You have just come inside from blowing a cigarette together from smoke. Right now, you are in a dark room, seated, gazing into the screen of your computer. You are wide-eyed, tight-lipped, disturbed. A crab is rumbling in you, scrambling to be ejected.
You put your headphones on. There is already a faint static hiss between them, waiting for you to connect it and push it down the wire.
You bring a bottle to your lips and let a few drops of beer dribble into it from your mouth. You touch the computer screen, and an X appears at your fingertip. X is the anchor. X is a window that opens under the pressure of your finger on the touchscreen.
X is a website. It specializes in corralling unseemly fantasies of scattered, disorganized flesh. You and the other gore-hounds come to places like this to offload, to let loose your crabs. You all sit at your desks and stare into your varied, isolated screens, but the vision itself is ultimately collaborative. In concert, you project into this window images of bodies undone, inarticulate anatomies on the cusp of wholeness. Limbs and heads ready to be fastened to a core. Accidents and terrorism. Executions and acts of suigenesis.
When you gore-hounds feed an image into the screen, it's just an image: only a presentiment of horror. But each image is pregnant with a body. Each image contains the promise of real flesh and real violence. Whatever form you are envisioning, whatever unassembled body you are projecting into X—someday, someone is going to wake up right in the middle of it.
You can't know this, but the crabs in your gut and the static between your ears have been with you ever since your own violent and now long-forgotten awakening.
Even before that first moment when you drew breath, opened your eyes, and pulled the gun away from your temple, the crabs were with you. Over the years, you have drawn that original self-loathing from your nerves and distilled it into something more potent. Slowly, you have neutralized the toxin by spreading it thinly over the surfaces of your life and by passing it along to others.
In time, everyone will be getting their dram of your venom. Tonight, some portion of this bad seed must be planted in the wandering ghost of a man named Baron.
Your vision fills the screen with an image of an almost empty room. In the far wall, there is a windowpane hidden behind blinds. Behind that window is Los Angeles as it will be a few years from now; you can't quite touch that from here.
In the foreground, a chair is mostly visible: This is where Baron will appear.
Baron has not gotten to enjoy his stardom and never will. Like other celebrities of our age, the breadth and length of Baron's existence has been virtual. By the time he finally arrives in Los Angeles in the flesh, Baron will have spent decades—and possibly much longer—as an electronic premonition of an event that has not yet happened. It is an event that you and I are helping to manifest, and we are acting alongside everyone else who has ever thrown their gaze into X.
After a moment, a noise-image begins to leak into the scene. It's no more than a crackle of static. It could be the air-conditioning running in the apartment that you have imagined for Baron. It could be underground construction, workers drilling beneath the streets of L.A. sometime in the future.
Then, unbidden, a spasm. You jerk and wince as you project something sudden and different—and violent—into the screen and through the headphones. The spasm travels from your body, through your brain, and out your auditory nerves. The headphones capture the spasm as it shakes the air and transmits it down the coiled wires connecting your headphones to your computer. Your computer sends the impulses to the Internet. The spasm beams through radio signals and fiber optics, from computer to computer until, completely out of your head, it becomes a living sound—a sound to rouse a body to motion.
Baron's arrival is an act of suigenesis. It's not a typical means of arrival.
If you are religiously inclined, you might assume that in cases of suigenesis, the animating spirit reaches forward in time to occupy its naturally intended body, right in the moments before that body ought to be capable of action. Perhaps, in your mind, suigenesis is an action of the deity: an expression of a rightness in the universe that supersedes the banal biological mechanisms of most persons' arrivals.
If you are of a scientific bent, you might assume that what appears to be auto-execution of the self is actually an upwelling of static energy into pre-living matter—an example of spontaneous generation. In your view, the cold, blind energies of the universe gather to create a sufferer. In your view, suffering is a natural fact of existence.
In any case, suigenesis is an action out of order with time: an action that precedes its actor. In practice, it occurs in many different ways.
You might emerge from the nothing into a hot bath and immediately busy yourself with welding the seams in your wrists. Naturally, the required blade will have been placed at your side.
Or you might awaken in bed. You'll reach over to the glass on your nightstand and bring it to your lips. The glass will draw the sleep from you as whiskey and a handful of blue pills.
Or a gentle wind might part your lips. Your lungs may inflate, and your eyes may open, and you may find that you are suspended in the air. A noose will be caught on your chin, and you will kick until you have roused the chair beneath your feet to get up and catch you.
Each case is a paradox. Self-activation exposes the animating essence to an unliving body that should not yet be whole enough to act. Yet, the soul squeezes into life through rot, and it emerges bearing a mighty taint. That taint could be an unyielding pain—a tumor or a cancer. It could be despair. The effort of unshouldering such a burden can take a lifetime.
When a person arrives into life by their own hand, they are occasionally preceded by a letter. Sometimes, the letter describes the emotional world into which the new arrival is entering. Sometimes there is no letter, but a video or an audio recording. Such documents inevitably inform the direction that the new arrival's life will take.
Baron's video is unusual only because of its public nature. Most letters are private. They are placed on the scene by the police or by a friend-to-be of the impending arrival. Baron's arrival, however, is being orchestrated by millions of strangers, including you. The emotional world that Baron will experience when he awakens will have been determined by you—by all of you who have stared into the window and imagined Baron manifesting himself in a tiny apartment in L.A.
For the greater portion of his existence, Baron has been a swarm of data. He has been bytes in constant transition between states: from neurochemistry to hard drives, to radio signals, to magnetism on tape.
One might think that he has been trapped, but something different has been unfolding. During the decades or centuries of his celebrity, Baron has been interpreted and reinterpreted by countless contributors like you. They have been curiosity seekers, journalists, historians, artists, gossips, purveyors of the macabre. Each contributor has envisioned Baron in their own way, and each has deposited something of their own into his image. Each contributor has manifested Baron through different technologies, projected his image according to different sensibilities, and been drawn to the project by their own unique agency.
Here, in the dark at your desk, you are now working as one of them. You are part of the project. Through many conversions and re-routings, the signals of your eyes and ears are collected by your computer and condensed with the signals of who-knows-how-many other contributors. Each gore and gossip site does its part to collect the human transmissions and to reduce them into purer condensates.
Over time, the condensates gather. Sensually. Slowly.
The electromagnetic static becomes flesh.
Before you project him into the video—before you do this to poor Baron and then forget him—take a moment to regard him with compassion. Care for him while you can. Know that most of your fellow contributors are offering nothing but disgust and loathing to the project. Try to give him something more.
In your own mind, imagine him happy. Do this so that you may impart something to him other than the sour creatures who clatter in your gut.
Close your eyes. In your mind, let him be alone in his apartment, as he always is. But this time, let him be dancing.
His shirt is off. He is very light-skinned and hairy. He has a big, round belly, and two big, flat breasts are resting upon it. He is usually ashamed of these parts of himself, even when he is alone, but not right now. Not as you are imagining him.
One of his hands is on his chest, and the other is high in the air. Daylight radiates from Baron's body, leaks through the blinds, and illuminates the exterior world. He is dark and incandescent, and his black form cuts a dramatic silhouette as he spins by the window. Big chunks of drum and bass rumble from the walls of his apartment, and they rumble from Baron. His stereo throbs with the music as the lyrics slide into his lips.
Can you imagine a song to fill him? Can you imagine now, a light breaking through from behind the compulsions we have placed upon him? In your mind, let Baron feel generous to the world.
As you envision Baron's terrible arrival, can you understand how he is being built up? How you and I, the gore-hounds, and the police, and all the curious denizens of the Internet—how we are collating our own curses and laying them upon him?
Do you see how we are responsible for him? Do you see why you should try to be kind to Baron?
At your desk, you open your eyes and release a breath.
Swallowing a sick belch, Baron rises from the floor just below the camera frame.
First appears a shorn head, then a set of burly shoulders and a bare, hairy chest with broad breasts and wide nipples. Baron's head and torso are covered in greasepaint. Black lines break his body into colored sections. He is like stained glass: a mosaic.
As he settles into the half-hidden chair in the foreground of the frame, Baron's pale hands also rise into the picture, and a revolver tumbles into them. Though he is not yet alive, he places it upside down in his mouth.
Baron's body, the meat and bone of him, will jerk as a bolt of maleficence and pity passes through his chakras. The spark of electrical life will rise in him until it reaches his lizard brain, where it will bind fragments of hatred together into the shape of a bullet. There will be a flash of light behind his cheeks as the bullet enters the gun.
Pop! And everything snaps into place.
The gunshot is like a crack in a levy. Your despair begins to drain away. For you, this is an act of healing.
You, the camera's microphone, millions of other contributors from across time—you all shove different words into Baron's mouth. You pack them between his lips, around the muzzle of the firearm that has just extracted the bullet from his head:
No one can agree on Baron's first words.
Under the weight of interpretation, Baron yanks the gun away. He hyperventilates, clenches his teeth, grimaces, and then relaxes. Baron is not sure what he should do with the weapon. He replaces it in his mouth, deep. It must touch the back of his throat.
Baron composes himself and completes a deep breath around the gun, allowing his head to fall and rise. After a few more breaths, he accepts that he is now awake. Soon he is going to have to get on with life. He puts the gun down, and it leaves your imagination.
When he is onscreen, when the camera is looking at him, Baron acts under the guidance of a swarm of seers. He sweats and fans his chest frequently. It's a lot to bear, but soon, he is smiling. The camera and your collective effort have made him graceful, and more.
He is now looking into the viewfinder. He is pleased with the strange body you have made for him, pleased with his jet-black lips, his mask of war-paint, and his tinted chest and nipples. But now, he has to get to work inventing himself.
For the next hour and a half, Baron gradually assumes control. Under your nourishing gaze, he redresses and reforms himself through the viewfinder. He adds and subtracts bits to and from his visage. As he takes bigger steps into life, the flow of the video becomes more erratic, jumpier. There are more and more interruptions in what you project, more and more occasions for Baron to self-edit without your input.
There is a cut. When he returns, Baron is naked and pale, examining his face paint in the viewfinder of his camera. Cut. Except for some preliminary lines, the paint has been washed from his body. Cut. He has applied eyebrows to his face, which you had almost forgotten to give him. Cut. He has a tonsure of brown hair on the back of his head.
After another cut, he has a full head of hair. Slowly, he assembles a visage capable of going outside and interacting with the rest of the world. In life, Baron will become less and less absurd, less and less mad each time the camera pauses.
Relieved, and now bored, you search away from the gore corral and seek a site for your next upload. Someone else will contribute to the remainder of the project.
Alongside numerous other fetishes spread across your lifetime, this window upon Baron's first moments has served to lure some of the crabs from your heart. Within a few days of making your contribution, you will be mostly ignorant of him.
By the time he is living and breathing, Baron will have been forgotten by almost everybody.
In another two decades, he will retreat from Los Angeles to seek his mother in another country. There, he will drift into the confusion of childhood. As he toddles into smaller and smaller forms, he will shed his despair and come to implicitly love his round belly and short legs. After Baron has retreated into the warmth of his mother, his family will move on again, and then again. Like all families, they will eventually reach Africa, where they will take a good, long time to accomplish the work in which we all share.
You might imagine suigenesis as a lonely kind of arrival, but Baron shows us that there are multitudes laboring in every case.
Here are the police, the coroners. Baron's family on their journey to Africa and beyond. The grave-worms and darkling beetles of Los Angeles piecing together a man in the earth. Here are the bored ghouls who build the Internet, and the gossips who draw scandal from our veins.
Here is data. Here is a videotape that even now contains a vital fragment of Baron's being.
Here is the computer that will eventually accept the most condensed version of Baron's data and subsume that data into the fragments on the tape.
Here is X: just one of the websites that have served for so long to gather the work of contributors like yourself.
Here is the Internet: inhuman and impersonal. Here are the electromagnetic impulses that embody it—waves from our televisions, radios, computers, and phones.
And here is nature: all the energies streaming to us from the vacuum of space, from no human source yet, amazingly, communicating elements of Baron's being to us. Why does even the sun contribute to Baron? Why should the inhuman frequencies of deep space carry anything familiar in their wavelengths?
But they do. So here are your other collaborators, the stars. Here are the planets, the distant nebula, the void.
And here is the static. Here are your crabs.
The universe dreams the same dreams that we do, and it shares them with us. Our terrestrial antennae collect them alongside the transmissions from our own televisions and radios and combine all these signals to form familiar images and sounds. Slowly, with our guidance, the images find their forms and the sounds are swallowed up by mouths and machines. They join the rest of us in the project of gathering ourselves up and putting ourselves—and the whole universe—to rest.
DANIEL SOLOMON teaches anthropology in the SF Bay Area. His poems and fiction have appeared in or are upcoming in Brain of Forgetting, Canary, Turtle Island Quarterly, Middle Planet, and Teleport Magazine. His current ethnographic research is on the social construction of time and place by dinosaur researchers and dinosaur tourists in Wyoming. @daniel.allen.solomon on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/daniel.allen.solomon/).
Artwork by the Novel Noctule team.