When he got home from the parade, however, Professor Solanka was seized by melancholy, his usual secret sadness, which he sublimated into the public sphere. Something was amiss with the world. The optimistic peace-and-love philosophy of his youth having given him up, he no longer knew how to reconcile himself to an increasingly phony (he loathed, in this context, the otherwise excellent word "virtual") reality. Questions of power preyed on his mind. While the overheated citizenry was eating these many varieties of lotus, who knew what the city's rulers were getting away with--not the Giulianis and Safirs, who responded so contemptibly to the complaints of abused women until amateur videos of the incidents showed up on the evening news, not these crude glove-puppets, but the high ones who were always there, forever feeding their insatiable desires, seeking out newness, devouring beauty, and always, always wanting more? The never encountered but ever present kings of the world--godless Malik Solanka avoided crediting these human phantoms with the gift of omnipresence--the petulant, lethal Caesars, as his friend Rhinehart would say, the Bolingbrokes cold of soul, the tribunes with their hands up the mayor's and police commissioner's Coriolanuses . . . Professor Solanka shuddered faintly at this last image. He knew himself well enough to be conscious of the broad scarlet streak of vulgarity in his character; still, the crude pun shocked him when he thought of it.
Puppet-masters were making us all jump and bray, Malik Solanka fretted. While we marionettes dance, who is yanking our strings?
The phone was ringing as he came through his front door, the rain still dripping off his hat brim. He answered it snappishly, snatching off its base the cordless unit in the apartment's entrance hall. "Yes, what, please?" His wife's voice arrived in his ear via a cable on the Atlantic bed, or maybe in these days when everything was changing it was a satellite high above the ocean, he couldn't be sure. In these days when the age of pulse was giving way to the age of tone. When the epoch of analog (which was to say also of the richness of language, of analogy) was giving way to the digital era, the final victory of the numerate over the literate. He had always loved her voice. Fifteen years ago in London he had telephoned Morgen Franz, a publishing friend who by chance was away from his desk, and Eleanor Masters, passing by, had picked up the clamoring instrument; they had never met but ended up talking for an hour. A week later they dined at her place, neither of them alluding to the inappropriateness of so intimate a venue for a first date. A decade and a half of togetherness ensued. So, he fell in love with her voice before the rest of her. This had always been their favorite story about each other; now, of course, in love's brutal aftermath, when memory was reinvented as pain, when voices on the phone were all they had left, it had become one of the saddest. Professor Solanka listened to the sound of Eleanor's voice and with some distaste imagined it being broken up into little parcels of digitized information, her low lovely voice first consumed and then regurgitated by a mainframe computer probably located someplace like Hyderabad-Deccan. What is the digital equivalent of lovely, he wondered. What are the digits that encode beauty, the number-fingers that enclose, transform, transmit, decode, and somehow, in the process, fail to trap or choke the soul of it. Not because of the technology but in spite of it, beauty, that ghost, that treasure, passes undiminished through the new machines.
Excerpted from Fury by Salman Rushdie Copyright 2001 by Salman Rushdie. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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