the short story project

The Universe of Things

Eyal Dotan On:

The Universe of Things by Gwyneth Jones

This is the first Hebrew translation of a work by Gwyneth Jones – an award winning British author who wrote multiple novels. The story follows a seemingly mundane meeting between a car mechanic and an alien who brings his car over to the garage to be fixed. The mechanic is captivated by the alien’s image and tries under various pretenses to keep him in his garage, even going so far as to offer to host the alien for the night. When the alien refuses, the mechanic must be satisfied by working on his car, which he does for the entre night. I will leave for you to discover what happens to the protagonist in the garage during the night. I will only say that Gwyneth Jones’ literary talent in imagining non-human consciousness modes reaches an apex in this story, and that LSD lovers will undoubtedly find an echo of their experiences in it.
“The Universe of Things” was once simply catalogued as science fiction, but this category became so wide and ambiguous over the years that more precise segmentations became necessary; segmentations that don’t necessarily benefit this text. As far as Jones’ science fiction literature is concerned, she will undoubtedly be considered in contemporary terms as a post- or trans-humanist because her project is ultimately to transport both the readers and protagonists beyond the human threshold into an alien consciousness and sensation; be the aliens from another planet, or alien life-forms from our own world, taking such forms as rock, a drop of water or, as in this story, a car. Ultimately, there is a great optimism in Jones’ texts, because this is a literature that does not accept the Kantian assumption that we are separate from the world, and thus shall forever remain confined to the inner architecture and hardware of the subject.
This particular story belongs to the cycle of stories that deals with the Aleutian: an alien race with a human appearance that arrives in the near future to earth in order to colonize it. Perhaps in contrast to what is expected here, these aliens do not declare war on humanity but instead live alongside it in a tense but stable status quo – unwilling to leave but also not wishing to confront us. They are more advanced technologically, and this fact leads to an immense feeling of inferiority in the other side. We are no longer the summit of creation. And indeed, in my opinion one of the more interesting aspects of the appearance of the alien in our world, is the shock and the ensuing ripples that will, undoubtedly, occur on every level and in every element of the human subject and the collectives to which he/she belongs. How will it be to change from being the lion to being the fox, from being the head to being the tail so to speak? This is a question science fiction ponders since its very beginning, but Jones focuses in this story almost exclusively on the psychological implications of the man-alien encounter, and in my opinion succeeds in giving a highly complex and delicate, even if of course utterly speculative, account of what might happen in the space of becoming between man and alien.
The initial and prejudiced conceptions of the mechanic about the alien are derived from pop-psychology books and TV shows. The primary difficulty for humans in understanding the alien “mind” is not necessarily its innate gender ambivalence, for this idea is already becoming increasingly popular in our world today, but rather its distinctive collective existence: The aliens are not set apart from one another or from the objects that constitute their world. They excrete germs that serve as a sort of medium that coats everything they come into contact with or with which they live, and thus any distinction between object and subject or between object and object fades and is replaced by an infinite and multidimensional network of shifting coordinates. Of course a description of this sort raises the question whether human society, and particularly since its extension into cyberspace, doesn’t itself march in this direction or even isn’t already there – only lacking the awareness of this epistemic condition. Be that as it may, no theory, as complex as it may be, equals a direct engagement with the alien’s being and experience. This fact is grasped by the mechanic once he is alone with the car, but to see this its best to delve directly into Jones’ text.