Show Trials, Part 5

Act One: fourteen authors present their fictions; the publishing judge rejects all fourteen. The characters and narrators of the fourteen unpublished books soliloquize from the Limbo of Act Two. Act Three is the writer self-auction. Court adjourns to the alchemical bar for portalic cocktails. In Act Four a series of published books is paraded before the consumer, who can judge any book by its cover – the art, the blurbs, the bios, the binding. Meanwhile, Now at last comes the end, the grand finale, Act Five, the last act: nothing left to lose, nothing left to gain.

Fourteen stations are set up around the inside perimeter of the courtroom, seven on each side, like the Stations of the Cross in a Catholic church. Collectively the stations commemorate the fourteen novels found guilty in Act One. Is Act Five a Via Dolorosa, a recessional descending into the Tomb World of the Unpublished? Not at all. Is it a celebration, a declaration of faith that, despite setbacks, the books will one day see the light of day? No, not that either. This Show is neither tragic nor inspirational. It’s a farce. But is there redemption in the end, even if it is a fictional one?

Suppose, as one of the Show Trial fiction writers, I’m assigned Station One. My station needs an icon – some physical object that either represents my book or appears in the text. Suppose that in Act One I presented my case for one of my own long fictions, the one where Mrs. Dervain recruits Stephen Hanley to accompany her on a pilgrimage in search of Miguel Obispo. Already in the first chapter several potentially iconic objects suggest themselves. The manicured hand of Mrs. Dervain. The braided gold chain of Mrs. Dervain’s dream, of her film, of her life. The two glasses of beer. The striped outdoor umbrella protecting the café table. But the gold chain has already attained iconic status in the Pilgrimage, and so I choose it for my Station at the Show Trial. Next: a short sample of music relevant to the novel. Are any pieces referenced in this book? Yes indeed: two Clash songs. I pick Rock the Casbah. A short responsorial reading is to be selected from the novel’s text. I’m thinking of something near the end, in the southern Italian pilgrimage town, an odd instrumental cover of the Clash suffusing la Vìa Mòrta, when the commessa recounts the legend of the carved leather box in which the gold chain is later enshrined. Maybe the box should be iconicized instead of the chain? But a chain is more easily obtained, and I have no skill either to carve such a box or to paint an image of it. The chain it is.

Act Four ends, and the Walk of the Stations begins. The trumpet player and the snare drummer step to the front of the courtroom, where they begin performing a piece composed specifically for the Show Trial. The Judge comes down from the bench carrying the gavel. Behind him is the Clerk, who has picked up the purple and gold Show Trial flag, displayed on a pole in the left front corner of the courtroom, and is now bearing it ceremoniously. The two dignitaries begin recessing slowly down the front aisle, followed by the two playing musicians. Row by row the gallery empties behind them, ushers handing out programs for the Stations ceremony that is about to unfold. The jumble assembles itself into a parade that circles the courtroom interior counter-clockwise, the frontrunners eventually catching up to the rearguard like the head of an ouroboros biting its own tail. The music stops. Judge, Clerk, and musicians halt in front of Station One; everyone else clusters in behind them. There is a pedestal surmounted by black velvet cloth on which are posed a plastic female dummy’s forearm and hand, the golden chain dangling from the fingers. The drummer and trumpeter play eight bars of Rock the Casbah. Cut the music. I recite the first line of the meditation, to which the audience responds, and so on, alternating through the ceremonial excerpt:

Grateful for his deliverance, he sank into a profound and benumbing exhaustion.
When it lifted, he found himself besieged by a series of moods.
Then complacency.
His steps seemed guided by neither will nor fate nor even chance.
He could not see that he was being made ready.
When at last his apostasy became so profound that he no longer even watched himself, he entered into la Vìa Mòrta.
How long did he wander the labyrinth of shops and corridors and inner courtyards before he passed through the right doorway?
Had fate or chance directed his steps?
The story does not say, and so it cannot be ascertained.
What is important is that he did pass through.
You know without it being spoken what he found there.
As he gazed upon it he felt the scales falling from his eyes.
It was, beyond all probability yet assuredly, the same.
How had it found its way to this indiscriminate margin of the world?
Who is the owner? he asked the commessa.
You, she replied.

The Clerk dips the flag toward me, the keeper of Station One. I nod. The two-piece orchestra strikes up a different tune, and I join the procession as it shuffles incrementally on its counterclockwise peregrination around the inner circle toward Station Two.

As it circulates from station to station, the Show Trial recession becomes infected with mood: not isolated and pessimistic and impotent, not their opposites, not some midrange synthesis, not a negation of the negation, but something different, maybe something better. Snaking its way down the stairway and out of the Courthouse, the recession re-enters the world as a carrier of the infection, a mood vector. Immediately the infection begins to mutate, synthesizing with carriers and environments to spawn multiplex interrelated ficticities. The fiction writers, exposed to one another’s projects, begin reading each other, editing each other, collaborating with each other, organizing together into anarcho-syndicalist fictional collectives. Readers too join ranks with the writers and with one another, expanding the ecological niches of worthy ficticities and assembling mechanisms of virtual transport for those who would occupy those ficticities. The Show Trial goes on the road, engaging writers and readers of fiction in other locales, further extending and mutating the mood infection. No reason it couldn’t happen…

The Show Trial is not a real trial. It’s an imaginary trial, a stylized abstraction of injustice presented in juridical form, a lamentation performed as a theatrical public entertainment. The final act, the Stations recessional: is it a religious ceremony? No: it’s a metaphysical ambiguity choreographed as an imaginary liturgy. To top it all off, the whole thing is imaginary: it’s never actually happened in the real world, and it likely never will.

But what if it did happen, written and staged and performed by real writers and readers in front of a real audience: would it become a real trial, a real liturgy? No. It remains a work of the imagination even if it takes place in a real physical space with the participation of real physical people. What’s different if the Show Trial actually happens is that a heretofore private imagining is made manifest as a material collective imagining. The imaginary expands into a fictional ecology – a ficticity. The Show Trial ecosystem extends itself to more people, to other locales. The interactions and activities taking place within the ecosystem become more elaborate, more intricate, more intensive. People spend a greater proportion of their time immersed in the ecosystem, cultivating habits and relationships, establishing protocols and praxes. Writers organize themselves into anarcho-syndicalist collectives. A ficticity transforms into a facticity.

To be continued…

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