Uqbar: Confessions Part I (of II)

I often find myself charmed by olde things.

I owe the discovery of Uqbar to the conjunction of a mirror and an encyclopedia. Late one night, as is often the perfect time for fantastic discoveries, I happened upon an obscure, lost country while searching articles on Mirrors. (The Mirror is an ongoing artistic fascination/project of mine. Art, as a mirror, reflects who we are.) I came upon an online encyclopedia entry for Uqbar with a quote by an anonymous gnostic that compelled further investigation, “The visible universe is an illusion. Mirrors and copulation, therefore, are abominable in that they multiply and perpetuate that illusion.”

What could this ancient thinker have against reflections and sex? It is an odd and disagreeable assertion. Was this the work of a zealous ascetic seeking the divine or motivated by a philosophical conundrum?

Not much is known of Uqbar. It is assumed to have been located in a region south of Armenia and Turkey in what is now Modern-day Iraq. They probably came to power after first being ruled by the Persians, Greeks, and then the Parthians. No direct, historical writings from their time survive. What has remained, however, is their rich literature and its accompanying folksongs. As I mentioned before, Art is like a Mirror. I decided to use the remnants of their literature to draw conclusions about their world and values in order to discover the context for the quote.

Their historical writings are not to be found because they likely never existed. All of Uqbar’s literature is fictitious, and the case for such a claim can be found in their writings on Tlön. Tlön is one of two imaginary regions in their literature. Much is known of its mythos from its transparent tigers to its tales of towers of blood. Prevalent throughout its myths is the assumption of an idealism in which there are no extended objects in space, and time and the succession of independent actions are the only reality. This has far reaching implications for Uqbar’s philosophies, mathematics, and languages; it even, for them, invalidates all sciences.

It is within this context that the assertion of the quote becomes clear: the source of their disbelief of the visual world is their idealism. In other words, the idealism of Tlön informs our understanding of the quote above and provides a link between the actual outlook of the people Uqbar and their fiction. If the spatial world is an illusion, anything that multiplies the image of such an illusion disseminates falsehood. So, for the Mirror its reflections only serve to make doubles of nonexistence things. And, in increasing the number of people who experience the world as having spatial extension, so too is the lie of space perpetuated into future generations through sex.

***

In the course of my research into Ubar, I uncovered folksongs corresponding to the stories of Tlön. Two are used as the thematic material of my piece, Nine Coins. The first is titled, “upward behind the onstreaming it mooned.” It corresponds to a poetic object, an image of the moon rising above a stream at night. Interestingly, the poem was composed using no nouns and is associated with the southernmost regions of Tlön. The second, The Parable of the Nine Coins is based on an old parable designed to assert object permanence, which is in violation of Uqbar’s idealism. It was considered was heretical and suppressed, yet the story persisted nonetheless. Both tunes are remarkable in their lurching syncopations. The first tune nearly always matches what would be considered a diatonic collection in Western music. The second features a twisting chromatic line within a narrow register.

Please click here to read Uqbar: Confessions Part II

***

I owe my understanding of Art as a Mirror, along with so much else, to Jorge Luis Borges. I’d like to believe he dreamed my piece before I wrote it.

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  1. […] The first Uqbar post was written in an earnest tone. Now, I will confess: Uqbar is a fiction. […]

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  2. […] more on the piece’s background, please visit two older posts, Uqbar Confessions Part I and Part II, to get the whole […]

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