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Crossing the boundary: analogue universe, digital worlds
Crossing the boundary: analogue universe, digital worlds

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2.2 Sensual world

Just back home after a night walk, Klingsor stood on the narrow stone balcony of his studio. Below him, dizzyingly precipitate, the old terrace gardens dropped away, a densely shadowed tangle of tree tops, palms, cedars, chestnuts, Judas-trees, red beech and eucalyptus, intertwined with climbing plants, lianas, wisterias …. From the massed leafage, penetrating and rousing, a tartly sweet smell of lemons drifted towards him. From some indefinite distance languorous music winged its way to him, perhaps a guitar, perhaps a piano; there was no saying. A peacock suddenly cried from a yard, twice, three times, piercing the night with the short, angry wooden tone of its tormented voice …. Starlight flowed through the wooded valley ….

Klingsor stood on the balcony, coatless, his bare forearms leaning on the iron railing, and with a touch of sullenness, his eyes hot, read the script of the stars against the pale sky …. Yes it was night again, late and he ought to go to sleep now, absolutely and at all costs. Perhaps if he could really sleep for several nights in succession, sleep soundly for six or eight hours, he would be able to recover, his eyes would be obedient and patient again, his heart calmer and his temples without pain. But then this summer would be over … and along with it a thousand undrunk glasses would be spilled, a thousand unseen loving looks shattered, a thousand irrecoverable pictures extinguished unseen!

He laid his forehead and his aching eyes against the cool iron railing. That refreshed him for a moment. In a year, perhaps sooner, these eyes would be blind and the fires in his heart extinct. No human being could endure his flaming life for long …. Nobody could be ablaze day and night, working feverishly for many hours every day, spending many hours every night in feverish thoughts…. It would come to an end. A great deal of strength had already been squandered, much eyesight consumed, much life bled away.

(Hermann Hesse, Klingsor's Last Summer)

The sensuality of this passage reminds us powerfully how immersed we are in our world. The reader is aware of all sorts of sensory stimuli: the gentle moonlight; the tropical heat and humidity of the scene; the sounds of the peacock and of distant music; the smell of lemon blossom; the coolness of the iron railing; the ache of the temples and the burning of the eyes. But the writing also speaks of more abstract human concerns: the need for rest; the imminence of death. It looks back to past summers of strength and inspiration. It looks forward into possible futures: one of sleep and respite from pain, another of love and creativity; and a bleak final future of the end of summer, death and extinction.

Our own lives may not be as passionate, sensual and dramatic as this, but our concerns are similar. We too swim in a sea of sensory stimuli, enjoying the warmth of the sun, and enduring the discomfort of cold and damp. We are also aware of less immediate concerns, such as the price of petrol, the rate of inflation, and global warming. And we all can summon up past memories, good and bad, and imagine possible futures. What if we bought a new car? Would it be as good (or bad) as the old one? What would be the effect on our budget, and the environment, if we went for the two litre model?

Like Klingsor:

  • we live in and experience an actual, immediate world;

  • we have remembered, past worlds to draw on;

  • we can mentally explore a range of possible future worlds that do not exist yet, and may never exist.

So what can this possibly have to do with computers?