14 February 2011


Why do anything when you could dream about it instead?  Here is an excerpt from The Futurological Congress, a phantasmagoria about a time when there’s a drug for everything, by the great Polish writer Stanislaw Lem:

     “Sir," he said..."You see before you a successful advocate... but an unhappy father!  I had two talented sons..."
    "What, then are they dead?!" I cried.
    He shook his head.
    "They live, but in escalation.”
    Seeing that I didn’t understand, he explained the nature of this blow to his fatherly heart.  The first son was a highly promising architect, the second a poet.  The young architect, dissatisfied with his actual commissions, turned to urbifab and edifine: now he builds entire cities---in his imagination.  And the other son became similarly escalated: lyristan, sonnetol, rhapsodine, and now instead of serving the Muse, he spends his time swallowing pills, as lost to the world as his brother...
    “Is there no hope?” [I asked].
    “A dream will always triumph over reality, once it is given the chance.  These, sir, are the casualties of a psychemized society.  Each of us knows that temptation.  Suppose I find myself defending an absolutely hopeless case---how easy it would be to win it before an imaginary court!”
What a sweetheart of a dad, worried not because both his sons are artists, but because they don’t actually produce art!  Later we find out that it’s not just a few misfits who dream instead of doing: as it happens, the actual opiate of the people is opium (and its variations), and not exactly religion:

      They give the children throttlepops, then develop their character with opinionates, uncompromil, rebellium, allaying their passions with sordidan and practicol; no police, and who needs them when you have constabuline...?  A good thing I steered clear of the theoapotheterias*, with their faith-giving, grace-bestowing, sin-absolving compounds, where with a grain of sacrosanctimonium you can be canonized on the spot.  And while you’re at it, why not a little dietary deitine, lo-cal allah-all, polyunsaturated brahmanox?  Our nazarine anointium, with apocryphyll... does the rest.... Paradisiacs for the pious, mephistol and ereban for the masochists... It was all I could do to keep from storming into a pharmacopium on the corner, where the congregation was kneeling devoutly, popping paternostrums and taking orisol like snuff.  But I restrained myself--they would only pacify me with obliterine.  Anything but that.

Of course we no longer have to envy the fictional universe: we finally have our own, actual apotheterias.  This brilliant translation of The Futurological Congress was published in 1974, long before the pharmacological-industrial complex marketed Abilify (to resolve your psychosis), Concerta (to focus your attention), Halcion (to calm you down), Viagra (for you know what), Ambien (to help you fall asleep), Paxil (to treat your depressive agitation), and the rest of their kind---all useful drugs in their place, I hasten to add.  Maybe Lem didn’t die, he just moved to New Jersey, brushed up his English, and got a different job.

*Theoapotheteria: theo-logical (or perhaps theo-phanic) apothe-cary cafe-teria.

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