“Escape,” he said, or else “peace,” by which he meant, “treat yourself as the lone hydrogen ion in a sea of bleach.” Growing up near mountains, he had thought of “away” and “up” as the same direction. To get out you climb the nearest slope. What he saw from the slopewell, on the Pacific it was pines, hawks, freeway, substation, refinery, bridge, city over the water. From this angle the university’s clock tower seemed to have nothing around it but woods. In the other direction seven or eight towns lapped the hills like jetsam over a lake. All this at a distance that defeated photography: hold out the camera, get a blue blur.
The uselessness of taking pictures: that was one title that hecall him Shuvalkin, the petty clerkcould have given his report of the matter. Since he had a family, everyone asked him for pictures; he understood that in some sense his future self was going to want the pictures; the entire Internet had turned into one large picture galleryhalf of them visual and half of them verbal, all of them brief, declarative and happy in their form. But aside from the obvious complaint of not wanting to live inside the camera, there was the blunt fact that the camera, as Shuvalkin saw it, couldn’t frame things. It was like those computer models that pretend to show a four-dimensional cube by presenting different three-dimensional slices: as you rotate the imaginary angle of view, the facets open and shut and distend, and you discover a feeling for the unseeable whole. That was the claim. But Shuvalkin, who was living a structure like that, or else was a structure like that, at any quiet hour, whether on the mountainside or falling asleep, would feel his hands incessantly turning that knob, trying to line up the facets intowell, a picture. Something of use. Data, evidence, a rung on a ladder. Whatever would let him quit turning the knob and move to the next thing.
He sank into the grass.
Creatures of Shuvalkin’s extraction have to ask themselves: are you Walter Pater or are you not Walter Pater? Can you take that brain painting, the smell of grass, without wanting to lay it up as treasure? The Zen masters say it’s a misdirected urge, all that scribbling, fretting over titles for reports that no one commissioned. Yes, but does that mean there are no duties? And if it can’t be that there are no duties, then why won’t the camera frame them? Shuvalkin has to be reminded that he is standing on someone else’s back just as someone else is standing on his, that he has nothing to teach except this doubtful running off to the mountains, that the years move fast and they will rip up his brain painting just as soon as someone else needs the canvas.
He pointed his camera at the grass.