Arts & Culture

Infinite Scroll “Dialogue #24”

By Ario Elami


Dialogue #24

Let’s start a bit further back than we normally do.

As far as I can remember, games such as pool, soccer, and basketball for me have been linked with the absence of purpose and the vanity of all things, and with the fact that the supreme being may be simply a hole.

A hole?

Yes, in the sense that a goal is a hole — an absence endowed with victoriousness. Now, I’ve occasionally given thought to a fantasy wherein our expansionist inclinations take us into outer space, and finally to one edge of the universe, however that may be defined, and that all that is waiting for us is a hole. This hole would be, as a negative form, a perfect match for the positive form of the craft supporting us. Most inviting, you see. Feel free to let your imagination run wild, regarding these forms’ geometric possibilities. Perhaps the craft is actually a super-being, a collective of humanness.

This seems, if I may be obvious and perhaps boring, quite phallic. Especially if we substitute “craft” with “vessel.”

It seems a valid characterization as far as blunt, cosmetic symbolism goes. Beyond that, I have to say that the characterization, one I have also entertained, seems inappropriate and limiting.

I find that problematic. But go on.

Of course you find that problematic. In any case, within this scenario we are drawn to the hole as a thing to be filled. And once our object has filled it, the stochastic universal narrative ends. That’s it.

Your suggestion seems to be that human development is a process of crafting shapes to fit into a pegboard with variously shaped hollows. And the further along we go, the more accurately those shapes resemble the hollows’ negatives, and the more of those hollows are filled.

That sounds limiting to me as well. You’ve put my scenario under a loosely but largely scientific hood.

Yet it fits your illustration.

Obdurate as ever. The real substance of my scenario lies in its stimulus. You see, when I observed a sports game as a child, it was impossible for me to escape the impression that, before my eyes, a cosmic, meaningless performance was proceeding. This was what one dead man termed (when he was alive, mind) the sense of the “unreality of the everyday.” And some special quality to the spectacle of a game impressed this upon me.

Surely you don’t mean to say that you, at the time, recognized this as the “unreality of the everyday”?

Of course not. I translated the experience in my own way: at its most potent, that sense manifested as a doubt of the existence of god, or the existence of god as some being beyond being. Perhaps god was simply the energy produced in a soccer stadium, most of all that energy produced when the ball went into the hole or crossed the line. Again, I use the word “hole” roughly, here.

Was that the birth of a crisis of faith?

No. You see, one day, after I’d left a stadium, I went to confession, and the priest told me that I had an odd idea, for reliable people like Dante, Newton, Manzoni, Eliot, and Messiaen believed in God without the slightest difficulty. This bewildered me, and I… postponed my religious crisis.

So, for you, there was — still is? — a horror surrounding the crowd’s enthusiasm for the “goal”? There was an unresolvability between the massiveness of that congregation and its energies, and the smallness, the arbitrariness… perhaps the singularity of the goal as the goal?

That may be part of it. That word you used — “congregation.” How interesting! Is there any religion more successful, more practical than that of sports? People have their denominations, their saints, their deities, their houses of worship, their creeds. Terms of success are objectively measurable, and fatalities produced when tribalistic tendencies flare to their utmost are minimal, certainly less than those in a war. Belief exists, and its hopes are demonstrably met or denied.

Surely you’re being sarcastic. And if you’re being serious, I expected more.

Both, if that pleases you. No, no, I’m sorry — it’s all sarcasm.


Ah. You’re thinking of something else.

I was about to go into a comparison between the scene and purpose of a sports game and that of a landscape seen from an airplane. It sounded a bit clever, and was vague and digressive enough to provide adequate intellectual defense on my end, but I’ve decided against it.

That’s just as well, because I was hoping to keep talking about holes. Actually, I wanted to say that your scenario called to my mind the simulation argument promoted by Bostrom, perhaps because the presence of a “switch” that acts as an end-point reminds me of the “switch” that might be in a game.

That thought has occurred to me as well. Now, would there be a way for us to understand the purpose of this switch? What if there is descriptive text around it? Perhaps the text is genuine; perhaps it’s an old prank, a bit of space graffiti by an inhuman intelligence. Perhaps we somehow have the means to decode the nature of this switch. Perhaps the activation of this switch goes both ways: it needs us to perform the act, and it needs beings outside of the simulation to react in kind, and perhaps in one account those beings have moved on to other simulations, discarding ours as we might discard a text that is fatally bound to its period.

Or as players might abandon an online multiplayer game.

Although the comparison is not exact, I appreciate it. And, yes: we utilize the switch and nothing happens. Humanity’s future history becomes about abiding among malfunctioning destiny — a destiny that maybe was never gratifying anyway.

As you go through these possibilities, I find that my discomfort with them comes not so much from the larger idea but by its expression — that such a discovery might cause nothing more than a great, crippling irritation. A literal goal line suspended in space, crowned by a neon congratulatory message. The tone is all wrong.

Yes. I suppose that’s part of my disgust for the afterlife as well. People the world over are disappointed by the inconclusiveness of near-death accounts of “heaven,” or “hell,” or “purgatory,” et-cetera — they yearn for decisiveness (even while they may translate evidence into proof) — yet nothing would be more disappointing or grotesque than the unmitigated confirmation of such.

The accounts cannot live up to what you want.

It’s not that at all. It’s that I don’t want them to live up to anything. Their nature obligates them to be an infinite stacking of deeps. Their fulfillment of preconceptions, emotional, imagistic, moral, is…

You say that their nature obligates them to be so, but you’ve assigned a quality right there, an assignment coming from your own preconceptions and desires. There is no “nature” of the afterlife.

It’s a contradiction, I admit. Everyone has their fantasy, and I have mine, and I follow mine on a principle of taste, because what else is there to guide us?

The claims of those near-death accounts.

What a tawdry binary.

If these accounts were to ever be confirmed, what would you do? I can’t imagine you’d go on thinking what you think now. That would put you among members of the Flat Earth Society.

If they were confirmed? Well, I’d have to adopt a brand of skepticism that says science can never be trusted because science is a history of failure that only builds towards approximations, if that. And then I would hope to die before my skepticism could be disproven without begging the question.

To sincerely embody that belief you would be required to stay huddled in a room until you died of malnutrition. And your objection would not be against the method — it would be against one result of the method that you found distasteful. You’re being sarcastic again.

Can’t one be sarcastic yet truthful at once? No matter. Thank you for putting that train of thought to bed. Do you know what one of my favorite parts of Crime and Punishment is? It’s come to my mind quite without my wanting it to. It’s in the first chapter of the book’s fourth part. Svidrigailov, without question an odious man, comes into Raskolnikov’s apartment room. Raskolnikov is pretending to be asleep, yet Svidrigailov sits himself on a chair and makes it clear to Raskolnikov’s unseeing senses that he intends to wait indefinitely.

I… believe I recall what you’re speaking of. So much of that story is in Raskolnikov’s room

It’s perfect, isn’t it? Is there a more claustrophobic piece of literature? Now, Raskolnikov drops the facade, and the two start speaking. Svidrigailov asks Raskolnikov if ghosts exist, and the latter throws the question back at the former, who confesses — well, is he really confessing? — he says that he’s seen the ghost of his wife. And the ghost of his serf, too. There’s some more banter, and Svidrigailov throws in a line after the afterlife, to which Raskolnikov replies that he does not believe in such. And then Svidrigailov wonders aloud about eternity. “Why does it have to be vast?” he asks. “What if it’s one little room, like a bath house in the country, black and grimy and spiders in every corner, and that’s all eternity is?”

That is Raskolnikov’s room. That is Svidrigailov’s dead-end philosophy.

And it’s more than that. It’s worse than any hellish mythology. How far down did Dostoevsky have to go to grasp that image and give it to one of his characters to say?

Not as deep as he had to go for his Grand Inquisitor.

That was the deepest he ever went, I think. And I’m not sure that he got back out.


Although I know that we’ve hardly exhausted these topics, I’m sensing—


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Infinite Scroll is a literary and arts magazine published in Boston, MA. IS invites writers, poets, authors, essayists, photographers, artists, drafts-people, painters, pixel pushers, and all around creative type people — you get the point — to submit their wonderful content. Each issue is themed. Previous themese have included infinity, space, bread, and romance. If you are interested in submitting to IS then send a message to us @ infinitescrollmag [at] gmail [dot] com. IS can be purchased on the web at and can be purchased in the flesh aka “meatspace” at Magpie in Somerville, MA.

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