"Most of the material in the visible universe is in the plasma state."
Donald A. Gurnett and Amitava Bhattacharjee, Introduction to Plasma Physics
Are those chestnut trees over there? Or oaks? Birches, perhaps? Man stares at the forest with pared eyes.
There was a time when he kept pigs, fed them acorns. How sweet the fat on them prize hogs. Come Sunday he would go to the bathhouse and have himself whipped with birch twigs: "Give us some more of that steam, young fellow!" Once there were the boulevards of Paris. Chestnuts in bloom. Silken petticoats. French francs, jangling on zinc.
Now all is just a green mess in the middle distance. Pointillist mannerism by the yard. A continuous screen attached to the fence of Hyde Park, running images of nameless trees, anonymous artists, taciturn orators. A hologram of life as it once was, only better for trade because in just two dimensions. The third dimension is money – pay as you go, and word becomes flesh.
The fourth is no more – gone the way of the farthingale and the sweet hams of acorn-fattened swine.
Eternal: e. life, e. delight, e. glory, e. passion, e. friendship, e. now, hope springs e., e. triangle, mine e. jewel, thy e. summer shall not fade, ah there it is: e. feminine, what's happened to that? I mean, if oaks and birches and chestnuts have become abstract trees, what's the story with the Ewig-Weibliche? With the Carmen, the Helen, the Gretchen of all those yesterday's Goethes? With that mystical chorus, you know, that launched a thousand ships?
It has become plasma, that's what. Radiant matter for man to stare at with pared eyes, a terminally ill inmate of the nursing home watching a children's morning programme. It is tumescent beneath its smooth surface of hyaline, bulging with excitement like an erect nipple, an aquarium of colour and flame wherein nude commerce pulses. He is hypnotized by its aggregate energies, suckling on them as if it were a life-giving fount, never realizing that it is his own energies, in particular, that this global teat is suckled on. His and the other suckers'.
Women seem to surround him like a swarm of she-o-matic bees, pushed up, pumped up, plumped up to the point of suffocation. They leap out of red cabriolets at zebra crossings, sculpt themselves into toothbrush handles, get plastered on walls, leer suggestively from shop windows; their procrustean skirts, Machiavellian stilettos and apocalyptic glosses confuse all incoming signals, like the jamming posts erected under Khrushchev to suppress Radio Liberty; and that's just the urban lunch hour, with Lucifer still safely in his moonlit pen and God's gentle breath upon street asphalt and office desk.
At twilight, as plasma begins to phosphoresce, shadows darken in cleavages; olid musk and synthetic violet are mainlined into olfactory receptors; mirages of Arabian olibanum and Russian oligarch are served like cocktails. He is agaze, agog, agape. He is alone, marooned on a desert island with the picture archive of Hot Babes. "Better than nothing, I guess," everyman-the-voyeur in him mutters to himself as everything dissolves into plasma.
They are blondes, of course, those cool, incandescent babes he can look at but never afford, blondes tall as lighthouses, spinning the nights away in the gay gloom of the human sea. He peers at them through plate glass, through ornate fences, through telescope and zoom lens. Oh to be in the glossy thick of them all, in the lap of all that peroxide luxury, in the lair of all that lucifugous opalescence! Like torches in medieval halls, they smoulder and spark in the glazed depths of restaurants and discotheques, in the vitreous venters of metropolitan fun, in the golden cages of mythical heroes' venery, in the fairytale caves of improbable yet economically motivating desire. Their sex mesmerizes, drives and lures, but were he to reach out to cop a feel of one of the lurex-and-silicone stalagmites within the Aladdin's cave of the silver screen, all that his fingers would close round is his own flaccid, improvident wallet.
A ruthless godhead, and yet who can blame the thing? It is inanimate, after all, as bloodless and fleshless and soulless as the impeccably modern impulses in each and every brain that brings it into being. Man has his wife, she's not as young as she once was, and her breasts were never perfect, or so he believes, and then there's Lilith, who is floating up to him from the pleroma of St Elmo's fire like a mermaid in a sailor's story. Of course there is no Lilith, who is what they used to call a figment of the imagination, a Fata Morgana. Yet he believes in Lilith! For he used to believe in Eve and now he believes in the constructive power of his own imagination, with the difference, subtle yet pivotal in the development of modern corporate capitalism, that believing in Eve was 100% free.
But supposing he's the lucky one with all the dough, and Lilith actually glides out of that aquarium of radiant matter to meet him with hibiscus in her hair; supposing, in other words, that this emanation of epochal frustration actually hands him its mobile number on a paper napkin, or even snogs him between dance tracks. As in Tarkovsky's Solaris, his frustration can only augment, as no union between man and a mermaid from outer space can be consummated. For, inevitably, collective fictions must return whence they originate and where they dwell. In Lilith's case – incidentally, her given name, in the small town on the river Don where she was born into a family of jobless alcoholics, is Ulyana – this is the local plasma-producing kolkhoz. What's so surprising about that? Communist totalitarianism and corporate capitalism are sisters under the skin, the pulsing opaline skin of man's collective imagination.
Chorus Mysticus-Sovieticus: eternal plasma draws us onward.