I was about to move on when he rose and, brushing from his sleeve the hanging fringe of the brocade, as if to indicate the comedy was over, came towards me. Two steps and he stopped […]
then I closed one hand and with the other let slip from my wrist the little loop of my fan. For it to fall. So he immediately…
We looked at each other, now up close, over the mother-of-pearl handle of the fan. A glorious and dreadful moment, a mortal stab of cold caught me in the throat, transfixing speech, therefore feeling that I would not bring forth my voice, only a croak, I nodded to him […]
‘Madam’ he said, clearing his throat like a hog. ‘Your fan…’
‘Sir’, I said, and my voice in timbre was a trifle husky, altered, but he could think it was my normal voice, indeed he had never heard it until now, ‘must I drop it again?
Arrhodes gets trapped. Like a child, as they say. The wise man, public enemy number one, who poses a serious threat to the authorities, an unrelenting dissident, remains helpless in the face of an alluring, mysterious beauty. He loses his vigilance, leaves his safe, strategic position at the window and by the wall, from where he can see everything, and in case of danger he can run away and follow the girl like a pike follows a spinner. He falls in love, as befits a love story, at first sight.
And I smiled, oh, but not enticingly, seductively, not brightly. I smiled only because I felt I was blushing. The blush did not belong to me, it spread on my cheeks, claimed my face, pinkened by ear lobes, which I could feel perfectly, yet I was not embarrassed, nor excited, nor did I marvel at this unfamiliar man, only one of many after all, lost among the courtiers […] the blush seemed part of the court etiquette, of that which was required, like the fan, the crinoline, the topazes and coiffures.
The Girl also succumbs to affection, but differently. She maintains the ability to observe. She is not fully in control, she is not purely calculating, she loses her voice, she blushes and cannot control it, but she can adapt, she can observe and analyse her own responses to stimuli and develop her strategy as she goes. Not knowing her true goal, preventively, just in case. She is quite inhuman in the cold of it. Humanity, and therefore authenticity acting as camouflage, is given to her by ignorance.
It is hard to say whether in Lem’s case this picture is more of a sinister prophecy of the inevitable relations between people and machines, or rather a satire on the truly human relations, with all their pitifulness revealed from the distance and in the long run. The fervent elation in the service of blind evolution. Crinolines that trigger a vague feeling of great fulfilment, getting an answer to the most important question, providing at most a dose of endorphins for some time.
But Lem is more than just being bitter here in his reflections. He speaks in an artistic form, taking care about style. He speaks beautifully, however horrible that beauty might be. Yes, lofty feelings and deep longings in love's exaltations might not serve noble purposes. But the fact that it is possible to love in this world, though illusionary, is meaningful. The survival of species could be based on different principles and individual feelings. Fear and anger can be strong enough motivators for action. However, for some reasons, they are not enough, what Lem – as it seems to me – notices in his works and asks about the reasons for it there, without giving any clear answer (fortunately...).
The work has gained momentum. Phase one, with the meeting of the Girl with Arrhodes as its central point, is almost completed. Arrhodes' taking the love’s bait is accompanied by a melody – or shards of it – that is slightly archaic in style, opening with one of the intervals that is, in my view, most open to interpretation: the perfect fifth. One of the options:
(transl. Magdalena Małek-Andrzejowska)
(quotations: Michael Kandel, 'Mortal Engines', Penguin Classics 2016)