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Cutting by Ken Liu

At the top of the mountain, far above the clouds, the monks of the Temple of Xu spend their days cutting words from their holy book.

The monks’ faith originated a long time ago. They deduce this by the parchment on which the Book is written, which is brittle, wrinkled, and damaged by water in places so that the writing is hard to read. The Abbot, the oldest monk in the temple, recalls that the Book already looked like that when he was a young novice.

“The Book was written by men and women who walked and talked with the gods.” The Abbot pauses to let his words sink into the hearts of the young monks sitting in neat rows before him. “They recorded what they remembered of their experiences, and so to read the Book is to hear the voices of the gods again.” The young monks touch their foreheads to the stone floor, their hands splayed open in prayer.

But the monks also know that the gods often spoke obscurely, and human memory is a fragile and delicate instrument.

“Think of the face of a childhood friend,” the Abbot says. “Hold that image in your mind and write a description of it, giving as much detail as you can marshal.

“Now think of that face again. It has changed subtly in your memory. The words you used to describe that face has replaced some portion of your memory of it. The act of remembering is an act of retracing, and by doing so we erase and change the stencil.

“So it was with the men and women who composed the Book. In their zeal and fervor they wrote what they believed to be the truth, but they got many things wrong. They were only human.

“We study and meditate upon the words of the Book so that we may excavate the truth buried in layers of metaphor.” The Abbot strokes his long, white beard.

And so, each year, the monks, after many rounds of debates, agree upon additional words to cut out of the Book. The bits of excised parchments are then burnt as an offering to the gods.

In this way, as they prune away the excess to reveal the book beneath the Book, the story behind the story, the monks believe that they are also communing with the gods.

Over the decades, the Book has grown ever lighter, its pages riddled with holes, openings, voids where words once rested, like filigree, like lace, like a dissolving honeycomb.

“We strive not to remember, but to forget.” The Abbot says, as he cuts out another word from the Book.

# # #

At the top of the mountain, far above the clouds, the monks of the Temple of Xu spend their days cutting words from their holy book.

The monks’ faith originated a long time ago. They deduce this by the parchment on which the Book is written, which is brittle, wrinkled, and damaged by water in places so that the writing is hard to read. The Abbot, the oldest monk in the temple, recalls that the Book already looked like that when he was a young novice.

“The Book was written by men and women who walked and talked with the gods.” The Abbot pauses to let his words sink into the hearts of the young monks sitting in neat rows before him. “They recorded what they remembered of their experiences, and so to read the Book is to hear the voices of the gods again.” The young monks touch their foreheads to the stone floor, their hands splayed open in prayer.

But the monks also know that the gods often spoke obscurely, and human memory is a fragile and delicate instrument.

“Think of the face of a childhood friend,” the Abbot says. “Hold that image in your mind and write a description of it, giving as much detail as you can marshal.

“Now think of that face again. It has changed subtly in your memory. The words you used to describe that face has replaced some portion of your memory of it. The act of remembering is an act of retracing, and by doing so we erase and change the stencil.

“So it was with the men and women who composed the Book. In their zeal and fervor they wrote what they believed to be the truth, but they got many things wrong. They were only human.

“We study and meditate upon the words of the Book so that we may excavate the truth buried in layers of metaphor.” The Abbot strokes his long, white beard.

And so, each year, the monks, after many rounds of debates, agree upon additional words to cut out of the Book. The bits of excised parchments are then burnt as an offering to the gods.

In this way, as they prune away the excess to reveal the book beneath the book, the story behind the story, the monks believe that they are also communing with the gods.

Over the decades, the Book has grown ever lighter, its pages riddled with holes, openings, voids where words once rested, like filigree, like lace, like a dissolving honeycomb.

“We strive not to remember, but to forget.” The Abbot says, as he cuts out another word from the Book.

# # #

At the top of the mountain, far above the clouds, the monks of the Temple of Xu spend their days cutting words from their holy book.

The monks’ faith originated a long time ago. They deduce this by the parchment on which the Book is written, which is brittle, wrinkled, and damaged by water in places so that the writing is hard to read. The Abbot, the oldest monk in the temple, recalls that the Book already looked like that when he was a young novice.

“The Book was written by men and women who walked and talked with the gods.” The Abbot pauses to let his words sink into the hearts of the young monks sitting in neat rows before him. “They recorded what they remembered of their experiences, and so to read the Book is to hear the voices of the gods again.” The young monks touch their foreheads to the stone floor, their hands splayed open in prayer.

But the monks also know that the gods often spoke obscurely, and human memory is a fragile and delicate instrument.

“Think of the face of a childhood friend,” the Abbot says. “Hold that image in your mind and write a description of it, giving as much detail as you can marshal.

“Now think of that face again. It has changed subtly in your memory. The words you used to describe that face has replaced some portion of your memory of it. The act of remembering is an act of retracing, and by doing so we erase and change the stencil.

“So it was with the men and women who composed the Book. In their zeal and fervor they wrote what they believed to be the truth, but they got many things wrong. They were only human.

“We study and meditate upon the words of the Book so that we may excavate the truth buried in layers of metaphor.” The Abbot strokes his long, white beard.

And so, each year, the monks, after many rounds of debates, agree upon additional words to cut out of the Book. The bits of excised parchments are then burnt as an offering to the gods.

In this way, as they prune away the excess to reveal the book beneath the book, the story behind the story, the monks believe that they are also communing with the gods.

Over the decades, the Book has grown ever lighter, its pages riddled with holes, openings, voids where words once rested, like filigree, like lace, like a dissolving honeycomb.

“We strive not to remember, but to forget.” The Abbot says, as he cuts out another word from the Book.

# # #

Ken Liu (http://kenliu.name) is an author and translator of speculative fiction, as well as a lawyer and programmer. His fiction has appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Asimov’s, Analog, Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, and Strange Horizons, among other places. He has won a Nebula and been nominated for the Hugo and Sturgeon awards. He lives with his family near Boston, Massachusetts.

ed. note: This story was a late addition to the issue, but I’m glad it’s here. The biggest challenge was deciding how to layout the story so that what Ken was going for made sense. In ms. the effect was very subtle, and I didn’t want to beat the reader over the head with it. Hopefully we’ve accomplished the appropriate balance.

 

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Permanent link to this article: http://www.electricvelocipede.com/2012/07/cutting-by-ken-liu/

4 pings

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