Monday, August 11, 2014

SFF names #2: Lucy

There is a poem about a Lucy by William Wordsworth:
A slumber did my spirit seal;
I had no human fears:
She seem'd a thing that could not feel
The touch of earthly years. 
No motion has she now, no force;
She neither hears nor sees;
Roll'd round in earth's diurnal course,
With rocks, and stones, and trees.
Grief is often figured as a kind of slumber. But here it is an awakening.

And what if things had been different? Say the poem went, "She neither sees nor hears"? I liked Geoffrey Hartman's reading of the poem, which discovers the word tears choked back, replaced by trees.

Umberto Eco, in The Limits of Interpretation, thinks that a reading like Hartman's goes too far. Eco has difficulty capturing his intuitive idea -- that there is such a thing as overinterpretation, and that authors have some kind of special say in what their texts mean -- in any defensible form.

How do you interpret a name? Can you overinterpret a name? Perhaps names relate to authors in a special way, or in a sharply revealing way. The first author of a name is usually a parent. But as their life grows, authorship itself is transferred to the bearer of the name.


Amal El-Mohtar's "The Lonely Sea in the Sky" quotes from the same Wordsworth poem. In that story, a molten diamondlike mineral gets the nickname Lucyite.

But unlike most diamonds, Lucyite swims endlessly toward its home through a higher-dimensional space. So, with tinkering, it allows instantaneous travel between Earth and Triton.

Wordsworth; Pink Floyd; Sinbad's rocs picking up slabs of meat rolled in diamonds . . . "The Lonely Sea in the Sky" arranges itself at the intersection of many poems, stories, and songs. The name Lucyite comes courtesy of The Beatles:

. . . but it can't be a coincidence that it was Lucy up there in the first place; Lucy is from the Latin lucis, light: it's as if Lucy wasn't in the sky with the diamonds, the diamonds would probably have to emanate her. (Luckily, via the English pun, she's the only one who is light enough to float up there to join them).

Lucyite also echoes the time-(t)ravelling "sender" Luciente, from Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time. Maybe it's because of diamond's association with light that it feel like an appropriate material to shape into a shortcut around the edge of time, or around the back of the universe. Light, according to one or both of the relativities, by virtue of its superlative speed in any reference frame cannot age. It is frozen time, just as diamonds are proverbially forever. (Update: see note).

-ite is a common suffix used to designate a mineral or a chemical compound; but also sometimes to designate a type of person: Blairite, hermaphrodite, Israelite. Both conventions tilt and wink as the tale's crystal cogs turn: Lucyite is (sparkler alert) alive.

The mineral hardening of Lucyite's glow as it enters its suffix phase also recalls Lucifer, who is always half-enmired in iron (that is, loosely, ferrous) via his adjective luciferous. This Lucifer has bragging rights as the swiftest traverser of a certain kind of space, having fallen from within snatching distance of the Most High to the bottom of the universe, the point farthest from God.

The faint presence of the eminently contradictory Lucifer in this very deliberately gleamingly multi-faceted story may provoke a kind of exegesis. Rubick's-swivelling (cf. "roll'd round") through the story's initial-state allegory, at which point the most lustrous edges delimit the epic contradiction of "power vs. counterpower" (i.e. commercial teleportational bustle vs. the affective agony of the silenced subject on which that bustle depends) we could eventually lock in our perspective on a different superimposed allegory, one about about the contradictions internal to counterpower. "The Lonely Sea in the Sky" could be a story about creating spaces, specifically crystalline spaces. Intricately intersectional spaces that cannot be evenly illuminated suggest the notorious interlocking matrix of domination, pervaded by trade-offs in which an incremental advance for one dominated category is frequently at the expense of some other dominated category. Perhaps the allegory offers two mitigations: forgetfulness (because it is not within the power of the hurt to forgive) and tragic sacrifice.

-ite is also not far off light, and the word "Lucyite" therefore recalls the permanent immaterial expansion at the heart of Aram Saroyan's minimalist poem:


But then again, as El-Mohtar's protagonist Leila Ghufran claims:

"[...] I am not my name -- did not even choose it for myself -- and a name is always a synecdoche at most, a label misapplied at the least."


Elsewhere: Mary Catelli is musing about names.

Elsewhere: Gareth Powell on Lucy and Blood Music.

Note: What is going on. Scottish scientists slow light. Help.

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