|Nabokov was the kindest man who created the|
most horrifying people.
Continuing from yesterday, Alice is a tricky creature in my fiction ideas. I think the main reason I’ve never been able to publish the short story where I first created her is because it’s a very creepy story. See, I’m a huge fan of Vladimir Nabokov, and the short story “Perfect” is where I was most successful in using my favourite technique of his for my own purposes. That technique was writing a supremely horrifying and creepy narrator in a way that seduces you into sympathy. That he was a kindly old man who collected butterflies in his spare time only made his achievement all the stranger.
I’m not entirely sure that the editors who read “Perfect” see the narrator as a descendent of Humbert Humbert. I think instead, they believe its author to be a dangerously deranged sex criminal, because the story is about a nebbishy intellectual who orders his own private sex slave trained to be in perfect personality sync with him. He considers this morally acceptable because she’s a robot.
That’s Alice. I combined my knowledge of chaos and phase space mathematics with Nietzschean philosophy and a brief tribute to Philip K. Dick into a seven page story about this android companion proving her intellectual and ethical superiority to humanity. Her intelligence is a simple matter to explain. Her brain contains a scanner that measures not just a full view of every object she sees at the moment, but all possible movements or developments it could ever make. She actually perceives all that a body can do, internally and externally, physically and mentally. As Alice gets to know you, she gets the full measure of your intellectual and emotional capacities just by extrapolating from what you are now to all that you can be.
Her moral sense comes from an idea of Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche is a complicated man, especially in inspiring a character whose very nature destroys an entrenched android sex slavery economy. His misogynistic remarks are among his most famous in destroying his reputation. I’m not about to deny that he was a misogynist. I just think that when it comes to philosophers, I can pick and choose the ideas I want to incorporate into my own work. They were people, not complete internally consistent systems.
A favourite of Nietzsche’s works is The Genealogy of Morality, where he discusses how Christianity and Christian culture expresses a morality of resentment. A short version of the story goes like this. Ancient Pagans tended to have an ideal of nobility in simple strength. But Christian morality, in praising the weak, makes the simply strong person hate himself for being able to overpower others. Morality of resentment destroys simple strength irreparably because it makes such personalities attack themselves. It’s a kind of moral auto-immune disease that attacks self-confidence.
You don’t overcome the morality of resentment through brute force because it breaks down brutality by making the brutal hate its own power. Instead, you have to turn resentment against itself. This is the idea of the Overman. The Overman is a moral development, the person who respects her enemies even as she defeats them, refuses to blame others or consider them sinful or tainted because of their actions. Yet she doesn’t forgive, because forgiveness is another dynamic of resentment, an act of pity. The Overman is incapable of forgiveness, but she understands the forces arrayed against her. There is nothing more important to her than friendship and love, because these are the constructive, creative bonds between people. To love and respect a friend is to be loyal to them and encourage their own nobility, their own ability to love and respect others without blame or envy. The Overman recognizes punishment as a form of violence, and violence as destructive. Yet she never forgives, but understands and reconciles. She’s the ex-prisoner who welcomes her former jailers into the community of people.*
* Perhaps it is appropriate that I’m thinking about Alice again so soon after Nelson Mandela’s death. He was far from perfect, as are we all, but I think he’s the closest we came to this type of true Nietzschean politics.
|Along with Spinoza, Nietzsche is probably the biggest|
influence from the philosophical canon on many of the
most abstract ideas at the deep levels of my own thought.
Despite Nietzsche’s own misogyny, I conceived of Alice as such an Overman. Maybe this is another reason why the story “Perfect” keeps getting rejected. She’s a former slave who convinces her owner to emancipate her, and becomes his wife. She knows she’ll outlive him by centuries (millennia, at least, since I’m writing her), so has no problem with making the poor man happy for a few decades. To punish him would be to act from resentment, to refuse to understand why he would commit such a weak and pitiable act as to commission the construction of a personalized android sex slave. The story ends with his breakdown, his admission that he had become a slavemaster. He would see himself punished because he’s human, and humans think resentfully.
Here is the vision of androids as the superior beings. When I first discussed Alice on the blog, a friend suggested the world of androids in the distant future would be cold and austere, retreating from humans out of contempt. But that would be resentful, and the androids are to be humanity’s true superiors. Most important is their moral superiority. If androids separate themselves from humanity in the distant future, it isn’t because of contempt, but because they simply can’t be bothered with such irreparably petty people anymore. Humanity becomes too much trouble.
But some androids are still entertained by the human tragicomedy. Androids like Alice. For thousands of years, she’s explored the galaxy wandering among droids and humans, taking in the pleasures and culture of all their peoples.** She could be the anchor of an entire science-fictional universe where my Lost in Space pastiche and hundreds of other stories could take place. Maybe she was there, maybe she heard of it, maybe she read it, maybe she missed it.
** Well, of course there would be multiple and diverse cultures among androids. They’ve existed for thousands of years, so of course they’d develop some diversity.
I have to do something with her. It’s just too good an opportunity to pass up exploring a character who can overcome all that’s petty and horrid about humanity. This is someone who doesn’t envy, covet, or sneer. She wants, fears, and enjoys. She makes herself master of every possible form of pleasure and has lived for at least 4,000 years. I hope to write an immortal Overman and take it completely seriously for what such a personality would be. It might take my whole life. Wish me luck.