I’ve never been one for science fiction, and although Lequin’s Lathe of Heaven is considered a member of the genre, I believe this novel’s tragectory far surpasses simple sci-fi (if, in fact, science fiction ever is merely “simple”). When I finished reading it, I reclined in my shoddy, Staples computer chair and stared at the calendar on my bedroom wall for about a half an hour. I imagined how many times the events scribbled and smeared in black ink could have be rewritten if I were a character in the novel. The disillusionment set in when I realized it wouldn’t matter since I wouldn’t be able to remember the variations of my existence that someone else is dreaming into reality anyway. That’s when I meandered out to the balcony and chain smoked approximately five cigarettes to fasten myself into some sense of normalcy again, the rational desire to quit smoking in the face of unconscious addiction. Needless to say, my reaction to the story was powerful.
Beyond the morbid events of The Plague that wipes out 6 billion people, the government’s blood thirsty reaction to the turtlesque aliens landing on earth, which are assumed (with emphasis on the word assume) to be hostile, and the void Haber’s central emptiness brings to bear on the whole of humanity via his effective dream, the dynamics of postmodernism saturate the the science fiction plot with aspects of socialization, the concepts of naturalism, and culturally infused understandings.
George Orr, for instance, is emmersed in a psychological state of self doubt reinforced by the institutions of power. He is informed, through the sublimated and overt code in society, that he is a drug abuser, a patient, and therefore, enfeebled to the point at which he does not and should not have any control over his own life. Orr is constantly reminding himself that he is not strong, physically, morally, and particularly, pyschologically, since he cannot stop himself from changing reality through his dreams. Ergo, George should trust Haber, “The Man,” the representative of the unquestioned benevolent and accomplished institutions of power that are merely trying to better humanity, while of course, never trying to exploit it. Regardless of how many times Orr ‘effectively’ changes reality, even to the point at which all people are homogenously gray and the world is a tasteless, odorless matrix of similitude in which Haber resides like the Christian God at the apex of it all, Lequin’s protagonist insists that he is weak and that Haber is moral in his quest for unabated authority, since he claims to have humanity at heart, though ironically, he has no heart. Isn’t this what all great politicians profess, irregardless of the evidence that lends to the contrary?
Orr, however, is strong. He is moral even when he is no longer required to be. Since society’s moral structure is no longer succinct with or attached to the solidarity and consciousness of historical evolution of “morality” as we know it, Orr could choose to believe that morality is obsolete since nothing in the world is substantial, lasting, or remotely true, and since Orr’s reality is a conglomerate of the three states of reality, dreaming, waking, and “effective dreaming,” who cares? The only ‘moral’ code he has to obide by consists of not getting locked up by remaining free of the label, “insane.” Orr knows that he is not insane, although Haber has the power to present him as such.
Orr is moral because he intrinsically knows that its not his place to change things. His ultimate moral efficacy seems to draw from Eastern concepts of the universe and the human being’s place within its order. He is a part of the world, not outside it, as Haber is. He is connected to humanity, as much as he possibly can be in a realm of slipsliding realities “in the mist,” as illustrated in his relationship to Lelache. He is morally strong in that he recognizes that the world just is, and it should evolve in the natural progression of evolution and rational consensus. He is such a moral fortress, in fact, that he manages to cross the vista of nothingness Haber has dredged up from his disconnected unconscious and, literally, bring the world back into being by simply pushing a button. Orr of course downplays his contribution to humanity by telling the Alien, E’nememen Asfah, “I pressed a button. It took the entire will power, the accumulated strength of my existence, to press one damned OFF button.” He crossed a nihilistic void of ultimate loss, suffering, and “the presence of absence” in order to ensure the world’s existence, at the expense of loosing the one real connection he had in the world, his wife, and his own sense of being? What strength!
This brings me to Haber. One classmate insists Haber is a cartoon-like villain, and I must admit, I was vaguely reminded of the villain Jafar in Disney’s Aladin. Jafar, the power hungery adviser to the King, parallels Haber, an adviser appointed by the institutions of power in America. However, this is vastly oversimplified. Jafar is a one and a half dimensional character, if even that, while Haber is a complex of natural and learned human characteristics. In Orr’s mind, Haber is a bearlike, ball of human flesh, layered like an onion with nothing at the core, as Orr discovers by the end of the story. Haber is a prime example of Ada’s signification of language in the sense that he’s all talk, most of which the average reader can distinguish as a complicated mess of diction, conceptualizations, ‘fake’ history, and long windedness expressing absolutely nothing. Orr insists on his benevolent “power of will” to perfect the world because it seems that he has been conditioned to believe in the godlike goodness of societal structures, but Haber is neither benevolent nor specifically evil. He is the void, wrapped up in the pretty corporate apparel and prestige of his own artificial impositions on reality. He is not a part of humanity, but apart from it, in his own mind and in the perception of the narrator. He is not apt to perfect humanity (no one individual is, suggests Lequin), particularly since he has no sense of connection to it or its history. When he recounts the death of his extended and immediate family as a result of the carcinogenic plague, for example, he exhibits no remorse, he is void of feeling, even though he experienced it in the past of that existence. He is quick to seize on the new histories of the various realities of the world as if he were an automated encyclopedia detached from any real sense of compassion or emotion for the very thing he actually destroys by attempting to perfect it. This concept reminds me of Hawthorne’s The Birthmark. Haber, like Hawthorne’s wacky (and sexist) scientist , both play the roles of the seemingly benevolent doctor who aspire to godhead to save feeble humanity from its own imperfections, but end up bludgeoning it to death with “progress.”
I don’t get it. What’s the deal with Antwerp?