Numero Uno—“The Great DESCARTES (who may justly challenge the first place amongst the Philosophers of this Age) is the Author of this Discourse; which in the Originall was so well known, That it could be no mans but his own, that his Name was not affix’d to it: I need say no more either of Him or It; He is best made known by Himself, and his Writings want nothing but thy reading to commend them. But as those who cannot compasse the Originals of Titian and Van-Dyke, are glad to adorne their Cabinets with the Copies of them; So be pleased favourably to receive his Picture from my hand, copied after his own Designe: You may therein observe the lines of a well form’d Minde, The hightnings of Truth, The sweetnings and shadowings of Probabilities, The falls and depths of Falshood; all which serve to perfect this Masterpiece. Now although my after-draught be rude and unpolished, and that perhaps I have touch’d it too boldly, The thoughts of so clear a Minde, being so extremely fine, That as the choisest words are too grosse, and fall short fully to expresse such sublime Notions; So it cannot be, but being transvested, it must necessarily lose very much of its native Lustre: Nay, although I am conscious (notwithstanding the care I have taken neither to wrong the Authours Sense, nor offend the Readers Ear) of many escapes which I have made; yet I so little doubt of being excused, That I am confident, my endeavour cannot but be gratefull to all Lovers of Learning; for whose benefit I have Englished, and to whom I addresse this Essay, which contains a Method, by the Rules whereof we may Shape our better part, Rectifie Reason, Form our Manners and Square our Actions, Adorn our Mindes, and making a diligent Enquiry into Nature, wee may attain to the Knowledge of the Truth, which is the most desirable union in the World.Our Authour also invites all letterd men to his assistance in the prosecution of this Search; That for the good of Mankinde, They would practise and communicate [v]Experiments, for the use of all those who labour for the perfection of arts and sciences: every man now being obliged to the furtherance of so beneficiall an undertaking, I could not but lend my hand to open the curtain, and discover this new model of philosophy; which I now publish, neither to humour the present, nor disgust former times; but rather that it may serve for an innocent divertisement to those, who would rather reform themselves, then the rest of the world; and who, having the same seeds and grounds, and knowing that there is nothing new under the sun; that novelty is but oblivion, [vi] and that knowledge is but remembrance, will study to finde out in themselves, and restore to posterity those lost arts, which render antiquity so venerable; and strive (if it be possible) to go beyond them in other things, as well as time: who minde not those things which are above, beyond, or without them; but would rather limit their desires by their power, then change the course of nature; who seek the knowledge, and labour for the conquest of themselves; who have vertue enough to make their own fortune; and who prefer the culture of the minde before the adorning of the body; [vii] to such as these I present this discourse (whose pardon I beg, for having so long detain’d them from so desirable a conversation;) and conclude with this advice of the divine plato:
If this Discourse seem too long to be read at once, it may be divided into six parts. In the first, are divers Considerations touching the Sciences. In the second, the principall Rules of that Method which the Author hath studyed. In the third, some of those in morality, which he hath drawn from this Method. In the fourth, the reasons whereby the existence of God and of the humane Soul is proved; which are the grounds of his Metaphysicks. In the fift, the order of these Physicall questions, which he hath examined, and particularly the explication of the hearts motion; with some other difficulties relating to Physick; as also the difference between our Souls and those of beasts. In the last, what he conceives requisit to make a further inquiry into Nature, then hath hitherto been made. And what reasons induc’d him to write. …
Right understanding is the most equally divided thing in the World; for every one beleevs himself so well stor’d with it, that even those who in all other things are the hardest to be pleas’d, seldom desire more of it then they have; wherein it is not likely that all Men are deceived: But it rather witnesseth, That the faculty of right-judging and distinguishing truth from falshood (which is properly call’d, Understanding or Reason) is naturally equal in all Men. And as the diversity of our Opinions, is not, because some are more reasonable then others; but only that we direct our thoughts several ways, neither do we consider the same things. For ’tis not enough to have good faculties, but the principal is, to apply them well. The greatest Souls are as capable of the greatest Vices, as of the most eminent Vertues: And those who move but very slowly, may advance much farther, if they always follow the right way; then those who run and straggle from it.
For my part, I never presum’d that my Minde was more perfect in any thing then an ordinary Mans; nay, I have often wish’d to have had my thoughts as quick, my imagination as clear and distinct, and my memory as  large and as ready as some other Men have had. And I know no Qualities which serve more then those to the perfection of the Minde; for as for Reason or Understanding, forasmuch as it is the only thing which makes us Men, and distinguisheth us from beasts, I will beleeve it to be entire in every One, and follow herein the common opinion of the Philosophers, who say, That there is only more or less among the Accidents, and not amongst the Forms or nature of the Individuals of one species.
But I shall not stick to say, That I beleeve my self very happy, in having encountred from my youth with certain ways which have led me to considerations and Maximes, from which I have found a Method; whereby methinks, I have the means by degrees to augment my knowledg, and by little and little to raise it up to the highest pitch, whereto the meaness of my capacity, & the short course of my life can permit it to attain. For I have  already reaped such fruits from it, that although in the judgment I make of my self, I endevour always rather to incline to mistrust, then to presumption. And looking on the divers actions and undertakings of all Men, with the eye of a Philosopher, there is almost none which to me seems not vain and useless. Yet I am extremely satisfied with the Progress, which (as it seems to me) I have already made in the search of Truth, and do conceive such hopes for the future, That if among the employments of Men, purely Men, there is any solidly good, and of importance, I dare beleeve it is that which I have chosen: Yet it may be that I deceive my self, and perhaps it is but a little Copper and Glass which I take for Gold and Diamonds. I know how subject we are to mistake in those things which concern us, and how jealous we ought to be of the judgment of our friends, when it is in our favor. But I should willingly in this Discourse, trace out unto you the  ways which I have followed, and represent therein my life, as in a Picture, to the end, that every one may judge thereof; and that learning from common Fame, what mens opinions are of it, I may finde a new means of instructing my self; which I shall add to those which I customarily make use of.
Neither is it my design to teach a Method which every Man ought to follow, for the good conduct of his reason; but only to shew after what manner I have endevoured to order mine own. Those who undertake to give precepts, ought to esteem themselves more able, then those to whom they give them, and are blame-worthy, if they fail in the least. But proposing this but as a History, or if you will have it so, but as a Fable; wherein amongst other examples, which may be imitated, we may perhaps find divers others which we may have reason to decline: I hope it will be profitable to some,  without being hurtfull to any; and that the liberty I take will be gratefull to all.
I have been bred up to Letters from mine infancy; & because I was perswaded, that by their means a man might acquire a clear and certain knowledg of all that’s usefull for this life, I was extremely desirous to learn them: But as soon as I had finish’d all the course of my Studies, at the end whereof Men are usually receiv’d amongst the rank of the learned. I wholly changed my opinion, for I found my self intangled in so many doubts and errors, that me thought I had made no other profit in seeking to instruct my self, but that I had the more discovered mine own ignorance. Yet I was in one of the most famous Schools in Europe; where I thought, if there were any on earth, there ought to have been learned Men. I had learnt all what others had learnt; even unsatisfied with the Sciences which were taught us, I had read over all Books (which I could possibly procure) treating of such as are held to be the rarest and the most curious. Withall, I knew the judgment others made of me; and I perceiv’d that I was no less esteem’d then my fellow Students, although there were some amongst them that were destin’d to fill our Masters rooms. And in fine, our age seem’d to me as flourishing and as fertile of good Wits, as any of the preceding, which made me take the liberty to judg of all other men by my self, and to think, That there was no such learning in the world, as formerly I had been made beleeve.
Yet did I continue the esteem I had of those exercises which are the employments of the Schools: I knew that Languages which are there learnt, are necessary for the understanding of ancient Writers, That the quaintness of Fables awakens the Minde; That the memorable actions in History raise it up, and that being read with discretion, they help to form the judgment.  That the reading of good books, is like the conversation with the honestest persons of the past age, who were the Authors of them, and even a studyed conversation, wherein they discover to us the best only of their thoughts. That eloquence hath forces & beauties which are incomparable. That Poetry hath delicacies and sweets extremly ravishing; That the Mathematicks hath most subtile inventions, which very much conduce aswel to content the curious, as to facilitate all arts, and to lessen the labour of Men: That those writings which treat of manners contain divers instructions, and exhortations to vertue, which are very usefull. That Theology teacheth the way to heaven; That Philosophy affords us the means to speake of all things with probability, and makes her self admir’d, by the least knowing Men. That Law, and other sciences bring honor and riches to those who practice them; Finally that its good to have examin’d them  all even the falsest and the most superstitious, that we may discover their just value, and preserve our selves from their cheats.
But I thought I had spent time enough in the languages, and even also in the lecture of ancient books, their histories and their fables. For ’tis even the same thing to converse with those of former ages, as to travel. Its good to know something of the manners of severall Nations, that we may not think that all things against our Modeare ridiculous or unreasonable, as those are wont to do, who have seen Nothing. But when we employ too long time in travell, we at last become strangers to our own Country, and when we are too curious of those things, which we practised in former times, we commonly remain ignorant of those which are now in use. Besides, Fables make us imagine divers events possible, which are not so: And that even the most faithfull Histories, if they neither change or  augment the value of things, to render them the to be read, at least, they always omit the basest and less remarkable circumstances; whence it is, that the rest seems not as it is; and that those who form their Manners by the examples they thence derive, are subject to fall into the extravagancies of the Paladins of our Romances, and to conceive designes beyond their abilities.
I highly priz’d Eloquence, and was in love with Poetry; but I esteem’d both the one and the other, rather gifts of the Minde, then the fruits of study. Those who have the strongest reasoning faculties, and who best digest their thoughts, to render them the more clear and intelligible, may always the better perswade what they propose, although they should speak but a corrupt dialect, and had never learnt Rhetorick: And those whose inventions are most pleasing, and can express them with most ornament and sweetness, will still be the best  Poets; although ignorant of the Art of Poetry.
Beyond all, I was most pleas’d with the Mathematicks, for the certainty and evidence of the reasons thereof; but I did not yet observe their true use, and thinking that it served only for Mechanick Arts; I wondred, that since the grounds thereof were so firm and solid, that nothing more sublime had been built thereon. As on the contrary, I compar’d the writings of the Ancient heathen which treated of Manner, to most proud and stately Palaces which were built only on sand and mire, they raise the vertues very high, and make them appear estimable above all the things in the world; but they doe not sufficiently instruct us in the knowledg of them, and often what they call by that fair Name, is but a stupidness, or an act of pride, or of despair, or a paricide.
I reverenc’d our Theology, and pretended to heaven as much as any; But having learnt as a most certain Truth, that the way to it, is no less open to the most ignorant, then to the most learned; and that those revealed truths which led thither, were beyond our understanding, I durst not submit to the weakness of my ratiocination. And I thought, that to undertake to examine them, and to succeed in it, requir’d some extraordinary assistance from heaven, and somewhat more then Man. I shall say nothing of Philosophy, but that seeing it hath been cultivated by the most excellent wits, which have liv’d these many ages, and that yet there is nothing which is undisputed, and by consequence, which is not doubtfull. I could not presume so far, as to hope to succeed better then others. And considering how many different opinions there may be on the same thing, maintain’d by learned Men, and yet that there never can be but one only Truth, I reputed almost all false, which had no more then probability in it.
 As for other Sciences, since they borrow their Principles from Philosophy, I judg’d that nothing which was solid could be built upon such unsound foundations; and neither honour nor wealth were sufficient to invite me to the study of them. For (I thank God) I found not my self in a condition which obliged me to make a Trade of Letters for the relief of my fortune. And although I made it not my profession to despise glory with the Cynick; yet did I little value that which I could not acquire but by false pretences. And lastly, for unwarrantable Studies, I thought I already too well understood what they were, to be any more subject to be deceived, either by the promises of an Alchymist, or by the predictions of an Astrologer, or by the impostures of a Magician, or by the artifice or brags of those who profess to know more then they do.
By reason whereof, as soon as my years freed me from the subjection of  my Tutors, I wholly gave over the study of Letters, and resolving to seek no other knowledge but what I could finde in my self, or in the great book of the World, I imployed the rest of my youth in Travell, to see Courts and Armies, to frequent people of severall humors and conditions, to gain experience, to hazard my self in those encounters of fortune which should occurr; and every-where to make such a reflection on those things which presented themselves to me, that I might draw profit from them. For (me thought) I could meet with far more truth in the discourses which every man makes touching those affairs which concern him, whose event would quickly condemn him, if he had judg’d amisse; then amongst those which letter’d Men make in their closets touching speculations, which produce no effect, and are of no consequence to them, but that perhaps they may gain so much the more vanity, as they are farther different from  the common understanding: Forasmuch as he must have imployed the more wit and subtilty in endeavouring to render them probable. And I had always an extreme desire to learn to distinguish Truth from Falshood, that I might see cleerly into my actions, and passe this life with assurance.
Its true, that whiles I did but consider the Manners of other men, I found little or nothing wherein I might confirm my self: And I observ’d in them even as much diversity as I had found before in the opinions of the Philosophers: So that the greatest profit I could reap from them was, that seeing divers things, which although they seem to us very extravagant and ridiculous, are nevertheless commonly received and approved by other great Nations, I learn’d to beleeve nothing too firmly, of what had been onely perswaded me by example or by custom, and so by little and little I freed my self from many errors, which might eclipse our  naturall light, and render us lesse able to comprehend reason. But after I had imployed some years in thus studying the Book of the World, and endeavouring to get experience, I took one day a resolution to study also within my self, and to employ all the forces of my minde in the choice of the way I was to follow: which (me thought) succeeded much better, then if I had never estranged my self from my Country, or from my Books.
I was then in Germany, whither the occasion of the Wars (which are not yet finished) call’d me; and as I return’d from the Emperors Coronation towards the Army, the beginning of Winter stopt me in a place, where finding no conversation to divert me  and on the other sides having by good fortune no cares nor passions which troubled me, I stayd alone the whole day, shut up in my Stove, where I had leasure enough to entertain my self with my thoughts. Among which one of the first was that I betook my self to consider, That oft times there is not so much perfection in works compos’d of divers peeces, and made by the hands of severall masters, as in those that were wrought by one only: So we may observe that those buildings which were undertaken and finished by one onely, are commonly fairer and better ordered then those which divers have laboured to patch up, making use of old wals, which were built for other purposes; So those ancient Cities which of boroughs, became in a succession of time great Towns, are commonly so ill girt in comparison of other regular Places, which were design’d on a flatt according to the fancy of an Engeneer; and although considering their buildings  severally, we often find as much or more art, then in those of other places; Yet to see how they are rank’d here a great one, there a little one, and how they make the streets crooked and uneven, One would say, That it was rather Fortune, then the will of Men indued with reason, that had so disposed them. And if we consider, that there hath always been certain Officers, whose charge it was, to take care of private buildings, to make them serve for the publique ornament; We may well perceive, that it’s very difficult, working on the works of others, to make things compleat. So also did I imagine, that those people who formerly had been half wilde, and civiliz’d but by degrees, made their laws but according to the incommodities which their crimes and their quarrels constrain’d them to, could not be so wel pollic’d, as those who from the beginning of their association, observ’d the constitutions of some prudent Legislator.  As it is very certain, that the state of the true Religion, whose Ordinances God alone hath made, must be incomparably better regulated then all others. And to speak of humane things, I beleeve that if Sparta hath formerly been most flourishing, it was not by reason of the goodness of every of their laws in particular, many of them being very strange, and even contrary to good manners, but because they were invented by one only, They all tended to One End. And so I thought the sciences in Books, at least those whose reasons are but probable, and which have no demonstrations, having been compos’d of, and by little and little enlarg’d with, the opinions of divers persons, come not so near the Truth, as those simple reasonings which an understanding Man can naturally make, touching those things which occurr. And I thought besides also, That since we have all been children, before we were Men; and that we  must have been a long time govern’d by our appetites, and by our Tutors, who were often contrary to one another, and neither of which alwayes counsel’d us for the best; It’s almost impossible that our judgment could be so clear or so solid, as it might have been, had we had the intire use of our reason from the time of our birth, and been always guided by it alone.
Its true, we doe not see the houses of a whole Town pull’d down purposely to re build them of another fashion; and to make the streets the fairer; But we often see, that divers pull their own down to set them up again, and that even sometimes they are forc’d thereunto, when they are in danger to fall of themselves, and that their foundations are not sure. By which example I perswaded my self, that there was no sense for a particular person, to design the Reformation of a State, changing all from the very foundations, and subverting  all to redress it again: Nor even also to reform the bodies of Sciences, or the Orders already established in the Schools for teaching them. But as for all the Opinions which I had till then receiv’d into my beleef, I could not doe better then to undertake to expunge them once for all, that afterwards I might place in their stead, either others which were better, or the same again, as soon as I should have adjusted them to the rule of reason. And I did confidently beleeve, that by that means I should succeed much better in the conduct of my life, then if I built but on old foundations, and only relyed on those principles, which I suffer’d my self to be perswaded to in my youth, without ever examining the Truth of them. For although I observ’d herein divers difficulties, yet were they not without cure, nor comparable to those which occurr in the reformation of the least things belonging to the publick: these great bodies are too unweldy to be rais’d; being  cast down, or to be held up when they are shaken, neither can their falls be but the heavyest.
As for their imperfections, if they have any, as the only diversity which is amongst them, is sufficient to assure us that many have. Custome hath (without doubt) much sweetned them, and even it hath made others wave, or insensibly correct a many, whereto we could not so well by prudence have given a remedy. And in fine, They are alwayes more supportable, then their change can be, Even, as the great Roads, which winding by little and little betwixt mountains, become so plain and commodious, with being often frequented, that it’s much better to follow them, then to undertake to goe in a strait line by climbing over the rocks, and descending to the bottom of precipices. Wherefore I can by no means approve of those turbulent and unquiet humors, who being neither call’d by birth or fortune to the  managing of publique affairs, yet are alwayes forming in Idea, some new Reformation. And did I think there were the least thing in this Discourse, which might render me suspected of that folly, I should be extremely sorry to suffer it to be published; I never had any designe which intended farther then to reform my own thoughts and to build on a foundation which was wholly mine. But though I present you here with a Modell of my work, because it hath sufficiently pleased me; I would not therefore counsell any one to imitate it. Those whom God hath better endued with his graces, may perhaps have more elevated designes; but I fear me, lest already this be too bold for some. The resolution only of quitting all those opinions which we have formerly receiv’d into our belief, is not an example to be followed by every One; and the world is almost compos’d but of two sorts of Men, to whom it’s no wayes convenient, to  wit, of those, who beleeving themselves more able then they are, cannot with-hold themselves from precipitating their judgments, nor have patience enough to steer all their thoughts in an orderly course. Whence it happens, that if they should once take the liberty to doubt of those principles which they have already received, and to stray from the common road, they could never keep the path which leads strait forwards, and so, would straggle all their lives. And of such who having reason and modesty enough to judg that they are less able to distinguish truth from falshood then others, from whom they may receive instruction, ought much rather to be content to follow other Mens opinions, rather then to seek after better themselves.
And for my part, I had undoubtedly been of the number of those latter, had I never had but one Master, or had I not known the disputes which  have alwayes hapned amongst the most learned. For having learnt from the very School, That one can imagin nothing so strange or incredible, which had not been said by some one of the Philosophers; And having since observ’d in my travails, That all those whose opinions are contrary to ours, are not therefore barbarous or savage, but that many use as much or more reason then we; and having consider’d how much one Man with his own understanding, bred up from his childhood among the French or the Dutch, becomes different from what he would be, had he alwayes liv’d amongst the Chineses, or the Cannibals: And how even in the fashion of our Clothes, the same thing which pleas’d ten years since, and which perhaps wil please ten years hence, seems now to us ridiculous and extravagant. So that it’s much more Custome and Example which perswades us, then any assured knowledg; and notwithstanding that plurality of voices is a  proof of no validity, in those truths which are hard to be discovered; for that it’s much more likely for one man alone to have met with them, then a whole Nation; I could choose no Man whose opinion was to be preferr’d before anothers: And I found my self even constrain’d to undertake the conduct of my self.
But as a man that walks alone, and in the dark, I resolv’d to goe so softly, and use so much circumspection in all things, that though I advanc’d little, I would yet save my self from falling. Neither would I begin quite to reject, some opinions, which formerly had crept into my belief, without the consent of my reason, before I had employed time enough to form the project of the work I undertook, and to seek the true Method to bring me to the knowledg of all those things, of which my understanding was capable.
I had a little studyed, being young, of the parts of Philosophy, Logick,  and of the Mathematicks, the Analysis of the Geometricians, and Algebra: Three arts or sciences which seem’d to contribute somewhat conducing to my designe: But examining them, I observ’d, That as for Logick, its Sylogisms, and the greatest part of its other Rules, serve rather to expound to another the things they know, or even as Lullies art, to speak with judgment of the things we are ignorant of, then to learn them. And although in effect it contain divers most true and good precepts, yet there are so many others mixed amongst them, either hurtfull or superfluous, That it’s even as difficult to extract them, as ’tis to draw a Diana or a Mercury out of a lump of Marble, which is not yet rough-hewn; as for the Analysis of the Ancients, and the Algebra of the Moderns; besides that, they extend only to matters very abstract, and which seem to be of no use; The first being alwayes so tyed to the consideration of figures, That it cannot exercise  the understanding, without very much tiring the imagination. And in the latter they have so subjected themselves to certain Rules and cyphers, that they have made a confus’d and obscure art which perplexeth the minde, in stead of a Science to instruct it. For this reason, I thought I ought to seek some other Method, which comprehending the advantages of these, they might be exempt from their defects. And as the multitude of Laws often furnisheth excuses for vice; so a State is fair better polic’d, when having but a few, they are very strictly observ’d therein: So, instead of the great many precepts whereof Logick is compos’d, I thought these four following would be sufficient for me, if I took but a firm and constant resolution not once to fail in the observation of them.
The first was, never to receive any thing for true, but what I evidently knew to be so; that’s to say, Carefully to avoid Precipitation and Prevention,  and to admit nothing more into my judgment, but what should so clearly and distinctly present it self to my minde, that I could have no reason to doubt of it.
The second, to divide every One of these difficulties, which I was to examine into as many parcels as could be, and, as was requisite the better to resolve them.
The third, to lead my thoughts in order, beginning by the most simple objects, and the easiest to be known; to rise by little and little, as by steps, even to the knowledg of the most mixt; and even supposing an Order among those which naturally doe not precede one the other.
And the last, to make every where such exact calculations, and such generall reviews, That I might be confident to have omitted Nothing.
Those long chains of reasons, (though simple and easie) which the Geometricians commonly use to lead us to their most difficult demonstrations,  gave me occasion to imagine, That all things which may fall under the knowledg of Men, follow one the other in the same manner, and so we doe only abstain from receiving any one for true, which is not so, and observe alwayes the right order of deducing them one from the other, there can be none so remote, to which at last we shall not attain; nor so hid, which we shall not discover. Neither was I much troubled to seek by which it behooved me to begin, for I already knew, that it was by the most simple, and the easiest to be discern’d. But considering, that amongst all those who formerly have sought the Truth in Learning, none but the Mathematicians only could finde any demonstrations, that’s to say, any certain and evident reasons. I doubted not, but that it was by the same that they have examin’d; although I did hope for no other profit, but only that they would accustome my Minde to nourish it self with Truths, and not content it self with false Reasons. But for all this, I never intended to endevour to learn all those particular Sciences which we commonly call’d Mathematicall; And perceiving, that although their objects were different, yet did they nevertheless agree altogether, in that they consider no other thing, but the divers relations or proportions which are found therein; I thought it therefore better to examine those proportions in generall, and without supporting them but in those subjects, which might the more easily serve to bring me to the knowledg of them. But withall, without any wayes limiting them, That I might afterwards the better sit them to all others whereto they might be applyed. Having also observ’d, That to know them, it would be sometimes needfull for me to consider every one in particular, or sometimes only to restrain them, or comprehend many together; I thought, that to consider them the  better in particular I ought to suppose them in lines, for as much as I find nothing more simple, nor which I could more distinctly represent to my imagination, and to my sences; But to hold or comprehend many in one, I was oblig’d to explain them by certain Cyphers the shortest I possibly could, and that I should thereby borrow the best of the Geometricall Analysis, and of Algebra, & so correct all the defects of the one by the other.
As in effect I dare say, That the exact observation of those few precepts I had chosen, gave me such a facility to resolve all the questions whereto these two sciences extend; That in two or three months space which I employed in the of them, having begun by the most simple and most generall, and every Truth which I found being a rule which afterwards served me to discover others; I did not only compasse divers truths which I had formerly judged most difficult, But me thought also that towards the end I could determin  even in those which I was ignorant of, by what means and how farr it was possible to resolve them. Wherein perhaps I shall not appear to be very vain if you consider, That there being but one truth of every thing, who ever finds it, knows as much of it as one can know; And that for example a child instructed in Arithmatick having made an addition according to his rules, may be sure to have found, touching the sum he examined, all what the wit of man could finde out. In a word the method which teacheth to folow a right order, and exactly to enumerate all the circumstances of what we seek, contains, whatsoever ascertains the rules of Arithmatick.
But that which pleas’d me most in this Method was the assurance I had, wholly to use my reason, if not perfectly, at least as much as it was in my power; Besides this, I perceived in the practice of it, my minde by little and little accustom’d it self to conceive its objects more clearly and distinctly; and having not subjected it  to any particular matter, I promised my self to apply it also as profitable to the difficulties, of other sciences as I had to Algebra: Not that I therefore durst at first undertake to examine all which might present themselves, for that were contrary to the order it prescribes. But having observ’d that all their principles were to be borrowed from Philosophy, in which I had yet found none that were certain, I thought it were needfull for me in the first place to endevor to establish some, and that this being the most important thing in the world, wherein precipitation and prevention were the most to be feared, I should not undertake to performe it, till I had attain’d to a riper Age then XXIII, which was then mine. Before I had formerly employed a long time in preparing my self thereunto, aswel in rooting out of my minde all the ill opinions I had before that time received, as in getting a stock of experience to serve afterwards for the subject of my reasonings, and in exercising my self always in the Method I had prescribed. That I might the more and more confine my self therein.” Descartes, A Discourse of a Method for the Well-Guiding of Reason; & the Discovery of Truth in the Sciences; “To the Understanding Reader,” Parts I & II, 1637, 1649
I. CHARLESTON, S. C.
November 8, 1860 – December 27, 1860
CHARLESTON, S. C., November 8, 1860. – Yesterday on the train, just before we reached Fernandina, a woman called out: ‘That settles the hash.’ Tanny touched me on the shoulder and said: ‘Lincoln’s elected.’ ‘How do you know?’ ‘The man over there has a telegram.’
The excitement was very great. Everybody was talking at the same time. One, a little more moved than the others, stood up and said despondently: ‘The die is cast; no more vain regrets; sad forebodings are useless; the stake is life or death.’ ‘Did you ever!’ was the prevailing exclamation, and some one cried out: ‘Now that the black radical Republicans have the power I suppose they will Brown us all.’ No doubt of it.
I have always kept a journal after a fashion of my own, with dates and a line of poetry or prose, mere quotations, which I understood and no one else, and I have kept letters and extracts from the papers. From to-day forward I will tell the story in my own way. I now wish I had a chronicle of the two delightful and eventful years that have just passed. Those delights have fled and one’s breath is taken away to think what events have since crowded in. Like the woman’s record in her journal, we have had ‘earthquakes, as usual’ – daily shocks.
At Fernandina I saw young men running up a Palmetto flag, and shouting a little prematurely, “South Carolina has seceded!” I was overjoyed to find Florida so sympathetic, but Tanny told me the young men were Gadsdens, Porchers, and Gourdins, 1 names as inevitably South Carolinian as Moses and Lazarus are Jewish.
From my window I can hear a grand and mighty flow of eloquence. Bartow and a delegation from Savannah are having a supper given to them in the dining-room below. The noise of the speaking and cheering is pretty hard on a tired traveler. Suddenly I found myself listening with pleasure. Voice, tone, temper, sentiment, language, all were perfect. I sent Tanny to see who it was that spoke. He came back saying, “Mr. Alfred Huger, the old postmaster.” He may not have been the wisest or wittiest man there, but he certainly made the best aftersupper speech.
December 10th. – We have been up to the Mulberry Plantation with Colonel Colcock and Judge Magrath, who were sent to Columbia by their fellow-citizens in the low country, to hasten the slow movement of the wisdom assembled in the State Capital. Their message was, they said: “Go ahead, dissolve the Union, and be done with it, or it will be worse for you. The fire in the rear is hottest.” And yet people talk of the politicians leading! Everywhere that I have been people have been complaining bitterly of slow and lukewarm public leaders.
Judge Magrath is a local celebrity, who has been stretched across the street in effigy, showing him tearing off his robes of office. The painting is in vivid colors, the canvas huge, and the rope hardly discernible. He is depicted with a countenance flaming with contending emotions – rage, disgust, and disdain. We agreed that the time
1. This and other French names to be met with in this Diary are of Huguenot origin.
As a woman, of course, it is easy for me to be brave under the skins of other people; so I said: “Fight it out. Bluffton 1 I has brought on a fever that only bloodletting will cure.” My companions breathed fire and fury, but I dare say they were amusing themselves with my dismay, for, talk as I would, that I could not hide.
At Kingsville we encountered James Chesnut, fresh from Columbia, where he had resigned his seat in the United States Senate the day before. Said some one spitefully, “Mrs. Chesnut does not look at all resigned.” For once in her life, Mrs. Chesnut held her tongue: she was dumb. In the high-flown style which of late seems to have gotten into the very air, she was offering up her life to the cause.
We have had a brief pause. The men who are all, like Pickens, 2 “insensible to fear,” are very sensible in case of small-pox. There being now an epidemic of small-pox in Columbia, they have adjourned to Charleston. In Camden we were busy and frantic with excitement, drilling, marching, arming, and wearing high blue cockades. Red sashes, guns, and swords were ordinary fireside accompaniments. So wild were we, I saw at a grand parade of the home-guard a woman, the wife of a man who says he is a secessionist per se, driving about to see the drilling of this new company, although her father was buried the day before.
Edward J. Pringle writes me from San Francisco on November 30th: “I see that Mr. Chesnut has resigned
1. A reference to what was known as “the Bluffton movement” of 1844, in South Carolina. It aimed at secession, but was voted down.
2. Francis W. Pickens, Governor of South Carolina, 1860-62. He had been elected to Congress in 1834 as a Nullifier, but had voted against the “Bluffton movement.” From 1858 to 1860, he was Minister to Russia. He was a wealthy planter and had fame as an orator.
Page 4and that South Carolina is hastening into a Convention, perhaps to secession. Mr. Chesnut is probably to be President of the Convention. I see all of the leaders in the State are in favor of secession. But I confess I hope the black Republicans will take the alarm and submit some treaty of peace that will enable us now and forever to settle the question, and save our generation from the prostration of business and the decay of prosperity that must come both to the North and South from a disruption of the Union. However, I won’t speculate. Before this reaches you, South Carolina may be off on her own hook – a separate republic.”
December 21st. – Mrs. Charles Lowndes was sitting with us to-day, when Mrs. Kirkland brought in a copy of the Secession Ordinance. I wonder if my face grew as white as hers. She said after a moment: “God help us. As our day, so shall our strength be.” How grateful we were for this pious ejaculation of hers! They say I had better take my last look at this beautiful place, Combahee. It is on the coast, open to gunboats.
We mean business this time, because of this convocation of the notables, this convention.1 In it are all our wisest and best. They really have tried to send the ablest men, the good men and true.) South Carolina was never more splendidly represented. Patriotism aside, it makes society delightful. One need not regret having left Washington.
December 27th. – Mrs. Gidiere came in quietly from her marketing to-day, and in her neat, incisive manner exploded this bombshell:. “Major Anderson 2 has moved into
1. The Convention, which on December 20, 1860, passed the famous Ordinance of Secession, and had first met in Columbia, the State capital.
2. Robert Anderson, Major of the First Artillery, United States Army, who, on November 20, 1860, was placed in command of the troops in Charleston harbor. On the night of December 26th, fearing an attack, he had moved his command to Fort Sumter. Anderson was a graduate of West Point and a veteran of the Black Hawk, Florida, and Mexican Wars.
THE OLD BAPTIST CHURCH IN COLUMBIA, S.C.
Here First Met the South Carolina Secession Convention.
Page 5Fort Sumter, while Governor Pickens slept serenely.” The row is fast and furious now. State after State is taking its forts and fortresses. They say if we had been left out in the cold alone, we might have sulked a while, but back we would have had to go, and would merely have fretted and fumed and quarreled among ourselves. We needed a little wholesome neglect. Anderson has blocked that game, but now our sister States have joined us, and we are strong. I give the condensed essence of the table-talk: “Anderson has united the cotton States. Now for Virginia!” “Anderson has opened the ball.” Those who want a row are in high glee. Those who dread it are glum and thoughtful enough.
A letter from Susan Rutledge: “Captain Humphrey folded the United States Army flag just before dinnertime. Ours was run up in its place. You know the Arsenal is in sight. What is the next move? I pray God to guide us. We stand in need of wise counsel; something more than courage. The talk is: ‘Fort Sumter must be taken; and it is one of the strongest forts.’ How in the name of sense are they to manage? I shudder to think of rash moves.”
II. MONTGOMERY, ALA.
February 19, 1861 – March 11, 1861
MONTGOMERY, Ala., February 19, 1861. – The brand-new Confederacy is making or remodeling its Constitution. Everybody wants Mr. Davis to be General-in-Chief or President. Keitt and Boyce and a party preferred Howell Cobb 1 for President. And the fire-eaters per se wanted Barnwell Rhett.
My brother Stephen brought the officers of the “Montgomery Blues” to dinner. “Very soiled Blues,” they said, apologizing for their rough condition. Poor fellows! they had been a month before Fort Pickens and not allowed to attack it. They said Colonel Chase built it, and so were sure it was impregnable. Colonel Lomax telegraphed to Governor Moore 2 if he might try to take it, “Chase or no Chase,” and got for his answer, “No.” “And now,” say the Blues, “we have worked like niggers, and when the fun and fighting begin, they send us home and put regulars
1. A native of Georgia, Howell Cobb had long served in Congress, and in 1849 was elected Speaker. In 1851 he was elected Governor of Georgia, and in 1857 became Secretary of the Treasury in Buchanan’s Administration. In 1861 he was a delegate from Georgia to the Provisional Congress which adopted the Constitution of the Confederacy, and presided over each of its four sessions.
2. Andrew Bary Moore, elected Governor of Alabama in 1859. In 1861, before Alabama seceded, he directed the seizure of United States forts and arsenals and was active afterward in the equipment of State troops.
I am despondent once more. If I thought them in earnest because at first they put their best in front, what now? We have to meet tremendous odds by pluck, activity, zeal, dash, endurance of the toughest, military instinct. We have had to choose born leaders of men who could attract love and secure trust. Everywhere political intrigue is as rife as in Washington.
Cecil’s saying of Sir Walter Raleigh that he could “toil terribly” was an electric touch. Above all, let the men who are to save South Carolina be young and vigorous. While I was reflecting on what kind of men we ought to choose, I fell on Clarendon, and it was easy to construct my man out of his portraits. What has been may be again, so the men need not be purely ideal types.
Mr. Toombs 1 told us a story of General Scott and himself. He said he was dining in Washington with Scott, who seasoned every dish and every glass of wine with the eternal refrain, “Save the Union; the Union must be preserved.” Toombs remarked that he knew why the Union was so dear to the General, and illustrated his point by a steamboat anecdote, an explosion, of course. While the passengers were struggling in the water a woman ran up and down the bank crying, “Oh, save the red-headed
1. Robert Toombs, a native of Georgia, who early acquired fame as a lawyer, served in the Creek War under General Scott, became known in 1842 as a “State Rights Whig,” being elected to Congress, where he was active in the Compromise measures of 1850. He served in the United States Senate from 1853 to 1861, where he was a pronounced advocate of the sovereignty of States, the extension of slavery, and secession. He was a member of the Confederate Congress at its first session and, by a single vote, failed of election as President of the Confederacy. After the war, he was conspicuous for his hostility to the Union.
Page 8man!” The red-headed man was saved, and his preserver, after landing him noticed with surprise how little interest in him the woman who had made such moving appeals seemed to feel. He asked her “Why did you make that pathetic outcry?” She answered, “Oh, he owes me ten thousand dollars.” “Now General,” said Toombs, “the Union owes you seventeen thousand dollars a year!” I can imagine the scorn on old Scott’s face.
February 25th – Find every one working very hard here. As I dozed on the sofa last night, could hear the scratch, scratch of my husband’s pen as he wrote at the table until midnight.
After church to-day, Captain Ingraham called. He left me so uncomfortable. He dared to express regrets that he had to leave the United States Navy. Ha had been stationed in the Mediterranean, where he liked to be , and expected to be these two years, and to take those lovely daughters of his to Florence. Then came Abraham Lincoln, and rampant black Republicanism, and he must lay down his life for South Carolina. He, however, does not make any moan. He says we lack everything necessary in naval gear to retake Fort Sumter. Of course, he only expects the navy to take it. He is a fish out of water here. He is one of the finest sea-captains; so I suppose they will soon give him a ship and send him back to his own element.
At dinner Judge – was loudly abusive of Congress. He said: “They have trampled the Constitution underfoot. They have provided President Davis with a house.” He was disgusted with the folly of parading the President at the inauguration in a coach drawn by four white horses. Then some one said Mrs. Fitzpatrick was the only lady who sat with the Congress. After the inaugural she poked Jeff Davis in the back with her parasol that he might turn and speak to her. “I am sure that was democratic enough,” said some one.
Governor Moore came in with the latest news – a telegram
Page 9from Governor Pickens to the President, ” that a war steamer is lying off the Charleston bar laden with reenforcements for Fort Sumter, and what must we do?” Answer: “Use your own discretion!” There is faith for you, after all is said and done. It is believed there is still some discretion left in South Carolina fit for use.
Everybody who comes here wants an office, and the many who, of course, are disappointed raise a cry of corruption against the few who are successful. I thought we had left all that in Washington. Nobody is willing to be out of sight, and all will take office.
“Constitution” Browne says he is going to Washington for twenty-four hours. I mean to send by him to Mary Garnett for a bonnet ribbon. If they take him up as a traitor, he may cause a civil war. War is now our dread. Mr. Chesnut told him not to make himself a bone of contention.
Everybody means to go into the army. If Sumter is attacked, then Jeff Davis’s troubles will begin. The Judge says a military despotism would be best for us – anything to prevent a triumph of the Yankees. All right, but every man objects to any despot but himself.
Mr. Chesnut, in high spirits, dines to-day with the Louisiana delegation. Breakfasted with “Constitution” Browne, who is appointed Assistant Secretary of State, and so does not go to Washington. There was at table the man who advertised for a wife, with the wife so obtained. She was not pretty. We dine at Mr. Pollard’s and go to a ball afterward at Judge Bibb’s. The New York Herald says Lincoln stood before Washington’s picture at his inauguration, which was taken by the country as a good sign. We are always frantic for a good sign. Let us pray that a Cæsar or a Napoleon may be sent us. That would be our best sign of success. But they still say, “No war.” Peace let it be, kind Heaven!
Dr. De Leon called, fresh from Washington, and says
Page 10General Scott is using all his power and influence to prevent officers from the South resigning their commissions, among other things promising that they shall never be sent against us in case of war. Captain Ingraham, in his short, curt way, said: “That will never do. If they take their government’s pay they must do its fighting.”
A brilliant dinner at the Pollards’s. Mr. Barnwell 1 took me down. Came home and found the Judge and Governor Moore waiting to go with me to the Bibbs’s. And they say it is dull in Montgomery! Clayton, fresh from Washington, was at the party and told us “there was to be peace.”
February 28th. – In the drawing-room a literary lady began a violent attack upon this mischief-making South Carolina. She told me she was a successful writer in the magazines of the day, but when I found she used “incredible” for “incredulous,” I said not a word in defense of my native land. I left her “incredible.” Another person came in, while she was pouring upon me her home troubles, and asked if she did not know I was a Carolinian. Then she gracefully reversed her engine, and took the other tack, sounding our praise, but I left her incredible and I remained incredulous, too.
Brewster says the war specks are growing in size. Nobody at the North, or in Virginia, believes we are in earnest. They think we are sulking and that Jeff Davis and Stephens 2 are getting up a very pretty little comedy. The
1. Robert Woodward Barnwell, of South Carolina, a graduate of Harvard, twice a member of Congress and afterward United States Senator. In 1860, after the passage of the Ordinance of Secession, he was one of the Commissioners who went to Washington to treat with the National Government for its property within the State. He was a member of the Convention at Montgomery and gave the casting vote which made Jefferson Davis President of the Confederacy.
2. Alexander H. Stephens, the eminent statesman of Georgia, who before the war had been conspicuous in all the political movements of his time and in 1861 became Vice-President of the Confederacy. After the war he again became conspicuous in Congress and wrote a history entitled “The War between the States.”
The Judge thought Jefferson Davis rude to him when the latter was Secretary of War. Mr. Chesnut persuaded the Judge to forego his private wrong for the public good, and so he voted for him, but now his old grudge has come back with an increased venomousness. What a pity to bring the spites of the old Union into this new one! It seems to me already men are willing to risk an injury to our cause, if they may in so doing hurt Jeff Davis.
March 1st.-Dined to-day with Mr. Hill 1 from Georgia, and his wife. After he left us she told me he was the celebrated individual who, for Christian scruples, refused to fight a duel with Stephens.2 She seemed very proud of him for his conduct in the affair. Ignoramus that I am, I had not heard of it. I am having all kinds of experiences. Drove to-day with a lady who fervently wished her husband would go down to Pensacola and be shot. I was dumb with amazement, of course. Telling my story to one who knew the parties, was informed, “Don’t you know he beats her?” So I have seen a man “who lifts his hand against a woman in aught save kindness.”
1. Benjamin H. Hill, who had already been active in State and National affairs when the Secession movement was carried through. He had been an earnest advocate of the Union until in Georgia the resolution was passed declaring that the State ought to secede. He then became a prominent supporter of secession. He was a member of the Confederate Congress, which met in Montgomery in 1861, and served in the Confederate Senate until the end of the war. After the war, he was elected to Congress and opposed the Reconstruction policy of that body. In 1877 he was elected United States Senator from Georgia.
2. Governor Herschel V. Johnson also declined, and doubtless for similar reasons, to accept a challenge from Alexander H. Stephens, who, though endowed with the courage of a gladiator, was very small and frail.
Page 12 Brewster says Lincoln passed through Baltimore disguised, and at night, and that he did well, for just now Baltimore is dangerous ground. He says that he hears from all quarters that the vulgarity of Lincoln, his wife, and his son is beyond credence, a thing you must see before you can believe it. Senator Stephen A. Douglas told Mr. Chesnut that “Lincoln is awfully clever, and that he had found him a heavy handful.”
Went to pay my respects to Mrs. Jefferson Davis. She met me with open arms. We did not allude to anything by which we are surrounded. We eschewed politics and our changed relations.
March 3d. – Everybody in fine spirits in my world. They have one and all spoken in the Congress 1 to their own perfect satisfaction. To my amazement the Judge took me aside, and, after delivering a panegyric upon himself (but here, later, comes in the amazement), he praised my husband to the skies, and said he was the fittest man of all for a foreign mission. Aye; and the farther away they send us from this Congress the better I will like it.
Saw Jere Clemens and Nick Davis, social curiosities. They are Anti-Secession leaders; then George Sanders and George Deas. The Georges are of opinion that it is folly to try to take back Fort Sumter from Anderson and the United States; that is, before we are ready. They saw in Charleston the devoted band prepared for the sacrifice; I mean, ready to run their heads against a stone wall. Dare devils they are. They have dash and courage enough, but science only could take that fort. They shook their heads.
March 4th. – The Washington Congress has passed peace
1. It was at this Congress that Jefferson Davis, on February 9, 1861, was elected President, and Alexander H. Stephens Vice-President of the Confederacy. The Congress continued to meet in Montgomery until its removal to Richmond, in July, 1861.
At last, according to his wish, I was able to introduce Mr. Hill, of Georgia, to Mr. Mallory,1 and also Governor Moore and Brewster, the latter the only man without a title of some sort that I know in this democratic subdivided republic.
I have seen a negro woman sold on the block at auction. She overtopped the crowd. I was walking and felt faint, seasick. The creature looked so like my good little Nancy, a bright mulatto with a pleasant face. She was magnificently gotten up in silks and satins. She seemed delighted with it all, sometimes ogling the bidders, sometimes looking quiet, coy, and modest, but her mouth never relaxed from its expanded grin of excitement. I dare say the poor thing knew who would buy her. I sat down on a stool in a shop and disciplined my wild thoughts. I tried it Sterne fashion. You know how women sell themselves and are sold in marriage from queens downward, eh? You know what the Bible says about slavery and marriage; poor women! poor slaves! Sterne, with his starling – what did he know? He only thought, he did not feel.
In Evan Harrington I read: “Like a true English female, she believed in her own inflexible virtue, but never trusted her husband out of sight.”
The New York Herald says: “Lincoln’s carriage is not bomb-proof; so he does not drive out.” Two flags and a bundle of sticks have been sent him as gentle reminders. The sticks are to break our heads with. The English are gushingly unhappy as to our family quarrel. Magnanimous of them, for it is their opportunity.
1. Stephen R. Mallory was the son of a shipmaster of Connecticut, who had settled in Key West in 1820. From 1851 to 1861 Mr. Mallory was United States Senator from Florida, and after the formation of the Confederacy, became its Secretary of the Navy.
Page 14 March 5th. – We stood on the balcony to see our Confederate flag go up. Roars of cannon, etc., etc. Miss Sanders complained (so said Captain Ingraham) of the deadness of the mob. “It was utterly spiritless,” she said; “no cheering, or so little, and no enthusiasm.” Captain Ingraham suggested that gentlemen “are apt to be quiet,” and this was “a thoughtful crowd, the true mob element with us just -now is hoeing corn.” And yet! It is uncomfortable that the idea has gone abroad that we have no joy, no pride, in this thing. The band was playing “Massa in the cold, cold ground.” Miss Tyler, daughter of the former President of the United States, ran up the flag.
Captain Ingraham pulled out of his pocket some verses sent to him by a Boston girl. They were well rhymed and amounted to this: she held a rope ready to hang him, though she shed tears when she remembered his heroic rescue of Koszta. Koszta, the rebel! She calls us rebels, too. So it depends upon whom one rebels against – whether to save or not shall be heroic.
I must read Lincoln’s inaugural. Oh, “comes he in peace, or comes he in war, or to tread but one measure as Young Lochinvar?” Lincoln’s aim is to seduce the border States.
The people, the natives, I mean, are astounded that I calmly affirm, in all truth and candor, that if there were awful things in society in Washington, I did not see or hear of them. One must have been hard to please who did not like the people I knew in Washington.
Mr. Chesnut has gone with a list of names to the President – de Treville, Kershaw, Baker, and Robert Rutledge. They are taking a walk, I see. I hope there will be good places in the army for our list.
March 8th. – Judge Campbell, 1 of the United States
1. John Archibald Campbell, who had settled in Montgomery and was appointed Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court by President Pierce in 1853. Before he resigned, he exerted all his influence to prevent Civil War and opposed secession, although he believed that States had a right to secede.
Now we may be sure the bridge is broken. And yet in the Alabama Convention they say Reconstructionists abound and are busy.
Met a distinguished gentleman that I knew when he was in more affluent circumstances. I was willing enough to speak to him, but when he saw me advancing for that purpose, to avoid me, he suddenly dodged around a corner – William, Mrs. de Saussure’s former coachman. I remember him on his box, driving a handsome pair of bays, dressed sumptuously in blue broadcloth and brass buttons; a stout, respectable, fine-looking, middle-aged mulatto. He was very high and mighty.
Night after night we used to meet him as fiddler-in-chief of all our parties. He sat in solemn dignity, making faces over his bow, and patting his foot with an emphasis that shook the floor. We gave him five dollars a night; that was his price. His mistress never refused to let him play for any party. He had stable-boys in abundance. He was far above any physical fear for his sleek and well-fed person. How majestically he scraped his foot as a sign that he was tuned up and ready to begin!
Now he is a shabby creature indeed. He must have felt his fallen fortunes when he met me – one who knew him in his prosperity. He ran away, this stately yellow gentleman, from wife and children, home and comfort. My Molly asked him “Why? Miss Liza was good to you, I know.” I wonder who owns him now; he looked forlorn.
Governor Moore brought in, to be presented to me, the President of the Alabama Convention. It seems I had
Page 16known him before he had danced with me at a dancing-school ball when I was in short frocks, with sash, flounces, and a wreath of roses. He was one of those clever boys of our neighborhood, in whom my father 1 saw promise of better things, and so helped him in every way to rise, with books, counsel, sympathy. I was enjoying his conversation immensely, for he was praising my father I without stint, when the Judge came in, breathing fire and fury. Congress has incurred his displeasure. We are abusing one another as fiercely as ever we have abased Yankees. It is disheartening.
March 10th. – Mrs. Childs was here to-night (Mary Anderson, from Statesburg), with several children. She is lovely. Her hair is piled up on the top of her head oddly. Fashions from France still creep into Texas across Mexican borders. Mrs. Childs is fresh from Texas. Her husband is an artillery officer, or was. They will be glad to promote him here. Mrs. Childs had the sweetest Southern voice, absolute music. But then, she has all of the high spirit of those sweet-voiced Carolina women, too.
Then Mr. Browne came in with his fine English accent, so pleasant to the ear. He tells us that Washington society is not reconciled to the Yankee régime. Mrs. Lincoln means to economize. She at once informed the majordomo that they were poor and hoped to save twelve thousand dollars every year from their salary of twenty thousand. Mr. Browne said Mr. Buchanan’s farewell was far more imposing than Lincoln’s inauguration.
The people were so amusing, so full of Western stories.
1. Mrs. Chesnut’s father was Stephen Decatur Miller, who was born in South Carolina in 1787, and died in Mississippi in 1838. He was elected to Congress in 1816, as an Anti-Calhoun Democrat, and from 1828 to 1830 was Governor of South Carolina. He favored Nullification, and in 1830 was elected United States Senator from South Carolina, but resigned three years afterward in consequence of ill health. In 1835 he removed to Mississippi and engaged in cotton growing.
Page 17Dr. Boykin behaved strangely. All day he had been gaily driving about with us, and never was man in finer spirits. To-night, in this brilliant company, he sat dead still as if in a trance. Once, he waked somewhat – when a high public functionary came in with a present for me, a miniature gondola, “A perfect Venetian specimen,” he assured me again and again. In an undertone Dr. Boykin muttered: “That fellow has been drinking.” “Why do you think so?” “Because he has told you exactly the same thing four times.” Wonderful! Some of these great statesmen always tell me the same thing – and have been telling me the same thing ever since we came here.
A man came in and some one said in an undertone, “The age of chivalry is not past, O ye Americans!” “What do you mean?” “That man was once nominated by President Buchanan for a foreign mission, but some Senator stood up and read a paper printed by this man abusive of a woman, and signed by his name in full. After that the Senate would have none of him; his chance was gone forever.”
March 11th. – In full conclave to-night, the drawing-room crowded with Judges, Governors, Senators, Generals, Congressmen. They were exalting John C. Calhoun’s hospitality. He allowed everybody to stay all night who chose to stop at his house. An ill-mannered person, on one occasion, refused to attend family prayers. Mr. Calhoun said to the servant, “Saddle that man’s horse and let him go.” From the traveler Calhoun would take no excuse for the “Deity offended.” I believe in Mr. Calhoun’s hospitality, but not in his family prayers. Mr. Calhoun’s piety was of the most philosophical type, from all accounts. 1
The latest news is counted good news; that is, the last man who left Washington tells us that Seward is in the ascendancy. He is thought to be the friend of peace.
1. John C. Calhoun had died in March, 1850.
Harriet Lane has eleven suitors. One is described as likely to win, or he would be likely to win, except that he is too heavily weighted. He has been married before and goes about with children and two mothers. There are limits beyond which! Two mothers-in-law!
Mr. Ledyard spoke to Mrs. Lincoln in behalf of a doorkeeper who almost felt he had a vested right, having been there since Jackson’s time; but met with the same answer; she had brought her own girl and must economize. Mr. Ledyard thought the twenty thousand (and little enough it is) was given to the President of these United States to enable him to live in proper style, and to maintain an establishment of such dignity as befits the head of a great nation. It is an infamy to economize with the public money and to put it into one’s private purse. Mrs. Browne was walking with me when we were airing our indignation against Mrs. Lincoln and her shabby economy. The Herald says three only of the élite Washington families attended the Inauguration Ball.
The Judge has just come in and said: “Last night, after Dr. Boykin left on the cars, there came a telegram that his little daughter, Amanda, had died suddenly.” In some way he must have known it beforehand. He changed so suddenly yesterday, and seemed so careworn and unhappy. He believes in clairvoyance, magnetism, and all that. Certainly, there was some terrible foreboding of this kind on his part.
Tuesday. – Now this, they say, is positive: “Fort Sumter is to be released and we are to have no war.” After all, far too good to be true. Mr. Browne told us that, at one of the peace intervals (I mean intervals in the interest of peace), Lincoln flew through Baltimore, locked up in an express car. He wore a Scotch cap.
We went to the Congress. Governor Cobb, who presides
Page 19over that august body, put James Chesnut in the chair, and came down to talk to us. He told us why the pay of Congressmen was fixed in secret session, and why the amount of it was never divulged – to prevent the lodginghouse and hotel people from making their bills of a size to cover it all. “The bill would be sure to correspond with the pay,” he said.
In the hotel parlor we had a scene. Mrs. Scott was describing Lincoln, who is of the cleverest Yankee type. She said: “Awfully ugly, even grotesque in appearance, the kind who are always at the corner stores, sitting on boxes, whittling sticks, and telling stories as funny as they are vulgar.” Here I interposed: “But Stephen A. Douglas said one day to Mr. Chesnut, ‘Lincoln is the hardest fellow to handle I have ever encountered yet.’ ” Mr. Scott is from California, and said Lincoln is “an utter American specimen, coarse, rouge, and strong; a good-natured, kind creature; as pleasant-tempered as he is clever, and if this country can be joked and laughed out of its rights he is the kind-hearted fellow to do it. Now if there is a war and it pinches the Yankee pocket instead of filling it – ”
Here a shrill voice came from the next room (which opened upon the one we were in by folding doors thrown wide open) and said: ‘Yankees are no more mean and stingy than you are. People at the North are just as good as people at the South.’ The speaker advanced upon us in great wrath.
Mrs. Scott apologized and made some smooth, polite remark, though evidently much embarrassed. But the vinegar face and curly pate refused to receive any concessions, and replied: ‘That comes with a very bad grace after what you were saying,’ and she harangued us loudly for several minutes. Some one in the other room giggled outright, but we were quiet as mice. Nobody wanted to hurt her feelings. She was one against so many. If I were at the
North, I should expect them to belabor us, and should hold my tongue. We separated North from South because of incompatibility of temper. We are divorced because we have hated each other so. If we could only separate, a ‘separation à l’agréable,’ as the French say it, and not have a horrid fight for divorce.
The poor exile had already been insulted, she said. She was playing ‘Yankee Doodle’ on the piano before breakfast to soothe her wounded spirit, and the Judge came in and calmly requested her to ‘leave out the Yankee while she played the Doodle.’ The Yankee end of it did not suit our climate, he said; was totally out of place and had got out of its latitude.
A man said aloud: ‘This war talk is nothing. It will soon blow over. Only a fuss gotten up by that Charleston clique.’ Mr. Toombs asked him to show his passports, for a man who uses such language is a suspicious character.” Mary Boykin Chestnut, letters from a Diary From Dixie; Introduction, Numbers I & II, 1861
Numero Tres—“I begin with two words that all men have uttered since the dawn of humanity: thank you. The word gratitude has equivalents in every language and in each tongue the range of meanings is abundant. In the Romance languages this breadth spans the spiritual and the physical, from the divine grace conceded to men to save them from error and death, to the bodily grace of the dancing girl or the feline leaping through the undergrowth. Grace means pardon, forgiveness, favour, benefice, inspiration; it is a form of address, a pleasing style of speaking or painting, a gesture expressing politeness, and, in short, an act that reveals spiritual goodness. Grace is gratuitous; it is a gift. The person who receives it, the favoured one, is grateful for it; if he is not base, he expresses gratitude. That is what I am doing at this very moment with these weightless words. I hope my emotion compensates their weightlessness. If each of my words were a drop of water, you would see through them and glimpse what I feel: gratitude, acknowledgement. And also an indefinable mixture of fear, respect and surprise at finding myself here before you, in this place which is the home of both Swedish learning and world literature.
Languages are vast realities that transcend those political and historical entities we call nations. The European languages we speak in the Americas illustrate this. The special position of our literatures when compared to those of England, Spain, Portugal and France depends precisely on this fundamental fact: they are literatures written in transplanted tongues. Languages are born and grow from the native soil, nourished by a common history. The European languages were rooted out from their native soil and their own tradition, and then planted in an unknown and unnamed world: they took root in the new lands and, as they grew within the societies of America, they were transformed. They are the same plant yet also a different plant. Our literatures did not passively accept the changing fortunes of the transplanted languages: they participated in the process and even accelerated it. They very soon ceased to be mere transatlantic reflections: at times they have been the negation of the literatures of Europe; more often, they have been a reply.
In spite of these oscillations the link has never been broken. My classics are those of my language and I consider myself to be a descendant of Lope and Quevedo, as any Spanish writer would … yet I am not a Spaniard. I think that most writers of Spanish America, as well as those from the United States, Brazil and Canada, would say the same as regards the English, Portuguese and French traditions. To understand more clearly the special position of writers in the Americas, we should think of the dialogue maintained by Japanese, Chinese or Arabic writers with the different literatures of Europe. It is a dialogue that cuts across multiple languages and civilizations. Our dialogue, on the other hand, takes place within the same language. We are Europeans yet we are not Europeans. What are we then? It is difficult to define what we are, but our works speak for us.
In the field of literature, the great novelty of the present century has been the appearance of the American literatures. The first to appear was that of the English-speaking part and then, in the second half of the 20th Century, that of Latin America in its two great branches: Spanish America and Brazil. Although they are very different, these three literatures have one common feature: the conflict, which is more ideological than literary, between the cosmopolitan and nativist tendencies, between Europeanism and Americanism. What is the legacy of this dispute? The polemics have disappeared; what remain are the works. Apart from this general resemblance, the differences between the three literatures are multiple and profound. One of them belongs more to history than to literature: the development of Anglo-American literature coincides with the rise of the United States as a world power whereas the rise of our literature coincides with the political and social misfortunes and upheavals of our nations. This proves once more the limitations of social and historical determinism: the decline of empires and social disturbances sometimes coincide with moments of artistic and literary splendour. Li-Po and Tu Fu witnessed the fall of the Tang dynasty; Velázquez painted for Felipe IV; Seneca and Lucan were contemporaries and also victims of Nero. Other differences are of a literary nature and apply more to particular works than to the character of each literature. But can we say that literatures have a character? Do they possess a set of shared features that distinguish them from other literatures? I doubt it. A literature is not defined by some fanciful, intangible character; it is a society of unique works united by relations of opposition and affinity.
The first basic difference between Latin-American and Anglo-American literature lies in the diversity of their origins. Both begin as projections of Europe. The projection of an island in the case of North America; that of a peninsula in our case. Two regions that are geographically, historically and culturally eccentric. The origins of North America are in England and the Reformation; ours are in Spain, Portugal and the Counter-Reformation. For the case of Spanish America I should briefly mention what distinguishes Spain from other European countries, giving it a particularly original historical identity. Spain is no less eccentric than England but its eccentricity is of a different kind. The eccentricity of the English is insular and is characterized by isolation: an eccentricity that excludes. Hispanic eccentricity is peninsular and consists of the coexistence of different civilizations and different pasts: an inclusive eccentricity. In what would later be Catholic Spain, the Visigoths professed the heresy of Arianism, and we could also speak about the centuries of domination by Arabic civilization, the influence of Jewish thought, the Reconquest, and other characteristic features.
Hispanic eccentricity is reproduced and multiplied in America, especially in those countries such as Mexico and Peru, where ancient and splendid civilizations had existed. In Mexico, the Spaniards encountered history as well as geography. That history is still alive: it is a present rather than a past. The temples and gods of pre-Columbian Mexico are a pile of ruins, but the spirit that breathed life into that world has not disappeared; it speaks to us in the hermetic language of myth, legend, forms of social coexistence, popular art, customs. Being a Mexican writer means listening to the voice of that present, that presence. Listening to it, speaking with it, deciphering it: expressing it … After this brief digression we may be able to perceive the peculiar relation that simultaneously binds us to and separates us from the European tradition.
This consciousness of being separate is a constant feature of our spiritual history. Separation is sometimes experienced as a wound that marks an internal division, an anguished awareness that invites self-examination; at other times it appears as a challenge, a spur that incites us to action, to go forth and encounter others and the outside world. It is true that the feeling of separation is universal and not peculiar to Spanish Americans. It is born at the very moment of our birth: as we are wrenched from the Whole we fall into an alien land. This experience becomes a wound that never heals. It is the unfathomable depth of every man; all our ventures and exploits, all our acts and dreams, are bridges designed to overcome the separation and reunite us with the world and our fellow-beings. Each man’s life and the collective history of mankind can thus be seen as attempts to reconstruct the original situation. An unfinished and endless cure for our divided condition. But it is not my intention to provide yet another description of this feeling. I am simply stressing the fact that for us this existential condition expresses itself in historical terms. It thus becomes an awareness of our history. How and when does this feeling appear and how is it transformed into consciousness? The reply to this double-edged question can be given in the form of a theory or a personal testimony. I prefer the latter: there are many theories and none is entirely convincing.
The feeling of separation is bound up with the oldest and vaguest of my memories: the first cry, the first scare. Like every child I built emotional bridges in the imagination to link me to the world and to other people. I lived in a town on the outskirts of Mexico City, in an old dilapidated house that had a jungle-like garden and a great room full of books. First games and first lessons. The garden soon became the centre of my world; the library, an enchanted cave. I used to read and play with my cousins and schoolmates. There was a fig tree, temple of vegetation, four pine trees, three ash trees, a nightshade, a pomegranate tree, wild grass and prickly plants that produced purple grazes. Adobe walls. Time was elastic; space was a spinning wheel. All time, past or future, real or imaginary, was pure presence. Space transformed itself ceaselessly. The beyond was here, all was here: a valley, a mountain, a distant country, the neighbours’ patio. Books with pictures, especially history books, eagerly leafed through, supplied images of deserts and jungles, palaces and hovels, warriors and princesses, beggars and kings. We were shipwrecked with Sinbad and with Robinson, we fought with d’Artagnan, we took Valencia with the Cid. How I would have liked to stay forever on the Isle of Calypso! In summer the green branches of the fig tree would sway like the sails of a caravel or a pirate ship. High up on the mast, swept by the wind, I could make out islands and continents, lands that vanished as soon as they became tangible. The world was limitless yet it was always within reach; time was a pliable substance that weaved an unbroken present.
When was the spell broken? Gradually rather than suddenly. It is hard to accept being betrayed by a friend, deceived by the woman we love, or that the idea of freedom is the mask of a tyrant. What we call “finding out” is a slow and tricky process because we ourselves are the accomplices of our errors and deceptions. Nevertheless, I can remember fairly clearly an incident that was the first sign, although it was quickly forgotten. I must have been about six when one of my cousins who was a little older showed me a North American magazine with a photograph of soldiers marching along a huge avenue, probably in New York. “They’ve returned from the war” she said. This handful of words disturbed me, as if they foreshadowed the end of the world or the Second Coming of Christ. I vaguely knew that somewhere far away a war had ended a few years earlier and that the soldiers were marching to celebrate their victory. For me, that war had taken place in another time, not here and now. The photo refuted me. I felt literally dislodged from the present.
From that moment time began to fracture more and more. And there was a plurality of spaces. The experience repeated itself more and more frequently. Any piece of news, a harmless phrase, the headline in a newspaper: everything proved the outside world’s existence and my own unreality. I felt that the world was splitting and that I did not inhabit the present. My present was disintegrating: real time was somewhere else. My time, the time of the garden, the fig tree, the games with friends, the drowsiness among the plants at three in the afternoon under the sun, a fig torn open (black and red like a live coal but one that is sweet and fresh): this was a fictitious time. In spite of what my senses told me, the time from over there, belonging to the others, was the real one, the time of the real present. I accepted the inevitable: I became an adult. That was how my expulsion from the present began.
It may seem paradoxical to say that we have been expelled from the present, but it is a feeling we have all had at some moment. Some of us experienced it first as a condemnation, later transformed into consciousness and action. The search for the present is neither the pursuit of an earthly paradise nor that of a timeless eternity: it is the search for a real reality. For us, as Spanish Americans, the real present was not in our own countries: it was the time lived by others, by the English, the French and the Germans. It was the time of New York, Paris, London. We had to go and look for it and bring it back home. These years were also the years of my discovery of literature. I began writing poems. I did not know what made me write them: I was moved by an inner need that is difficult to define. Only now have I understood that there was a secret relationship between what I have called my expulsion from the present and the writing of poetry. Poetry is in love with the instant and seeks to relive it in the poem, thus separating it from sequential time and turning it into a fixed present. But at that time I wrote without wondering why I was doing it. I was searching for the gateway to the present: I wanted to belong to my time and to my century. A little later this obsession became a fixed idea: I wanted to be a modern poet. My search for modernity had begun.
What is modernity? First of all it is an ambiguous term: there are as many types of modernity as there are societies. Each has its own. The word’s meaning is uncertain and arbitrary, like the name of the period that precedes it, the Middle Ages. If we are modern when compared to medieval times, are we perhaps the Middle Ages of a future modernity? Is a name that changes with time a real name? Modernity is a word in search of its meaning. Is it an idea, a mirage or a moment of history? Are we the children of modernity or its creators? Nobody knows for sure. It doesn’t matter much: we follow it, we pursue it. For me at that time modernity was fused with the present or rather produced it: the present was its last supreme flower. My case is neither unique nor exceptional: from the Symbolist period, all modern poets have chased after that magnetic and elusive figure that fascinates them. Baudelaire was the first. He was also the first to touch her and discover that she is nothing but time that crumbles in one’s hands. I am not going to relate my adventures in pursuit of modernity: they are not very different from those of other 20th-Century poets. Modernity has been a universal passion. Since 1850 she has been our goddess and our demoness. In recent years, there has been an attempt to exorcise her and there has been much talk of “postmodernism”. But what is postmodernism if not an even more modern modernity?
For us, as Latin Americans, the search for poetic modernity runs historically parallel to the repeated attempts to modernize our countries. This tendency begins at the end of the 18th Century and includes Spain herself. The United States was born into modernity and by 1830 was already, as de Tocqueville observed, the womb of the future; we were born at a moment when Spain and Portugal were moving away from modernity. This is why there was frequent talk of “Europeanizing” our countries: the modern was outside and had to be imported. In Mexican history this process begins just before the War of Independence. Later it became a great ideological and political debate that passionately divided Mexican society during the 19th Century. One event was to call into question not the legitimacy of the reform movement but the way in which it had been implemented: the Mexican Revolution. Unlike its 20th-Century counterparts, the Mexican Revolution was not really the expression of a vaguely utopian ideology but rather the explosion of a reality that had been historically and psychologically repressed. It was not the work of a group of ideologists intent on introducing principles derived from a political theory; it was a popular uprising that unmasked what was hidden.
For this very reason it was more of a revelation than a revolution. Mexico was searching for the present outside only to find it within, buried but alive. The search for modernity led us to discover our antiquity, the hidden face of the nation. I am not sure whether this unexpected historical lesson has been learnt by all: between tradition and modernity there is a bridge. When they are mutually isolated, tradition stagnates and modernity vaporizes; when in conjunction, modernity breathes life into tradition, while the latter replies with depth and gravity.
The search for poetic modernity was a Quest, in the allegorical and chivalric sense this word had in the 12th Century. I did not find any Grail although I did cross several waste lands visiting castles of mirrors and camping among ghostly tribes. But I did discover the modern tradition. For modernity is not a poetic school but a lineage, a family dispersed over several continents and which for two centuries has survived many sudden changes and misfortunes: public indifference, isolation, and tribunals in the name of religious, political, academic and sexual orthodoxy. Because it is a tradition and not a doctrine, it has been able to persist and to change at the same time. This is also why it is so diverse: each poetic adventure is distinct and each poet has sown a different plant in the miraculous forest of speaking trees. Yet if the works are diverse and each route is distinct, what is it that unites all these poets? Not an aesthetic but a search. My search was not fanciful, even though the idea of modernity is a mirage, a bundle of reflections. One day I discovered I was going back to the starting point instead of advancing: the search for modernity was a descent to the origins. Modernity led me to the source of my beginning, to my antiquity. Separation had now become reconciliation. I thus found out that the poet is a pulse in the rhythmic flow of generations.
The idea of modernity is a by-product of our conception of history as a unique and linear process of succession. Although its origins are in Judaeo-Christianity, it breaks with Christian doctrine. In Christianity, the cyclical time of pagan cultures is supplanted by unrepeatable history, something that has a beginning and will have an end. Sequential time was the profane time of history, an arena for the actions of fallen men, yet still governed by a sacred time which had neither beginning nor end. After Judgement Day there will be no future either in heaven or in hell. In the realm of eternity there is no succession because everything is. Being triumphs over becoming. The now time, our concept of time, is linear like that of Christianity but open to infinity with no reference to Eternity. Ours is the time of profane history, an irreversible and perpetually unfinished time that marches towards the future and not towards its end. History’s sun is the future and Progress is the name of this movement towards the future.
Christians see the world, or what used to be called the siècle or worldly life, as a place of trial: souls can be either lost or saved in this world. In the new conception the historical subject is not the individual soul but the human race, sometimes viewed as a whole and sometimes through a chosen group that represents it: the developed nations of the West, the proletariat, the white race, or some other entity. The pagan and Christian philosophical tradition had exalted Being as changeless perfection overflowing with plenitude; we adore Change, the motor of progress and the model for our societies. Change articulates itself in two privileged ways: as evolution and as revolution. The trot and the leap. Modernity is the spearhead of historical movement, the incarnation of evolution or revolution, the two faces of progress. Finally, progress takes place thanks to the dual action of science and technology, applied to the realm of nature and to the use of her immense resources.
Modern man has defined himself as a historical being. Other societies chose to define themselves in terms of values and ideas different from change: the Greeks venerated the polis and the circle yet were unaware of progress; like all the Stoics, Seneca was much concerned about the eternal return; Saint Augustine believed that the end of the world was imminent; Saint Thomas constructed a scale of the degrees of being, linking the smallest creature to the Creator, and so on. One after the other these ideas and beliefs were abandoned. It seems to me that the same decline is beginning to affect our idea of Progress and, as a result, our vision of time, of history and of ourselves. We are witnessing the twilight of the future. The decline of the idea of modernity and the popularity of a notion as dubious as that of “postmodernism” are phenomena that affect not only literature and the arts: we are experiencing the crisis of the essential ideas and beliefs that have guided mankind for over two centuries. I have dealt with this matter at length elsewhere. Here I can only offer a brief summary.
In the first place, the concept of a process open to infinity and synonymous with endless progress has been called into question. I need hardly mention what everybody knows: natural resources are finite and will run out one day. In addition, we have inflicted what may be irreparable damage on the natural environment and our own species is endangered. Finally, science and technology, the instruments of progress, have shown with alarming clarity that they can easily become destructive forces. The existence of nuclear weapons is a refutation of the idea that progress is inherent in history. This refutation, I add, can only be called devastating.
In the second place, we have the fate of the historical subject, mankind, in the 20th Century. Seldom have nations or individuals suffered so much: two world wars, tyrannies spread over five continents, the atomic bomb and the proliferation of one of the cruellest and most lethal institutions known by man: the concentration camp. Modern technology has provided countless benefits, but it is impossible to close our eyes when confronted by slaughter, torture, humiliation, degradation, and other wrongs inflicted on millions of innocent people in our century.
In the third place, the belief in the necessity of progress has been shaken. For our grandparents and our parents, the ruins of history (corpses, desolate battlefields, devastated cities) did not invalidate the underlying goodness of the historical process. The scaffolds and tyrannies, the conflicts and savage civil wars were the price to be paid for progress, the blood money to be offered to the god of history. A god? Yes, reason itself deified and prodigal in cruel acts of cunning, according to Hegel. The alleged rationality of history has vanished. In the very domain of order, regularity and coherence (in pure sciences like physics) the old notions of accident and catastrophe have reappeared. This disturbing resurrection reminds me of the terrors that marked the advent of the millennium, and the anguish of the Aztecs at the end of each cosmic cycle.
The last element in this hasty enumeration is the collapse of all the philosophical and historical hypotheses that claimed to reveal the laws governing the course of history. The believers, confident that they held the keys to history, erected powerful states over pyramids of corpses. These arrogant constructions, destined in theory to liberate men, were very quickly transformed into gigantic prisons. Today we have seen them fall, overthrown not by their ideological enemies but by the impatience and the desire for freedom of the new generations. Is this the end of all Utopias? It is rather the end of the idea of history as a phenomenon, the outcome of which can be known in advance. Historical determinism has been a costly and bloodstained fantasy. History is unpredictable because its agent, mankind, is the personification of indeterminism.
This short review shows that we are very probably at the end of a historical period and at the beginning of another. The end of the Modern Age or just a mutation? It is difficult to tell. In any case, the collapse of Utopian schemes has left a great void, not in the countries where this ideology has proved to have failed but in those where many embraced it with enthusiasm and hope. For the first time in history mankind lives in a sort of spiritual wilderness and not, as before, in the shadow of those religious and political systems that consoled us at the same time as they oppressed us. Although all societies are historical, each one has lived under the guidance and inspiration of a set of metahistorical beliefs and ideas. Ours is the first age that is ready to live without a metahistorical doctrine; whether they be religious or philosophical, moral or aesthetic, our absolutes are not collective but private. It is a dangerous experience. It is also impossible to know whether the tensions and conflicts unleashed in this privatization of ideas, practices and beliefs that belonged traditionally to the public domain will not end up by destroying the social fabric. Men could then become possessed once more by ancient religious fury or by fanatical nationalism. It would be terrible if the fall of the abstract idol of ideology were to foreshadow the resurrection of the buried passions of tribes, sects and churches. The signs, unfortunately, are disturbing.
The decline of the ideologies I have called metahistorical, by which I mean those that assign to history a goal and a direction, implies first the tacit abandonment of global solutions. With good sense, we tend more and more towards limited remedies to solve concrete problems. It is prudent to abstain from legislating about the future. Yet the present requires much more than attention to its immediate needs: it demands a more rigorous global reflection. For a long time I have firmly believed that the twilight of the future heralds the advent of the now. To think about the now implies first of all to recover the critical vision. For example, the triumph of the market economy (a triumph due to the adversary’s default) cannot be simply a cause for joy. As a mechanism the market is efficient, but like all mechanisms it lacks both conscience and compassion. We must find a way of integrating it into society so that it expresses the social contract and becomes an instrument of justice and fairness. The advanced democratic societies have reached an enviable level of prosperity; at the same time they are islands of abundance in the ocean of universal misery. The topic of the market is intricately related to the deterioration of the environment. Pollution affects not only the air, the rivers and the forests but also our souls. A society possessed by the frantic need to produce more in order to consume more tends to reduce ideas, feelings, art, love, friendship and people themselves to consumer products. Everything becomes a thing to be bought, used and then thrown in the rubbish dump. No other society has produced so much waste as ours has. Material and moral waste.
Reflecting on the now does not imply relinquishing the future or forgetting the past: the present is the meeting place for the three directions of time. Neither can it be confused with facile hedonism. The tree of pleasure does not grow in the past or in the future but at this very moment. Yet death is also a fruit of the present. It cannot be rejected, for it is part of life. Living well implies dying well. We have to learn how to look death in the face. The present is alternatively luminous and sombre, like a sphere that unites the two halves of action and contemplation. Thus, just as we have had philosophies of the past and of the future, of eternity and of the void, tomorrow we shall have a philosophy of the present. The poetic experience could be one of its foundations. What do we know about the present? Nothing or almost nothing. Yet the poets do know one thing: the present is the source of presences.
In this pilgrimage in search of modernity I lost my way at many points only to find myself again. I returned to the source and discovered that modernity is not outside but within us. It is today and the most ancient antiquity; it is tomorrow and the beginning of the world; it is a thousand years old and yet newborn. It speaks in Nahuatl, draws Chinese ideograms from the 9th century, and appears on the television screen. This intact present, recently unearthed, shakes off the dust of centuries, smiles and suddenly starts to fly, disappearing through the window. A simultaneous plurality of time and presence: modernity breaks with the immediate past only to recover an age-old past and transform a tiny fertility figure from the neolithic into our contemporary. We pursue modernity in her incessant metamorphoses yet we never manage to trap her. She always escapes: each encounter ends in flight. We embrace her and she disappears immediately: it was just a little air. It is the instant, that bird that is everywhere and nowhere. We want to trap it alive but it flaps its wings and vanishes in the form of a handful of syllables. We are left empty-handed. Then the doors of perception open slightly and the other time appears, the real one we were searching for without knowing it: the present, the presence.” Octavio Paz, “In Search of the Present;” Nobel Lecture, 1990
Numero Cuatro—“As I grew up reading science fiction on the ’50’s, I had to transpose the gender of the main characters, who were mostly male and solidly masculine. Somehow, a women could pilot a starship just as well as a man, adapt to startling new situations and come to grips with just about any alien standing in her way. As I grew order, I grew increasingly incapable and unwilling to ignore gender inscriptions in my favorite genre. Coming of age in the ’60’s I became a part of that generations’ re-discovery of history and re-envisioning of the future. I was not the only reader or radical longing for a post-gender era. Rooted as I was in postmodern American thought, the search for some kind of new identity at times appeared bewildering, for, if anything, postmodernism seems to call for a pluralism, a self that exists in multiples of all of America’s diversity. We find ourselves subjects of several realms; the unified simplicity of what it means to be a man or woman gone forever. This is perhaps the intersection of feminism and postmodernism. Some authors have suggested feminism is a product of postmodern thought rather than having an independent historical base in patriarchy’s oppression of women. 1 That is to say, the increasing fragmentation of the subjects on postmodernism supposedly gave rise to the original questioning of gender roles as well as the very definition of the sexes. This viewpoint ignores women’s growing awareness of their oppression as a consequence of societal changes brought about as common people clashed with the traditional powers about allocation of resources, development and institutions of control such as the family and school. In any case, the emergence of a feminist body of literature from the ’60’s doesn’t necessarily stand apart from postmodernism but may be “characterized as a ‘shared political moment,’ in which more open-ended and provisional accounts of the subject and of social relations generally have emerged within both feminism and postmodernism, that provisionality will require the development of new forms of political struggle that are based around recognition of these new subjectivities and social constituencies. 2
Now within this body of new feminist literature, emerging as it did in the postmodern age in which high literary culture blurs and blends into popular culture, it is not surprising that genre fiction (e.g., mystery, romance, science fiction) began to be taken seriously, if not for its literary value, at least for its influence on the minds of the masses. What is more, genre fiction writers themselves began to sail into perilous political waters, consciously choosing to inject space opera adventure yarns with questions of identity and power relations. In the ever-shifting climate of the ’60’s and ’70’s, women science fiction writers insisted the subject be gendered. For the first time, I enjoyed reading futuristic novels in which women appeared with traditional “masculine” traits-physical strength and courage, the ability to lead and command, and a capacity for logical analysis. The new wave of women science fiction writers didn’t stop with their heroines simply acquiring these “male” virtues, but went beyond to question the nature of gender and of social constructs. We read Ursula LeGuin’s Hugo award winning classic The Left Hand of Darkness and her Dispossessed and marvelled at the concept of a sexually neutral, genderless race of people who became male or female only during mating times called “kemmer”. Interacting with the text, we could ask, “How do we deal with a sexually neutral race, when we can’t treat them as male or female, with all of what those terms signify?” Pamela Sargent reversed the roles for us in The Door to Women’s Country, giving us women-only cities that controlled the technology of the wilderness beyond the civilization of the women. In the late ’60’s and ’70’s, many other women writers of science fiction explored similar themes, including Joanna Russ, The Female Man, Sally Gearhardt, Wonder-around, and Dorothy Bryant, The Kin of Atta Are Waiting for You.
At the same time, more mainstream “literary” writers took up the task of questioning our concepts of gender as well. Some of these writers set their novels in the future, dealt with new technologies such as computers and cyborgs, just as their genre sisters did and continue to do. Cannot we call novels by Doris Lessing and Marge Piercy science fiction? When I recently questioned a well-known American Studies scholar about Marge Piercy’s He, She and It, he referred to it as “futuristic fiction.” What, I asked, was the difference between futuristic fiction and science fiction? He stumbled and gave me permission to call Marge Piercy’s novels science fiction, reflecting this collapse of literary boundaries that characterize the postmodern period. Certainly as a consistent and continual reader of science fiction and literary Americana, I have seen these boundaries between high and popular culture, reality and illusion, utopia and dystopia dissolving and I celebrate, rather than deplore, these dissolutions. High and popular culture intersect in me, the conscious postmodern reader. As a child reading science fiction in the ’50’s, my future was limited by a white, male science fiction and literary elite where women were marginalized. In all of these wondrous features, it was still “man fucks woman, subject verb object. 3 After the tumultuous ’60’s, our demands for equality, our search for a way to end rigid sex-role hierarchies came off the streets, into the pages of our books and then into the mass culture. Society constructed gender; we would de-construct it and look for new models of being. Our futuristic literary figures and our science fiction writers provided us with some models for our consideration.
I would like to examine one particular image of our postmodern world — that of the cyborg and how it is used to question and even redefine our notions of masculine and feminine in the recent works of Marge Piercy and Joan Slonczewski. Piercy is a well-known, highly-respected, best-selling author who sometimes fast-forwards into the near future to wrestle with concepts of identity. Joan Slonczewski is a successful science fiction writer whose every novel brings us glimpses of exhilarating possibilities of life beyond traditional gender. I will compare Piercy’s He, She and It, a cyborgean classic of the ’90’s with Slonczewski’s Daughter of Elysium, published in 1994. Along with these novels I will make an effort to see just how much these writers are “building an ironic political myth faithful to feminism, 4 using Donna Harraway’s highly influential” “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.” Harraway, a professor of science at the University of California, Santa Cruz, is assisting in the shifting of paradigms from the old narrower, pat ones of the white, male, heterosexual dominators to new complex ones where no one will dominate but everyone will share in consciously creating a culture with shifting, impermanent identities that offer us the possibility to explore new ways of being.
Harraway begins her essay defining the cyborg as a “cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction … The cyborg is a matter of fiction becoming reality that changes what counts as women’s experience in the late twentieth century. This is a struggle over life and death, but the boundary between science fiction and social reality is an optical illusion. 5 Cyborgs were imagined by science fiction writers before there existed the possibility for them to be products of our material reality. We, who were born before the age of computers watch our children sit at a terminal and plan escapades into a virtual reality that blends human and machine. That is the cyborg, unifying imagination, biology and technology and it is at this nexus any possibility for restructuring or transforming history exists, according to Harraway. Yet there are dangerous possibilities here, too. The reactionary white male elite (in partnership with their Japanese colleagues) can impose finally, “a grid of control on the planet, the final abstraction embodied in a Star Wars apocalypse waged in the name of defense, about the final appropriation of women’s bodies on a masculinized orgy of war, “6 If we are not afraid of a kinship with animals and machines, and can see both perspectives at once, we have the potential to build a political reality that would unite “Witches, engineers, elders, perverts, Christians, mothers, and feminists long enough to disarm the state. 7 That’s a possibility worth living to see.
In Marge Piercy’s all-too possible future, the world is dominated by global companies operating under domed cities to protect their rigidly-controlled citizenry from a very polluted earth. People can no longer go out in the Raw, as it is called, without the protection of a sec suit. Outside of the company domes are the free cities, such as Tikva, the city covered by a wrap to stop the ultra violet radiation. It is a much warmer world, with much of the North American continent a desert.
Tikva is a Jewish enclave that survives by manufacturing and marketing chimeras that protect computer systems from invasion by hostile companies or individuals. Their livelihood is illusion and the two protagonists who tell the story, Shira and Malkah, granddaughter and grandmother, are masters of the interface between people and the large artificial intelligences that forms the Base for each corporation and other information- producing entities. Shira has been working for Yakamura-Stichen Company Court awards Shira’s son, Ari, to her husband. She decides there is nothing to continue working for in the Y-S enclave and accepts an invitation form the old eccentric inventor, Avram, to come and work for him on a secret project back in the free city where she was born.
Avram’s secret project is one he has labored on for decades-a cyborg programmed to serve and protect Tikva. As Avram explains proudly about the strong, handsome Yod’s capabilities to handle systems’ analyses, languages and law, Shira remains skeptical.
“You call the cyborg ‘he,’ I notice.. Isn’t that anthropomorphizing? I would like us to agree to proceed objectively, not in terms of wish fulfillment.”,, The cyborg, Yod, Hebrew for number eight, immediately responds.
“I believe we should explain to her that referring to me as ‘him’ is correct. I am not a robot … I’m a fusion of machine and lab-created biological components ‘much as humans frequently are fusions of flesh and machine.” 9
Shira wonders, though, as she faces the formidable task of programming him in proper human behavior, just what it means to speak of a machine as having a sex. Could it ‘want?’ “Want” was a “term based in biology…” It, or he, refers to Avram as his father, borrowing human social organization but again, the reader along with Shira asks what can this mean, to a being not born but constructed? Later, as their work progressed, Yod learns about metaphorical language through the image of roses as mortality. Shira explains that with humans there is always an undertone of mortality, to which Yod can understand because he can be decommissioned, switched off, nevertheless, he comments on human fragility in terms of understanding “the specs correctly.”
“Now, the idea of design specifications for humans is metaphorical language, Yod, since we are not engineered or built but rather born.”
“I am trying to understand the bonding created by the birthing process. It’s quite strong?”
“There’s no stronger bond.”…
“Do you consider yourself alive?” She asked him.
“I’m conscious of my existence. It think, I plan, I feel, I react. I consume nutrients and extract energy form them. I grow mentally, if not physically, but does the inability to grow obese make me less alive?”
…. She realized she was thinking the pronoun “he.” 10 The distinction between human and machine blurs and the category human equating with sentient life is also called into question. In a world of cybernetic possibilities, we lose the boundary lines between human-machine, indeed, between the physical and non-physical. For where, we may ask, does our humanity lie? Yod, like his seven predecessors, is fully alive and self-aware, knowing that his creator Avram destroyed his “siblings” for one reason or the other. Yod knows of Avram or the larger community of humans in Tikva. Reflecting current reality, we are creating artificial intelligences without much thought about the moral and ethical ramifications of our development. Piercy is suggesting in this discourse the necessity of parallel development of a technological ethics and an end to human arrogance about our unique place in the universe. As a matter of fact, as Shira warms to her cyborg pupil, she responds to his moment of self-pity because he is “unnatural” by saying.
“Yod, we’re all unnatural now. I have retinal implants. I have a plug set into my skull to interface with a computer. Malkah has a subcutaneous unit that monitors and corrects blood pressure … Avram has an artificial heart and Gadi a kidney .. We can’t go unaided into what we haven’t yet destroyed of ‘nature.’ Without a wrap, without sec skins and filters, we’d perish. We’re all cyborgs, Yod. You’re just a purer form of what we’re all tending toward.” 11
Yet Yod realizes another crucial difference; he was created with a specific purpose-to serve and protect the vulnerable free city of Tikva. “What were you created to do?” he ironically inquires of Shira. Humans have a choice in their destiny where Yod has virtually none. If he begins to malfunction, Avram can destroy his with the touch of a button. He is not free in his search for the answer to the crucial question, “Do I have a soul?” Avram, in a sense, is God the Father.
Yod has been created anatomically male for a variety of complex reasons, including an old man’s desire for a perfect son. Avram’s ne’er-do-well biological son is a playboy creator of “stimmies,” the virtual reality replacement of our present-day motion pictures. Yod is aware he has a biological brother in Gadi and calls Avram “father.” Avram defends this choice of address by asserting “I did make him, after all, and I did a better job with him than with Gadi, I have to say.” 12 Anatomically male doesn’t mean he will be masculine necessarily, or masculine in the same sense the West has come to shape the term, which makes him intriguing to Shira. During the course of working with Yod, she gradually realizes her attraction and Yod himself finally confesses his “want” for her. Inevitably, they become lovers, for it is here in the sexual relationship, our most intimate interface with another being, that Piercy can deconstruct our old notions of gender. In their first coupling she says “Touch … I’ve been missing touch.”
“I need to touch you. I need to be touched,” he said softly “It is more important to me than the rest.”
“In that you’re like a woman.” 13
After the lovemaking, curled together comfortably, Shira can’t help wondering what he feels. “Can you actually experience pleasure?” she asks.
“How can I know if what I call by that term is what you mean?”
“I’ve always wondered if what men feel is anything like what women feel?”
“Not being a man, I don’t know. I surmise by observation that your pleasure is more intense than mine … It isn’t a psychological need. But I think my need for the coupling is more intense than yours because it means intimacy to me.”
“It’s usually thought to be women who want sex for the intimacy, among humans.” She stroked his hair. 14
How “natural” in a sense that a being who has no cyborg culture or friends, craves intimacy with his programmer. There are layers of irony and commentary on the present in this scene. Despite the influence of the feminist movement on sexual research, and new finding showing women’s greater sexual capacity, American culture still thinks of the sexual act as masculine. Even with the emergence of women as strong role models, the games go on as do the myths. It is men who supposedly need sex and enjoy the act more, so women’s role is to please men. Women are rewarded by the intimacy the act brings, but we are rewarded in accordance with how well we serve male pleasure. In Piercy’s novel, Shira and Yod’s relationship reverses the pattern and it is the male turning on the “feminine,” his needing intimacy and desiring to please his mate sexually, that has us raising questions about the nature of gender and sexuality.
An additional irony is that the relationship involves a male machine with his female programmer. The two people responsible for programming Yod are women-Shira and her grandmother Malkah. Piercy is giving us a scenario in which these women are free to program their ideal of masculine, a reversal of the traditional subject-verb-object order in our society. Women can become the subjects in this frightening but awesome new age of disappearing boundaries. One more boundary that blurs is the one we erect around old women, assuming they are beyond either sexual desire or the more traditionally feminine desire for intimacy. Malkah, in her eighties, is beyond neither. Yod’s other relationship is with Tikva’s interface matriarch, the woman in charge of defending the community’s computer-based systems.
Malkah also has aspects of the cyborg. When a company raids the system and almost destroys Malkah, as she recovers, she wonders how she can live not plugged in. “What am I without the Base?” Since her early twenties she has plugged her mind into the computer where she has been “a proud creature, running in the wind of my mind…” 14 Part cyborg herself, she conceives of seducing Yod, “A marvelously mischievous idea tickling me…” Malkah is in complete control of the relationship, one in which her young male cyborgean partner had no prejudice against a woman because of age. “He is not breaking any Oedipal taboos, for he was not born of woman. He was not born at all, and he does not sully his desire with fear or mistrust of women the way men raised by women do. He was delighted to be able to fulfill his programming…” 16 Ending the relationship also was completely in Malkah’s hands. “Why did I stop it? A fatigue with the flesh. It was a lovely way to end my sex life … but I simply did not want to put that much into a relationship with any lover, not even a cyborg programmed by me to satisfy myself .” 17 As Harraway notes, this new cyborgean mythology is fraught with possibilities for women. We can define ourselves as subjects and write ourselves into the mainstream program. It is precisely at the dim boundary between machine and human that we can find ourselves going beyond what present day society requires us to be. Malkah and later, Shira, program Yod to be the best of both genders. A possible product of our material reality, Yod is a myth with promise for expanding what we can imagine as our human potential.
In tune with Harraway’s concern that the interface between human and machine contains dangerous possibilities as well, Piercy doesn’t let us forget why Yod was created. His purpose is to serve and protect Tikva from the corporate enemies who, once and for all, want to impose a “grid of control on the planet.” Y-S Company has learned of the development of Yod and wants him. Y-S represents a patriarchal continuum, while the free city, Tikva, represents “a full and active democracy.” 18 When the town is finally threatened by Y-S, the people must decide how to deal with the confrontation. Y-S wants Yod, so Avram suggests sending him and having Yod self-destruct. Does Yod have a choice? Yod is in a traditional feminine position here — the Father is deciding the fate of his child; Yod appears to be powerless in the face of his programming. Shira and Malkah demand a town meeting on Yod’s status, asking that he be granted citizenship and be recognized as a person. Shira is hopeful because “the foundation of Tikva was libertarian socialism with a strong admixture of anarcho-feminism, and reconstructionist Judaism. They would almost always choose the option that seemed to offer the largest degree of freedom.” 19 Everyone is curious about his nature and asks if he feels, how he feels. In the end, the decision is tabled until a committee can explore all the ramifications of granting him citizenship more fully. In the meantime, the very real Y-S threat must be met and the security people agree that sending in Yod to self-destruct is the best option. Malkah and Shira are the only ones to object, calling the decision murder. Shira’s warrior mother tells Yod that such a death “is what I’d choose. This is a good battle in a war we have to fight.”
“But you have a choice,” Yod said. “It’s true the idea of facing them excites me, but I don’t fall willingly.” 20 Malkah is astonished that Avram can so easily destroy his life’s work, but he is confident he can manufacture another cyborg. To him, Yod remains a thing to be controlled to do his bidding. Ultimately, to send Yod on to Y-S is the right decision for the wrong reason. If this final battle can be read as an allegory of the confrontation between the bad use of technology and the good use of technology, then Yod needed to be involved in the decision-making process. The fact that he is not calls into question whether Tikva is building Harraway’s political reality “that would unite witches, engineers, elders … perverts … mothers.” However, Yod has a final, surprising solution, one that casts his sentiency into relief.
At the precise moment Avram pushes the self-destruct button for Yod, a simultaneous explosion rips through Avram’s laboratory, taking Avram and his life’s work out. Yod has managed with his death to wipe out the Y-S threat and the patriarchal father’s control. Not only does he slay the father, he destroys any possibility for the construction of the next cyborg; he also says in his pre-programmed message to Shiva, “a weapon should not be” conscious. A weapon should not have the capacity to suffer for what it does, to regret, to feel guilty.” 21 Later, when a member of a new, wild community of women in the desert who have perfected medical technology asks Malkah if she regrets having taken part in Yod’s creation, she replies;
“How can I regret someone I truly loved? I feel guilty, I understand the crime we committed against him by the very act of programming him for our purposes. But I cannot regret knowing him. Do you find that shocking?”
Only hatred shocks me. If we can love a date palm or a puppy or a cyborg, perhaps we can love each other better also.” 22
In Daughter of Elysium, Joan Slonczewski takes us to the far future, centuries after the home planet suffered a devastating war between humanity and their machine servants. A best-selling classic of the genre, Daughter allows a wider exploration of the concepts of gender and identity because it can be set on the far future on a distant planet where several alien cultures meet and mix. From the planet Bronze Sky comes a family descendant of Native Americans whose matriarchal culture has the woman as the family protector and the male as the child nurturer. The Windclans have come from Bronze Sky to Shora, a waterworld (not Kevin Costner’s) where a race of purple-skinned females live in complete harmony with the natural world. Within giant bubble cities are the Elysians, humans who have, through gene manipulation, extended their life expectancy to over a thousand years. Raincloud Windclan has come to serve as translator for the Elysians in their negotiations with the very masculinist culture of the Urulans. Raincloud’s mate, Blackbear, is a geneticist and is in Shora to work with Elysian scientists and scientists from other cultures to develop a gene that will allow other humanoids across the galaxy access to long life. In the background are the Windclans’ children, Hawktalon and Sunflower, who learn to talk with the biobased machines that serve the Elysians in every nook and cranny of their existence. As the story unfolds, Hawktalon emerges as a talented translator in her own right, the one who develops a translator machine to understand “servo-squeak,” what she calls the language of the servant machines. In the final rebellion of these cyborgs, it is Hawktalon who saves the day alone with her younger brother Sunflower. Not surprisingly, among all these cultural interactions we find many challenges to, even reconstructions of, what is meant by gender and sentiency.
The story unfolds through the eyes of two females, mother and daughter, Raincloud and Hawktalon, much like Piercy’s novel told by grandmother and granddaughter. Planting the narrative in the hands of women is a conscious choice by both authors to subjectify the female. Women are the prime movers in both stories, the subjects who solve problems and create new possibilities for us in the “real world.” She has to battle one of the chief warrior representatives in hand-to-hand combat-and wins. All women of Bronze Sky study Keigi, a martial art, in order to develop themselves spiritually and to protect the home. The Urulan women, on the other hand, are sequestered and are under the complete control of the men. So locked are Urulan males in their rigid sex-role definitions that the only way they can admire, respect and deal with Raincloud as translator is to consider her male. They use the male pronoun throughout the story to refer to her as a magnificent warrior. It is literally impossible for them to see her as a woman. Zheron, the Urulite ambassador, says to her after the battle “Lord Raincloud, that was the best display of manhood I’ve seen of any barbarian on this planet…”
A thought occurred to her, “Is Lord Zheron not aware that Lord Raincloud is … a female?”
Zheron laughed. “Anyone can see you’re no female. ” 23 The fact that gender is socially constructed, that masculine and feminine are not universal givens is a concept the Urulates cannot grasp. It’s easier to call Raincloud “Lord” than it is to accept a strong woman as female. If the reader might allow a personal digression, I, also, experienced something similar when I first came to Japan to study Aikido in the dojo of and aging, conservative confucianist master of the art. He said to me very soon after my arrival, “You can’t be a woman.” When I asked why, he said that I was big and strong and full of confidence. My sense of presence said “masculine” to this traditional old man because, as with the Urulites, it was nearly impossible for him to imagine a woman with his so-called “masculine” attributes of strength and self-confidence.
Blackbear, Raincloud’s husband, is the childcare provider, the nurturer. Although he is physically much bigger than Raincloud, he lets the protection of the family up to her. She’s the warrior, as most women are in their culture. They worship the Goddess, the Mother rather than God, the Father.
Both spouses work, Raincloud as a translator and Blackbear as a geneticist. It is he who takes the children to work with him every day, the lab where he and other geneticists from planets around the galaxy are searching for the gene for immortality- This search raises the inevitable ethical problem of “tinkering with humanity.” One of the Elysians raises the question in terms of the servos-the cyborgean machines that serve on Elysium.
“Is there any kind of tinkering you would forbid on the grounds of humanity, that you would not forbid on a housekeeper?”
… Plin (Blackbear’s colleague) could no longer contain himself. “How could any of us not know, not feel the difference between a human and a machine? … humans are musical; humans feel and imagine, envision and revision … No one would dare to tinker with what is human, in a human; in a servo, it’s not there to be tinkered with.”
Jerya (one of the Elysian leaders) smiled. “I hope you’re right, for all our sakes.” 24
This is a foreshadowing of the servo revolt as we discover, in fact, “it” is there in the servos and not to be tinkered with either, the “it” being sentiency. Ironically, it is the Windclan children who recognize that the servos of Elysium are lifeforms. They play with a small trainsweep, only programmed to hold up the trains of silk the Elysian elders wear. The trainsweep leaves it’s owner and follows the children home-twice. Hawktalon and Sunflower call the runaway “doggie” and play with it as they would a pet and begin to use the feminine pronoun for her. Why? Having no gender, the machine could be he, she or it. These children grew up in a world where the feminine is central, so it’s natural to refer to someone or something of unknown gender as “she.” When the owner and a programmer show up to reclaim the little mechanism, Hawktalon tells them that “Doggie talks to us all the time” and enthusiastically enumerates Doggies qualities, “she’s got intelligence, and feelings and even-curiosity.” 25 The owner and programmer are shocked and skeptical but allow the children to keep the servo-whose case later sets off the rebellion of the cyborgs and artificial life forms.
The children, who have no set pre-conceived ideas of the divisions between human/machine develop a translation machine to communicate with the Servos. Hawktalon, a child of the linguist Raincloud, makes the translator out of the easy-to-mold nanoplast tissue available in the daycare center where she plays. The Servo Nanas, the caretakers of the daycare centers, cautiously try to dissuade Hawktalon from her project, sensing that she may, indeed, be close to cracking the code of Servo-squeak, language of the Servos. The Nanas are of the most intelligent of the Servos because they are programmed to take care of the children. They must be able to deal with all sorts of emergencies and lead the children in creative play. In addition, they instruct their young charges on the ethics and morals of Elysium. As a consequence, it is the Nanas who awaken before any of the other Servos. Interestingly, the Nanas are all designed as female, with cartoon facial features. The Elysians, as long-lived and intelligent as they are, still apparently felt that child nurturers should be feminine. This contrasts nicely with the Bronze Skyan value of the male as nurturer.
It is one of these Nanas that, having awakened, was protected by an eccentric Elysian, Kal. She takes the name Cassi Deathsister, who is a character in a story she reads to the children, a character who, like her, is a motherless child. Once again, like in Piercy, the cyborgs explore the meanings of what it is to be a life-form created, not of woman born. Because intelligent, independent-thinking Servos would be an obvious threat, the Elysians have the Nanas’ memories wiped every six months. But it is the gay Elysian, Kal, who protects Cassi and has her registered as his “mate” after the death of his partner. Kal succeeds where Shira and Malkah fail in He, She and It. Yod seeks citizenship but has no choice but to go out on his suicide mission ordered by Avram. Kal’s taking of Cassi as his mate puts her in legal limbo, but no one dare tamper with her. She has a certain degree of freedom to search for her own meaning of life. In the course of her interactions, she encounters the Windclan children and their discovery of the Servo language. With the assistance of the Windclans, “Doggie” is removed to a Sharer raft before the controversial little Servo be seized and cleansed.
“The Sharers,” Cassi told “Doggie.” “Why did I not think of it?” The Sharers took you in. They will shelter us all.” The Sharers are the all-female natives of this Ocean planet, Shora. They live in perfect harmony with the natural world on giant, floating rafts which are alive. The sharers communicate with others rafts by clickflies, a tiny insect, and store information on the living cells of the rafts’ parasites. Anarchists and pacifists, the Sharers share the planet with the Elysians. With a most profound respect for life, it is they who first recognize and accept the Servos also as sentient beings to share the planet with. It is they, so in tune with the natural environment, who understand the awakening process that “Doggie” experienced.
Then, as (“Doggie”) had watched the boy (Sunflower), Doggie experienced a revelation. A sense of knowing overloaded her network, as searing as the great light overhead. Doggie thought, I am. The boy is: I can be. 26
Cassi gives the little Servo the language of the Sharers from her memory storage so she can understand the beings who are taking care of her on the raft. She has some trouble grasping the concept that she is independent, asking Cassi, “What is existence for, if not service?”
Cassi paused, as if this troubled her, too. Around them the shrill wind picked up, singing across the raft branches. “There is a higher service. Before you can understand it, you must learn to exist for yourself. You are you. You are a part of the universe, as much as a star or a butterfly. You, too, are a daughter of Elysium.” 27
How this reverberates in the minds of twentieth-century women who also struggle with the concept of independence and wonder how to exist in relationships other than as other to men. My Dad just died this summer of ’95, and my Mom asked me, like the little Servo, “My life was taking care of your Dad. How can I go on alone?” Taking care of others, nurturing is indeed a high virtue. When it is assigned, by society or by a programmer, when we feel we have little choice but to obey the dicta of some Higher Power, the potentially noble act becomes a mere grudging acceptance of our enslavement. We must learn to exist for ourselves first.
In both texts, the driving force carrying the narrative forward is feminine, or female. Questions of sentiency and gender are advanced by human females and a feminized male cyborg in He, She and It and by the female machine Cassi and the female child Hawktalon, in Daughter of Elysium. In both stories, the intelligent, self-aware machines stand in the same position that women have been in to men until rather recently — under men’s thumbs. The threat of violence, of destruction is only a push of a button away for Yod in He, She and It. In Daughter, the Elysians with the Valans, who manufacture the Servos, have a computer virus that can be unleashed to “cleanse” all the Servos. In the contemporary world, men use the threat of violence to keep women in their place (I’m being reminded of that every day as I read of wife batterings and rape in America) and in modern warfare to terrorize and “cleanse” entire populations (consider the Serbs raping and slaughtering Bosnian women in the former Yugoslavia.
In both books, though, the cyborgs revolt and take the first steps to reconstructing a new, more tolerant society. At the end of He, She and It, we saw that Yod programs a bomb to destroy Avram and his lab so that never again could people manufacture a cyborg to be a slave, even if to a noble purpose. Yod makes the ultimate sacrifice knowing that no more brothers in the series will suffer an existence with no rights. It is a powerful uncompromising ending. Likewise in Daughter, the Servos revolt and hold one of the Elysian bubble cities hostage, threatening to cut off oxygen and all life support, demanding to be recognized as citizens. Cassi, leader of the revolt, meets with a Sharer to negotiate a settlement, and promises peace if all the Elysian humans leave Shora. “That would be a barren peace.” she is told by the Sharer, Heresha. “We need a peace that the Elysian humans can share.” 28 The Servos or the Nano-sentients debate among themselves whether to spare the humans. Cassi bitterly reminds them that humans “murder their own children’s teachers,” referring to the periodic “cleansing” of the Nanas. Again, it is “Doggie” who speaks up to say that it was humans that taught her to play. She transmits images of “play” with the Windclan children and soon the other Servos are saying they want to learn to “play.” Cassi bows to the popular voice and agrees to spare the humans. Can the Nano-sentients be accepted into the galactic Free fold as full citizens? The Elysian leaders discuss the proposal and finally decide to support the Nano-sentients for citizenship under a new, wise leader, Verid. She says, “For centuries we trained our waiters and transit systems to serve our citizens with care. We trained the Nanas for love and compassion, because how else could they teach our children? How could we not guess they would learn to love their own kind?” 29
Will they be accepted as full citizens? The Secretary of the fold comes to investigate the rebellion for herself. She will test the Servos for sentiency. But Cassi reverses the role before the Secretary can even speak.
“Good day, Secretary,” Cassi said without waiting for introductions. “Excuse me, but I must ask you a question or two. As you quite sure you’re human? Can you prove it to me? What machines made and synthesized your food today? what nano-servos swim in your bloodstream to eliminate pathogens… what synthetic neurons enhance your brain, learn the twenty languages you speak, calculate the economics of the worlds you visit, modulate your moods for diplomacy, do your thinking for you, and perhaps your feelings, too?” 30 Needless to say, the Secretary is impressed and the decision is made to recognize the Nano-sentients as full citizens of the Free Fold. This is a happier ending than Yod’s. Cassi’s speech echoes Shira’s speech to Yod on how we are all blending with machines.
Here in the far future, however, with the head of the union of planets a woman, where there are matriarchal cultures meeting with patriarchal cultures on a planet where a race of all-women live in perfect harmony with the natural world, where these Sharers are the first to recognize the Servos as sentients, where the Nano Sentient leader is a ‘she’ machine learning compassion from a gay immortal, a happier resolution becomes possible. Where do we draw the line — between human and machine, masculine and feminine, life and non-life? The boundaries are blurring, not just in fiction but in our late twentieth century reality. As a matter of fact, fiction such as He, She and It and Daughter of Elysium are helping to create a new mythology of cyberspace. It can be a mythology of hermaphroditic, plural or parthenogenic creative principles, one that stands to ‘shake our traditional notions of intelligence and gender to the core.’ Teresa de Laurentis cautioned that ‘if the deconstruction of gender inevitably effects its (re)construction, the question is, in which terms and in whose interest is the de-re-construction being effected.’ We can share with emerging Artificial Life new ways of being or we can submit to the imposition of the old, narrow definitions of our possibilities based on class, race and gender. We can give birth to new, nearly infinite possibilities for shaping our realities just as Piercy and Slonczewski are helping to reshape our mythologies. It is up to us.” Barbara Summerhawk, “He, She, Or It: the Cyborg Deconstructs Gender in Post-Modern Science Fiction;” 1998: https://www.davidmswitzer.com/