Act One of Show Trials has already been sketched; cue Act Two. Guilty by association, the characters in the fictions rejected in Act One are consigned to a Limbo of being written but not read. What are they doing, these shadows of illusions? What thoughts come to them as they wait, perhaps forever, to be released from their literary time out?
I hoped that Christine Brooke-Jones might offer some insights. Though the forgotten characters in her Textermination lived inside of fictions that in times past had been widely read, over the decades and sometimes the centuries they had gradually sunk into oblivion. Perhaps they would be more nostalgic than the Show Trials characters who had never had their day in the sun. Relieved that their responsibilities to readers had been fulfilled, they could lounge in comradely retirement. Alas, Brooke-Jones offers her readers not much more than a host of unfamiliar names dropped into a rather silly postmodern cops-and-terrorists story.
Neil Gaiman comes closer to the spirit I’m looking for. American Gods was published ten years after Textermination, so one wonders whether Gaiman lifted his core fictional premise from Brooke-Rose. He’s English and his writing exhibits a fair bit of intertextuality, so it’s possible. All of the old gods are fading because no one worships them any more, or even remembers them. Instead of attending a convention as do the forgotten fictional characters in Textermination, Gaiman’s old gods converge on a roadside attraction in Tennessee to do battle with the new gods: electronics, media, etc. The old gods are recognizably Jungian, embodiments of the cultures in which they arose. Stirred together in the melting pot of the New World, the pure archetypal ethnicities of the Old World have in Gaiman’s mythos become mongrelized. The gods persist but in very diminished form, driving taxis and grifting, huddled in Chicago tenements cooking borscht and on Indian reservations drinking Budweisers. I suppose there are theorists who contend that well-known fictional characters are themselves demiurges, incorporeal beings who can manifest themselves virtually everywhere – in books and movies, in heads, in conversations.
So there are precedents in the case law to draw from in the Show Trials. The authors presenting their fictions before the judge in Act One get to script as they see fit their own characters’ liminal scenes and soliloquies for Act Two.
Act Two. The fictional characters remain occluded, occulted, limboized, their revelations hidden under the bushels of the unpublished. But they are revealed, for the texts reveal them, though no one witnesses the revelations. Are the characters’ existences delimited by what has been written about them, forcing them to repeat the same scripted actions and pronouncements again and again? Or do they have continuation, be it actual or potential or virtual? There can be no definitive answer here.
A character is thrust into situations and responds. Act Two is a situation into which the writer is thrust. Some will respond on their own behalf, expressing rage perhaps, or stunned denial, or maybe relief. Other writers will call upon their characters to respond:
Up to now you have experienced fragments of an imaginary life in an imaginary world. I have chronicled those imaginary fragments, intending to reveal them to others occupying the real world in which I also live. Witnesses to the revelation become portals by which you too gain entry to the real world, not materially but virtually.
Do I leave my imaginary world behind?
No: you occupy both worlds at once, consubstantially.
Is it not unlike, when I encounter another person in my imaginary world, that person is there, separate from me, and is also here, in my head, running as a simulation?
Very much like it.
In the sense that I am more limited in and of myself, occupying only one imaginary place and time, whereas I can occupy many others’ mental simulations of me at once?
Yes, but I just realized something. You occupy not two worlds at once, but three. The imaginary world as a character, yes; the mental model of the witness in the real world, yes. And also, third, you occupy the textual world. This is the intermediary realm where the revelation is documented and witnessed. I point at you with words; the witness follows my pointing finger.
But of course this happens also in my imaginary world. Two of us talk about someone else, someone who is not present among us, and in a sense that materially absent person joins our conversation, in turn activating our separate mental simulations of the absent subject of our dialogue.
Indeed. I write about you, the reader occupying the real world reads about you, you become virtually present in the real-world textual communication.
And through that textual transaction I gain access to the reader’s imagination. Tell me: is the reader’s imagination part of the real world?
Well, it runs in the brain, and the brain is a real, material, organic apparatus.
Yes, but that which is being run: is it real, material, organic? I mean, I am not a denizen of the real world, correct?
I occupy your imagination, you translate me into text, reading the text translates me into a subject of conversation, the conversant translates me into the imagination. So through this cascade of translations do I become real? It would seem not. I would presume that the imagination is the realm of the imaginary, of the unreal, of the fictional.
And so, I remain fictional, unreal, throughout these transformations. But the reason I can pass through the sequence of portals is because…
…is because the realms through which I pass are likewise unreal. Texts can be printed on paper or on electronic screens, imaginary beings can be processed by organic brains, and perhaps also by simulated electronic brains. But the content of the imaginary, the insubstantial substance: it remains unreal. Printed texts are real, but what’s written in those texts? Unreal. Brains are real, but what’s thought in those brains? Unreal. Tell me: are the portals bidirectional?
You mean, can I as writer occupy the fictional world you occupy? Can the reader? Most would answer in the affirmative.
But your imaginations are what span the distance, yes? Your fictional selves?
I suppose so.
You, the readers, you traverse the barrier into our realms, but you do not make yourselves known to us.
There are postmodernists, but even Cervantes… It’s out of fashion though for the writers to intrude too overtly into the fictions they’re chronicling.
They should observe and take notes but not participate?
All right, I believe I’m ready to perform in your little show. Who will give voice to my content?
I will, I suppose. You speak your imaginary speech, I write it down, I read it aloud.
And there will be an audience of listeners?
Well, it might be an imaginary audience…