar touch of Abraham’s left hand upon her right as they danced.

They danced three songs in this manner, then lay together upon the sand. Sarah touched the back of her neck with a twig and saw Abraham scratch his own neck. They made love in a new way.

Sarah gazed upon Abraham as he observed the sky. She called to Ishbak and Midian. Sarah and Abraham lay face down upon blankets while the sons of Keturah touched their backs, and Sarah learned to distinguish Abraham’s sensations from her own. She now had two backs, two bodies.

Through a harmony of retinas, Sarah came to see through Abraham’s eyes. At first, it was a faint tint upon her field of view – her own form, maybe, bent toward the fire pit, as Abraham watched her from the side, her figure like a wraith upon the fire that she more vividly saw. The wraith was jumpy, unpredictable; she could not fully guess Abraham’s saccades as his eyes gathered the scene. Over days, the visions livened and settled. Sarah did not know if she merely learned better to anticipate Abraham’s eye movements or if she instead also gained partial control.

[for the second half of this story, email me at eschwitz at domain: ucr.edu]

10 comments:

Josh Shepherd said...

Very nice.

Not totally related, but anyway: Jeff McMahan (in 'Cognitive Disability and Cognitive Enhancement') tentatively suggests something like this (but much less involved) might undergird supra-personal moral status. The suggestion is folks who, perhaps thanks to some kind of cognitive enhancement, are able to "actually experience other individuals’ mental states while simultaneously reflecting on those experiences in a self-conscious manner from their own point of view," might possess a kind of super-empathy and thereby a higher moral status than those of us who remain trapped in our own skulls.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

@ Josh: Very interesting! Thanks for the tip. Another thing I'm going to have to read!

Scott Bakker said...

Some gorgeous prose. The emotional kernel of the story, the way gaining ultimate intimacy amounts to profound loss, is strong. You got bit by the fiction bug but good! This poses a similar identity puzzle to the Mnemonist, only synchronically rather than diachronically, and with the details of the mediating mechanisms left entirely obscure. The thing I personally like about exercises like this is the way they show the relationship between language and personal identity: Why, for instance, does the transition from Sarah or Abraham to SarahAbraham seem 'natural'? We're still talking about two spatio-temporally distinct brains executing two spatio-temporally distinct operations - but only because the fusing mechanism is hidden, I suppose.

Imagine rewriting this story with a cable running between their heads! Why would this seem to break the spell, colour the magic sinister?

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for the kind words, Scott! I agree that it brings up issues similar to those in the Mnemonist. I think the philosophical community hasn't really fully thought through the implications of pushing on the fuzzy boundaries of identity. The familiar cases (in the philosophical community) of Parfit and transporter scenarios are only the start of it.

I agree that a cable would give it a sinister tinge. Actually, I imagine this story as in the Adam & Eve world that we are working on -- the Biblical names, the tropical islands, the coconut all being hints of that -- which might make it even more sinister. If the stories are read side-by-side as parts of the same world, then this is how Archipelago starts down the path of the becoming the Continental entity. There could be a deity-Eric manipulating the parameters from outside in hopes of increasing happiness or intelligence through this kind of intimacy or merging or communication, or it could be an unintentional consequence of some feature of the programming....

Callan S. said...

I'd imagined they consented to the merging. A cable is only as sinister as that which it brings in the unconsented.

A couple of things that do concern me is, why not merge with the child as well? Well that brings up alot of weird in regards to the psycho sexual nature of the original merging.

The second is that, perhaps coloured by readings of other authors (who will remain nameless *!*), I was suspecting suicide by the end of the story. She could only kiss herself? Doesn't that sail into being utterly alone?

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Callan: Right, it's not clear now where the merging will end, and if it starts to involve children the child and adult will be sexually mingled in a strange way. I was imagining the merging as welcomed, but not necessarily consensual in that I don't know what would have happened had Sarah or Abraham tried to stop it. (What would that trying consist in?) Sarah does, of course, early in the story take positive action to ensure that she doesn't confuse her sensations with Abraham's.

Of course it is the loneliness near the end that leads to the pursuit of Keturah. I invite the reader to assume that after merging with Keturah, SarahAbrahamKeturah will again feel the need for intimacy with another and merge again. It's not clear when or if this process could stop. Perhaps the end result will be a single consciousness for the entire society?

Callan S. said...

Eric: As a process I think that rolls kind of on how much one as a reader not just consented to the idea of merging but also without the reader instantiating any limit upon that merger process.

To me it does seem to tap into the notions of romance/long term relationsips - people finishing each others sentences and all that. Just such a notion relies on a physical wall to be...'okay'? Take the physical wall away and what do you have...?

Anonymous said...

Just here to say this was truly wonderful

Michel Clasquin-Johnson said...

@Eric:
"Perhaps the end result will be a single consciousness for the entire society?"

Well, that's one way to go. Alternatively, the rest of the species would become aware of the existence of SarahAbraham...JosieColin and perceive it as a threat.

Someone will create the Individualist Party and sweep the next elections. SarahAbrahamites will be rounded up and deported to concentration camps. They would have an advantage: all you need is a single member undercover in the enemy camp and the entirety of SarahAbraham...JosieColin will know when and where the next raid will be. Large numbers of SarahAbraham...JosieColin will seek asylum in Canada or Sweden, but the pro-individualism movement is taking root even there ...

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Michel: I love your dark variations on my stories!