The Orb as Interface for Transcendence

The Orb, as we know it, resides in an Airstream trailer, near a highway in Texas, adjacent to a man eating a sandwich. It is an incomplete image, this orb. We do not get a good look at the thing “only Cas knows how to look at.” Cas places her palms together in what is almost an act of supplication before the orb that seems to be the human interface for some type of technology which transcends the unenhanced human experience. This section which has a typographic hole carved out of text condenses into some dense subjects which are provided by what appears to be all three Narcons. In quick succession we see “beginnings [pulsing] within reach… where the ontology of thought lives,” and in a few lines arrive at the “origins of eschatological limits.”  On the way we pass the myth of nunc dimmitis and the place where “the epistemology of living incarnates judgement.”

Carefully, and by defining these terms, orientation occurs following the philosophical adrenaline rush experienced in this short paragraph. First we can examine nunc dimmitis, otherwise known as the Song of Simeon or the Canticle of Simeon.

According to Wikipedia, the entire canticle as translated by Douay-Rheims in 1582 is as follows:
Now Thou dost dismiss Thy servant, O Lord,according to Thy word in peace;
Because my eyes have seen Thy salvation,
Which Thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples:
A light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel.

In the bible, Luke 2:29-32 is the story of Simeon, a devout Jew who was assured by the Holy Spirit that he would live to see the coming of the Messiah, or the deliverer of the Jewish nation. Of course, in the context of the bible, the ‘salvation’ is Jesus Christ. However, the context which Danielewsi places this is right after the sentence, “More than beginnings. Nunc Dimmitis.” Referencing the Orb in this way places the orb as an interface, as the Messiah and Cas as Simeon who is beholding if not the salvation of man, then at least the threshold of some immense alteration of human perception. It is especially interesting to see this concept juxtaposed along with the other concepts interjected by the Narcons.

Ontology is, in metaphysics, the exploration of the nature of being.

Epistemology refers to the theory of knowledge, specifically the methods which regard its scope. For example it explores the differences between justified belief and opinion.

Eschatology is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “The department of theological science concerned with ‘the four last things: death, judgment, heaven and hell’.”

When viewed through the lens of the above concepts Danielewski is placing quite a lot of emphasis on the importance of this orb, this interface which allows human beings, Cas at least, access to the concepts so often grappled with throughout human existence. Though this type of rhetoric seems somewhat heavy when compared to the other sections of the book, it provides something of a thread of continuity for the seemingly disparate narratives. In this respect, the connections running through the rest of the narrative are revealed to be primal, driven by the innate human desire to define our own existence and future beyond death.

Cas and Bobby speak in this section of their contacts and the fear they have for their safety. Cas has a pang of paranoia when a police cruiser drives by. The impending storm approaches and the Orb provides either the interface for the transcendence of mankind or, perhaps, the embodiment of hubris that may eventually consume its future.

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3 responses to “The Orb as Interface for Transcendence”

  1. Lauren Craig says :

    I really like the idea of the Orb being an embodiment of hubris. It does seem like, in the beginning of the book, the future has been consumed by something. It goes back to the idea of the Narcons. Where did they come from or who? And what happened to the humans?

    • sethdurf says :

      I liked that possibility of the orb as hubris too. However the parallel goes beyond hubris, I think. Technology today goes way beyond challenging the power of the gods to our own demise. People who would otherwise die can be kept alive with technology. We can communicate instantly. Wealth can be transferred online. We can fly in a metal bus with wings. Humans shot some dudes to the moon, they walked around on it for awhile, then they came back and became old people. Perhaps technology will even provide access to immortality itself.

      My point is, our human experience is now completely interlaced with tools of our own (someone’s… I didn’t invent anything) creation. So what does that say about us and how we choose to experience the world and life? Does that make us evil, as Cas asked Bobby? Or is the technology itself, or the implied promises of that technology somehow evil? Can that label, evil, even be applied in this context? If we can challenge mortality should we?

      • Lauren Craig says :

        That’s why I love scifi. It can address certain things that are uncomfortable to think of any other context. To answer one of your questions, I don’t think technology can be evil on its own. It is a tool that humans can use for good or evil.

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