On the Other Side of the Lenses:
An Introduction to a Philosophy Thesis
I arrived in Paris in December. I didn’t know it was December because such modern markers were no longer available to me. But I could feel December. It was cold, and when I came up from the Metro, at Chatelet Les Halles, everyone carried winter fashions in a way that was unique to Parisians. The haut monde was exhilarating after two years of watching New Yorkers marching like soldiers through Lexington station, but aside from this, the rest of Paris, all of its innards --opera, art, theatre, film—had become just like New York.
Museums, theaters, concert halls and universities were closed to the
public. Of course I knew this; it was common knowledge, but to actually see the buildings closed off was another thing all together. I must note here that Paris and the consequential travels through France and Greece were not originally to be part of this thesis. I planned to base everything on the observations made from Lexington Station but an “event” occurred that made this post seem insufficient, at least in trying to explain what has been lost through—and what life could be like without---the invention of the Formula Media Lens.
This “event” came in the form of a train that pulled into the traveling tube at Lexington Station. At each window was the face of a Formula Media Assistant, bright, perky blondes scanning the tube with squares of blue light. The train was mostly made of Cool Plastics, clear, except for a long strip of metal on the side, right where the seats were. 1 I wanted to get a better look inside but knew the Formula Media Assistants would send for Agents once they scanned my eyes and found no lenses. There seemed to be no way to get closer until four common subway trains, full of people, came tearing through the traveling tube. Dead space rippled—a phenomenon that comes with magnetic energy—and an overload occurred from too many trains in the same place at the same time. The faces of the Formula Media Assistants blinked off. The mystery train went dark. The doors slid open, and I took the opportunity to look inside.
The space where the Formula Media Assistant’s had been was warm to the touch. Considering Cool Plastic can withstand thousands of degrees of heat, it made me wonder just how long the images had been there. The floor and ceilings were also made of Cool Plastics and the seats had straps on them, as if the train were a rollercoaster, capable of such feats, that gravitational force wasn’t enough to keep a passenger seated. I sat down in one of these seats, just as several local trains came funneling into the station. An energy surge—the opposite of dead space—brought the mystery train back to life. The Formula Media Assistants blinked on. The doors slid shut. The straps on the seats locked me in. I sat in terror as the train shot forward at such speeds all the other trains we passed soon grew to streaks of light. The Formula Media Assistants continued scanning the tubes, calling out numbers and recording the information to one another, as if I were not even there. When the train finally did stop (was it days later?) the seat straps unlocked and the doors slid back open. I stumbled outside. The large M for the French Metro loomed on the far wall like a hallucination. “Have a nice day, Agent,” the Formula Media Assistants’ said. The doors slid shut and the train shot down the tube, before I could even consider jumping back inside.
Let’s put aside, for the moment, the issue of this transcontinental subway train, as it forces me to jump ahead before I can explain its importance. Let’s instead focus on when I finally found my bearings in Paris.
After several days of uncomfortable wandering and avoiding the glances of anyone I suspected might report me to the C.L.N. for not wearing lenses, I decided to take the identity of a street mime, a disguise that worked just as well in warding off people from looking me “in the eye” as when I posed as a beggar in Lexington station. I came up with the idea passing the café district where mimes seemed plentiful. I took up post at Café’ de Flore and within a couple weeks became a fixture there. As people passed they threw money into my overturned hat, mostly out of pity. Those who did stop to look were satisfied if I pointed my head in their direction, despite that my eyes were focused in another place all together. Mostly it was the sky, which periodically took on a metallic glimmer as if any moment it might warble and fall apart all together. This was part of what the lenses hid, a sort of environmental degradation, not only visually, but temperature wise, too. I would be suddenly struck with intense blankets of heat that didn’t seem to affect anyone else. During such times I’d take off layers of my clothes, most of which I had picked out of dumpsters, behind the many boutiques that peppered the neighborhoods.
Fortunately Parisians had a proclivity for black, which allowed me to furnish a mime wardrobe rather quickly. At first I thought it was nonsense, the kind of story we would come up with at the Academy to make our lives seem less dull, but not moments after exiting the café, a pair of Agents pulled up in a patrol sedan and quickly escorted the group of intellectuals inside. Nobody stopped to see what was going on. The patrol sedan sped
off as quickly as it had arrived and the day continued, as if the
intellectuals had never existed. The arrest gave a sort of credibility
to the intellectuals’ story about renegades, but more importantly had me
on the lookout for something out of the ordinary, which is how I first noticed the man inside the lenses.
I stayed at my post in front of Café’ de Flore most of the day and as long as I could into the night, until most of the police and Agents on patrol would dwindle down to almost nothing. I would then hand over what I had earned to an old man who rented me the vestibule behind his bakery shop. The transaction took place in the clandestine refuge of a dark alleyway. I would not look the man in the eyes and felt that he did the same, out of guilt most likely, that he would charge someone for such a small, uncomfortable space. He did however have enough heart to leave me leftover goods, mostly stale bread
and heat funneled under the back door from the kitchen. There was a light switch for the area that allowed me the luxury to write any thing odd that I saw that day in my journal. Mostly my observations were the same as they had been in Lexington station: people wandering mindlessly around with their lenses, an increase or decrease in agent patrols, and of course there was the temperature changes and the activity in the sky that I would notate. Nothing out of the ordinary seemed to be taking place, then, one day, I overheard a group of intellectuals leaving the café speaking about renegades in the countryside who had found a way to break free from the mind control of the C.L.N. 2
He wore what looked like a lab coat, was around my age, thirty-four, and appeared to be looking for something. If the people whose lenses he inhabited saw him they didn’t let on. In fact he seemed to be invisible to them, possessing complete freedom to wander the Central Lens Network without the fear of being detected by Formula Media Assistant or Agents. I wondered if he were some sort of new Super Agent on the lookout for these so-called renegades or if he were a renegade himself looking for a way to break the people of the world free from the Formula Media Lens. As a professional philosopher and academic I couldn’t, in good consciousness, let these events pass without further investigation. I decided to hang up my white gloves and leave the somewhat stable existence I had made for myself in Paris. I bought an extra weeks worth of rations from the old baker and with what money I had left over asked him to pick me up the kind of supplies I thought I might need for a trip to the country side—a sleeping bag, dehydrated food, a solar tent, water and hiking boots. The baker complied without question, most likely because of the extra money I shoved in his pocket, or else he was happy to be rid of me, or had found another renter who would pay him more for his vestibule. Whatever the reason the following night I started off.
I spoke to no one during this trek, avoiding all eye contact, except for the occasional sideways glance in search for the man in the lenses. The further I traveled the fewer amount of people I saw. In fact by the time I had reached the countryside, there was no signs of life, except for the periodic scans from the Polar Bears overhead. 3 Although they blended into the sky to point of practically invisibility, the light from their scans covered the ground in a ghastly blue giving me enough notice to seek refuge in one of the many brambles that ran over the landscape. The enormous size of these vines most likely came about from cross pollination between native vegetations and those that had been genetically engineered inside the walls of the Super Farms, that rolled up down the coasts like penitentiaries.4 There had been rumors back in the Academy of the mishaps that took place in such places. I had chalked the stories up to entertainment or hyperbole until I stumbled upon my first wild Wolverntons skulking within the brambles where I slept. 5 The animal looked terrifying, a mix between a German Shepherd and a
Black Bear but it seemed quite content on grazing on the boysenberries that hung from the branches. After all I posed no threats to the Super Farms,
of which they were engineered to protect, as my path was centralized, far away from the eyes of the Agents that stood post on the towers.
Despite these new elements of danger I grew relaxed in a way I had never felt before, now that I was out of the eye of the Formula Media Lens. I realized this one day near a secluded cliff, where two birds, I believe descendents of Columba Livia, were madly circling one another.6 Fluxes in the magnetic field (so it seemed…the sky had grown much more starry since Paris) had strongly affected their sense of direction, yet the birds were intent on reaching one another.7 The spectacle introduced two new questions in regards to this thesis: what allowed these simple creatures to discard the logic of their receptors and fight to stay together? And was this instinct what was lost in exchange for life under the Formula Media Lens? If I was going to find the answers, I needed to rejoin society in way I hadn’t been able to do in New York or Paris. Instead of observing, I needed to ask questions, personal questions, without exposing that I was no longer connected to the C.L.N.
The following day I came upon Argeles, a fishing village off the southeastern coast of France. The population was in the hundreds; there were no Agents and only a half dozen Formula Media Assistants, staggered between a bank and two grocery stores. I inserted a pair of blue contacts that I acquired in a thrift shop back in New Hope, Pennsylvania.8 I found a room in a sea-weathered, sandstone boarding house that looked out to the opal shades of the Mediterranean. A few days later I found a job in an Italian restaurant working the service bar. The lighting was dark and the staff friendly. They talked in French, and English, about their aches, pains, dreams, and goals. At first this gush of humanity appeared to be the doorway into the psyche that I needed to find the answers to my questions, but just like in the cities, these human aspects never played out to their ends. Any feeling or thought that was too controversial was quickly addressed by a recommendation by the persons’ Formula Media Lens. When an Assistant appeared to offer council, prescriptions or solace, I would turn to wipe down glasses or pretend there was a problem in the fridge towards the back of the service bar. The Assistants weren’t visible to an outsider looking in but when activated the Assistant could see out, and I couldn’t risk one of them discovering my contacts. During these awkward moments, when the individuals appeared to be speaking to themselves, or staring off into space, I began to wonder if I would ever find anyone strong enough to withstand their own emotions long enough to get in touch with their own sense of instinct or intuition. That was until I meet Patrick.
The house lady explained that he would be renting the room next to mine and advised us boys to get along, before sliding off down the hall in bunny slippers and hair up in rollers. She seemed to always have one eye looking forward while the other was internally directed, most likely on some soap opera playing out in her Formula Media Lens. Patrick and me bonded over her ridiculousness and I was surprised to learn that he also felt that the people of Argeles were just as self-absorbed as the people in cities like Paris. He had a regal countenance when he made these proclamations, like he had come from a family of importance, despite a long mane of black hair that implied he didn’t want to be thought of this way. He purposefully was vague about his background and when I told him I was from New York, to break the ice, he asked what I was doing in a fishing village in the south of France. There was a moment where we both looked into each other eyes then turned away. I had originally planned to say I worked for an American hotel chain scouting new real estate ventures but our intimate connection caught me off guard. Patrick broke the silence before I could fill it with lies. “Don’t worry,” he said. “You’re not the first person I’ve meet not wearing a Formula Media Lens.” At that he took out his contact lenses, and I took out mine.
To see real eyes, eyes not covered in the blue dim of the Formula Media
Lens was more breathtaking than the parrotfish that circled in the water outside the boarding house, where we would go to talk safely about the C.L.N. Patrick had found the device that took off lenses while visiting his father the surgeon. When I asked him what made him do this, he couldn’t explain, only that he had a feeling that there was something more to him than what he was allowed to feel. We talked about this feeling, our lives outsides lenses, usually til dawn spread over the Mediterranean sunny-side up. Patrick said he knew of a town in Greece where the water was just as beautiful and people walked around lens free. Renegades?
"Don’t worry," he replied as if he were reading my mind. “There isn’t any danger in Nafplion.”
I didn’t go to work that night. Patrick paid a fisherman a large sum of money and by morning we were coming into the harbor of Nafplion. The sun rose over a maze of pastel colored houses under the protection of Palamidi, an ancient castle looming on one of the mountains that surrounds the city. Patrick knew a lot about the history of the castle, as well as the woman who rented us a room that had a view of Bourtzi, the fortress just off shore, in the center of the harbor. We feel asleep under its magnificence, on the balcony, and when I woke Patrick was gone. I didn’t immediately panic. The Hydrofoils jumping around Bourtzi transfixed me.9 Their silver bodies glinted under the moonlight, and when I looked back to see who was sweeping the mezzanine, the woman who rented us the room looked away. I began to reflect on this, the following day, the way people looked away whenever I looked at them as Patrick and me made our way through the narrow streets. I didn’t understand. We were a town of Renegades in a world controlled by the C.L.N, and too shy to look each other in the eyes!
“Gypsies,” Patrick clarified. He was filled with energy as he explained Nafplion, how he had stumbled upon the town during his travels and how the woman who had rented us the room was the town’s oldest gypsy (it was rumored she had escaped relensing and because of it her eyes had turned grey and this is why the people of the town looked away, out of respect for her). She was over a hundred years old and had been teaching Patrick the art of fortune telling, in the hope that he might continue her practice after she passed away. He was a natural at the craft, he said she said; in fact, it was during one of their Tarot card lessons he saw me and left for Argeles. He said the cards had told him that my research was part of a larger purpose and gave him a “plan” that would help complete my work. He wanted to bring people with lenses into Nafplion so that we could read their futures. We could avoid alerting the C.L.N. the same way the gypsy woman had done almost all her life, before she came to Nafplion, by looking and not looking into the lenses all at the same time. I was skeptical of such supposed gifts and the idea that one could see into a Formula Media
Lens, but then I remember the man in the lenses and figured the lenses may not be as opaque as I originally thought. Besides, helping me made Patrick happy and I was not able to resist his enthusiasm.
He hired a group of teenagers to get word buzzing around Athens about two young men in Nafplion that could see the future. Within a week we had people knocking at our door. They wanted to know answers that could not be found in the Formula Media Lens: will they find love, will they be successful, and will they die young? We answered how most fortunetellers do, on a positive note: very rich, very long, and very much in love. Patrick swore he saw things inside their lenses, Assistants, Agents, government officials, but I never did. The experiment wasn’t a complete waste though. Every time the reading caused a person
to feel beyond what they should, I noted the duration in which their lenses glowed blue which indicated how long the Central Lens Network was being accessed. I then correlated these durations with the topics that were discussed and noted which human emotions were more commonly handled with or without the guidance of a Formula Media Assistant.
Patrick seemed to love the show more than the research. When it was time to read someone’s fortune he’d step through the wall of beads hanging from the kitchen doorway with a bandana wrapped around his head. After he dealt a seven-card spread he would let his fingers hover over it. His expression was based on which ever suit was prominent. An airy look of optimism accompanied the suit of Cups, frowns were for too many Swords and the rubbing of fingers came with a majority of Pentacles. “The real challenge…” he would explain, late at night on the balcony where I would expand on the day’s observations in my journal, “…are the Arcania cards. They don’t have a uniform meaning like the suit cards, so you have to remember what each card means, then connect that meaning to all the other cards and roll it all up into one expression.” I was convinced Patrick and I were one in thought but when I commented what fools people were to think that we could see the future Patrick seemed insulted. I never understood why until I woke once in the middle of the night and found him sitting Indian style on the ornate tile that covered the living room floor.
He was chanting, mother, father, to which I replied in a deep, ghoulish tone, here my son. He turned towards me with an expression I had never seen him master before, one of guilt and resentment commingled with the glowing blue eyes of the Formula Media Lenses. He kicks over his deck of cards and stormed out of the house. The gypsy woman came from her room to see who had slammed the door. She looked at the cards then at me and shook her head sadly. “You still can not see the future no matter how much it is shown to you. Very well,” she said then produced a deck of tarot cards of her own and splayed four of them over the living room table. She bade me towards her and I sat down with reluctance. She had the kind of smile that rattled about her face and although she looked right into my eyes, our eyes never met.
My cards were The Lovers, The Hanged Man, The II of Pentacles and the IX of Wands. She said The Lover’s card suggested that a person I love would be influencing a future journey. The Hanged Man was asking me to rise above the way things have always been. The II of Pentacles told that I needed to let go in order to prepare for new opportunities. The IX of Wands asked that I should fight for what I believe in, that my projects are near completion. I asked the Gypsy woman if the cards knew when Patrick was coming back. She gave me a condescending smile then fished from the deck of cards Patrick had strew over the floor a lens tool, the kind used to take off and replace Formula Media Lenses.
I spent all night and into the morning looking for Patrick. The longer he had those lenses on the higher the chances that he would be discovered by the C.L.N. I lingered in all our favorite spots before deciding it was best if I waited for him back at the house. When I arrived the Gypsy woman had my bags packed. She said there wasn’t much time, that she had had a vision. I needed to find the man in the lenses and show him my “amazing story,” by which she meant my research. I wondered if Patrick had told her about the man in the lenses then recalled I had made a point to keep that a secret from him, in fear he might want
to search for the man in Paris. I had a sudden respect for the Gypsy woman’s ability but before I could ask any questions about her vision there was a knock at the front door. The Gypsy told me to leave from the back and as I crossed the street from the opposite block, I saw several men in black suits talking to the old woman at the front door. I could see her eyes not meeting theirs, and into the night, as I traveled into the dense woods of Solovia. 10
“And, besides, as I sometimes imagine that others deceive themselves in the things which they think they know best, how do I know that I am not deceived every time that I add two and three, or count the sides of a square, or judge of things yet simpler, if anything simpler can be imagined?”11 Descarte understood that once one gave up the practice of methodical doubt truth would be lost. In a moment of weakness--no doubt from the guilt of implicating his parents in a C.L.N. investigation by using his father’s medical tools to remove his lenses—Patrick had fallen victim to his own beliefs that he could somehow rectify what he may or may not have done by reattaching his lenses. I spent many nights in Solovia criticizing myself for not recognizing the depth of this guilt. In turn my own guilt grew, crowding out the Gypsy woman’s vision, until my only motivation of going to Paris was to escape the countryside, which reminded me of Patrick, and our short life on the other side of the Formula Media Lens.
But Paris wasn’t the same as before. A great deal more Agents roamed the café district and the people who drank in the shops no longer were engaged in political discussions. The Baker’s shop had been boarded up and I wondered if that had anything to do with my previous tenancy. I found other sleeping arrangements in a small room under the Metro Station, at Chatelet Les Halles. The entrance way was barely noticeable, nothing more than a square outline, like the many panels along the tunnel wall facing the traveling tubes. A petite stairwell lead down to what used to be a manual control station, created back in the 1900’s, thousands of years before they upgraded the trains.12 There had been similar rooms in the New York subway system, that the authorities had long since forgotten, which had provided me with refuge on more than one occasion. I spent my nights here, listening to the trains swooshing overhead, and days roaming the streets, mostly thinking about Patrick.
I wondered if he was hiding out in Solovia or if he had come to his senses and returned to Nafplion to take out his lenses. My question was answered the night an unscheduled train pulled into Chatelet Les Halles and woke me from a deep slumber. I was impressed I had become this attuned to the trains and went upstairs to confirm the anomaly. Sure enough, when I peeked out the secret door, a train, I had only seen once before, sat in the station. Each window was covered with a Formula Media Assistant and nobody getting on or off the other trains seemed to acknowledge this train or the Agents marching civilians across the platform at gunpoint. An Assistant scanned each one of these civilians before they were taken onboard. During this identity check the Assistant’s called out the civilians’ names, one of which I hadn’t heard since Nafplion. I opened my mouth to say something but fell silent at the sight of him. Patrick looked dirty and bruised, but the worst part was his eyes: vacant of all spirit, even as he was strapped into his seat and the train sped out of the station, as if he didn’t know where he was going or cared what was going to happen to him.
After that I began to notice more unscheduled trains. Each time one pulled into the station, I would surface to witness another round of civilians being marched inside at gunpoint. I wondered if the civilians were Gypsies, or if there really had been a renegade movement I missed during my travels into the countryside. Either way, France was getting too dangerous and I wanted to head back to New York; at least there I might be able to avoid an arrest under the pretense of research. My chance came sooner than later, when a government train, similar to the one that brought me here, pulled into the station. Instead of helping Agents fill up the cars with prisoners, the Formula Media Assistants scanned the tunnel’s infrastructure with rays of blue light. I gathered my belongings and made a running leap from the platform to the back of the train. The door was unlocked and I was able to slip into the nearest seat and strap myself in without being detected. One of the Assistants announced “Alnico levels normal; nickel levels, normal; lodestone, gadolinium, dysprosium levels normal.” Then the train shot forward.
The long journey ahead forced me to question the completion of my thesis. Despite the guilt that consumed me, the Gypsy woman was right. Not about the man in the lenses as much as if I could get my thesis into the right hands, circulate it, maybe find someone who could upload the information into the C.L.N., as a Formula Media Program, I might be able to do some good. After all, Patrick’s arrest wasn’t my fault, nor was it his. Like the Columba Livia trying to reach each other under the distortions of the magnetic field, Patrick had simply followed his heart, in a world that did not permit such freedoms.
I threw myself into the work, barely noticing the speed in which the train traveled, or the time that passed, until a sudden drop shook me out of my own mind. The train converged with hundreds of others into a massive terminal. The destination and origin of each train was displayed on a large schedule board over the main platform, which connected hundreds of smaller platforms and extended up to a large blue lens, designated C.L.N. by the letters over the entrance. I always assumed the Central Lens Network was headquartered in Washington, tucked away in the International Pentagon, but for some reason it was located down here, in the center of the earth, or wherever I was. I couldn’t help but gawk as the train began circling the turnabouts—hundreds of them weaving in and out of a complex maze of tubes. Then just as quickly as I entered the terminal I exited through the other side, down another tunnel.
I most note here a few final oddities about this journey that I do not address in-depth in this thesis but should be understood before taking on the whole of this text. Several hours after leaving the Central Lens Terminal a tunnel branched off the one I followed, into what looked like an empty under ground city. Further along, over a stretch of molten fluid, tens of thousands of metal rods were conducting energy up to what I assumed was the surface. I do not understand why energy would be mined in such a capacity when the International Magnetic Energy Agreement clearly states that a combination of ethanol, solar, and magnetic energy are to be used in equal portions to meet the planets energy needs. I wondered if this excessive mining has something to do with the deteriorating magnetic field over France.
Finally the intercontinental subway seemed to enter into Lexington Station from under the local traveling tube, like a trap door that allowed the train to drop down or pop up.
Perhaps these last minute observations are the most fitting end to this introduction, as not long after their discovery I became a
wanted man. It began when exiting the intercontinental train. I was steadying myself to jump from the back of the train to the platform when I noticed an Agent noticing me. He quickly pursued but my knowledge of the hidden crannies of the station allowed me to escape. The task now is to find a way to make this thesis survive me, for despite everything the C.L.N. wants to control, they can still not stop a man without lenses from writing on paper. There is hope.
The other day, when I surfaced, just for a quick moment, to scavenge a meal off a vendor I once knew, I saw him, the man from the lenses. He paced back and forth in Lexington Station, as if he were looking for something, just as he looked when I saw him in Paris, moving from lens to lens. He had exchange his lab coat for that of a business suit, but I knew it was he by the eyes. They were fitted with a special lens that glowed green whenever an Agent appeared, allowing him to see the Agent when no one else could. The Gypsy woman had been right after all. Maybe this is the worst of what is lost in a world overwhelmed by the Formula Media Lens, our own power to see beyond the limitations of the human eye.
1 Cool Plastic is a super alloy plastic able to withstand thousands of degrees in temperature however it is lined with lodestone, magnetite and gadolinuim in order to help attract the train to the nickel and iron-ore lined subway tubes.
2 Central Lens Network.
3 Polar Bears are powered by basic soft magnetic propulsion, paramagnetic motion, and are made of a Alnico compound, giving it bullet proof capabilities and a stronger pull to magnetic field. However “Polar Bear” has internal living quarters that can house up to twelve agents for three weeks, as well as a mobile command center, a prison, and a master suite. “Polar Bear” is camouflaged by light refractions facilitated by a lens modification within the armor, allowing the reflecting of surrounding images to be projected over the armor. Gun torrents, positioned on the front of the vehicle, include adjustable cylinders that can fit almost any type of bullets. As faster velocities are gained, mass of space is gained, propelling “Polar Bear” from pole to pole in a couple hours. “Polar Bear” has several electromagnetic engines and for land use pre-twentieth century caterpillar tracks for artic roads or off-road areas that have not been paved with Alnico compounds.
4 Super Farms is the nickname for government funded incubation areas where genetic breeding is performed.
5 Wolvertons are genetically engineered dogs meant to protect the perimeters of the Super Farms.
6 Columba Livia are what was once known as the common pigeon back in the early 20th century.
7 Columba Livia have a magnette between the eyes that converts magnetic waves and light into nerve impulses.
8 Contacts were used in the Pre Lens era to correct vision. I had used the contacts on a few occasions to confuse do-gooders in Lexington Station who tried to get into my head about why I choose to be homeless.
9 Hydrofoils are flying dolphins that are not known to be products of genetic engineering or natural evolution.
10 Solovia is the unrecognized government of the Gypsy people over a landmass that had once been considered Eastern Europe.
11 From Rene Descartes’ essay “Knowledge Is Not Ultimately Sense Knowledge.” Publisher illegible.
12 Subway technology combines magnetic and gravitational fields in order to create a more powerful artificial field of energy.