Mastodon BECKETT REINVENTED: THE AGE OF A.I. - Jerry Patrick - Stories - Sensitive Skin Magazine


(News item: Several of the leading tech companies have announced breakthroughs in the development of Chatbots, which hold promise of eliminating the profession of creative writing. And of course they would also eliminate the writer, such as Samuel Beckett, the perpetrator of uplifting novels such as ‘Molloy.’)


Yesterday it was raining and I did not want to get wet. I was in the middle of a field and everything was getting wet. That’s the way it is with rain.

So I decided to lie down, possibly on my back, which is called supine . . . or is it called prone? I can never remember. Perhaps I would remember better if I used my stones. I always carry stones with me, since they bring good luck. My stones are rather small, so I keep them in a little leather pouch tied to a piece of string around my neck. I usually have twelve stones — I like twelve since it is an amazingly prime number. Or is it nonprime?

Either way, I imagined that I ought to be able to find a way to use my stones to deal with the problem of prone vs. supine. Then it came to me; how I could do this. It would require getting rid of one of the stones, which I didn’t like to do, except that one of them had been disappointing me of late. So I would have to say goodbye to this stone, which had served me well in the past. Of the remaining eleven I would put five in my left pocket, representing the five letters of the word prone, and six in the right, representing the word supine. And then . . . what then?

While I was trying to solve this conundrum I forgot to lie down. Until I noticed that all of me was getting wet, whereas if I lay down I could at least keep part of me dry. Even though the other part would get wet — perhaps even wetter than if I remained standing. I slowly came to realize, as the rain persisted, that half wet was better than all wet, since half wet is also half dry.

At first I couldn’t decide whether to lie down supine or prone, which seemed to cover both possibilities, though I still couldn’t recall which was which. So, faute de mieux, I first got down on my knees, which meant that I still didn’t have to decide. Well, I had clearly decided to lie down, but hadn’t yet decided about the supine or prone part. Once on my knees I hesitated, then I slipped in the muck and ended face down. That made it hard to breathe, what with all the stuff that was clogging my nose, so I rolled over on my back, without even thinking much about it. And there I was. I think it’s called supine. My front was now going to get thoroughly wet, but I could hope that my back, though it was already half wet owing to my indecision, might not get any wetter.

The ground had a pleasant feel to it and I was soon quite comfortable, except that I found I was lying on manure. As is often the case with manure it was soft and warm, which is a good thing, but also smelly, which is a bad thing. But I told myself, after all, you can’t expect perfection, and that made everything much better. I was going to have a lovely time, lying there in the rain, staying at least halfway dry.

Then the wind blew a piece of paper toward me. Though I was not anticipating any sort of message I grasped the paper, and saw that it had writing on it:

Socrates was a man. He lived in Athens. He liked to think heavy thoughts. He was condemned to death. Then he drank poison hemlock. So he died.

This was signed, ’S. Beckett’

It so happened that I happened to be reading Beckett at the time, so I asked him about it. He denied authorship, and opined that it could have been the work of a Chatbot masquerading as an Irishman. In any event he said that this was a true biography of Socrates, but somewhat sparse. I could not imagine, as I was lying there in the muck, what could be missing, since it seemed quite complete to me; after all, he lives, then he dies. What more could there be? But I know Mr. Beckett to be a very wise man, who understands much more than I do about such things as living and dying, so I asked him to expand on it if he had the time. He told me he did not have the time — who has time for anything? And what is time, and how can anyone claim to have it? To have it must mean to own it, and all my life it has been obvious to me that you can’t own time, though apparently you can spend it, or even waste it, which is a good description of what I am doing right now.

At last I saw that I had to say something, so I said once again, ‘Could you kindly improve on what has been written here?’ A tall order, I realized, but after all he did not get the Nobel for nothing.The very next day — I think it was the next day, though it could have been longer — how can I tell? — he gave me a much larger piece of paper with writing all over it. This what it said:

Socrates was a man. He lived in Athens. But if it is true that he lived, then he was alive, though maybe he does not live any longer. Perhaps he did for a while, perhaps even centuries — how can we know? — but he can’t be alive any longer. Not after that stupid mistake with the poison hemlock. But if he was at one time alive but is so no longer, because, you know, he is dead, then I must be alive, since I am not Socrates. Yet I realize that I may in fact be dead too but just don’t realize it. As they say, the news hasn’t gotten to me. And in any case —alive or dead, then or now, what difference does it make?

I am still struggling with the challenge of prone vs. supine.

—Jerry Patrick


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