Art in the Contemporary World graduate, Barry Kehoe has kindly agreed to publish his Literary Visions essay. Literary Visions is a strand of the ACW course that looks at the relationship between literature and contemporary art. Barry’s 50°02′09″N 19°10′42″E is a science fiction short story that takes on ideas of memory as an illness and history’s potential to hinder peace and progress.
50°02′09″N 19°10′42″E by Barry Kehoe
In accordance with subsection 7 of the redaction law of 3522 (concerning the eradication of all archeological and historic objects that could result in divisive memory creation and the forming of socially delinquent identities) this document, which is the only legal copy in existence, must be destroyed by the end of the last diurnal turn of the third cycle after the next annual recursion.
If any party attempts to make a copy of these document s or is found in possession of such a copy or fails to dispose of these documents before the stated date and time period above they will be subject to subsection 10 and 12 of the redaction law of 3522 and will be terminated immediately.
What follows is a short excerpt from a standard finding report by Dr. L2103090514 coordinator of the global research body for locating natural resources and energy deposits.
Special Agent #04003039 sat in her office watching the light blinking deep within the communication unit that was embedded in the centre of the obsidian desk. The free floating desk was sleek and streamlined in exact linear configuration with the dimly luminescent walls. She distractedly looked around the perfect cube that constituted her office. Nothing obstructed the perfectly smooth walls ceiling and floor. She had ordered lunar-glow for the colour-effect. The Operations Manager had only offered her the two colour options available for an agent at her grade, lunar-glow or mauve-bleed. The Operations Manager pushed the lunar-glow, saying it would give the office a calming glare and besides, no one ever contradicted the Operations Manager. Right now the colour was annoying Special Agent #04003039. Mauve-bleed would have suited her current mood a lot better. If it were allowed she’d much prefer the paler fungal-spore, but that was just for senior special agents, a whole two grades above. It most certainly gave the Over Administrators’ offices an instant air of authority, something that was missing from the insipid lunar-glow. She rolled her collar identity pin gently between her narrow long fingers and wondered how many more missions and how much more minor brain damage she would have to endure until her promotion. She wondered if the day would ever arrive when she would have the authority of a senior agent, when she could have fungal-spore for her work cube and get to keep her memories.
She leaned forward in her sleek ergonomic chair, rolled her neck as she stretched her back, stared intently at the pale glow of the wall in front of her and spoke with a soft low voice. “Answer,” she said, in almost a whisper. Immediately the wall in front of the desk was filled with the image of the Over Administrator,
- “Yes sir, what can I do for you,” Special Agent #04003039
- “Ahh, ‘39, you are looking a little pale. I hope the latest
memory engram redaction didn’t hit any of those scintillating
personality centres of yours.”
- “No sir I’m fine thank you” she replied, stone faced, trying
extremely hard not to show any emotion at all. “What can I do
for you sir?”
- “It’s a pity you couldn’t keep the memory of your last report, it
(“Bastard,” Special Agent #04003039 thought to herself).
- “Alas it’s the law. I’d suppose it’s there for your protection
and the good of society, but still when you get your next
promotion you’ll have access to your case files and you’ll see
the great work that you’ve done. Did you hear about the collapse
of Sector Beta in City State 5? It was just as we suspected. We
found another of Dr. Henry Farber’s memory machines.It’s
ridiculous everyone knows how dangerous these machines are and
they still insist on…”
- “Sir, you have something for me?” Special Agent #04003039
- “Ah yes,” the Over Administrator continued, a little taken aback.
He wasn’t used to being interrupted. “Something has come up,
‘39. We have recovered another artifact from the grid in the
new oceanic region at 53°08′38″N, 6°04′19″W. We don’t want this
data getting into any civilian hands. The artefact was
recovered clean. The expedition team didn’t even get to see it
and outside of the two senior exploration officers no one else
is aware that anything was found. We are concerned however that
the artifact references other locations of potential memory
infraction. We have identified these co-ordinates and there may
be historic contaminants present. We need you to go to
50°02′09″N, 19°10′42″E, and investigate. We are entrusting you
with six image fragments of the artifact.I expect your report
before the end of the third diurnal cycle.”
The over administrator was gone and the pale sickly hue of lunar-glow filled Special Agent #04003039’s field of vision except for a small folder icon that was flashing in the dead centre of the translucent wall. “Open file,” she commanded.
The images of an ancient note book appeared before her eyes. It was covered in primitive, hand written text, some roughly sketched drawings and two photographic images that were collaged into the pages of the folio. She instantly felt the excitement of a door being opened on to the past. She took a deep breath to steady her excitement and examined the first image. She began to read the text:
Wed Oct 22nd 2008
9:30 Cracovia Hotel – got here early 9:05, got coffee in the
bar. Don’t know what to expect today. Horrific thing and
place. Hostel goodbye Lenin is a good youth culture spot,
with funky bar, clean and warm, so I can’t complain. Met
Maria on the plane and Grotta, a Polish girl living in Galway
for the past three years, very friendly, helped us out. There
was a young Brazilian guy, Evan I think, we found our way out
of the Gallerie shopping centre together. Cold and foggy last
night like something from a spy movie. The hostel is up a dead
end street in an inner courtyard; hard to spot when you are
tired and in the dark, but it is very welcoming once you get
in (with a welcome shot).
Special Agent #04003039 became involuntarily excited by the exotic and unfamiliar words like “Poland” and “Brazil” words from the world before the cataclysm. She could feel every fiber of her body coming to life through the text of this ancient manuscript. The arcane dating system, “Oct” what did it denote? words like “Cracovia” and “Lenin” sent tingles through her limbs to her trembling finger tips. But what was the horror to which the author referenced. Impatiently she scanned through the hand drawn images in the documents.
There was a beautiful girl’s face, just half of a face with the words “Mucha + Beardsley” at the top of the page, “was it her designation?” She read on, “A girl on the Metro that suddenly smiled as she walked, an involuntary response to a deep sensation or memory.” “How exotic,” she thought to herself, “these people and their approach to memory. How did something so wonderful become so dangerous?” More exotic words arose from the page “Prado, Picasso, Goya”- “they were painters, what did they paint?” Special Agent #04003039’s mind was filled with nostalgia for something she couldn’t even begin to imagine.
Another page had a drawing of a curious doorway with a strange name and a highly poetic description:
Nov 8th 2008
“Sitting now at Mala Buza to watch the sun set, looking across at the zoological gardens on the island of Lokrum. A few cats prowl lazily about the rocks while others bask in the dying sunlight. A beautiful blonde tourist shuffles through stored photos on her digital camera. Two Japanese girls are laughing down beside the water that laps gently against the yellow sun bleached stones and rocks of Mala Buza. Interrupted momentarily by the put-put-put of a passing fishing boat’s engine, clouds gather over the tops of the hills south east along the coast. Terribly romantic notions, Byron hanging out here, swimming, drinking, whoring, wonderful. A libertine, exiled for an affair with his half- sister. Coleridge’s biography never mentioned syphilis (only apoplexy). There is no bust to Byron in Poets Corner in Westminster Abbey. His heart is buried in Italy somewhere….”
Special Agent #04003039 closed the file on her vidi-wall, it was all becoming a little emotionally overwhelming. She needed to get a transport to the investigation site. If she spent too much time deliberating over the artifact images she might be accused of a memory infringement. She exited her office through the vidi-wall and walked directly to the transporter access hub. She avoided eye contact with her colleagues, as she walked through the corridors of the central ordering hub. She did not want to be distracted from the images of the sunset at Mala Buza that still lingered in her imagination. She called for a transporter. It came too quickly. She wanted to linger over this feeling of warmth that the text had given her. She felt an anger rise within her at the thought of losing the memories of the text and the half image of the beautiful woman “Mucha + Beardsley.” Her time with this information would be short and once the investigation was concluded it would be taken from her. She reminded herself that the anger and resentment that she was starting to feel was the very reason why memory like this had been outlawed. She set the co-ordinates for the location of her investigation 50°02′09″N, 19°10′42″E. The automated transporter informed her that the journey would take 25 standard temporal units exactly to reach the position of the given coordinates. This gave Special Agent #04003039 time to look over the artifact file once more.
She called up the file on the vidi-wall in the transporter and returned to the page with the words “Horrific thing” and read some more. There was a peculiar image of a sign with a skull and cross bones with the words “Halt” and “Stoj”:
“Passing through the beautiful golden brown woodland; towns with markets; a woman harvesting a plot of beats by hand. How bizarre a two humped camel? Who owned those spectacles? What did those eyes see through the broken glass? A melancholy landscape with violin music like in a movie. The Wista river is brown, forlorn. The railway bridge is basking on this low morning, of a low winter sun. For a quick lesson in genocide this is the correct place to come…..Not sure about preserving this shrine to death. Mixed feelings and emotions. Hard to take in, realization of how media corrupts our relationship to reality, the world is reduced to a film set. What is left to destroy our preconceptions of our egotistical impressions? The world is sanitized by its divorce from reality through the media. Lots of school children on tour. Is it such a healthy activity? This and the Normandy beaches, Monte Casino, St Sever war cemeteries. Sum up the madness and futility of what was unleashed upon the world, but here there are no graves only the voids left in the Libeskind museum in Berlin”
Special Agent #04003039 rubbed her eyes, she couldn’t quite grasp what she was reading, “madness, futility, death,” she began to realize that this was quite a serious assignment. This text was alluding to some unspeakable horror but what? She looked at one of the two photographic images that appeared in the pages of the notebook. There was an image of an ancient rail system, of the type used long ago for the transport of goods and people, a long time before the cataclysm. Under the photo she read these words: “Did they die to teach us something horrific about ourselves? The scale of the inhumanity cannot be counted. The destruction and execution of pregnant women appalls me the most. I don’t know why I feel it is in some way or in some degree worse than any other killing or murder of any other human being when so many where annihilated, disintegrated and disappeared. It is darkness that we have witnessed it is darkness at its vilest work. The scariest thing is that it dwells within each of us.
We must always remember we must always be vigilant and yet, I have a strange sense of detachment as I walk around the place. The mountain of human hair; the pile of shoes; the children’s toys, I should feel anger but there is no place to direct it. I can only confront it within myself with a sense of overwhelming bewilderment. I’m left confused by what I have seen. The baby booties are so shocking. It is a void without light, hope or life. This is not a world but a hell. Dead generations fought hard for this liberty that we enjoy and we must continue to struggle and to fight for that liberty. It is not quite freedom but to be an individual, strong or weak, rich or poor, able or disabled we all must struggle and suffer. But it need not be painful or unnecessary……….. As long as we don’t forget.”
Special Agent #04003039 looked at the last image and its accompanying text: “It’s strange that I brought this image with me. A still from Miroslaw Balka’s video “B” (2007). I’d suppose it’s why I came here in the first place, to bear witness; to see for myself with my own eyes; to know the unbelievable. This artwork haunted me. I was compelled to return several times to the art gallery to watch it again and again. The peculiar soundtrack of the children’s laughter as they walked beneath the sign: “Arbeit Macht Frei” I even bought the limited edition print, something I would never do in my right mind. I couldn’t afford it for a start at €500. I don’t know what compelled me to get it. I took it home and stood it on the mantel piece in the front room. I sat in an armchair and stared at it for days. After a while I put it in the wardrobe. It’s been there ever since.” Eventually it drove me to come here to this place where I never wanted to be and now as I leave I know it will come with me wherever I go. This is a place I will never be able to leave behind and now all I want to do is forget.”
Special Agent #04003039 turned off the vidi-wall and looked out the windows at the golden brown leaves of the vast forest that stretched for miles in every direction. She felt strangely nauseous as she approached her destination. A terrible sense of foreboding and fear grew within her. She had never felt anything like this before. She wondered had her previous assignments been like this one? Had she been here before or anywhere like this? No, she couldn’t have been. Though she couldn’t remember the detail of her previous assignments she could always recall her sensations. She knew if she felt good or bad about an assignment even after a memory engram redaction. But this sensation was unique. This was something new, a feeling that was unknown. She was breathing heavily. Beads of perspiration appeared on her brow. She felt the walls of the transporter start to close in around her. She had to stop. Something awful was waiting for her at 50°02′09″N, 19°10′42″E. “Stop! Stop the transport!” she shouted. Immediately the whine of the electro-magnetic pulse engine descended to a deep hum and then went silent as the transporter settled gently to the ground. But it was too late. The automated transporter announced “You have reached your destination.” Slightly panicked and before she could think to stop herself she opened a communication channel to the Over Administrator.
– “What do you want ‘39? I wasn’t expecting to hear from you so
– “I don’t want this case, sir I know it’s an unusual request and
from my records I know I’ve never refused a case before but not
this one. I don’t want to do this one.”
– “’39 this is highly irregular. Look, I can tell from your
locator beacon that you are already at the coordinates.
It’ll be a lot easier for you to just go and check the place
out. The faster you finish the sooner you can put it behind you
and get on to the next assignment. You know no one who has
made senior agent ever refused a case. This wouldn’t look good
on your file when promotions are in the pipeline. Why don’t
you just have a quick look around, I’m sure everything will be
– “Yes sir, sorry for disturbing you.”
Special Agent #04003039 couldn’t bring herself to look at the Over Administrator on the vidi-wall. She knew she had made a fatal error opening the com-link. She stepped out of the transporter. It was a warm pre equinox evening. The sun was casting long shadows through the golden poplar trees. A light bed of fallen leaves had already begun to scatter across the grassy forest floor. She walked up to the edge of a large field. She could smell the earth and the chlorophyll of the respiring grass. Cows were lowing in the distance as they were being driven into a fresh grazing strip. A dark column of black smoke billowed high into the still evening air. A farm hand was burning a pile of damp leaves on the far side of the clearing. The over administrator was still on the com link.
– “Well ‘39?”…”’39?”
– “Yes sir?” she replied distractedly.
– “Is there anything to report? Is there anything there?”
– “No sir. There’s nothing to report. There isn’t anything here,
just a dairy farm and the forest.”