Story, an excerpt from Anathem

December 17, 2008

If your favourite quote is Thoreau’s “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” you’ll probably like the following.



The way in which Yul had decided to join us on our journey north was strange to me.  There had been no rational process, no marshaling of evidence, no weighing of options.  But that was how Yul lived his whole life.  He had not-I realized-been invited by Gnel to come out and pay us a visit at the fueling station.  He had just shown up.  He did a new thing with a new set of people every day of his life.  And that made him just as different from the people in the traffic jam as I was.

So I looked with fascination at those people in their mobes, and tried to fathom what it would be like.  Thousands of years ago, the work that people did had been broken down into jobs that were the same every day, in organizations where people were interchangeable parts.  All of the story had been bled out of their lives.  That was how it had to be; it was how you got a productive economy.  But it would be easy to see a will at work behind this:  not exactly an evil will, but a selfish will.  The people who’d made the system thus were jealous, not of money and not of power but of story.  If their employees came home at day’s end with interesting stories to tell, it meant that something had gone wrong:  a blackout, a strike, a spree killing.  The Powers That Be would not suffer others to be in stories of their own unless they were fake stories that had been made up to motivate them.  People who couldn’t live without story had been driven into the concents or into jobs like Yul’s.  All others had to look somewhere outside of work for a feeling that they were part of a story, which I guessed was why Saeculars were so concerned with sports, and with religion.  How else could you see yourself as part of an adventure?  Something with a beginning, middle and end in which you played a significant part?  We avout had it ready made because we were a part of this project of learning new things.  Even if it didn’t always move fast enough for people like Jesry, it did move.  You could tell where you were and what you were doing in that story.   Yul got all of this for free by living his stories from day to day, and the only drawback was that the world held his stories to be of small account.  Perhaps that was why he felt such a compulsion to tell them, not just about his own exploits in the wilderness, but those of his mentors.

Neal Stephenson.  Anathem.  HarperCollins.  2008.  p. 414


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