In high school I had a short, but very intense phase of being fascinated by sciences, especially physics. In the last grade, driven by an impulse that was incomprehensible to anyone – including me, without any previous indications pointing to this idea being any good, I decided to take the finals – matura – in physics. This impulse was quite deeply and rather paradoxically romantic to the core. I was overcome by the sense of grandeur of my decision, and most of all, by the subject itself. With great eagerness, I threw myself to solving problems that had been painfully boring a moment ago, going through branch after branch of classical physics. I had the impression that I had been comprehending some great truth, or rather, that I had been discovering it. A truth that was pure and universal, free from any primitive, false, and unnecessary human factors. This impression reached its peak when I reached relativistic and quantum physics. No matter that only snippets of these branches of physics were included in my high school’s physics curriculum (at the basic level), and no matter how imperfect my abilities were to understand them. Difficult as it was, I managed somehow to master the basics of Lorentz transformations and the probability calculus, thinking about the relativity of time and space, as well as about the ambiguity of position and velocity, the wave-particle duality, and so on, I experienced flashes of eye-blinding enlightenment, or happiness, I’d say. My efforts were crowned by the oral physics exam, during which I was given a physics problem: to calculate the electron’s orbit in a hydrogen atom model according to Bohr, and I succeeded.
After that exam, just as suddenly as I had started, I stopped having anything to do with physics. I focused on music, and my attitude to music during that temporary fascination with physics changed a lot. I think it matured. When I think about it now, I get the impression that, while quite basic but actually based on mathematics rather than verbal description, this insight into physics, in particular into the relativistic-quantum model of the world, allowed me to look at this world in a different light. The concept of truth – and secret – expanded. As If had done my homework, built the foundations, or at least dug the hole for those foundations – and having it, I could let myself enter more and more fuzzy areas. In any case, the concepts of chance and relativity resonate strongly in me, as those that are very important for the understanding of the world and myself in it. Of the matter and of the mind – the relationship between them is perhaps the most profound question of them all.
And I find a trace of it in Lem's work. I understand (provided that I understand Him well) well his need to put the human experience within a certain frame, trust in science as the instance that is, in a sense, most important, while retaining the essence of that experience as something that goes beyond pure materialism; leaving a prominent spot for metaphysics, plural. It is important, however, to avoid succumbing to the temptation of being too hasty in drawing conclusions from the incompatibility of science, in particular the most recent achievements of science, with the so-called “common sense”. That naive New Age pseudo-science, which Lem seemed to particularly despise.
Lem followed a very interesting theory of the arts, which he explained mostly in the two-volume extensive essay entitled “The Philosophy of Chance”. I believe that providing a summary is unnecessary, and I haven't read the whole thing – and truth be told, I doubt that I’ll ever read it. What’s important for me here is that the “The Mask” seems to be model example of how Lem understands arts and pieces of art. As a work that is both determined and free. A hierarchical, complex system with certain initial conditions, evolving according to certain laws, but remaining under a strong influence of random events, aiming at a certain final state, which is, on the one hand, unpredictable and, on the other hand, results from a number of recognisable factors. There seems to be an element of consciousness in this randomness. The Woman-Machine-Mantis embodies a piece of art. She inevitably heads for her programmed goal, but she performs a series of chaotic movements on the way. She recognizes her nature and her fate through acting, which, by the way, is very much in line with what I’ve read about the current findings of neurology about the nature of perception and the way the brain works. In short, and probably as a shameful simplification: some scholars suggest that we should change the paradigm from thinking about the brain as a reactive system that builds the model of the world based on the signals from the senses and shift towards an active, autonomous system that manifests its own activity and allows us to explore the world outside, creates correlations between its own, mostly chaotic activity models, and external signals. György Buzsáki, ‘The Brain from Inside Out’ – read it to learn more, if you’d like. The conclusions that are associated with such a paradigm shift concern, among other things, what we know about the nature of time and space, and what is also associated with everything that I have already written about. So, “The Mask” can be interpreted not only in the context of the arts and as a piece of art, but in the context of life in general, and Lem would probably agree, looking at his scope of reflection in “The Philosophy of Chance” (and in other works as well).
Libretto is basically ready. Before I publish it, I need to make sure that I’m allowed to do this (copyrights must be considered). I hope I can, and that it will happen soon. Now I am in the process of making an important decision about the language in which the song will be sung. As I mentioned before, I considered German and Russian. But now I’m going in a different direction. All I can say now is that I’m thinking about constructed languages and machine translation.
Tomorrow, concert performance of ahat-ilī in Gdańsk, on the occasion of delivering the “European Poet of Freedom” Award, with Olga Tokarczuk among the jurors. The audience will be relatively small, mostly incidental, pandemic conditions and all. I am very happy, anyway. Or perhaps happy even more so, this being one of the things that we have managed to save from the general disaster that the rich plans for this year have become.
(transl. Magdalena Małek-Andrzejowska)