continent. maps a topology of unstable confluences and ranges across new thinking, traversing interstices and alternate directions in culture, theory, biopolitics and art.
Issue 4.3 / 2015: 52-56

Blake Blake Blake

Simone Ferracina

A ghostly copy of Blake sat on one edge of the couch, a second in the middle, and a third on the chair next to the bay window, typing on an invisible keyboard. The unchoreographed movements and silent utterances of these holographic reproductions had been selected at random by the See Your Crime (SYC) algorithm, upon searching through Blake’s memory archive. What each projection had in common was its geotagging: having taken place, at one point or another, in Blake's living room. Every time one of the glowing doppelgängers walked out, the algorithm jumped to a different memory, keeping at least three Blakes (sometimes four or five) inside the room at all times, and following real-time Blake from one room to the next. Blake, crumpled up on the floor,  observed them from a corner—one of many locations he had appropriated to minimize what he referred to as "Blake overlaps." Next to him, a small pile of necessities—a beer bottle, crackers, a pack of tissues and a phone—ensured he wouldn't have to leave his post for a while. Blake tilted his head backwards, opened his mouth, and poured. The beer was still cool. He leaned against the wall and closed his eyes.

***

Things had been better. During the first months of SYC house arrest, he had been able to avoid Blake-trafficked routes by means of periodic furniture rearrangements. Because chairs and cabinets elicit bodily responses, by moving them around he also shifted the associated rhythms and (inter)actions. Every week he'd push the dining table a foot further to the right, or pivot it around one leg; or slide the couch under it; or set the desk right up against the fridge, or relocate the dresser to the middle of the hallway, or stack books, tools and utensils in orderly piles around the apartment. "Affording clean lines of passage," he called it. And so they were—his alternative interiors allowed for activities to take place where they hadn't before, along trajectories the other Blakes could never reach. Or so he thought. 

As it turned out, the software had no way to discriminate between datasets in the archive, or to identify pre-conviction memories. Any event matching the crime’s GPS profile was fair game, and might be uploaded and displayed. The most salient feature of the SYC program—promoters liked to stress—was that "the felon shared real geographical coordinates with the crime committed, therefore experiencing it anew." The software translated first-person memories and data acquired from electrophysiological monitors into environmental re-enactments. Three-dimensional point clouds swirled across the crime scene in meticulously accurate reconstructions. "The felon is no longer the protagonist of the event," they would say, "but a spectator, who relives the crime from the horrified point of view of the victim, experiencing guilt and remorse for the actions committed." Perhaps due to the general favor of the media, which had enthusiastically described the initiative with phrases such as "watching penance into being," "crime travel" and "broadcast absolution," the program was quickly approved—without addressing the fact that some crimes, like the one Blake had been convicted for, are composite, dispensed gradually, and take place in a familiar setting—amongst thousands of memories deposited at daily increments for years.

***

As time went by, the Blakes started to catch up to his remapping of domestic affordances. No longer did they exclusively walk half-way through the furniture like drunk haunted-house specters, sitting on absent chairs before vanishing into thresholds. Every so often, a Blake could be glimpsed strolling along the new corridor between wall and dresser, or lying in bed on top of real-time Blake, who'd scream and spring up, as if stung by a giant bee. 

Overlaps caused no physical pain. As SYC lobbyists liked to repeat, they did not bruise a convict’s flesh, nor provoke rashes, nausea, or headaches. Whenever a human rights group approached the subject and characterized overlaps as abusive, program supporters would publically ridicule them:

"You know what holograms are, right? They are not people. A hologram cannot abuse or molest a person, and that's a fact. And as far as psychological responses go, prisoners know exactly what they are seeing, both because they were lengthily prepped during the trial and because the holographic projections displayed by the system are sourced from their very own memories. This business about overlaps being torturous is pure political fabrication. It is not working, so cut it out!"

Blake lifted his middle finger at the TV, and grinned bitterly. Sure, overlaps could not be measured in scars—no thermometer could detect the feverish state of despair he fell into whenever a Blake thrust its body through his; the temporal confusion; the sense of partial disappearance, of progressive nonexistence. After only two weeks of house arrest, avoiding contact with the Blakes had become his chief purpose in life. To survive as himself, as the real Blake, was to avoid absorption by the others, by their vacuous operations and mute disquisitions—to resist fading into the meaningless stream of Blakes around him.

Indeed, he controlled them—it was his movements that the look-alike phantasms replayed over and over—but with no feedback whatsoever, as if writing instructions on thousands of paper notes and tossing them into an oversize jar for someone else to pick out and enact at their leisure. How could he leverage his temporal advantage? Perhaps by letting go, by blending in, by setting aside and preserving a perfectly Blake-free route for one glorious stride before his last breath. Either way, the time for successfully manipulating the agential orbits around his stuff was drawing to a close. 

***

One night, Blake had dozed off on the couch when, at about three in the morning, a corn crake clumsily fluttered through an open window into the living room, screeching loudly, and knocking down a whiskey bottle and a lamp. Blake woke with a jolt, but by the time he realized what was happening and groggily stood up, the bird had left, leaving behind a trail of glass shards, liquor and feathers.

Blake turned on the light and sat at the window, peering towards the dark city beyond. How did the bird get in? Was it being chased? Where had it escaped to? A distant krek krek reassured him that the intruder was doing okay. "Time to go to bed," he declared, "there is no way I'm cleaning this mess now!" He started walking towards the bedroom, then suddenly paused and turned around, flabbergasted. The living room was empty: there was no other Blake around. 

He slowly opened the door to the bedroom. Of the four sleeping Blakes inside, one was lying on the bed and three were floating one foot off the floor, where the bed had previously been. "This is incredible!" he whispered to himself, as if trying not to wake them, “how in the world did I miss this??” Clearly, the software was flawed: instead of sourcing memories on the exclusive basis of room coordinates, it also coupled them with the corresponding time of day. The greatest surprise, however, was in the fact that when no dataset matched both search entries, the time of day overrode location. As Blake's daily routine provided no instances of him wandering around the living room after 10:30 pm, the SYC program had automatically switched to whatever Blakes were available at the time, wherever they be. And so night turned into day, and day into night.

The increasing drowsiness did not cloud Blake’s resolve. He was going to stay up until 10:00 am, when he usually woke. “Sleep now, instead of spending time ALONE? Instead of being free? Never!!!” He marked the calendar with a smiley face—15 August 2018—and danced around the living room for a while, flinging his limbs through the air to the beat of imaginary drums.

Soon wearied by the dancing, and hungry, he opened the fridge. "What have we got here for Chef Blake?" There wasn't much to choose from, but in his current mood, even a stone would taste delicious. He scrambled two eggs, fried a few slices of bacon, uncorked a bottle of red wine, and sat down to eat. "Mmm...you have outdone yourself, Chef. This lobster is divine!" He giggled. Blake was happy—tired, lonely, but happy. After dinner, he sat down and read a science-fiction novel; wrote an e-mail to his mother; washed the dishes; drew a few black-and-white pictures of made-up cities, and watched cartoons. How joyful and productive had these few hours been! Focusing so intensely on the other Blakes, he usually forgot to pursue his own interests, to keep up with loved ones, to live. The alarm rang, marking 9:45 in the morning. Time to go to bed.

***

When he woke up on August 16th at 10:45 pm, a Blake was sitting on the couch. It looked just like the others—slightly translucent skin, hollow gaze, barely flickering features—but this was no ordinary replica; it was him, yesterday (B-1). Blake could still vividly remember the thoughts and sensations that accompanied the gestures B–1 now performed, the exhilaration in discovering that the living room was empty, the crispy saltiness of bacon under his teeth. He felt a kind of resigned affection toward this one-day-old version of himself, despite being aware that its presence foretold the end of this short bout of freedom: tomorrow two Blakes would be roaming the living room and kitchen in the middle of the night, then three, and so on. His apartment would soon be teeming with Blakes at all hours of the day. He had fixed the glitch.

After a week, Blake started sleeping during the night again, and drinking more beer. He spent most waking hours watching the Blakes, reading their lips, wondering what they were holding in their hands, obsessing over who they were talking to and when, following them, imitating their gestures with exaggerated gesticulations, breaking into hysterical laughter, and drinking some more. “Was that my sweet wife Ryan? Or was I arguing with John?” Their re-enactments excluded all sociality and context, like photo albums from which places, objects and people had been uncannily cut out or painted over. Only he remained: Blake Blake Blake. His memories replayed as if he had spent his entire life alone.

***

Blake stopped showering, brushing his teeth, drinking tap water, and using millwork and built-in appliances. After seven months of house arrest and no regimented schedule, the sink, shower and kitchen aisles swarmed with Blakes at all times. Showers were especially gruesome, involving, as they did, overlaps that lasted several minutes, which Blake could no longer tolerate. The fixed infrastructure in his apartment—electrical and plumbing lines, sewage pipes, concrete walls, doors and punched windows—now seemed like detestable impositions, orders imparted by a sadistic architect; gutters every Blake, him included, had been designed to inevitably drain to, like dogs drawn to a bone. A normative script had surfaced, directed and punctuated by faucets and spouts, water closets, plugs and cooktops.

"Negative design," he thought, "that's what it is. They pretend to design the space but they're really designing me, my movements, my time." 

As the sea of Blakes around him grew less avoidable, Blake and a bottle of whiskey planned the rebellion.

He had sardonically christened it "architectural digest nomadism," although it involved less moving around or any critical reassessment (hacking) of materialities, than an upwards lifting of ground. In any case, having devised a new anti-Blake strategy was empowering—it felt good. Perhaps he was still a human being after all.

First he unhinged the bedroom and bathroom doors. Then he moved the heavier and more cumbersome pieces of furniture toward the center of the space; he tilted closets, dressers and bookcases; lowered them facedown to the floor, and pushed them against one another, forming a raised path between rooms. Finally, he stacked on top of this elongated raft everything he could find, starting from larger objects and progressing to smaller and lighter ones: a mattress, a sofa, an armchair, an upside-down desk, a coffee table, books to fill in the gaps, a suitcase, a TV stand, a plastic bucket, pillows, blankets, and so on. “Real-life Tetris is fun!” he chuckled.

After about three and a half hours, his furniture mound was complete and rose over three feet above the floor. He climbed up the large pile and stepped back and forth a couple of times, probing the structure’s stability with his feet and shifting his weight to lock items into place. The surrounding space looked bare. His furniture, absorbed into the heap, had become a texture. Things had been converted to parts—not functional components, but mere atomistic bricks.

The Blakes now lived in a kind of subterranean dimension, like zombies. Watching them from the higher ground of the heap was like spotting salmons from a boat, getting ready to catch and consume them. The mound had produced a double horizon—a below and an above—an island and the depth of the surrounding sea. Blake, standing on the pile of stuff with a long beard and his hair grazing the soffit, was the island’s king and undisputed ruler—at least until his memories caught up with him.