The City of
The first thing one sees on entering the
City of Radiant Objects is a field of white beds. It is here
that all the trajectories of the walkers converge: mysteriously
as it came, the walking sickness leaves them, and they lie down
and sleep for days, so great is their exhaustion. It is here
also that the sleepers awake at last from the sleeping sickness.
My God, they say, have I been asleep so long? They cast off the
dreaming in which they have been mired, many for years -- cast
it off without interpretation, so great is their joy in the sudden
clarity of the air.
In the City of Radiant Objects, things
are free of the obligation to signify. It is this that makes
them radiant. And it is for this I have been searching so long
in Africa without knowing it.
"It began with a vision of an iron
stairway," he said, fingering the silver plumb he wore around
his neck. "It made a graceful S in the air above Alexandria
where I was engaged in scholarly research at the great Library."
To illustrate, he traced with a finger a graceful S in the air
above the tiled esplanade.
I was giving praise to the Architect of
the Radiant City beneath a perfectly formed plane tree. The reason
I was giving him praise ought to be obvious. Isn't it? Well,
consider who he was and may very well be yet.
Standing in the Alexandrine gardens of
the third century AD, he had imagined this place -- imagined
it, then caused it to be built here in equatorial Africa, with
a single stroke of genius. What else if not genius for he used
no tools. He created ideal forms out of nothing with not so much
as a speck of dust left over to mark their making. Was he not
worthy of my praise?
"I started with a spiral stair and
ended with a sill on which many since have placed their elbows
in rapt contemplation of perfection."
"Why here?" I asked. "Why
not in some more temperate zone?"
"I wanted a place devoid of associations,"
he answered. "And one in which objects would cast no shadow."
He lifted his arm and the wide mandarin
sleeve fell back revealing a hand that cast no shadow under the
vertical tropic rays.
"It's a property of the equatorial
sun," he said. "Only shadowless objects can be radiant."
He looked down at my shoes, scuffed and
dusty with the journey.
"You must keep them well polished,"
he said of them.
I walked through the City, inventorying
its architectural features:
"No," said the Architect, ripping
the list to pieces. "This is not the way to experience objects."
He called for the movers.
"You must immerse yourself -- not
entertain them one at a time."
The movers arrived with numerous objects
and piled them on top of me. Because the objects were light,
they did not hurt me.
"It is the meanings people give things
that make them heavy," the Architect said from outside the
mound in which I lay buried. "Objects in themselves weigh
nothing at all."
I rummaged in them a while.
"Do you see the radiance of the whole?"
"I see it," I replied.
I pillowed my head on a soft catafalque
"You know the phrase 'shades of meaning'?"
he asked, pursuing his catechism.
"Yes," I said, stifling (I confess)
"It is literally true. Shadows are
meanings made visible. Radiant objects cast none. They are light."
I permitted several small objects to enter
me for my spiritual well-being. While there was no pain, neither
was there enlightenment.
"Chairs will float if one has never
thought of sitting on them."
Indeed, I had seen a dozen or so chairs
high above the Museum of Exquisite Machines as I approached the
"A sea is vast, cold, and desolate;
but it is only thinking makes it so."
"Yes," I said. "There is
a sea here with me now, and it is very pleasant, and so are the
fish swimming in it."
"Do you fear drowning?" he asked,
"Not at all," I answered confidently,
for I really didn't.
"Good," he said. "The sea
in itself is not in the least frightening. It is only the idea
of drowning that makes it so."
"Mozart is also here," I said.
"Of course," he answered. "His
music has always been here."
We were sitting once more beneath the plane
tree (not on a chair!). While it cast no shadow (how could it?),
I had the sensation of shade. The movers had removed the objects.
And while I had felt no discomfort beneath them, I was glad to
be "out in the air" again, for it was the crystalline
air of the City of Radiant Objects more than the objects themselves
that amazed me.
"The air is like a --"
The Architect cut me short.
"We do not allow similes here,"
he said, "nor any figurative language, which distracts from
the object thereby dimming its radiance."
He blindfolded me and had me identify objects
by touch or smell "to strengthen you in objectness."
He bid me taste certain objects, cleansing my palate each time
with sherbet. Many were delicious, others foul-tasting depending
on the material. The end of all these trials was an increased
sensitivity to the true nature of things that remains with me
"Why are there so few people here?"
I asked, looking around me as if for the first time.
"People cannot resist giving meaning
to things," he said. "I was sitting in that very chair
when the wind arrived with the fragrance of frangipani from the
south. Or, I was holding that tortoise comb when I thought of
Rachel, whom I had once loved long ago. Or, I leaned against
that column and recalled a picnic on the beach at Crete. And
for those people, for ever after, "chair" and "comb"
and "column" adumbrate qualities foreign to their nature
as objects. Once that happens, radiance is at risk."
"And so you ask them to leave?"
"They leave without being told. We
wake and find them gone. They understand."
"Cannot memory also make a thing radiant?"
I was thinking of Anna, whose face shone
in my memory though she was now, like me, no longer young.
"Only falsely," he answered.
"Memory is kind or cruel but seldom truthful."
"And desire?" I asked.
"Desire is a projection of one's need
upon an object."
"And can there be love where there
are no objects of desire?"
He turned and looked into the distance.
What perfection he saw there I do not know.
We sat for a time in silence. I waited
for the sun to set, but it did not.