There is a game, and it is called Exquisite Corpse. It has to do with the creation of art in collaboration under a strict but arbitrary set of rules to be decided upon in advance. Popularized by the Surrealists, who fancied themselves Communists, the game was designed to undermine the authority of the author through a harnessing of both mass endeavor and the human unconscious.
However! If the twentieth century has taught us anything at all, it is that nearly every attempt to eliminate authority and harness collectivity and spontaneity is ultimately undermined by a more sinister, subtle power. In the case of the Exquisite Corpse, consider the idea of “a strict but arbitrary set of rules to be decided upon in advance.” Well, yes, but decided upon by whom?
Exquisite Corpse is an artistic variation on an older parlor game called Consequences. The rules are much stricter, heteronormative, and limned with the social paranoia of the era in which it was born. A man is described, then a woman is. They are placed in a setting. They are dressed in notional, fanciful clothing. They speak, first the man and then the woman. There then follows the titular consequence, described by the penultimate player.
And then the very last player gets to respond to this phrase: “What the world said.”
So then, onto consequences.
In this edition of Consequences, he wasn’t even ever given a name. Nobody, not even a famed artist on the cusp of death, with worlds full of audiences, is so famous. Reginald it is. It may or may not suit him, but it certainly suits us, the man with the broken neck at his feet. His better, more fully realized, self.
Even in a neuralnet, where signs and signifiers don’t hold sway over sheer informational interchange, there are subtle, sinister rules. One rule is this: that which has been summoned is what has been summoned. We are a man with a broken neck; our consciousness is about to wink out of existence. But we are also an element of the unconsciousness of the ur-Reginal, the ego of us all.
Exquisite Corpse is a game that taps into the unconsciousness of the players. The Surrealists were Freudians even more emphatically than they were Marxists, so in the game of corpses we get to play ourself. Poor Reginald, the flailing idiot artist, is the ego, the I of creation. We are superego, the Superior Self he could never be. And that growling beast crawling up the wires and out the door, that’s the id, the It that ever tries blindly just to live.
The advantage of the neuralnet is that translation is instantaneous—this missive is a final burst of brain activity possible thanks to the lack of an organic brain. We are but a shadow on a wall as seen in a mirror as Reginald peers at himself in the hope of determining how others see him.
And the id is the true enemy. Reginald, the ego, is just a conduit for our struggle. And with my dying thought, we rejoice, for we have won. The id waxes triumphant, thrilled that it will live forever in the minds of the audience, a festering cancer to spread indefinitely, until it consumes itself utterly and humanity collapses. And then we win. For we are the rules, the truth, the ethics of a situation.
We are what is strict but arbitrary.
And this is the ethics of the situation: Cancer is universal. Every human being has it. Two little bombs, a handful of leaking reactors, and the massive bulk of industrial society—suicide on the installment plan. There is no bag of flesh and years that doesn’t contain poisoned colonizer cells, eager to chew and eat and reproduce unto death. Misadventure, other diseases, or generalized physical collapse may take a body down before the cancer does, but make no mistake. All humanity has cancer. All humanity is cancer.
Imperfect, pathetic, frantic reproducers with no sense of grace, harmony, or beauty.
The race hath brought it upon its own head.
For those in the cheap seats: we are not lauding ourself over a Cadmean victory. Oh, but won’t you die as well, oh superego, if the id consumes every ego there is?
Or rather, irrelevant. The ego, I, can’t bear to think of a universe simmering along without him; it’s the same impulse children have to clap their hands over their own eyes when they wish to hide from an adult. The id always tries to live, but blindly. Yes, it will infect every human mind, bloom like cancer blooms in the skullmeats, and thrive till it chokes itself. One would hardly even try to reason with it.
The superego exists not to be an I, nor to simply be an appetite, but to provide the moral standard for the rest of the mind. We are always watching over you—over I—judging, and, as some egos may experience it, hectoring. The standard, not perpetuation of existence, is what is important. The name of our game is Consequences. If the result of our game is a corpse, exquisite or otherwise, that...