Dirk gentlys holistic de.., p.15
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       Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, p.15

         Part #1 of Dirk Gently series by Douglas Adams
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  He set his china cup down in the fine dust and went to inspect his elderly record player. On it he found an elderly recording of some Vivaldi wind concertos, set it to play and sat down.

  He waited again to see what he would do next and suddenly found to his surprise that he was already doing it, and it was this: he was listening to the music.

  A bewildered look crept slowly across his face as he realised that he had never done this before. He had heard it many, many times and thought that it made a very pleasant noise. Indeed, he found that it made a pleasant background against which to discuss the concert season, but it had never before occurred to him that there was anything actually to listen to.

  He sat thunderstruck by the interplay of melody and counterpoint which suddenly stood revealed to him with a clarity that owed nothing to the dust-ridden surface of the record or the fourteen-year-old stylus.

  But with this revelation came an almost immediate sense of disappointment, which confused him all the more. The music suddenly revealed to him was oddly unfulfilling. It was as if his capacity to understand the music had suddenly increased up to and far beyond the music's ability to satisfy it, all in one dramatic moment.

  He strained to listen for what was missing, and felt that the music was like a flightless bird that didn't even know what capacity it had lost. It walked very well, but it walked where it should soar, it walked where it should swoop, it walked where it should climb and bank and dive, it walked where it should thrill with the giddiness of flight. It never even looked up.

  He looked up.

  After a while he became aware that all he was doing was simply staring stupidly at the ceiling. He shook his head, and discovered that the perception had faded, leaving him feeling slightly sick and dizzy. It had not vanished entirely, but had dropped deep inside him, deeper than he could reach.

  The music continued. It was an agreeable enough assortment of pleasant sounds in the background, but it no longer stirred him.

  He needed some clues as to what it was he had just experienced, and a thought flicked momentarily at the back of his mind as to where he might find them. He let go of the thought in anger, but it flicked at him again, and kept on flicking at him until at last he acted upon it.

  From under his desk he pulled out the large tin wastepaper bin. Since he had barred his cleaning lady from even coming in here for the moment, the bin had remained unemptied and he found in it the tattered shreds of what he was looking for with the contents of an ashtray emptied over them.

  He overcame his distaste with grim determination and slowly jiggled around the bits of the hated object on his desk, clumsily sticking them together with bits of sticky tape that curled around and stuck the wrong bit to the wrong bit and stuck the right bit to his pudgy fingers and then to the desk, until at last there lay before him, crudely reassembled, a copy of Fathom. As edited by the execrable creature A. K. Ross.


  He turned the sticky lumpish pages as if he was picking over chicken giblets. Not a single line drawing of Joan Sutherland or Marilyn Horne anywhere. No profiles of any of the major Cork Street art dealers, not a one.

  His series on the Rossettis: discontinued.

  "Green Room Gossip": discontinued.

  He shook his head in incredulity and then he found the article he was after.

  "Music and Fractal Landscapes" by Richard MacDuff.

  He skipped over the first couple of paragraphs of introduction and picked it up further on:

  Mathematical analysis and computer modelling are revealing to us that the shapes and processes we encounter in nature--the way that plants grow, the way that mountains erode or rivers flow, the way that snowflakes or islands achieve their shapes, the way that light plays on a surface, the way the milk folds and spins into your coffee as you stir it, the way that laughter sweeps through a crowd of people--all these things in their seemingly magical complexity can be described by the interaction of mathematical processes that are, if anything, even more magical in their simplicity.

  Shapes that we think of as random are in fact the products of complex shifting webs of numbers obeying simple rules. The very word "natural" that we have often taken to mean "unstructured" in fact describes shapes and processes that appear so unfathomably complex that we cannot consciously perceive the simple natural laws at work.

  They can all be described by numbers.

  Oddly, this idea seemed less revolting now to Michael than it had done on his first, scant reading.

  He read on with increasing concentration.

  We know, however, that the mind is capable of understanding these matters in all their complexity and in all their simplicity. A ball flying through the air is responding to the force and direction with which it was thrown, the action of gravity, the friction of the air which it must expend its energy on overcoming, the turbulence of the air around its surface, and the rate and direction of the ball's spin.

  And yet, someone who might have difficulty consciously trying to work out what 3 x 4 x 5 comes to would have no trouble in doing differential calculus and a whole host of related calculations so astoundingly fast that they can actually catch a flying ball.

  People who call this "instinct" are merely giving the phenomenon a name, not explaining anything.

  I think that the closest that human beings come to expressing our understanding of these natural complexities is in music. It is the most abstract of the arts--it has no meaning or purpose other than to be itself.

  Every single aspect of a piece of music can be represented by numbers. From the organisation of movements in a whole symphony, down through the patterns of pitch and rhythm that make up the melodies and harmonies, the dynamics that shape the performance, all the way down to the timbres of the notes themselves, their harmonics, the way they change over time, in short, all the elements of a noise that distinguish between the sound of one person piping on a piccolo and another one thumping a drum--all of these things can be expressed by patterns and hierarchies of numbers.

  And in my experience the more internal relationships there are between the patterns of numbers at different levels of the hierarchy, however complex and subtle those relationships may be, the more satisfying and, well, whole, the music will seem to be.

  In fact the more subtle and complex those Relationships, and the further they are beyond the grasp of the conscious mind, the more the instinctive part of your mind--by which I mean that part of your mind that can do differential calculus so astoundingly fast that it will put your hand in the right place to catch a flying ball--the more that part of your brain revels in it.

  Music of any complexity (and even "Three Blind Mice" is complex in its way by the time someone has actually performed it on an instrument with its own individual timbre and articulation) passes beyond your conscious mind into the arms of your own private mathematical genius who dwells in your unconscious responding to all the inner complexities and relationships and proportions that we think we know nothing about.

  Some people object to such a view of music, saying that if you reduce music to mathematics, where does the emotion come into it? I would say that it's never been out of it.

  The things by which our emotions can be moved--the shape of a flower or a Grecian urn, the way a baby grows, the way the wind brushes across your face, the way clouds move, their shapes, the way light dances on the water, or daffodils flutter in the breeze, the way in which the person you love moves their head, the way their hair follows that movement, the curve described by the dying fall of the last chord of a piece of music--all these things can be described by the complex flow of numbers.

  That's not a reduction of it, that's the beauty of it.

  Ask Newton.

  Ask Einstein.

  Ask the poet (Keats) who said that what the imagination seizes as beauty must be truth.

  He might also have said that what the hand seizes as a ball must be truth, but he didn't, because he was a poet and preferred loafing about u
nder trees with a bottle of laudanum and a notebook to playing cricket, but it would have been equally true.

  This jogged a thought at the back of Michael's memory, but he couldn't immediately place it.

  Because that is at the heart of the relationship between on the one hand our "instinctive" understanding of shape, form, movement, light, and on the other hand our emotional responses to them.

  And that is why I believe that there must be a form of music inherent in nature, in natural objects, in the patterns of natural processes. A music that would be as deeply satisfying as any naturally occurring beauty--and our own deepest emotions are, after all, a form of naturally occurring beauty...

  Michael stopped reading and let his gaze gradually drift from the page.

  He wondered if he knew what such a music would be and tried to grope in the dark recesses of his mind for it. Each part of his mind that he visited seemed as if that music had been playing there only seconds before and all that was left was the last dying echo of something he was unable to catch at and hear. He laid the magazine limply aside.

  Then he remembered what it was that the mention of Keats had jogged in his memory.

  The slimy things with legs from his dream.

  A cold calm came over him as he felt himself coming very close to something.

  Coleridge. That man.

  Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs

  Upon the slimy sea.

  "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner."

  Dazed, Michael walked over to the bookshelf and pulled down his Coleridge anthology. He took it back to his seat and with a certain apprehension he riffled through the pages until he found the opening lines.

  It is an ancient Mariner,

  And he stoppeth one of three.

  The words were very familiar to him, and yet as he read on through them they awoke in him strange sensations and fearful memories that he knew were not his. There reared up inside him a sense of loss and desolation of terrifying intensity which, while he knew it was not his own, resonated so perfectly now with his own aggrievements that he could not but surrender to it absolutely.

  And a thousand thousand slimy things

  Lived on; and so did I.



  The blind rolled up with a sharp rattle and Richard blinked.

  "A fascinating evening you appear to have spent," said Dirk Gently, "even though the most interesting aspects of it seem to have escaped your curiosity entirely."

  He returned to his seat and lounged back in it pressing his fingertips together.

  "Please," he said, "do not disappoint me by saying 'Where am I?' A glance will suffice."

  Richard looked around him in slow puzzlement and felt as if he were returning unexpectedly from a long sojourn on another planet where all was peace and light and music that went on for ever and ever. He felt so relaxed he could hardly be bothered to breathe.

  The wooden toggle on the end of the blind cord knocked a few times against the window, but otherwise all was now silent. The metronome was still. He glanced at his watch. It was just after one o'clock.

  "You have been under hypnosis for a little less than an hour," said Dirk, "during which I have learned many interesting things and been puzzled by some others which I would now like to discuss with you. A little fresh air will probably help revive you and I suggest a bracing stroll along the canal. No one will be looking for you there. Janice!"


  A lot of things were still not clear to Richard, and he frowned to himself. When his immediate memory returned a moment later, it was like an elephant suddenly barging through the door and he sat up with a startled jolt.

  "Janice!" shouted Dirk again. "Miss Pearce! Damn the girl."

  He yanked the telephone receivers out of the wastepaper basket and replaced them. An old and battered leather briefcase stood by the desk, and he picked this up, retrieved his hat from the floor and stood up, screwing his hat absurdly on his head.

  "Come," he said, sweeping through the door to where Miss Janice Pearce sat glaring at a pencil, "let us go. Let us leave this festering hellhole. Let us think the unthinkable, let us do the undoable. Let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all. Now, Janice--"

  "Shut up."

  Dirk shrugged, and then picked off her desk the book which earlier she had mutilated when trying to slam her drawer. He leafed through it, frowning, and then replaced it with a sigh. Janice returned to what she had clearly been doing a moment or two earlier, which was writing a long note with the pencil.

  Richard regarded all this in silence, still feeling only semi--present. He shook his head.

  Dirk said to him, "Events may seem to you to be a tangled mass of confusion at the moment. And yet we have some interesting threads to pull on. For of all the things you have told me that have happened, only two are actually physically impossible."

  Richard spoke at last. "Impossible?" he said with a frown.

  "Yes," said Dirk, "completely and utterly impossible."

  He smiled.

  "Luckily," he went on, "you have come to exactly the right place with your interesting problem, for there is no such word as "impossible" in my dictionary. In fact," he added, brandishing the abused book, "everything between "herring" and "marmalade" appears to be missing. Thank you, Miss Pearce, you have once again rendered me sterling service, for which I thank you and will, in the event of a successful outcome to this endeavour, even attempt to pay you. In the meantime we have much to think on, and I leave the office in your very capable hands."

  The phone rang and Janice answered it.

  "Good afternoon," she said, "Wainwright's Fruit Emporium. Mr Wainwright is not able to take calls at this time since he is not right in the head and thinks he is a cucumber. Thank you for calling."

  She slammed the phone down. She looked up again to see the door closing softly behind her ex-employer and his befuddled client.

  "Impossible?" said Richard again, in surprise.

  "Everything about it," insisted Dirk, "completely and utterly--well, let us say inexplicable. There is no point in using the word "impossible" to describe something that has clearly happened. But it cannot be explained by anything we know."

  The briskness of the air along the Grand Union Canal got in among Richard's senses and sharpened them up again. He was restored to his normal faculties, and though the fact of Gordon's death kept jumping at him all over again every few seconds, he was at least now able to think more clearly about it. Oddly enough, though, that seemed for the moment to be the last thing on Dirk's mind. Dirk was instead picking on the most trivial of the night's sequence of bizarre incidents on which to cross-examine him.

  A jogger going one way and a cyclist going the other both shouted at each other to get out of the way, and narrowly avoided hurling each other into the murky, slow-moving waters of the canal. They were watched carefully by a very slow-moving old lady who was dragging an even slower-moving old dog.

  On the other bank large empty warehouses stood startled, every window shattered and glinting. A burned-out barge lolled brokenly in the water. Within it a couple of detergent bottles floated on the brackish water. Over the nearest bridge heavy-goods lorries thundered, shaking the foundations of the houses, belching petrol fumes into the air and frightening a mother trying to cross the road with her pram.

  Dirk and Richard were walking along from the fringes of South Hackney, a mile from Dirk's office, back towards the heart of Islington, where Dirk knew the nearest lifebelts were positioned.

  "But it was only a conjuring trick, for heaven's sake," said Richard. "He does them all the time. It's just sleight of hand. Looks impossible but I'm sure if you asked any conjurer he'd say it's easy once you know how these things are done. I once saw a man on the street in New York doing--"

  "I know how these things are done," said Dirk, pulling two lighted cigarettes and a large glazed fig out of his nose. He tossed the fig up in
to the air, but it somehow failed to land anywhere. "Dexterity, misdirection, suggestion. All things you can learn if you have a little time to waste. Excuse me, dear lady," he said to the elderly, slow--moving dog-owner as they passed her. He bent down to the dog and pulled a long string of brightly coloured flags from its bottom. "I think he will move more comfortably now," he said, tipped his hat courteously to her and moved on.

  "These things, you see," he said to a flummoxed Richard, "are easy. Sawing a lady in half is easy. Sawing a lady in half and then joining her up together again is less easy, but can be done with practice. The trick you described to me with the two-hundred-year-old vase and the college salt cellar is--" he paused for emphasis--"completely and utterly inexplicable."

  "Well there was probably some detail of it I missed, but..."

  "Oh, without question. But the benefit of questioning somebody under hypnosis is that it allows the questioner to see the scene in much greater detail than the subject was even aware of at the time. The girl Sarah, for instance. Do you recall what she was wearing?"

  "Er, no," said Richard, vaguely, "a dress of some kind, I suppose--"

  "Colour? Fabric?"

  "Well, I can't remember, it was dark. She was sitting several places away from me. I hardly glimpsed her."

  "She was wearing a dark blue cotton velvet dress gathered to a dropped waist. It had raglan sleeves gathered to the cuffs, a white Peter Pan collar and six small pearl buttons down the front--the third one down had a small thread hanging off it. She had long dark hair pulled back with a red butterfly hairgrip."

  "If you're going to tell me you know all that from looking at a scuff mark on my shoes, like Sherlock Holmes, then I'm afraid I don't believe you."

  "No, no," said Dirk, "it's much simpler than that. You told me yourself under hypnosis."

  Richard shook his head.

  "Not true," he said, "I don't even know what a Peter Pan collar is."

  "But I do and you described it to me perfectly accurately. As you did the conjuring trick. And that trick was not possible in the form in which it occurred. Believe me. I know whereof I speak. There are some other things I would like to discover about the Professor, like for instance who wrote the note you discovered on the table and how many questions George III actually asked, but--"

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