The Hall of Memory
Àkbä was waiting for us in the hallway. “There you are,” he said. “I’ve been looking for you.” “Where are we going?” I asked. “To the Hall of Memory.” Sylvia could come too.
By what means of transport we reached the Hall of Memory, I cannot say. One moment we were bathed in utter blackness; the next we emerged into a gradually suffused luminescence—the golden light of late afternoon—of a fair-sized chamber. Though the room held neither card catalogs nor computer monitors nor stacks of books, I recognized the ambience at once as only too familiar: we were in a library! There were a dozen or so oval-shaped pods of a bluish-green tint. As I approached one, it opened rather like an oyster’s shell. Within the pod, there were strange controls and a comfortable-looking seat. I climbed in without hesitation. As the pod lid began to close, I saw Sylvia climbing into her own pod.
Sitting in near-darkness, I began to think some popcorn, raisinettes and a Pepsi might be nice, when suddenly a female voice asked me (the voice emoted warmth and charm): “What do you desire?”
“What works are in this library?” The voice took me on a brief tour of the control panel, which lay at my fingertips. It was really quite easy. As I reclined, the controls adjusted themselves to my angle and position, and the dark ceiling of the pod became a screen on which images appeared. I had only to speak the names of authors or titles of works for entire cross-referenced compilations to appear onscreen, seriatim. A large circular button allowed me to move through these works, forward or backward in time; thus, I could examine, virtually as I thought of it, the most recent scholarship on, say, Charles Dickens, or any and all occurrences in the popular press related to that body of literature. Uttering another qualifying command—for example: “detective story”—and my search would shift in yet another direction, piling up detailed reference upon reference to Dickens relevant to that genre. I began immediately to play around with this remarkable toy until, after a few hours had passed (they seemed but minutes!), my thinking turned toward the serious business of “retooling” humankind for their new adventure, as Àkbä had called it. I wondered if I had the poetic resources for this new task.
After what seemed another hour, I was satisfied that all of the literary treasures to which my fine, Midwestern, liberal arts education had exposed me were indeed intact, having been successfully salvaged by Joracian foresight. But there was one glitch: I could find no reference to the body of works of two giants, George Orwell and Hannah Arendt. Then I searched for Perry Miller, author of Errand into the Wilderness, Nature’s Nation, and a particular hero of mine. Nothing! There was not the slightest hint that any of these persons had ever lived or written a word. All reference to them seemed to have been expunged, as if by some invisible hand and design, deleted or airbrushed into oblivion. For a moment, a piercing forlorn quality shot through me like panic and then was gone. Of all works of philosophy, literature and criticism, these were the ones I felt I would surely miss the most. It was very odd indeed that they should go “missing” like this, in my time of need. But I could not take time to grieve just then. “Let me out,” I said, more weary than I knew. The pod lid slowly rose and, as I climbed out, I saw that the Hall of Memory was dark.