Wednesday, 2 July 2008


One of the main characters in Greg Bear’s recent novel, City at the End of Time (2008) is a far-future superevolved human ‘Tall One’ or ‘Eidolon’ called Pahtun. Here he is in conversation with some less-evolved individuals:

'He waved a long-fingered hand, and Tiadba noticed that on the tip of his sixth-finger—he had six fingers and an odd thumb, mounted in the center of his palm—there was a pink flower. Patient observation, as Pahtun spoke and waved his hand some more, rewarded her with the realization that this flower was in fact a cluster of six-smaller fingers—perhaps used in delicate tasks’ [Bear, City, 287]

What makes this little image so striking is its peculiarly fractal logic, its extension of our sense of a human being as (to appropriate Lear’s words) a poor forked thing: a unitary, single ‘body’ (which we tend to mistake for ‘us’) branches into two arms, into two legs. Each arm branches at its end into five digits. Bear simply imaginatively extends this logic: it is hard, I submit, to think of the finger branching into six miniature fingers without wondering whether each of these mini-fingers does not also end in even smaller fingers—perhaps . Our hands, howsoever useful they are as manipulators and signifiers, also represent one place where our body frays.

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