Movements in space, series of moments tracked and traced, reveal constellations formed by the momentsâ connections with one another.
What comes into play are coordinates, iterations, adjacencies, parameters, ratios and the like; and, when theÂ variables are calculated and mapped, Â underlying patterns in the movement of bodies through space are recorded.
To reduce the resulting choreographies merely to matters of geometry is to rob the subject of the concentrated scrutiny and intellectual Â weight that Tom McCarthy brings to it in his latest novel âThe making of incarnationâ. The plot circulates around a number of events that overlap through their shared concern with the structure and interpretation of the patterns that show themselves when a strictly defined area of physical human behaviour is minutely observed.
The non-fictional Lillian Gilbreth serves as an inspiration, in particular the way she used thin metal wires, setting them in cutaway black boxes, to represent the paths in a workerâs movement.
Gilbreth really did this but McCarthy invents a like-minded Soviet scientist, Vanins, with whom she fictionally enters into correspondence. Gilbreth and Vanins, it would seem, approach the possibility of a master algorithm, an underlying source-code, in âthe transience of surface ephemeralityâ.
If there is something more to movements in space than an âendlessly mutating grammarâ, it will be found in a Gilbreth black box numbered 808. Intriguing references to this box as explaining âeverythingâ arouses the interest of different parties and one researcher finds her access to the archives mysteriously curtailed when searching for it.
Other strands in the book involved the simulation of a toboggan ride in a wind tunnel to calculate how turbulence affects drag, lateral force, roll and pitching, and the complex cgi in the making of a sci-fi film, âThe incarnationâ. Configurations of a kinetic kind are everywhere, waiting to be traced and encoded, whether to maximise profits (as with industry-driven time and motion studies) or in the hope that experience and knowledge may be transformed, âremade as an unbound potentialityâ as Vanins remembers the dream that once spurred his work.
âThe making of incarnationâ will disappoint readers who like fictional characters to empathise with, their emotional relationships with others laid out for vicarious inspection. McCarthy does not do this.
He is concerned with ideas, about the unquenchable search for the Holy Grail, a meta-grammar, and the materialism, the enlightened geometry, that always returns us to our bodies and our planetâs physical laws.
In the novel, Norbert Weinerâs remark about a pattern being a message is quoted but the bookâs final chapter, returning to the filming of âThe incarnationâ,Â is hard put to find meaning in the abyssal spaces, interstellar void and accidents of life that populate the blackness at the heart of the universe.
If you like your modernist fiction straight up, no cordials or flower petals on the rim of the glass, take a deep draught of âThe Making of Incarnationâ.
âThe making of incarnationâ, by Tom McCarthy, is published by Jonathan Cape.