|Richard Powers [LiPo Ching]|
from Richard Powers's Orfeo:
The books on Els's shelves did tell a secret history, but one beyond any government's ability to control. Once he discovered the suppressed evidence, all the standard accounts of human affairs turned comical and self-serving. Trade, technology, nations, migrations, industry: the whole drama was really being orchestrated by Earth's five nonillion mutating microbes.
A year of reading, and the scales fell from Els's eyes. Bacteria decided wars, spurred development, and killed off empires. They determined who ate and who starved, who got rich and who sank into disease-ridden squalor. The mouth of any ten-year-old child housed twice as many bugs as there were people on the planet. Every human body depended on ten times more bacterial cells than human cells, and one hundred times more bacterial genes than human ones. Microbes orchestrated the expression of human DNA and regulated human metabolism. They were the ecosystem that we just lived in. We might go dancing, but they called the tune.
A short course in life at its true scale, and Els saw: Humanity would lose its war of purity against infection. The race now bunkered down behind the barricades, surrounded by illegals and sleeper cells of every imaginable strain. For two centuries, humans had dreamed of a germ-free world, and for a few years, people even deluded themselves into thinking that science had beaten the invaders. Now contagion was at the gates, the return of the repressed. Multiple resistant toxic strains were rising up like angry colonial subjects to swamp the imperial outposts. And in a way that Els could not quite dope out, the two nightmares infecting the panicked present — germs and jihadists — had somehow found their overlap in him.
None of the sites reporting on Peter Els's raided library mentioned those other books in his possession — battle manuals that agitated for all-out assault on the general public over the last hundred years. Boulez's Orientations. Schoenberg's Harmonielehre. Messiaen's Technique de mon langage musical. That war had ended long ago, and its struggles were of no consequence to any but the dead. When the body was under attack by invisible agents from every direction, why worry about a thing as vaporous as the soul. . . .
He wants to tell her: Hold on to what you know right now. Let no one persuade you of a single thing. Study your hunger and how to feed it. Trust in whatever sounds twist your viscera. Write in the cadences of first love, of second chances, of air raids, of outrage, of the hideous and the hilarious, of headlong acceptance or curt refusal. Make the bitter music of bumdom, the sad shanties of landlessness, cool at the equator and fluid at the pole. Set the sounds that angels make after an all-night orgy. Whatever lengthens the day, whatever gets you through the night. Make the music that you need, for need will be over, soon enough. Let your progressions predict time's end and recollect the dead as if they're all still here. Because they are.