Prose Header

Oxygen and Aromasia

by Claës Lundin

translated by Bertil Falk

Table of Contents
Chapter 9 appeared
in issue 263.
Chapter 10. The Brain Organ

Inspired by the German philosopher and science fiction writer Kurd Lasswitz’ novel Bilder aus der Zukunft (“Pictures from the Future”), the Swedish journalist Claës Lundin (1825-1908) created the novel Oxygen och Aromasia, “pictures from the year 2378” — a date exactly five centuries in the novel’s future. Bewildering Stories is pleased to bring you this classic of early modern science fiction in Bertil Falk’s translation.

Title graphic ”This is to be sure wholly new to me,” Oxygen said.

“Well, yes, they don’t have anything like this in Stockholm as yet,” uttered one of his Gothenburgian friends, an outstanding chemist.

“I must confess that I don’t understand the significance of these helmets and wires as well as that cupboard,” said Oxygen.

I dare say,” replied the Gothenburgian chemist, “but here in Gothenburg we are totally familiar with all the features of this entertainment. Anyhow, tonight before the performance, the psychician will give a talk to initiate those who aren’t Gothenburgians into its workings. Now, pay attention to that and you’ll learn something.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, if the helmets trouble you,” the psychician said in the world language, “you can take them off and not put them on until the performance begins.

“To begin with, I beg you to think together with me somewhat back into the past about the development of the fine arts. It’s now been several hundred years since people thought that this development had reached its peak; and yet the art of sculpture of in Greek antiquity and the art of Homer has never been surpassed.

“About eight hundred years ago, the art of painting made eminent progress, but that art did not progress as much thereafter. People turned more and more to music as the most immediate and truest interpreter of emotions, but it did not take long until the utmost limits of that art were reached as well. The musical extravagances of the 20th century killed music.”

“That African knows his history of art,” the Gothenburgian chemist whispered.

“It was not until music had been silenced, probably forever,” the psychician continued, “that they understood the actual law of development of all art. When Theoros Spürenberg published his analysis of The Embryology of Aesthetic Ideals, people realized that the progress of the art depends on the progress of the sense of mood.

‘Though people in the past knew of that sense very little or not at all, they nevertheless began to surrender to senses of mood, and that increased to the same extent that everyone — after a series of real pleasures and practical work — was forced to counterbalance the ideal.

“The soul was satisfied by human beings’ surrendering to these frames of mind, and in doing so they also expressed the goal of art. In every respect, art had to govern the human senses of mood, awaken them and appease them, everything according to conditions.

“The means that art uses are unimportant in themselves, but the purpose of art is reached in the purest and easiest way if the sense of mood is awakened as immediately as possible. Therefore, music stands very near the goal of art, since it immediately influences the auditory nerves through sound waves and thereby the brain. Music does not need the mediation of the parts of the brain, the labor of which arrives as thought to our consciousness.“

“That’s true and well said,” a young clerk exclaimed.

“The development of music was a leap forward,” the lecturer resumed after a short pause for breath and a few sips of sea water. “But we know how ill the music was used and how it ultimately almost destroyed the very organ of hearing itself.

“It was then that people went another step further, and once more they awakened art by using the sense of smell. It has been the primary art form up to now and is still a very popular, but it will probably not be so in the future. We can expect a new paradigmatic shift in the history of the arts. It cannot be possible to give the olfactory sense — which already since long has been ruined by nicotine and harmful handkerchief scents — the development that art demands for the most satisfying influence on the brain.”

“Would Aromasia have found her true conqueror here?” Oxygen asked himself.

“This is probably the end of the greatness of the insufferable Ozodes,” Miss Rosebud whispered.

“The question of the nature of consciousness can of course not,” the psychician continued, “be solved differently from the question of the nature of matter, that is to say within the limits that have been staked out by the nature of the human faculty of intelligibility. But consciousness either originates immediately as an inward feeling or is effected through our senses in the form of motion in time and space.

“And understanding through motion demands a determination in accordance with number and measure and on the theory that reduces the changes in phenomena to the movements of atoms. Then is it possible to estimate the movement of the material brain molecule.

“And you should know that it acts according to the law of the general mechanics, and that a definite impression is joined or perhaps rather coincides with every such computable movement. The only thing that remains is to interpret the movement of the physical atom as a sense along its inner side.

“That’s not difficult now that the superstition of materialism has been thoroughly eradicated; a superstition, which saw consciousness as a product or a manifestation of brain molecules. The question finds its solution in the harmonizing of movement and sense, in the way that the changes of the latter — acquired by experience —are derived from the former.

As our senses supply us only with signs and pictures of objects, but not the objects themselves, the brain- and ganglion atoms do not supply feeling in its inner form. They supply a faithful reproduction of feeling in its own movement in accordance with our spatial perceptions.

“If you once have realized that this or that form of movement means this or that form of feeling, this or that molecular construction means this or that fixed sensation of the subject, then it is possible for you to create in an empirical way a kind of dictionary of the secret language of the soul, finding every determined movement translated by an experienced feeling.

“In this way it’s possible to subject purely subjective phenomena to an objective examination and in mechanical appearances find and observe the work of the soul in the same way that chemical phenomena on distant celestial bodies have been observed optically in the spectrum of color... Is this now obvious to those present?”

The audience assured that they were content with the lecture and hurried to express their approval, that is to say, handing great number of blur chips to the phychician.

After these preliminaries, the psychician urged those present to put on the helmets again and the performance began. He had himself made the brain organ or the psychokinet he used. It was a multifaceted assembly that allowed thousands of people to experience simultaneously the senses of mood that the artist choose to give them.

The artist stood in front of the cupboard. By means of the wires inside the board, the person playing the brain organ started several keys and small hammers inside the helmets. In that way he could hit the craniums of the audience and exert an immediate stimulus on exactly that part of the brain that the artist wanted to affect. A skilful brain organist could bring about a succession of well-arranged thoughts in the heads of other people and immediately create whatever sensations he wished in their consciousness.

Like the great tone-poets in the past, who needed to possess high and noble or glad and witty thoughts or warm feelings in order to be able to affect their listeners, the noble and the beautiful or the witty had to exist in a higher degree with the psychicist. That was the first condition for a psychokinetist’s having a good influence. In addition, the psychicist, like the tone-poet in the past and the scent-artist later on, had to understand how to communicate with his audience. He had to be scrupulously aware of the location and the importance of the different parts of the brain and consequently be a skilful anatomist as well as an unerring phrenologist.

His art was doubtless the most difficult that had existed on earth up to then, but then it also was the most immediate and therefore the most perfect of the arts. The psychicist was perhaps not necessarily both a creating and a performing artist; like the musician and the smellician he might only be one or the other. But it was undeniably easier for the performer to affect his audience if he had composed the work being performed. The artist that inaugurated the Psycheon under Skagerrak was both poet and performer, and his own compositions were what he had the audience perceive.

He began touching the keys, and immediately the wires were set in motion. He had not issued any list of the lyrical plays he would perform or announced what feelings he would bring about.

“My wish is,” he had said, “that the perceivers themselves make clear what I deliver.”

Total silence prevailed in the hall. At the beginning of the performance, the sensations seemed to be vague. People looked at each other with indifferent, not to say uninterested, eyes or they stared at the artist. But gradually their faces were animated. Joy shone out of everyone’s eyes and the joy was heightened to merriment that evoked chuckles and ultimately burst of laughter. They laughed so hard that the whole Psycheon Palace seemed to bend, and the other guests in the Gardens of Okeanos also began to laugh, though their brains did not receive any immediate effect from the psychokinet of the artist. General cheerfulness reigned across a fairly vast area under the bed of Skagerrak.

Little by little, the happy gush of emotion decreased, but a sensation of pleasing calm spread in the hall. The calm changed into gloom and the feeling of pleasure was changed into melancholy. People looked at each other with sad eyes, many with tears. From sorrowful feelings, the atmosphere went towards confidence, and a sensation of courage and staying power filled the minds. The emotions alternated many times until they at last turned into jubilant joy and a shared ecstasy. The psychicist stood up from his instrument and made known that the performance was over.

The helmets were removed. The approval was shown in the usual way. Everyone declared that they never before had experienced such a pure artistic pleasure.

The artist gathered the shares he had received and disappeared from the hall.

“But we were never told what this piece for brain-organ is called,” someone remarked.

“The title is unimportant,” someone else said. “Everyone can interpret the content.”

“It can’t be difficult,” a third person put in. “It was of course human life that was described though immediate sensation from the brilliant perception of the artist. First we were carried through the joyous and smiling time of childhood and youth. The pluck of youth bustled ahead in the resounding bursts of laughter. Then, the more mature age came with its calm, but also its sorrows, its courage and its good power and vicissitudes until the whole life dissolved into enthusiasm at life on earth coming to a happy end.”

“That’s not my understanding,” an objection was heard. “I did not experience anything like that. It was obviously a description of the joys and sorrows of love and the ultimate rapture when the beloved one at last was won.”

“Rubbish!” one of those present exclaimed. “The artist, who tonight produced these immediate feelings in our brains, is a practical man who knows his audience. I’m sure that most people here like me for a short while lived through all the feelings a businessman experiences n the beginning of, during and at the end of business transaction.”

“I believe,” someone else said, “that this work of art has reference to the upcoming elections. It was a masterly portrayal of electoral preparations, electoral campaigns, happy and drab occurrences at election meetings, perseverance in efforts and at last shouts of joy at the fortunate outcome.”

Even other interpretations were heard, each and everyone disagreed with the interpreter’s wishes and state of mind. People laughed at each other’s unsuccessful explanations and considered their own opinion to be the right one. Therefore everyone was very pleased with the evening and praised the brain-organ as the highest means of art. The important thing was that they had experienced strong emotions and felt that they had experienced a “highly interesting pleasure of art.”

With that, the success of the brain-organ was established.

“It’s impossible that the scent-piano will have any attractiveness from now on,” Mrs. Rosebud said.

To be continued...

Story by Claës Lundin
Translation copyright © 2007 by Bertil Falk

Home Page