Yesterday morning I found a dead opossum outside the gate. My first instinct was to take a photo, because I’m like that, but I’m not going to post it here out of respect for the deceased. Not today at least. The animal’s face was bloody and its mouth slightly open, teeth bared in one last grin. I imagine it was hit by a car and managed to drag itself up onto the sidewalk. Maybe it rang the buzzer, calling for help. I’m not being facetious: this is Los Angeles. If it did, I didn’t hear it, but I can be very inattentive. I get all wrapped up in things. Not in things exactly, not objects, but, you know, stuff. When I came home last night, the opossum was still there outside the gate. Where would it go? How would it get there? I assumed it would find a way. Via coyote, crow, stray dog, or mischievous child. But it wasn’t a very enterprising opossum, and it stayed put. Maybe it was just that it died directly beneath a tree, where birds on the wing couldn’t see it, and maybe last night’s rains washed away its scent, hiding it from the coyotes and dogs. The neighborhood children have no excuse. It’s a good sign, though, that a plump marsupial can lie dead beneath a tree for two days on a reasonably busy street without anyone trying to eat it. In this economy, I mean. In any case, it rained all night and the opossum didn’t look any better when I got home this evening. I didn’t look close. Opossum’s tails are mournful things even in the best of circumstances. Which these were not. For the opossum anyway. I don’t own a shovel, so I called the landlord and asked to borrow his. He came downstairs a few minutes later, shovel in hand. I contributed a lawn and leaf bag, suitably black. And that was that, not much ceremony. The opossum didn’t weigh much, even soaked as it was. I twisted the bag, tied it off. I asked after the landlord’s health. He has a cold. He asked after mine. I’m well enough. I walked behind him as he carried the shovel up the stairs.
… An architect is instructed to build a palace with hundreds of, thousands of, cut stones of various colors. A palace such that whoever enters it should feel perfectly at home, know which room is where, which stairway leads where, which door opens to which room; but at the same time, the palace has to be so extraordinary, built so ingeniously, that whoever enters it should know, recognize right away that he neither has seen nor will ever get to see another place like it in his lifetime.
The architect is given one more instruction. No two stones of identical color can be set either side by side or one over the other, except once, in one singular instance throughout the immense palace.
So the architect gets to work, applying his cunning, his utmost mastery, supervising the completion of the first row of stones. But the difficulties he encounters during the second row prove quite daunting. So he orders the workers to tear down the first row, deciding to start over by building up one of the corners. After getting a few rows completed, he moves to building another corner. To avoid tearing down what he has built. Each time he notices that a pair of same-colored stones would have to be set side by side, he leaves that wall segment to get started on another segment. The thought that he is allowed only one exception disheartens him so much that he keeps postponing the exception, thinking he might need it later. Days, months, years pass like this; he grows old, one foot is already in the grave, as they say, each morning may be the start of his last day, each night may be his last; then, all of a sudden, he realizes
He realizes that, though his workers have long abandoned him — in reality, he had pushed them away — and he’s been toiling alone for years in a dreadful frenzy, he has somehow managed to gather inside him all the patience his workers have lost, to recover deep in the heart of his heart all the patience he’s spent on his workers, absorb their strength in his own arms in order to fill the entire plot assigned to him with wall fragments, waiting to be connected. Even if he has enough strength or life left in him to connect these walls, he has completely cleared his mind of the rules according to which the palace was supposed to have been built; the finished structure will not even resemble a barn that could shelter animals, much less a palace at once extraordinary, at once familiar to everyone. There is neither a palace nor a building in place, not even the notion of one or the other.
—from Bilge Karasu, A Long Day’s Evening
Oh, Borges would have blushed. This just in: While mapping the planet via satellite and special camera trucks, all-knowing Google finds an island in the Coral Sea—not large, but large enough—15 miles long and three wide, somewhere midway between Australia and New Caledonia. Explorers (okay, “academics”) take sail, but find no island there. They are “really puzzled,” they say. Their charts show no island either, only deep, deep waters—not land but its opposite, 4,620 feet of empty (“empty”) sea. “It’s quite bizarre.” Just a mistake, the explorers shrug, a smudge on the satellite’s radar, a Google burp. So they sail home and tell their tale. Word gets around. Unsatisfied, a librarian in Auckland—for kicks, let’s call him Tlön—shakes the dust off some old maps and, on a 1908 British Admiralty chart based on the 1876 voyage of the whaler Velocity, finds the island, right where it’s supposed to be. Sandy Island, it’s called, not all whalers being as gifted with names as St. Melville. Someone else (we’ll call her Uqbar) soon locates the island in a Times Atlas of 1897. “It's great to see it has been there for so long," says Tlön, and concludes that perhaps the whalers, in their velocitous haste, misrecorded its location (but then how could Google find it there?). Or perhaps, Tlön says—and you can see him smiling—it's just “a mystery of the sea.” Others suggest, at least semi-preposterously, that when the whalers saw it, the island was perhaps a sandbar that has since been washed away. And perhaps they’re almost right. So many things disappear—why not islands? But again: how did Google spot it then? I can’t help but wonder: If Tlön had consulted his charts, and Uqbar her atlas, prior to its appearance on Google's maps, would they have found that sandy island in the Coral Sea? Isn’t it equally possible, more likely even, that the seas did not shift and the island neither appeared nor disappeared, that it was only the maps that changed, our maps, and that once it appeared on one, it began, retrospectively, to appear on all? Isn't that the way things work?
"…art isn’t structure, but the conflict of structures. Art is the catastrophe of structures. And if one can say that the imagination is better than reality, art is even better, because it’s the dream of every structure’s collapse and at the same time the dream of the construction of new structures.”
—Viktor Shklovsky, interviewed by Serena Vitale, December 1978