The castle’s geographic position was on top of a rock oriented true north. From a distance, it looked like a huge tooth rooted in a gigantic gum. Its construction dates to around 2100 AD. It was a massive, rectangular pyramidal structure, constructed on three levels of terraces and originally standing between 20 and 30 metres high. Three monumental staircases led up to a gate on the first terrace level. A single staircase then rose to the second terrace, which in turn supported a platform on which a temple and the topmost terrace stood. Its core is made of mudbrick covered with baked bricks cemented with bitumen, a naturally-occurring tar. Each of the baked bricks measured about 30 x 30 x 7 centimetres and weighed as much as 15 kilograms. The castle’s lower portion, which supported the first terrace, would have been made of some 720,000 baked bricks. Luckily, its innovative construction meant that much of it survived the bombardment, though the city below was also partially destroyed. Even today, it still stands as an imposing testament to the power and skill of the culture that produced it. The city, once the largest in the world and the jewel in the crown of one of humanity's great civilisations, sits in a wasteland at the edge of a war zone. I remember visiting the castle myself before the war, for physical and spiritual nourishment. I spent days there, looking at the city from above. Millions of bodies moved in and out of buildings, tunnels and trains. Millions of cars moved round a complex network of the highways constructed on ground level and on flyovers that mimicked the contours of rivers. Both bodies and cars reflected the instinctive anxiety of ants looking for supplies to survive the coming winter. I made my first attempt to revisit the castle three years after the war ended, in late Spring, but the temperature (which easily hits 45 degrees celsius as the blazing sun reflects off the dark rock flats and yellow baked bricks) was so high that it was almost impossible to reach it. I started to head down the huge rock…
A few months after the agreement giving the go-ahead for the expansion of CERN into French territory was signed, work began on the Super Proton Synchrotron (SPS). Two years later, on 31 July 1974, the Robbins tunnel-boring machine excavating the SPS tunnel reached back to its starting point. It had excavated a circular tunnel with a circumference of seven kilometres, at an average depth of 40 metres below the surface. The tunnel straddled the Franco-Swiss border, making the SPS the first cross-border accelerator. A young female scientist, Anatolia Turgosky, was part of the team working during the accelerator’s inaugural operations. On 13 July 1976, Turkosky was checking a malfunctioning piece of equipment. As she was leaning over the equipment, she stuck her head into the part of the accelerator the proton beam was running through. She reported seeing a flash “brighter than a thousand suns”. On the day of the accident, Anatolia’s twin sister was at MoMA in New York when an utterly absurd expression of synchronicity occurred. Her twin sister was looking at Picasso’s famous painting “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” when she experienced a vision disorder. The skin tone of the women in the painting took on a shiny light grey texture, like aluminium. The doctors were astonished by this unprecedented mutation and called it “Aluminium Vision”. One hundred and twenty four years later, this kind of mutation became very common and was developed mainly by poor people living in the suburbs of big cities. Most began to develop the disorder after watching thousands of car crashes over a long period of time, or when forced to live close to huge piles of junk aluminium used in the production of cyborgs. Whenever I read this story, it always brings to mind the southeast room of the castle, whose walls were filled with hanging masks.
The climb down was no easier than the climb up. It was almost afternoon when I decided to head back, and now, as the sun was about to set, the heat was replaced by a suffocating humidity. It felt like I was trapped inside a humid cloud that tracked my every move to keep me constantly engulfed. My every step had to be taken with care since every bit of rock I used to keep my balance was wet. I continued to move downwards as slowly and as carefully as possible, following the naturally serpentine architecture of the rocks. I finally reached a broader expanse that seemed to have been struck violently at its centre. Only a machine could have done it. There was something unsettling about the scene, and it was not until later in the day that it dawned on me. What I had seen. Or had not seen. I turned abruptly round, traced my way back to the castle and stared at it for a long time. Then I looked up at the sky and back down at the rocks. I instantly had a strange vision: I was wandering across a prehistoric earth, where everything was still new and unexplored. A tiny sound shook me from my dream. I stood there in stillness with the will to decode the sound, as if it was a message in some familiar language coming from a parallel universe. I felt the sound grow softer and more crystalline as I moved towards it, like a blind man reaching eagerly for an object that calls out for his touch. The sound was of water and I was not far from its reach.
She slips both her hands into the water, drinks, and washes her face, arms and neck. She picks a small stone up off the ground, takes a few steps back and throws it into the river. She wants to cross the river and reach the other river bank. She has to jump across six stepping stones that connect one river bank to the other. On the other side the landscape is greener, but it was a green she had never seen before. The trees, the plants growing on the bank, the flowers, all shared this same shade of green. Even the river water was that special green. I looked around the entropic landscape. There were no birds, no fishermen, not a single soul of human existence. The temperature was rising. It is now so high that her very substance begins to melt. She melts as if she were a piece of aluminium.
She has been wandering inside the Gland Machine for some hours now, and the depletion of oxygen in the air means she has trouble breathing. She feels her body grow heavy as she starts descending the stairs, walking down towards the door. The exit light flashes in time with her heartbeat. When she goes to punch in the exit code, she realises there is no access control panel. The exit is a mirage, similar to a reflection nebula that catches the light of a nearby star. The exit is somewhere inside the machine, but not there. The exit reflection now flickers above the excavation system. She must calculate her latitude in order to find the real exit. Even though she has visited this place many times in the past, it feels completely unfamiliar. The body needs to approach space in some different, out of the ordinary way. Simple movements, such as walking, sitting, jumping and standing, must be viewed from a different perspective. To do this, she has to visualise doing all such movements in a state where a dimensional equality of space exists. Thus the walls of a room can be experienced as the floor or ceiling; equally, the floor can be experienced as the wall or ceiling. If she can do this then her mind, along with her body, will be able to create a channel of navigation that acts as a kind of potentiality, fulfilled in the actuality of movement, that will help her exit the machine. It feels like falling into a black hole.
She had been wandering inside the Gland Machine, experiencing all possible spatial dimensions, when she finally arrived in a dark room. In the middle of the room was a beautiful sculpture, shining the way asphalt shines on a rainy night. I walked into the room silently, as if entering a sacred space, facing the back of the sculpture. Suddenly, the sculpture turned sideways to reveal its identity: a Sphinx, a glistening monster lying in the middle of the room. The sculpture was regulated to make a half turn at specific intervals. I couldn’t say if it turned every second, every hour or every year; there is no sense of time inside the Machine. When the Sphinx turned to face me, she opened her mouth and unleashed a language I’d never heard before. It sounded like fragments of Chinese and binary code combined into a new hybrid structure.
I sensed that the monument was either the heart of the machine, or the place of its creation for some special, unknown purpose. I imagined this monument standing at the entrance of every big city, presenting itself as our domesticated monster.
I was still looking for the way out when I heard a voice say: “If you want to exit the Machine, you must perform the ritual of the infrared.” I looked round to see where the voice was coming from. Next to the central processing unit sat a man on a lump of rock. He was wearing a hat that hid his face. I have a feeling he didn’t want to show it in the first place. He wore a long, crimson-coloured coat. “What’s the ritual of the infrared? What am I supposed to do?” I asked. In a soft deep voice, he began to unfurl the sequence of the ritual. In a few minutes, you will feel the space begin to change, you will feel as though you are on the edge of a slope. A breeze will blow you away and you will fall softly onto surface 1. You will reach another state of consciousness that will lead you to a crossroads. Your spirit will follow two paths. The path of the bird flying in the sky and the path of the storyteller. The storyteller and the bird will meet again on surface 3. Softly, you will walk towards the corner of the room where surfaces 1 and 2 meet, and you will press your hands into the two surfaces of the Gland Machine to make two holes. The animal spirit in you will go out through one hole and the electricity in you will go out through the other. He said that before I exit the Machine, I will tell him the story of a miracle. This story has been told by everyone who has exited the Machine. And so it was that before I left, I told him the following story:
There was once an old king. His house was full of beautiful artworks: 18th- and 19th-century paintings, ancient Chinese drawings, Greek and Roman statues. On a sunny Spring day, the man died and left this wealth of beauty to his home town. Four workers came to collect the art objects. One of the workers was carrying out an ancient Greek statue. A beautiful kore. At a moment when all the other workers were watching, the statue embraced the man. The moment I exit the machine is the moment I have stepped out of the projection in order to see the landscape I’ve been wandering around. Is the moment I realise that the version of my self writing these words now exists simultaneously with the one wandering inside the Gland. Events are experienced in parallel universes, while an event loses its integrity and asks to be rediscovered. Familiarity is replaced by reproductions of familiarity, finally reaching the unfamiliar. I produce versions of the same journey infinitely until I stagger and reinvent myself in different variations. Every gesture belongs to a constellation of thoughts about its meaning. What if there is no meaning, only gestures? A tiger’s leap, the stillness of a statue, shining asphalt on a rainy night - all belong to the same category of events. The sun was strong, sometimes the temperature easily hits 45 degrees celsius, but not that day…