Image © Pavel Pepperstein
Image © Pavel Pepperstein
‘The future enamoured with the past’
A man wearing a pointed black hat, adorned with a white ostrich feather, and a velvet cloak, embroidered with gold thread, wearing a sword and dirty thigh-length boots, suddenly sees something that is beyond his comprehension. This something consists of coloured lines and simple geometrical forms. However the man in the thigh-length boots is completely baffled as to whether this something is a construction suspended in the air or a hallucination, or whether he has lost his mind. Nonetheless, he is feeling as he normally does and reaches out his hand and touches this abstraction. He feels sharpness, coldness, smoothness, obliqueness, hotness and softness, however all these sensations are quite as abstract as the structure itself, which is accessible to his senses of sight and touch. This gentleman has never seen anything like this before, nonetheless he does get the feeling that he has always known that such things exist, and that they can be seen, touched, prodded with a foot in a dirty thigh-length boot, or even run through with a sword. Taking a leap several centuries back from this, let us say that several staid elderly men are making quiet conversation in the middle of a desert during a halt that provides rest and sustenance in the course of a long journey with a caravan. These elderly men also suddenly observe something abstract and multicoloured, or else without any colour, however they are not surprised by this phenomenon. Unlike the gentleman with the sword, they calmly continue their conversation without trying to touch or investigate the phenomenon that has presented itself to them. They do not even look in the direction of this phantom (if it is a phantom), they do not respond in any way to the change that has suddenly taken place in the world around them. Nonetheless, the something that has appeared influences the nature of their conversation. Unexpected new concepts suddenly appear in this conversation, even formal terms, and let it be said that no such phrase as “formal term” exists yet, and it could hardly appear as abruptly as a visible abstraction. In a completely different place and a completely different time, old women or young women, who have gathered together in a log cabin, sing a song, and this song suddenly becomes visible. Before the very eyes of the old women or young women, this song scrolls up into flourishes and is transformed into the likeness of varicoloured little shells suspended above their heads. Most probably in such situations we are dealing with the very distant past, which knows nothing of the future. And at the same time, peering into the depths of the situations described above, we see the future, about which we also know nothing, just like the characters (the man with the sword, the elderly men, the village women), there is only one thing that we know or may suspect, namely that for reasons unknown this distant, unfathomable future is enamoured with the distant past. Spurred on by this infatuation, the future plumbs the depths of the past like a diver descending towards the sea bed, it insinuates itself into the past in the form of objects either visible or invisible, in the form of constructions assembled out of unknown material, in the form of aeronautical structures that consist of the concept of “flying” without any corporeal or objective appendage to this concept. This reminds me of an experiment carried out in the 1960s, which involved a well-known telepath and medium of the time, Karl Nikolaev. In the course of this experiment Karl Nikolaev was placed in an entirely empty room and a certain object was placed in a room located several storeys higher, following which it was proposed to the telepath that he describe this object by means of seeing or sensing its qualities through several opaque storeys of the building. A recording has been survived of Nikolaev’s voice as he describes the object concerned (what the object was, I do not know): “It looks like a toy. Plastic or painted metal, a smooth surface, but with some kind of projections or notches, your finger even gets stuck in them…” Every time I listened to this recording, it somehow roused in me the suspicion that Karl Nikolaevich was describing a mobile phone, which did not even exist yet in the 1960s. Moreover, as he intones the description of this thing, his voice seems like the voice of ancient times, as if, in order to glance several decades ahead, it is necessary to take a leap several centuries back into the past. In Prince Odoevsky’s story The Year 4338, in order to gain access to this same year of 4338 and delight in all its wonders, the main character is first transformed into a 13th-century Chinese. In our time, the future plumbs the past and the present without a trace of amorousness, without even a hint of love. This future behaves arrogantly, cruelly and contemptuously towards other times. However, I would like to retain the hope that this aggressive future will be followed by a different, more distant future, which will be inspired with great love for the past and begin tenderly reconstituting it, using means currently unknown to us and materials currently invisible to us.
© Pavel Pepperstein, 2014