“One more thing” she said.
“You meet a finite number of people in your life. It feels to you like it’s infinite; but it’s not. I think it’s the biggest thing I can see that you can’t…You think you meet an infinite number of taxi drivers, but you don’t, it’s probably not even a thousand, in your whole life. Or doctors or nurses – do you get what I’m trying to say? At all?
I answered honestly that I didn’t
“Okay!” she rushed away from that idea frantically. “New topic: what’s something funny that happened to you while we were apart, that you thought about sharing with me, even if it was just for a second”
I laughed, to try to make her laugh, and said that she had said that she had only one more thing to say
“Yes!” she said. ‘That’s what I was trying to say before! There’s always going to be one more thing. Because that’s what infinite feels like. And the difference between love and everything else is that it’s infinite, it’s built out of something infinite, or it feels like it is, anyway, which is the same thing to us. Or to you, and simulations like me – I know what I am. But you can’t see it, because to you everything is infinite. You think a million billion more things will come your way, a million billion more versions of everything. But no, everything that actually causes that infinite feeling, the circumstances of everything infinite feeling, is so, so finite…”
-B.J. Novak, “Sophia”
The following quotation blind-sided me whilst reading B.J. Novak’s new collection of shorts titled “One More Thing”. In “Sophia” a man purchases a sex robot (stay with me) modeled to his personal specification, said robot becomes clingy and falls in love. Our protagonist returns it, finding out much to his chagrin that he has discovered (and given back) the first “self-aware” robot – one that can feel love. Sounding a little bit like Her? Probably. Ridiculous? Of course. Most of Novak’s writing finds itself somewhere between a Shouts and Murmurs sketch and an episode of Scrubs, but, as it turns out, that is not a bad place to be.
I suppose what bothers me enough about these words in order to want to write on them is the hauntingly true nature behind them contrasted with the totally unrealistic plot driving their intentions. It is not their meaning as delivered in the story, where they stand as a negation of opportunity – we’ve been told that our lives are an infinite geyser of chances and that we should make the most of those possibilities with the added comfort that there will be more. Ego and self-centeredness trap us into believing this tragically false notion and, as such, we move on from a moment of permanence towards something different (newer, fresher, whatever-er). And to an extent, I see where Novak is going with this. Our culture is all too quick to accept the ephemerality of meeting people. Social media helps us maintain tenuous connections to a seemingly infinite pool of others while a culture generated by Tinder guarantees one more person, one more chance, and even one more meeting. Where does what’s next end and how am I supposed to know when I’m there?
On the one hand, this is the same crippling ilk that we’ve been being told our entire lives. The paralysis of a young kid walking down the cereal aisle and being told by mom and dad he can only have one box. The irony being that the subject is crushed under the weight of opportunity – that presented with too many choices, we flick through all of them and logic to “prefer not to”. And the great tragedy about that Hamlet-esque, canonical indecision is that despite all of the mental anguish that we may be experiencing, we haven’t got an actual or a tangible thing to show for it.
No. What is truer and perhaps scarier is Novak’s acknowledgement of the perspective of the onlooker – the parents of the young kid walking down the cereal aisle. Perhaps there is a pride in watching their child carefully weigh the pros and cons of each box and sadly deciding on only one in the same way that there is a woeful delight in watching Hamlet see-saw. But therein also lies the scary notion of the finite – a decision must be reached and all that infinite comes toppling down to one ugly visible moment. Such is the nature of choice and daring to eat Prufrock’s peach. The subject is cursed with the perspective of the onlooker. What Novak’s robot can see that we actively refuse is an unattractive determinism that cuts the legs out from under modern casual social interaction. It isn’t just that this is “kill-joy” thinking (appreciate these things or else, there are not that many fish in the sea), but there is a certain and alienating pain in refusing or being unable to seek the infinite within the finite (a pain that elevates Novak’s would-be sketch to the level of story).
A.R. Ammons once wrote a short poem (used later as the title of a Maile Melloy short story collection) that reads:
“One can’t have it/both ways and both/ways is the only/way I want it.”
I’m continually impressed that Ammons can narrow it down to just two. Even so, the poem encourages towards that intersection between the infinite and the finite: want the things you cannot have for the very reason they are impossible to have – straddle whatever it is that separates these two spheres. It is, so far, the best answer I have to the ugly knot of problems created above and it is not really an answer. Back to that paralysis, productive paralysis at that. And maybe that is the scariest notion in all of this, that what Novak’s story is peeling away is a human fear of closure, a fear of certainty, a fear of becoming the onlooker. Once we get close to an answer, it is our incoherent tendency to throw it away for something new (his protagonist’s decision to return the robot he designed). In doing so, good and perfect become nonsensical enemies rather than their own means to an end we would rather yearn for than achieve. The question of choice and decision collapses as long as we continue to become more comfortable finding anything within something and, in doing so, liberate perspective as an enlightening tool towards the infinite as opposed to a binding determinant.
All of this from a story about a guy who wants to fuck a robot.
So much for endings, I suppose – until then, on to one more thing.