(or, “The Lost Mariner, Found”)
The Lady I met while lost at sea Held my hand as She tore my vessel in two. As a child I always floated in water, But suddenly, for the first time in my life, I sank. I felt myself dissolve as I lost myself in Her. No longer weighed down by my own weight, My smile stretched all the way to the shore. She took my face in Her hands To remind me of the cold darkness closing in. I thought myself lost before, but without my vessel, She had convinced me that it had never existed in the first place. I let myself continue to sink, knowing it was my destiny as a mariner, But then I choked on the water. This was not the plan. I swam up, towards the sliver of light remaining, Grasping at the sea foam She had left in my wake. I pulled the straws together to form the start of a hull. The moon grew larger above me. As the vessel came together, the water grew fiercer, More than my old friend could have withstood But the foam held, greater than I could have imagined. I surfaced and gasped for air, now on my new vessel. The Sea carried me to the shore on Her back, Leaving Her ship with me, to care for me for as long as She will live.
September 26, 2021, Denver, Colorado (look at me finally publishing articles over a year after I write them):
You know the drill: Twenty One Pilots is touring again, which means that my borderline unhealthy obsession with Tyler Joseph as an artist has come back with force and vigor. For whatever reason, nothing gets me going more than a Twenty One Pilots live show, so here I am at 7:30 in the morning, inside Union Station in Denver, Colorado, after their show at the Ball Arena, writing about these boys yet again. For what it’s worth, I did initially want to write this essay back when their new album, Scaled and Icy came out back in May, but I couldn’t quite formulate the complete idea and shelved it for a while, but seeing them live helped to fill in the gaps that I couldn’t on my own.
The new Twenty One Pilots album, Scaled and Icy, dropped back in May to some confused responses and mixed results (though I do personally love it quite a bit), but one song struck me more than the rest: “Redecorate”. The final track on the album, “Redecorate” takes several steps away from the rest of the album’s style and brings in a simpler, perhaps more “traditional” Twenty One Pilots sound, coming closer to spoken word than song at most points, and has a generally darker tone than the rest of the album. Most of the other songs are intentionally made more upbeat than a standard Twenty One Pilots affair, but the final two tracks, “No Chances” and “Redecorate” return to the sounds of the previous albums, like Trench and Blurryface.
Speaking of “Redecorate” specifically, it centers around three verses, each one highlighting a different person who seems to face, on one level or another, the end of their life. The first subject pretty clearly seems close to death, with the speaker claiming that he sees “snapshots chronologically in line”, clearly referencing someone having their life flash before their eyes when close to death, but the other two admittedly seem a little more metaphorically close to the end of their lives. The second subject is a woman who covers all of her mirrors with blankets to avoid her reflection, but eventually, she removes the blankets to face herself, appearing to have an epiphany that leads her to change the way she lives, lest her life end with her cowering in darkness. We get arguably the least information on the third subject, though the speaker does tell us that “he’s fairly sedated most days of the week”. Each subject’s verse ends with them exclaiming, “I don’t want to go like this//At least let me let me clean my room”, suggesting slightly different things for each subject but generally it conveys to us each person’s dissatisfaction with their life and desire to improve it before it’s gone forever.
The song is very interesting, but what drew me to is, and get this, that it’s, at least on the surface, very similar to the poem “All Souls’ Night” by William Butler Yeats. Okay, I know. I get it. I know three things: the Mariners, Twenty One Pilots, and Yeats. It’s true, but that’s not going to stop me from writing this essay, so just let me have my moment. Anyways, to briefly cover the immediate similarities, in “All Souls’ Night”, the speaker describes three people, shortly before they died. First, they describe a man whose life centered around his wife, and he could not stand to live after she died. Next, they describe a woman who moved away from her home, uncomfortable with how her face had started to show age, and lastly, they describe another man, one who suffered from mental health issues and loneliness caused by his disinterest in other people and preference for, as the speaker says, “unknown thought” (74).
Clearly, the two poems aren’t a 1-to-1, though if they were we would have a pretty strong plagiarism case on our hands. Instead, these two poems explore much the same idea in very similar ways. I would love to claim that “Redecorate” intentionally alludes to or responds to “All Souls’ Night” because that would be a wonderful meeting up of my two passions, but I don’t think the similarities are enough to say that conclusively. Because the two poems address such similar ideas though, we can still explore the two poems in reference to each other. Just a note, from here on out, I will refer to “Redecorate” as a poem and song interchangeably, because I am mostly talking about just the lyrics of the song and not other elements.
As I mentioned earlier, I had all of these ideas formulated back in May, when the song came out, but I struggled to articulate what I thought made the relationship between these two poems so interesting. Luckily for me though, “Redecorate” is a song, which means that I can see it live, and seeing it live helped me to figure it all out. See, about halfway through their new show, Tyler Joseph, the band’s frontman, rushes off to a small stage at the back of the pit, fitted out with a piano and a simple percussion setup. Joseph proceeds to start playing out a simple loop on the drums (and a well-placed kitchen pot), and then the stage rises up in the air and he performs the song by himself, without Josh Dun, the drummer, or any of the touring band. That’s all very cool, but what helped me was being around all of the other people also at the show. This might sound silly, but the other people at the show care about the song. Listening to everyone cheer and sing alongside me left me with the distinct sensation that the song actually helped people beyond me, and truly spoke to them. Obviously, on some level, I knew this already. I’ve seen this band enough times to know that people care about their music on an emotional level, but not seeing a show for two straight years left me to think about their music on my own, and that element didn’t impact my perception of the band, and especially their new music, as much as it has in the past. Getting to really, genuinely feel the other people connecting with the song helped me realize the song has a strong sense of humanity to it that “All Souls’ Night” lacks.
Let’s not beat around the bush here: Yeats, at best, struggled to understand this idea of “humanity”. He himself even admitted to a friend of his mere months before he died that he had only just recently begun to actual emotions and not just performative ones (Pruitt 149), and somehow he seemed to have struggled with the whole “caring about other people” even more in the time when he wrote “All Souls’ Night”. Yeats initially released the poem as the epilogue to his book A Vision, which—and I’ve mentioned in other pieces I’ve written, but I’ll reiterate it here—is an insane book for insane people, but Yeats also made it the last poem in his collection The Tower, which released a couple of years after A Vision. The Tower grapples with a dizzying amount of topics (all incredibly well, I should add), but one core topic, prevalent especially in the opener, “Sailing to Byzantium”, and the closer, “All Souls’ Night”, is the speaker’s obsession with death. The most succinct way to describe the speaker’s complex relationship with death is that the speaker wants to die, but not in a suicidal way. The whole collection is, at its core, a lamentation of the speaker’s growing age, at times writing about how they relate more to the dead than the living, and, at least to some extent, wish to die as a means of progressing themself as an artist, or a thinker. (Again, the poem came hot off the heels of A Vision, a batshit insane “philosophy” book that Yeats allegedly wrote based on conversations with ghosts his wife channeled while automatic writing, so just roll with it for now.)
Because of this obsession, the speaker often seems to speak of the dead more in relation to themself than as their own persons, a theme extremely than prevalent in “All Souls’ Night”. To begin with, essentially the whole reason the speaker talks to the spirits (oh did I mention that they’re talking to these spirits) is so they can write about how cool dead people are and how they wish that they could be that cool, but even past that, the way the speaker writes about the subjects directly reveals how little they actually care about them as people. The best example of this comes from how they write about the second subject, Florence Emory. Florence, as noted before, moves away from her home and becomes a school teacher, unable to stand the age beginning to show in her face. Hopefully, when I said it the first time you noticed the problem here: the speaker could not have written a more stereotypical, one-dimensional woman. Sure in the second stanza on Florence, the speaker talks about her intelligence, but the speaker tells us about her alleged vanity before anything else.
The speaker in “Redecorate” twists this immediately by telling us that their second subject is “not afraid of her reflection//But of what she might see behind it”. The literal first thing we learn of her is that her image scares her, but not because of her vanity, rather it reminds her of something much deeper within her, that she cannot escape except to hide in the dark. Interestingly, the verse goes on to imply that the subject is a trans and/or non-binary person, because this, along with the later detail that “She had plans to change her name…//Just not the traditional way”, suggests that she has some degree of body/gender dysphoria and struggles to see herself as she wants to. See, already I have considerably more to say on this than “All Souls’ Night” because the speaker actually takes care to tell us about the woman as a person, not as a ghost that they think is super cool. “Redecorate” plays on “All Souls’ Night”’s depiction of women by discussing the second subject’s dissatisfaction with her appearance as a manifestation of deeper issues, rooted in her own identity. It challenges us as an audience to think beyond vanity and see these subjects as people with complex perceptions of themselves.
Contrary to this subject-centric approach, “All Souls’ Night” obsesses over how the speaker relates to each person, only describing each person just enough to explain why the speaker cares about them, and not why we should care about them. That’s not to say that the approach is wrong (“All Souls’ Night” is actually one of my favorite poems), but it does make “Redecorate” all the more interesting. The difference in approaches creates a shift in focus for the poems; “Redecorate” makes us think about the subjects of the poems and relate to them, but “All Souls’ Night” makes the speaker the focus and wants us to think about them. I know I said that “Redecorate” has a more classic Twenty One Pilots style than the other songs on Scaled and Icy, but that only accurately describes the sound of the song. Its writing style actually makes a very important departure from traditional Twenty One Pilots. Generally, Twenty One Pilots songs consist of the speaker talking about or to themselves, or the speaker addressing a specific person or group directly. Tyler Joseph does not, generally, write songs about other people, directed to no specific person, in the way that “Redecorate” does. In other words, the speaker in “Redecorate” takes a less personal role, acting more like a traditional narrator, telling us the stories of people with no means to tell their own stories. This makes “Redecorate” feel even more like a direct response to “All Souls’ Night” because I struggle to really imagine why Joseph would write a song with this style and content, let alone make it the closer of the album, without intending to challenge the ideas of “All Souls’ Night”, intentionally or not. Scaled and Icy is also no stranger to conversations on age, with songs like “The Outside” directly grappling with the speaker’s inability to remain “cool” and on the cutting edge of pop culture (with a very similar approach to “Too Many Rappers” by the Beastie Boys, in case you were curious), so, intentional or not, I really can’t not pit these poems against each other, as someone deeply familiar with both of them. The Tower is, in my opinion, one of the greatest works ever written, but it has a deep cynicism towards life that I think even Yeats realized it was a little moody as he grew past it, so I really appreciate the way that “Redecorate” challenges the way Yeats talks about death in his collection without disrespecting or discounting the points the speaker tries to make. “Redecorate” doesn’t try to invalidate the feelings the speaker has, or tell us to not identify with their ideas, and instead it goes no further than offering a different perspective on the people in “All Souls’ Night”, reminding us that, no matter how the speaker may portray it, each subject was their own, unique person, struggling without a voice. Each person had stories to tell, but no means to tell them. “All Souls’ Night” ignores this and only tells their story to the extent they can help the speaker, but “Redecorate” steps in to tell us that these people struggled, and even if the speaker knew them, they died holding onto their feelings and fear, taking care to remind us of the value of life.
Like many of the world’s young people, long, uninteresting Zoom classes populate my days and I need something to occupy my time. Luckily for me, I typically have a notebook in front of me so I do what any sensible young person would do: sketch pictures of MLB Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson.
Anyone who follows baseball knows Randy Johnson. Establishing himself early in his career as a member of the notorious ’90s Mariners alongside Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Edgar Martinez, and more, he wound up completing most of his career on the World Series-winning Arizona Diamondbacks, carving his place in baseball history as one of the greatest pitchers of all time.
He’s also terrifying.
Standing at 6’10”, Johnson’s long, serpentine limbs turn his enormous frame into a biological cannon, hurling those lovely little white orbs straight at the strike zone at 100 miles per hour. For reference, he even earned the nickname, “The Big Unit” (espn.com)
If his size and power don’t scare you off, the man’s long blonde locks, deep eyes, and enormous mustache made him look like a deranged cowboy who somehow wandered his way onto the pitching mound. He seems almost out of place in a baseball uniform; it feels strange to imagine such an unhinged-appearing behemoth obeying the commands of his team’s coaches and management. (To be clear Johnson seems like a great guy and he’s one of my all-time favorite players I’m just saying how he looks to a casual observer)
Despite Randy’s obviously iconic visage, initially, I didn’t totally understand what really compelled me to draw him over and over again. There are plenty of iconic baseball players, many of whom had much more iconic imagery associated with them. Ichiro Suzuki for example had his famous ritual before every at-bat of pointing his bat out at the deep wall and hiking his sleeve up, so why not draw that? As a life-long Mariners fan who grew up in the early 2000s, Ichiro obviously holds a much more special place in my heart than Randy Johnson anyways.
Maybe Randy didn’t need anything like that. Maybe his physical appearance and playstyle were enough to make him stay in my mind. Unfortunately, such simple assumptions don’t satisfy me so I sought to explore this idea further.
My drawings began as simple sketches in the margins of my notebooks. Sometimes I would pull up an image and try to recreate his powerful frame, immediately after unleashing a pitch, presumably at some trembling batter, just hoping it doesn’t hit him, and sometimes I would focus on his face. His heavy scowl and deep, shaded eyes glaring towards the catcher’s mitt as though it had just rear-ended Randy’s car.
I quickly realized that I needed to explore these emotions further, and to do so I decided that I would draw three separate pieces, spending more time on them, trying my best to hone in on what about Johnson seemed so important to me.
Before we begin, I should quickly point out that I am not an artist. Aside from some light sketching, mostly in my school notes, and a brief, unfortunate, and unfruitful period in middle school, I have hardly ever seriously tried to pursue visual arts, so these pieces to me were less about creating beautiful works of Randy and more about getting to the bottom of my own feelings. I wanted to analyze these images of Randy and really pull out the important details of his play.
With that established, let’s take a look at my attempts at capturing Randy Johnson.
(The Daily Dose)(Okay I don’t think this page is up anymore but this is where I got the image)
For my first drawing of Randy, I wanted to choose a pretty neutral, standard picture to capture The Big Unit in his entirety. Okay, sure, “neutral” probably is not the right word to describe this image. Even though this image is one of the most recognizable images of Johnson, “neutral” just seems wrong. The image definitely has very evocative emotion and energy. Despite this, I decided to spend time capturing this because nothing specific about it stands out. Well, at least relatively.
First things first, I had to set a time limit for this. Again, I’m not an artist, so I know that I don’t have the skill or patience to work on this piece until it satisfies me, so I decided to give myself about an hour to work on this piece and I would add time if I thought I needed more.
In total, I spent about fifty minutes working on this piece and I must admit, I feel I have outdone myself. I did an earlier draft that I had to throw out because I messed up Randy’s shoulder rotation too much, but this final piece really turned out looking quite well.
While drawing a few things surprised me. Firstly, Randy’s shoulders rotated more than I expected. In my head, I imagined Randy’s shoulders and hips more or less facing the camera, but in reality, we almost see Randy from a side view, which reveals the sheer force of a baseball pitcher’s movements. Randy has fully rotated himself and presumably will continue rotating more after the snapshot we get to see. With this motion, Johnson throws not only the ball straight at the camera, but himself as well, using his body as leverage in the powerful trebuchet created by his physical existence.
If you’ve read my collection of essays on skateboarding, you’ll have seen me write about the idea of significant form as described by CLR James in the book Beyond a Boundary. Johnson, perhaps more than just about any other athlete I’ve ever seen, embodies this idea perfectly in this image. The image has no words, no people, no batter, no story. Every element of expression and narrative comes straight from the motion depicted by Johnson and the photographer.
I would also like to note that Randy’s face holds less directed rage than I expected. Because of his stature and reputation, I expected Randy to glare into the camera as though he wanted it disintegrated under his pitch, but the real image suggests something different entirely. Of course, Randy’s expression holds a lot of emotion, but it seems more abstract like he directed all of his rage directly into the ball and once it leaves his hand he almost gets a certain relief, as he has transferred all of his rage onto this inanimate object, releasing himself for at least a moment from his terrible, inescapable emotions.
Admittedly, at this point in my journey I just kind of stopped. I did the first drawing in late September 2020 and kept procrastinating the next drawing until I sort of forgot about it. I didn’t pick the project back up until April 2021, at which point I had mostly stopped doodling Randy in my notes, and, shall we say, I lost my edge. The next drawings will not have the same passion or quality as the first, but the emotional analysis will remain the same. Just wanted to get that out of the way.
Okay, I’ll admit it: this one’s rough. This drawing did not go quite as I planned. We’ll say I’m out of practice and leave it at that. Let’s not focus on the unfortunate quality of the piece and instead, on the emotion I learned from trying to capture it.
Someone must have funneled all the rage missing from the last picture straight into this one.
This picture features Johnson in his iconic Diamondbacks uniform, the team he took to a World Series win, cementing himself as a future Hall-of-Famer and deity within the baseball world. I don’t know what game this comes from, when in the game, or even what Johnson looks at in it, and maybe I could find out, but I don’t want to. I think that this image removed from context gives us the best look into another element of Johnson’s persona.
While seemingly simple, this picture of Randy begs a second look, because on the surface it does have the anger and power we would imagine, but it lacks motion entirely. The last picture we looked at had little visible emotion and only captured physical movement, but this picture seems to accomplish the exact opposite. This picture, while candid, merely depicts Randy standing. It doesn’t frame the sublime movement of Randy’s form at all, which, in the first image, gave us the clearest look into Randy’s style. So where do we find Randy’s essence in this picture? Well, it may seem obvious, but we find it in his face.
Countless pitchers in baseball have intimidating forms (pitching does require a good deal of force after all), but Johnson’s mug separates him from the chaff of normal MLB pitchers. That horrid, angry, veiny, face that Johnson has allegedly smiled with before offers us a window into his soul. If the last image showed us the explosive release of Johnson’s willpower into whatever poor baseball the ump gave him, this image shows us the tension that built up before. I don’t know what Johnson’s fearsome aura emanates at in this picture, but I can only imagine some poor batter, having just struck out looking crumpling into nothingness under the pressure of this gaze.
This image doesn’t have motion, but it does have a certain resonance. I can almost feel Randy’s muscles vibrating from my desk chair twenty years in the future.
And Johnson isn’t muscular. Far from it, we could pretty easily describe him as lanky, but this image shows us the transformative properties of his form. In trying to capture the emotion of this image, I struggled to even understand, let alone draw, how Johnson looks as he does. His muscles seem to bulge through his skin, but not in volume. Rather, the tension rippling through his body pulls his skin tight in a way that I don’t even know how to describe. While drawing this, I sat in my chair, transfixed by this image, and even though I may have failed to translate it onto the canvas, I came to some kind of understanding of the underlying force behind Randy, and presumably other MLB pitchers as well.
In Which Randy Kills God:
Again, not my best work here, but at this point, I started getting impatient and had set a deadline for myself so this is what we’re working with.
I saved the best for last, of course. Anyone out there who follows Randy, baseball, or honestly just sports, in general, recognizes this frame. Taken from a spring training game on March 24, 2001, in this pitch, Randy unleashes one of his notorious fastballs with the same unbridled rage as always, but as the pitch leaves his hand, a bird floats down from the right of the frame. The ball departs from the mound and collides with the bird, utterly obliterating it. Amidst the explosion of feathers, the bird’s desecrated carcass falls to the ground almost immediately, losing all of its momentum in the collision. Of course, our friend Randy did not just kill a bird with his pitch, he killed a dove. A soft, white, sacred dove. The sign of the Holy Spirit.
This frame is far less about Randy’s form (we basically see picture one from behind) and it definitely does not center on his expression (we can’t even see his face). Instead, this frame focuses on narrative. We’ve seen Johnson’s form and we’ve seen his expression; we know him in a vacuum, but now we must watch him in action in order to truly understand his implications on America’s pastime.
The chances of a pitcher hitting a bird seem impossibly slim. Even slimmer the chances of hitting a white dove. Even slimmer yet the chances of Randy Johnson hitting the white dove. It seems too perfect. Like a moment taken from folklore. In this moment, Johnson, the 6’10” “Big Unit”, bests the sign of the Holy Spirit, knocking it to the ground in a mere instant, and cements himself as the new god in baseball. He obliterates a symbol of power as a warning to everything in his path and then drives himself and his team all the way to a World Series win at the end of this very season. It feels like Odysseus besting the cyclops or Hercules killing the Hydra. In this moment Johnson’s existence splits into two: one, the man who will win a World Series later that year and see the world remember him in baseball’s Hall of Fame. The other a legend, a myth on its own, of a giant walking to the top of a hill and tearing down a god.
Johnson’s legend sits among the many baseball has accumulated over the years, but each story carries with it its own sage wisdom about this nation’s pastime. One can easily look at baseball and see a calm, slow, docile game. A game where the majority of both teams spend most of their time either sitting on a bench or standing in a giant patch of grass. To an unaware observer, even an at-bat can seem calm. Pitches go from the pitcher to the catcher without anyone hardly batting an eye. Sometimes a ball might go foul, or ground or fly, but those moments come rarely and often carry with them barely more action than the rest of the game.
In these moments though, the batter, pitcher, and catcher know acutely what a dangerous game they play. With every pitch the pitcher can feel their arm strain itself, ripping itself apart so violently that they won’t even get to play a whole game. The catcher feels each 100+ mile per hour ball bash into their hand with force, sound, and vibrato. Lastly, the batter has to watch those fastballs and curveballs hurtle towards their barely-protected body. Each of these players lives in fear and anticipation, reveling in the adrenaline these moments cause.
The legend of Randy Johnson gives us a glimpse into this world few get to really experience. In little league, I feared pitches thrown by my fifth-grade peers, but I can’t even imagine what a major-league pitch feels like. Johnson, in this beautiful moment, shows us the truly devastating nature of MLB pitches. It looks quaint, you might even find it boring, but in reality, baseball players engage in a game of life and death, hidden behind the skill of each player involved, and Johnson, in a rare moment of candor for the sport, showed us the latter result of such a game.
Everyone loves David Lynch and his strange brain, but apparently, no one loves him more than video game writers do. We can’t get through a year nowadays without at least one clear David Lynch homage sliding its way onto the release calendar. Some companies, like French developer Dontnod, have even created entire brands around it, with Dontnod games like 2015’s Life is Strange and 2020’s Twin Mirror both teetering on the edge of Twin Peaks knock-off. Other games like Control from 2019 don’t fall far behind when it comes to emulating the Lynchian aesthetic, but with so many Lynch-inspired games, one has to wonder not only what causes game writers’ obsession with the famous film and TV director, but why his style works so well in the interactive format.
Of course, we can easily say that game writers love Lynch because many of them grew up in the ’80s and ’90s when Lynch was arguably at his most popular, but wanting to emulate Lynch’s style does not alone explain why Lynch’s style appears in games so often. If his style didn’t work, game writers would have abandoned it long ago, but it actually works surprisingly well. While it sounds weird to say, it might not be insane to actually posit that David Lynch himself often writes more like game writers than screenwriters.
This comes on a few different levels, but we can start by looking at how Lynch creates locations and spaces to see how they compare with what game writers have to do in their format. Games need to tell more than just stories, they need to give the player room to explore, often multiple times over the course of the game, so games specialize in creating rich, complex, visually stimulating locations. Lynch approaches the design of his spaces somewhat similarly. Sure many of Lynch’s spaces resemble common, simple locations common among film and tv, such as the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Department or the Double R Diner, but when Lynch creates his more supernatural locations, he tends to go for more visually striking locations, with complex functionality. A location such as the Black Lodge works well for this example, of course. The Black Lodge has a clear design, with a good deal of complexity in the way you move from room to room, with strange hallways and varying layouts that change in ways defying common logic. Another good location comes from the first episode of Twin Peaks: The Return when Cooper gets thrown from the Black Lodge. He ends up in a sort of living room, but upon leaving the room he finds himself surrounded by outer space with nothing distinct in sight.
These locations have a lot of similarities to game locations, especially supernatural game locations. The way the Black Lodge changes in logic-defying ways works much the same way as both the Oceanview Motel and the Ashtray Maze in Control, which change as the player traverses in distinct and subtle ways. The function looks cool in Twin Peaks but works even better in Control, where the player has to explore the space themself. Lynch’s style depends on creating interesting spaces that leave the viewer wanting to know more, but when placed in a game the player not only has the option to explore the space and learn as much as they can, but they often need to, making them (pardon the cliche) feel like the characters Lynch writes. The experience of exploring the motel or the maze in Control appears very similar to what Cooper’s experience in Twin Peak likely felt like, creating an electrifying experience for the player. In essence, moving these locations into games forces players to take their confusion and learn, solving the puzzles posed to the characters.
Looking at the room from The Return, we can see how the visuals of Lynch’s projects also play well in games. In The Return, creating a space with nothing but a room and a vast void looks visually interesting and the viewer wants to look at it more, and in games, the visual design does that as well but also has great practical functions. To look for similar locations in games, a few different Dontnod properties can give us examples. In Life is Strange, which, notably, released in 2015, two years before The Return, a large portion of the fifth episode takes place in an ambiguous, broken reality, caused by Max’s powers, where the player needs to navigate Max’s anxieties, repeating tasks from earlier in the game that have gone from menial to life-threatening. This entire section takes place in a space similar to the one Lynch crafted, with relevant objects on floating, shattered platforms suspended in an empty void. Taking earlier chunks of the game and putting them into the new void, turns the standard teen romp into a dark thriller, and the void, alongside the sense of impending doom, heightens the sense of dread and fear in the player as they only see their anxieties, embodied by Mark Jefferson, Warren, or worst of all, empty beer bottles. No soothing mountain views or calm forests background the scenes, just a vast emptiness, offering the player no escape.
Alternatively, we can look at Dontnod’s latest game, Twin Mirror, and the main character, Sam’s “Mind Palace”. Sam’s mind palace looks like a non-threatening version of Life is Strange’s off-putting finale, with light blues surrounding the player instead of a deep black void. While no longer creepy, the void still serves to highlight the relevant information, and changes in the mind palace, such as during certain moment’s where Sam’s anxiety takes over and his mind palace darkens, creating clear emotional shifts, making the mind palace more resemble Life is Strange’s. The shifts in the mind palace immerse the player further, and the simplicity of the spaces create harsh visual changes that allow the player to better empathize with their character and follow the emotion of the plot. The use of Lynchian spaces in games like these afford developers far greater options when attempting to control the player, because these simple locations allow for recognizable, tangible emotion in design, where changes are both more noticeable and more emotionally dramatic.
Beyond simply creating visually detailed and interesting spaces, game writers also need to create plenty of side stories and events that occur outside the main plot of the story, a tactic Lynch employs all the time when working on his projects, especially longer-form projects like Twin Peaks. We all know games like The Witcher, The Elder Scrolls, and other large RPGs have extensive side content, much of it more well known than their games’ main stories, but even more linear games also need to employ a good deal of side content, flavor text, and downtime. Because games immerse the player in a character, games need to offer more thorough views of their main characters’ lives and the lives of the people around the main character. Games like Dontnod titles employ a hearty amount of flavor text, with Max from Life is Strange offering little details on basically every item and location in the game, providing information on how it relates to her, other characters, and the world at large, but for our purposes, we’ll look at a game like The Witcher 3 and how it approaches side content and stories.
The Witcher 3 has, as I’m sure you’re aware, a wealth of side content, but the game takes care to ensure that it all makes sense in the world. Many of the quests stem from Geralt’s job as a witcher, and many of the large side plot lines come from interactions Geralt has with characters in the main story. Upon meeting a character like Keira Metz or Dandelion, side stories will often pop up where they ask Geralt to help with their own problems, outside of his own quest to find Ciri. The little glimpses the game offers into the lives of other characters resemble a tactic Lynch uses commonly to show the going-ons of the characters in his properties.
It’s not a secret that Lynch takes his time telling stories, especially in Twin Peaks: The Return, where he frequently features events that have next to no bearing on the plot at all. We see little (but still exceptionally long) scenes of Andy and Lucy looking for a chair to buy online, or of them introducing Sheriff Truman to their son, Michael Cera. We also get other, more detailed side content, such as the story that follows Norma and Ed, or Shelly, Bobby, and their daughter. Most of these side stories either feature characters in the main plot, or events tangential to the main plot, but none affect the outcome necessarily. In the eyes of many writers, directors, and producers, they often function as little more than money wasters, or opportunities for Lynch to spend far too long exploring Andy and Lucy’s journey to buy a chair, but Lynch sees them very differently. While not necessary, these little vignettes give the audience important looks into Twin Peaks without Cooper, the Black Lodge, and all the other strangeness that happens. In game terms, they are valuable pieces of world-building.
Naturally, other shows and films world-build with side content, but Lynch’s approach assigns far more value to the side events than most filmmakers would. Again, film projects generally need to remain concise and will generally cut out anything deemed unnecessary, but games give side content a lot more attention, knowing that the option to explore the nooks and crannies of their world often gives more excitement than the main plotline. After all, there’s a reason why most people talk about the Civil War and Dark Brotherhood storylines in Skyrim and not the main plot. In the same vein, while the main plot of Twin Peaks is certainly fascinating, watching the director of the Las Vegas branch of the FBI have scene-long explosive episodes is just as fun and leaves the audience wanting a spin-off of just one man and his untethered rage.
While games by no means invented the concept of side events and world-building, the practices employed by Lynch often resemble the tactics from games more than in film, which can help explain why game writers love him so much. Unsurprisingly, he enjoys creating an air of mystery around his shows, creating events, characters, and locations that grip the audience by making him want more. Game writers need to accomplish this same thing because they need to engage players for tens of hours, so Lynch’s method of engaging his audience actually works really well for occupying game players as well. Naturally, because of these strong similarities, game writers would want to take inspiration from him over other, more succinct filmmakers like Kubrick on Scorcese.
The following short story is loosely based on a legend surrounding Hippasus, a Pythagorean philosopher (though he most likely lived about a century after Pythagoras, despite how I wrote the story), who supposedly discovered the existence of irrational numbers, which challenged the Pythagorean belief in a rational world (all numbers can be represented as a ratio of two whole numbers). Legend has it that Hippasus was drowned at sea because his discovery offended the gods, though little is actually known about Hippasus and whether or not he actually discovered irrational numbers at all.
You can read more about what is known about Hippasus here.
A Celebrated Proof:
“Hush, hush, please. I know this is exciting, but I need your silence, please,” Pythagoras calls out to his students, all bustling with curiosity about Pythagoras’ announcement. At their teacher’s request though, they calm down, quieting themselves so they can hear what Pythagoras has to say. “Yes, yes, as you know we have recently done a great deal of work with triangles and squares, and we have figured out a method of acquiring the hypotenuse of right triangles, so I would like to have Hippasus here help me demonstrate,” Pythagoras tells his students. Upon hearing this, the students roar out, awestruck at what Pythagoras has just told them. “Please, everyone, I have yet to even get to the proof, please keep it together for just a few more moments. I promise this will be impressively quick.” The students fall quiet again. Pythagoras turns to you and continues, “Let us begin with a simple setup: Say we took three squares and laid them corner to corner, such that two meet in a right angle and the third bridges the other two, creating a right triangle between all the squares. I would like to posit that, in a scenario such as this, the area of the two squares that meet at a right angle combined equals the area of the larger square. This would suggest that for any right triangle with legs a and b, and hypotenuse c, a²+b² must equal c², giving us the value of any side of a right triangle so long as we have the other two.” The students begin buzzing again, but Pythagoras silences them with a simple wave of his hand. “Now, in order to prove this, we must look at a different scenario.” He turns to you.
“Now, Hippasus, consider a triangle with legs a and b and a hypotenuse, c. Look at this square, made up of four triangles, abc, laid out edge to edge, such that each side of the outer square is a and b combined, and the four hypotenuses make a smaller, slightly rotated square in the center. We can see five clear areas contained by the large square: the four triangles and one inner square. We can represent the area of this square a few different ways, but what’s the simplest way?”
You don’t hesitate, everyone in the room knows the answer, “(a+b)²”.
“Excellent. Because each side is a+b, squaring that number gives us the area of the square. Simple, but not super helpful on its own. Hippasus, what is another way we could depict the area of this square?”
While a more complicated question, you answer just as quickly, having gone over this proof with your teacher repeatedly, “2ab + c²”.
“Exactly. This takes a little more thought, but we can get here easily. Each triangle has an area of (1/2)ab, multiplied by four we get the 2ab. Then we just need to add the c² from the center square. Now, we know that these two equations, (a+b)² and 2ab + c² equal each other, so we’ll set them as such. What should our next step be, Hippasus?”
“Expand out the left side.” Easy.
“Yes. (a+b)² is not particularly useful to us here, so we must expand it out. When we do that we get a² + 2ab + b² = 2ab + c². Just one more step, Hippasus.”
“Subtract 2ab from both sides.”
“And when we do that, we get the simple equation, a² + b² = c². Plain as day, my friends, any right triangle’s hypotenuse will equal the sum of each of the other side’s squares. You may resume.” Pythagoras’ students fall into an even louder, more celebratory uproar, cheering and marveling at the groundbreaking work of your teacher. They storm up to you two and begin asking you all questions. You yourself find yourself rather dumbfounded by Pythagoras as well. Not only has Pythagoras found such a fundamental and fascinating truth of the world, but for it to have such a simple proof as well! The proof reminds you of Erdos’ idea of the Book, a grand book maintained by God that contains the most core proofs in mathematics. You ponder your teacher’s work and can’t help but think that if this doesn’t count as a Book proof, you don’t know what would.
Pythagoras, enjoying the attention and explaining his proof in more detail to those asking, pauses for a moment to loudly exclaim, “Friends, we have made it just one step closer to understanding this rational world! We still have a long way to go and I look forward to exploring it with you!”
Amongst the crowd of students mobbing you, asking questions about how it felt to rehearse this with Pythagoras, what his thought process looked like, and if they could work with you on your next project, Pythagoras finds you and says softly in your ear, just audible over the crowd to you and only you, “When the crowd dies down, I’m bringing a group of students out sailing tonight to celebrate. You should come, I have some phenomenally fine wine for the occasion”. Pythagoras doesn’t even await a response; as soon as he finishes he slips away back into the crowd, positive you’ll attend. And you will.
You, Pythagoras, and a handful of other students sit on a moderately sized sailboat with oars to help control direction. The sun has begun to set, leaving the sky and sea-colored in various shades of reds and pinks and yellows. The sea sits still, basking in the sun along with you and the other students. The vessel sways calmly back and forth, as if trying to lull you all into a sleep to accompany the setting sun.
Much like the sea, you students have remained largely quiet, calmed by the sea, you all seem to ponder the discovery you and Pythagoras revealed today. The students all sit, running numbers in their heads, checking values to make sure it works. After a few moments though, Speculus speaks softly: “You know that poem, ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ by William Butler Yeats? Doesn’t it kind of feel like we’re on the same kind of journey as the speaker in that poem?”
“You mean because we’re on a boat,” Sageron asks sardonically, unimpressed by Speculus’s idea.
“Well the speaker in the poem writes about going on an intellectual journey, sailing to ‘the holy city of Byzantium ’, seeking to learn how to sing,” (“Sailing” 15–16) Speculus retorts. “Doesn’t that feel like what we’re doing with Pythagoras, at least in some way?”
“How do you know they wrote about an intellectual journey?” Sageron, still skeptical, asks.
Pythagoras steps in for the first time, offering his thoughts on the topic: “Just think about Byzantium. Sure, initially, given the morbid language of the poem, Byzantium appears as a metaphor for heaven or at least the afterlife, but the founders of Byzantium built the ancient city on fertile ground, and its strategic location to both the Greeks and Romans resulted in a prosperous economy and a long life for the city, so Speculus’ assumption makes sense, at least on the surface. In the introduction to A Vision, a philosophy book also written by Yeats, while discussing his work before The Tower, Yeats writes that ‘Browning’s Paracelsus did not obtain the secret until he had written his spiritual history at the bidding of his Byzantine teacher’ (A Vision 9). Paracelsus, a Swiss physician from the 16th century, rejected traditional education and medicine, seeking education from all over the world, believing that truth exists in all places, and ignoring ideas outside of your own limited culture neglects vast amounts of truth. The multiple mentions to Byzantium compare Paracelsus’ pursuit to the speaker’s, especially considering that The Tower was Yeat’s first collection after writing A Vision, revealing the speaker’s goal in life: to find eternal truth. By making ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ the opening poem to The Tower, the speaker establishes this journey immediately, coloring the entire collection with it.”
The students all mumble amongst themselves about what Pythagoras said. The reference to Paracelsus grabbed their attention in a very particular way. The relationship between student and teacher, with an emphasis on the student’s own journey, appears to have given some form of hope for their own future and their own ability to find such powerful truths. Not to mention, as Sageron pointed out, the connection between sailing in the poem and your own literal sailing feels almost too on the nose, though you have to wonder why Yeats chose to emphasize the sea so extensively. A different, more abstruse part of the poem grabs your particular attention, though. You think of the third stanza, where the speaker pleads with divine sages to “Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,/And be the singing-masters of my soul” (“Sailing…” 19–20).
Trying to parse the meaning of “perne in a gyre” yields little information on its own at all. To begin with, the word “gyre”, while it has a definition, to Yeats, it carried a much more complicated, difficult-to-describe idea. Fascinated by the occult, Yeats worked with his wife, an automatic writer, to communicate with spirits, whom he claims gave him “metaphors for poetry” (A Vision 8), the gyre acting as one of the primary ones. Yeats even wrote the entire aforementioned book, A Vision, to explain this metaphor and the others surrounding it. Suffice it to say, the brief mention of a gyre in the poem could never fully explain what an entire book struggles to do, though the word does evoke the sensation of spiraling, spinning, or something similar. The other key word in that line, “perne”, has no clear denotative meaning. Likely derived from the word “pern”, which, in some cases can refer to a spool one winds thread onto, it does little more than create a feeling. By pairing two incredibly ambiguous words together in one phrase, Yeats manages to completely remove any imagery or definition from one of the most complex ideas he explores in his poetry and instead inserts nothing but raw feeling. Despite all this, when read along with the rest of the poem, you can’t help but feel that you understand exactly what the speaker asks of those sages.
Your face must have furled itself, lost in thought because Sageron notices and asks why you seem bothered. You explain your train of thought and they look at you in understanding, though you don’t quite know how they could understand such a complex issue so quickly. “I see what you’re saying, Hippasus, I do, but I feel like you may be reaching a little too much.” Clearly, they did not understand. “Are you familiar with the George Orwell essay ‘Politics and the English Language’?” You tell Sageron you don’t know it. “Well, in it Orwell argues against a series of trends he sees in modern political writing and discourse. He first gives a handful of passages that demonstrate the problems and then goes into explaining the problems. Right at the start, he details that the two main problems he sees in modern political writing have to do with ‘staleness of imagery’ and ‘lack of precision’ (Orwell). He goes on to say that ‘The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not’ (Orwell). I think that last point, in particular, applies to your confusion with Yeats. Obviously the speaker in ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ made a choice, presumably intentionally, to ignore what his words meant. Orwell explores this exact idea when he talks about how a good deal of literary criticism comes with an abundance of ‘meaningless words’ (Orwell), and he even explicitly says, ‘That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different’ (Orwell), clearly referring to, at least in some capacity, the practice the speaker in the poem employs. Orwell largely takes issue with this practice because it doesn’t get people anywhere. Perhaps you don’t actually understand the speaker’s intention behind ‘perne in a gyre’ but rather have come with your own meaning for it and have projected that onto the speaker as their intended meaning.”
You respond to Sageron that, while yes, Orwell likely would not have approved of the practice Yeats employed in the poem, you don’t think that Orwell’s argument in that essay applies to your discussion of the poem, because Orwell’s essay centers around political speech, not poetry. “True, of course, the argument can’t apply entirely,” Sageron says. “But I don’t think we can write off the entire essay as only about politics. After all, wouldn’t you say that, when writing a political pamphlet, you need to make every word and every inch of the page count much in the same way you do a poem?”
Indeed, they make a fair comparison. You go on to point out though that you think the two of you have begun to veer off into two slightly different arguments. You want to point out that Yeats’ poem peculiarly suggests that denotative language actually has little importance when it comes to conveying ideas, implying that human comprehension of ideas happens on some level beyond simple language, while Sageron wants to argue that people should pay more attention to the denotative meaning of their words. Sageron seems to have taken the importance of denotative meaning as a given, arguing about how we should use language in practice, while you want to challenge that premise entirely, looking at language more theoretically.
Before Sageron can continue their argument, Speculus chimes in with an idea of their own: “I mean, think about Dr. Seuss, guys.” They look around, realizing they interrupted. “Sorry, I was just thinking that if you look at basically any Dr. Seuss book he constantly used words that mean nothing, and for all sorts of purposes: nouns, adjectives, verbs, he would make up words for anything.” Lerkims, Snuvvs, miff-muffered moof. gruvvulous gloves, snergelly, Bar-ba-loots. Those all come from The Lorax, just one book. Speculus makes a fair point; if anyone can prove that we can understand people without the need for language, leave it to Dr. Seuss. When Dr. Seuss wrote about the “snergelly hose” (The Lorax) everyone knew what he meant.
“I don’t think that Dr. Suess’ use of made-up words necessarily works the same way as Yeats’ though,” Sageron says, pondering Speculus’ point. “Because Dr. Seuss uses made-up words to describe things that he could describe in other ways, his words just fit the rhythm and rhyme. Yeats on the other hand, at least according to Hippasus, makes up words to describe things that existing words cannot. While I suppose Orwell would not necessarily approve of either writer, I don’t think we can equate them either.”
What Sageron says strikes you. You tell them that they seem to have a very limited interpretation of Seuss and that they should consider that maybe Seuss didn’t want to describe anything we can currently know, but instead wanted to appeal to a more base-level feeling within us. A word like “snergelly”, while maybe similar to “winding” or “twisted”, feels more comedic than either of those words and doesn’t quite evoke the same image either. Dr. Seuss has a kind of beauty in that he wrote his books for a young audience with a loose grasp on the English language. Instead of worrying about exact meaning in the way that Orwell describes, he simply makes up his own words to appeal to his audience who wouldn’t fully understand the meaning of his words no matter what. If Seuss can evoke meaning from nothing at all, then do we need language at all? Why does Orwell seek to preserve an institution that writers like Seuss and Yeats prove unnecessary?
“All true, but we cannot forget that Seuss and Yeats largely used existing language to write, inventing new words of their own rarely compared to their use of existing words. Clearly, even they depended on language, and we cannot pretend that it is purely useless. In order to convey meaning it seems that we must have language at least on some level.”
You tell Sageron of the Icelandic band, Sigur Rós, and their interesting approach to language and emotion. You explain that their 2002 album, ( ), contains no words, and even the album and its songs have no names. Instead, the singer of the band, Jónsi, created a language called Vonlenska (Hopelandic if you were to translate it to English), which consists of nothing more than gibberish vocals meant to sound similar to the Icelandic language. Because of the lack of denotative meaning, listeners have the ability to interpret their own meaning into the song, using the clear emotions of the album as guidelines. Plenty of other music does this as well, either with no vocals or nonsense vocals, so clearly music, among other things, can convey meaning and emotion without the need for specific language. Of course, you clarify, these do not convey specific narratives either, so they don’t perfectly compare to Yeats and Seuss, but the connection is still clear.
“So, perhaps we should say,” Sageron starts, “that while one can convey certain things — such as emotion — without actual language, in order to explain more specific things like narrative, we must use, at least to some extent, language common to the entire audience, though made-up words can still make up parts of a narrative in the interest of emotion, flow, rhyme, or other devices.”
Speculus and Sageron sit back, content with their conclusion, and you can’t necessarily argue with them, though something doesn’t quite sit right with you. You certainly created a system to determine when made-up words and emotive sounds can function, but it feels odd to systematize something as free-flowing and human as expression. Can the system the three of you just designed really apply to all of written and spoken, verbal and nonverbal communication? You feel that Sageron clings too firmly to Pythagoras’ idea of a “rational world”. Yes, perhaps everything in the world can be depicted using fractional numbers, but this doesn’t have to do with numbers, rather language. Though, to Sageron’s point, perhaps one can consider numbers a form of cosmic expression, and thus the rules you use to understand that can also help understand your own forms of expression. You sit back and look out at the sea to ponder. The sun has almost completely set by this point, and the sky is mostly dark, the sea darkening with it. It seems ominous, but still peaceful. Not hostile, just a calm reminder of inevitable darkness.
“Friends, enough with the gloom, today is a momentous occasion that calls for a momentous wine!” Pythagoras raises a bottle of wine up in the air. “I have brought out my finest as a thanks for all your hard work.”
The students meet Pythagoras’ call with praise and adoration. Students respond with things like “We couldn’t help without your guidance”, “None work harder than you”, and “We all have come here to learn, so you have earned the most thanks”.
“Of course, of course, that’s what we have this school for. For you to grow, me to teach, and for all of us to think,” Pythagoras says, even more proudly.
“Are you confident that your proof works? Have we tested it?” another student asks.
Pythagoras’ arm drops slightly, and he leans back, somewhat surprised to hear such uncertainty. “Why of course it works. Go on, pass me any pair of numbers and we can quickly tell the equation’s veracity.”
“3, 4, 5”
“9 + 16 = 25, of course.”
“5, 12, 13”
“25 + 144 = 169. Come on, give me a challenge.”
“What about 1 and 1?” Speculus asks.
“Well, the equation would dictate that 1 + 1 equals the square root of 2”
“But what is the square root of two? How can we test it?” At this point, the students begin exchanging whispers, uncertain about the square root of two.
“Students, hush. The equation must work. Hippasus, would you find the value of the square root of 2 for me? This should help clear up any confusion.”
Pythagoras hands you some writing utensils to use to find the square root of 2. You stare at the page in confusion, unsure of where to start.
“What’s the holdup? You know where to start. Simply set the square root of 2 equal to a ratio of two numbers, you know it needs to be a ratio after all.” You set the square root of two equal to a/b.
“Good. You know that the square root of two must be a ratio of two numbers, so we can assume that a/b is reduced, meaning that they have no common factors.” From here you know that you need to get rid of the square root, as that is your problem so you square both sides, giving you 2=a²/b².
“Right, you need to get rid of that pesky square root. That’s causing our problems so get rid of it. Keep going.” Next, you multiply both sides by b² to isolate a and solve for it. You have 2b²=a².
“Precisely. Look! You’ve already gained some valuable information. And so quickly, too. Tell them what you’ve found.” You tell all the students that a must be an even number because its square equals a multiple of two, and the root of an even square must itself be even.
“What a wonder! We can already narrow a down to an even number. Additionally, that allows us to rewrite a². Go on Hippasus, replace a² with the new value.” You rewrite the equation as 2b²=4c², replacing a with 2c, to represent an even number.
“There you go. Go on, don’t let me distract you.” Next, you divide both sides by two to solve for b and simplify the equation, getting b²=2c².
“Good. Hopefully, we should gain some more information from this as well. What do you see?” You announce that, by the same logic as before, b must also be even.
“Good. That makes sense. Keep going” You pause for a moment, unsure of what to do with the new information.
“What’s the holdup? We need this value.” You clarify with Pythagoras that a/b is a reduced fraction.
“Yes, what about it?” You tell Pythagoras that if a/b is a reduced fraction, then a and b cannot both be even numbers, because they would have a common factor of 2.
“I see, yes. That does seem like a bit of a contradiction. You must have made a mistake. Redo it for me. I’ll watch closer.” You walk through the same steps as before, not seeing any place where you made a mistake. You come to the same conclusion.
Pythagoras seems unfazed. “Do it again, we’ll see the error certainly this time.”
You tell Pythagoras that you don’t think you made an error, and Pythagoras leans back, looking at you now, and not your work. “I don’t need your input here, Hippasus. Please do the work so we can see where you made an error.” At this point that students have begun whispering amongst themselves again, the air of uncertainty returning to the boat now lit by little more than lamplight. They seem to be discussing your work, asking why you all can’t just accept the square root of two as an answer, and some urge you back to work, telling you to listen to Pythagoras.
Speculus chimes in: “Could it be that the initial assumption that the square root of two must equal the ratio of two numbers is incorrect?”
This sends the boat off the edge. Students’ whispers turn into full discussions, with questions, accusations, threats, and, above all else, fear. If your school’s work is all based on the rational nature of the world, does this mean that all your work means nothing? Can some of it be saved? Did Pythagoras know this to begin with?
“Students, please be quiet,” Pythagoras says assertively, raising his voice, but not in celebration this time. “Speculus, we must not jump to conclusions so readily. We would not be mathematicians if we did so. We must explore all ideas to their full extent before we make such assumptions. Now, Hippasus, run through it again. Slowly this time. I must see where there could be errors in your logic.”
You run through the proof again, going slowly, and following Pythagoras’ directions. You reach the same result. Pythagoras looks at your work, thinking. You tell Pythagoras that you agree with Speculus, and that the only part of the proof you don’t fully understand is the assumption that the square root of 2 must equal the ratio of two numbers. You ask what proof Pythagoras has for that.
“That is a deeply complicated proof, Hippasus, we don’t have time for that now. Please, let me think this through.” You tell Pythagoras that you would like to explore the idea of the square root of two being irrational, and what other numbers might also be irrational. This enrages Pythagoras more than anything you’ve said yet.
“Hippasus, you must drop this line of questioning immediately! It simply will not lead anywhere!” You tell Pythagoras that if he doesn’t want to learn more about this, you would be happy to go to another gymnasium where they would be thrilled to learn of such a new and interesting find. You say that you think this could lead somewhere big, and that irrational numbers could explain a lot of the phenomena in the world your school has yet to explain properly.
Pythagoras seems close to his limit. He lifts you up and pushes you against the side of the boat. Your head now leans over the edge, the breeze from the sea chilling your face. So close to the water, the night settles in on you, and you feel colder than you’ve felt in a long time. Your head tilts to the side and you get a glimpse of the deep, black-blue water, threatening to swallow you whole and never spit you out.
“Hippasus, I will not allow you to spread such falsehoods across the world. I will not allow you to sully the name of this school with your stupidity. I will not allow you to ruin my name!” He pushes you a little further over the edge.
“Pythagoras, I’m sure they didn’t mean anything by it,” Speculus says softly, their voice shaky. The other students have all fallen silent. “Let’s just drop the subject, I’m sure we’re all tired.”
Pythagoras’ head twists back sharply, his eyes burning holes in the chest of Speculus. “Speculus, say no more! You needn’t put yourself over the water the way Hippasus has.” Speculus slinks back a little into the crowd, dejected, not ready to oppose Pythagoras the way you have. You see Sageron grab their arm and begin angrily speaking to them, clearly dissatisfied with their dissension with Pythagoras.
You think back to Erdos’ idea of The Book. Yes, Pythagoras’ proof earlier certainly was simple, but what you just did proved the existence of numbers that no fraction can ever represent. And using such simple math as well. In just a few steps using simple arithmetic, you have proved one of the most fascinating discoveries in the world. You know that you have found the first proof in Erdos’ Book.
Seeing Pythagoras’ harsh opposition to your idea pulls something out of you. Somewhere deep within you, you feel correct in a way you never have before. Pythagoras’ assumption of a rational world must be wrong and you will not accept such dogma. You tell Pythagoras just this, harshly criticizing his rigidity, saying that you cannot be his student should he reject such a plain and simple truth.
“I should say the same to you, Hippasus.” Pythagoras pushes forcefully, and your body tips over the boat headfirst. You feel yourself in the air for a brief moment before your neck slaps against the water. Suddenly, the water’s cold threat has actualized and you can’t even think to look up at your former teacher, the chill of the water occupying your body and mind completely. You can only splash around, keeping yourself afloat for a moment before your limbs freeze up and you feel yourself start sinking, as your head lowers into the water, any remaining light you had gets completely drowned alongside you.
Back on the boat, Pythagoras sits down and puts the still-closed bottle of wine away. “Friends, let’s head back. Speculus was right: it’s been a long day. We’re all tired. In the morning let’s all agree this was all a dream.”
You can feel yourself sinking quickly, the water pushing up against you, though you feel no weights on your body. The force gently pulls your entire body down, further and further, the light fading rapidly as you fall. You can see the faint light at the surface, in the direction you’ve looked since your baptism and last rites began. The light from the moon grows dimmer and dimmer, consolidating from a broad spot down to a point, like a circle reverting back to the zeroth dimension.
You open your mouth to cry for help, yet produce nothing more than a smattering of bubbles, with no clear sound coming out. Even if you could scream, who would help you anyway?
Eventually, you lose track of how long you’ve spent in the water. Maybe it’s only been seconds, possibly minutes, maybe longer. You simply feel the pressure of the water squeezing you tighter and tighter, smothering your entire body. You close your eyes and open them again, to ensure that you can still see something, however faint. When you open them again, you begin to hear someone speak to you. The sound does not go into your ears but vibrates through your whole body. The words connect with your heart as much as they do your eardrums.
“Hippasus, Hippasus. Flying up to the realm of gods.”
Calm down now, your mind is still but a fawn
Learned its first truth, more than that Pythagoras
Not but a slight nugget, only a scratch on mathematics”
Your mind fixates on what happened, and you can’t make sense of it. What you did, what got you here, or even simply what “here” is escape you. Though you said no words, you sense that the voice has heard you, and understands your confusion.
“You found a way to open a door without even turning the knob. Now you need to determine how you will step through,” they say.
You ask them about the door they mention, unsure of what they mean.
“A hole through your world, opening up to broader horizons and more possibilities.”
You ask them what’s on the other side of the door.
“Slow down, Hippasus. Take it one step at a time. The path you opened may still close on Icarus’ face yet again.”
Their words remind of other mathematical oddities, similar to what you accomplished; in the same way that you found numbers that exist beyond humanity’s means of representing numbers, you think about four-dimensional geometry, and how it fundamentally exists beyond human comprehension. Just like how people can use the square root of 2 without actually knowing its value, mathematicians can discuss the properties of four-dimensional objects such as a tesseract without even beginning to understand what one would actually look like in practice. Mathematicians can only create 2D and 3D representations of what it might sort of look like.
You look back up at the receding moonlight, just a faint sliver at this point. The pressure of the water presses you in, compacting you. Your body has begun to ache under the now intense force. You still feel something pulling your body down indefinitely, just as incessant as when it started.
Your brain, finally catching up, distracts you from this line of thinking and you ask the voice who they are.
“Think about what you did, Hippasus. Can you understand?”
You ask what you did.
“What did you prove, Hippasus? Irrationality.”
“Irrationality, Hippasus. You know its definition. You know it applies to me.”
“Yes, Your Irrationality clarified me”
You ask if they can help you understand, still unsure of what they’re trying to say.
“One day you may become Irrationality yourself. You may sail away and dissolve.”
Their words remind you of Yeats’ journey, the journey you discussed with Speculus and Sageron. You wonder if Yeats became irrationality in the way they describe. Was that his intention? Yeats embarked on an intellectual journey, but his plea points to something deeper than simple knowledge. He pleaded with powers greater than humans.
The moon has now disappeared. You don’t know where you are. You can see nothing. The water pressure pains you now. Your aching body has turned to desperation. You struggle to focus on much else at all. As the force pulls you down further, you can feel the pressure increasing with every passing moment.
You suddenly think of the events that led you here. You ask the voice if they can explain what Pythagoras did.
“Pythagoras put his life before truth. His own status. Have you seen this before? Will you see this again? Pythagoras’ decision will plague your kind, as it has plagued you up to this point.”
The word “plague” strikes you.
“Yes, plague. However you may take it, Pythagoras’ sin will remain with you as long as you are.”
You ask if you can stop the plague they speak of.
“You? You already have for yourself. Ignatius cured his, but can you create a vaccine for vainglory?”
You both fall into silence, and you feel as though you look the disembodied voice in its eyes. You nod your head in acknowledgment of its presence. Suddenly the force pulling you down yields and you feel yourself grow stationary. The water pressure disappears and your body takes a deep breath, free and open. You have gone from feeling the weight of the world to feeling nothing at all. You float, suspended in nothing. You see nothing. You feel nothing. Soon your body begins to dissolve away into the water. You are nothing. You can only think. The voice speaks to you:
“Come now, you have things to do.”