Gilles Goullet, Author of the Blindsight

A parody of SF, the Internet, and Borges.
fiction, transhumanism, SF
2010-09-012014-02-20 finished certainty: fiction importance: 0


I

The pub­lished work left by this nov­el­ist is eas­ily list­ed. Unfor­giv­able, then, is the shoddy work of Ms Lenie Clarke in her recent post­ing to a list - whose bio­con­ser­v­a­tive lean­ings are an open secret - which inflicted it upon its fee­ble-minded the­is­tic read­ers. Real fans of Goul­let will be sad­dened; his 15 min­utes are past, and soon all that will be remem­bered is the lop­sided story told by the Reli­able Sources which com­prise the flesh & blood of his Wikipedia entry. A flame is war­rant­ed.

Yes, I am no par­tic­u­lar per­son. But an ‘anony­mouse’, as the wit­ti­cism goes. But I will men­tion that Bacourt-in-NY (au­thor of the old Watts FAQ) has beta-read this, as has Hljóðle­gur797 (whom you will recall admin­is­trates the wiki, after that unfor­tu­nate con­tretemps that led to JBal­lard’s indefi­nite ban, in which I was briefly a casu­al­ty), and you can­not fail to find their com­men­da­tions on my talk page. So I am not entirely with­out some grounds to think my words accu­rate. Goul­let’s con­tribs are eas­ily reviewed, as I said. Exam­in­ing all 14792, I find that exam­in­ing only main space non-bot edits, they con­tain the fol­low­ing:

  • 0: a PHP/Malbolge quine pub­lished to mild upvot­ing on Red­dit
  • 1: A filk set­ting the music of Lola to a cir­cu­lar expres­sion of the Liar’s Para­dox
  • 10: An arti­cle argu­ing, in ses­tina terza verse, that the mul­ti­verses & time travel in Star Trek imply that the qual­ity of cap­tains is irrel­e­vant and that credit is really due to the crew­men who made cer­tain pos­si­bil­i­ties pos­si­ble
  • 11: Another arti­cle par­o­dy­ing 20th cen­tury Argen­tin­ian lit­er­a­ture in the for­mat of an Asi­mov­ian short story
  • 100: A tech­ni­cal arti­cle on the pos­si­bil­ity of exploit­ing genetic algo­rithms to evolve let­ter-shapes that will be eas­ier to pen & will not be con­fus­able with each oth­er; Goul­let con­cluded that graph­ics design­ers would assas­si­nate the orig­i­na­tor of any such scheme and so he does not include the results
  • 101: A mono­graph on Hideaki Anno’s Neon Gen­e­sis Evan­ge­lion, dated 1993
  • 110: A trans­la­tion of “When The Machines Stop” into lipogram­matic French, in which every word omits a differ­ent let­ter
  • 111: A reply to Dr Brin about whether Richard Cheney was sub­orned by the Coun­cil of Guardians
  • 1000: An allu­sion to a man­u­script of fic­tion cov­er­ing the his­tory of Mu from its sub­mer­sion to the present day
  • 1001: A request for the unex­pur­gated edi­tion of The Iron Dream
  • 1010: A (un­cred­it­ed) trans­la­tion of Franz Kuh­n’s well-known ency­clo­pe­dia of Chi­nese ency­clo­pe­dias
  • 1011: A point-by-point analy­sis of the philo­soph­i­cal basis of Robert Wright’s The Golden Age and a refu­ta­tion, with com­pre­hen­sive index of insults clas­si­fied by men­tal age
  • 1100: An extended upload of scans of the mys­te­ri­ous wood­block artist Sharaku
  • 1101: A fan­fic­tion in which Jack the Rip­per escapes the con­sta­bles by stow­ing away to Nip­pon, where he falls in love with Sharaku
  • 1110: A proof of a the­o­rem of sheaf the­ory (in­com­pre­hen­si­ble to me)
  • 1111: A cat­e­gory for unob­vi­ously halt­ing pro­grams12

So. That is the Free cor­pus of Goul­let’s mind, in rough reverse order, with even the wit­ti­est edit sum­maries (com­posed to amuse his relayed chat com­pa­tri­ots such as Dustin­Hoff­Man) excluded as too small. But in peri­odic post­ings, Goul­let would reveal his astound­ing labors, his most sequa­cious & fuga­cious, the per­plex­ing labors that rank with Lego tableaus as among the least sig­nifi­cant of our times. Even less sig­nifi­cant than the ver­bal diar­rhea of cer­tain per­sons?

Yes - it was his unfin­ished piece de chef, the writ­ing of the third para­graph of the eleventh sec­tion of Blind­sight.

It was, per­haps, 2 events that prompted him to assign him­self this labor. The first was likely his read­ing of Dr Lessig’s Code is Law, his edu­ca­tion into the meta­physics of ‘copy­right’. (I do not dig­nify them with the name of ‘law’; laws must make sense.) The sec­ond was some­one ask­ing him, ‘yes, but how can the out­put of con­scious­ness be cre­ated by any­thing but con­scious­ness?’ They are both works of our era, and per­haps reveal­ing of its par­tic­u­lar patholo­gies. Goul­let was faintly nau­se­ated by its slop­pi­ness and ele­va­tion of rhetoric over log­ic. He regarded as of far more inter­est plans to write Shake­speare with infi­nite soft­ware mon­keys, though it would prove a point only to those who had no need of proof. Such rep­e­ti­tion and par­ody was not an attempt to bring the hoary chest­nuts up-to-date, but rather, to bring us to them, in the time where knowl­edge truly was gnos­tic and was truly appre­ci­at­ed.

To this end, he sought to not pro­duce a byte-for-byte iden­ti­cal of Blind­sight, for that is triv­ially done with cp, nor even Blind­sight in another for­mat - for which a famil­iar­ity with iconv suffices - but rather, to con­tro­vert copy­right at its core, to demon­strate its intel­lec­tual bank­rupt­cy. It would mimic in every word - but mimic is the wrong word, for it car­ries charges of ‘deriv­a­tive work’ and Goul­let sought to cre­ate anew, inde­pen­dent­ly. “My intent”, he twit­tered some­while before his pass­ing, “is not to raise the rab­ble, but merely to present a con­tra­dic­tion.” He con­tin­ued, “for much of the lies in our soci­ety are sup­ported by the inac­tion of the clerisy; a sin­gle mor­dant jape by a Jus­tice is worth 100 unwashed wee­aboos.”

The first method was pos­i­tively sim­plis­tic. He would cul­ti­vate a taste for bacon (which he already pos­sessed), begin lis­ten­ing to Celine Dion, learn how to deal with snow, and become an expert in the diffu­sion of por­poise feces in fresh water. Goul­let con­sid­ered this (and from his demise, we know well how he suc­ceeded in adopt­ing such a diet), but ulti­mately decided that it would be a fail. For, as a French­man in Amer­i­can domi­ciles, becom­ing a Cana­dian researcher seemed a diminu­tion, and exces­sive to prov­ing his point. “Real­ly, it is not achiev­ing the objec­tive that is diffi­cult”, he wrote on one inde­ci­sive day, “since I could but become immor­tal and type out that Argen­tinean’s Library which will include Blind­sight.” He wished to achieve it in a way which did not entail becom­ing Peter Watts. You will rec­og­nize Goul­let’s sig­na­ture ambi­tion here - it is not enough for some­thing to work one way, it must sub­serve 2 ends. Some­times I imag­ine read­ing Blind­sight as Goul­let would ulti­mately have writ­ten it; once, in sec­tion 78, I sur­veilled one frag­ment, “Was Rorschach also resigned to defeat, had each side opted for a kamikaze strike on the oth­er?” and in its char­ac­ter comma par­al­lelism, its dis­tinctly Amer­i­can use of ‘kamikaze’ (what other nation has been so affected by sui­ci­dal war­riors?), I could­n’t help but rec­og­nize our departed con­fr­ere’s style & voice, and also see in it the man­nered post-mod­ern dis­tanc­ing of Moore, whose works we dis­cussed so often past mid­night:

“‘Do it?’ Dan, I’m not a Repub­lic ser­ial vil­lain.”

But why Blind­sight? Under­stand­able in a chill coun­try­man of the excar­nated auteur, but in a surfer from the Hexa­gon, who shared nei­ther con­ti­nent nor lan­guage nor par­a­digm? One might expect the work­man­like sen­tences, the stench of sci­ence, that per­vade and make up Watts’s oeu­vre, to dis­gust a sen­sual con­ti­nen­tal. We must dredge Goul­let’s drop­pings, as it were, for hints as to what hid­den sym­pa­thy echoes between neu­rons. The answer is in the pre­vi­ously men­tioned dream-jour­nal of Goul­let: Blind­sight, a char­ac­ter nar­rates, “is pecu­liarly con­tin­gent. That there is Par­adise Lost, that Mil­ton cre­ate Satan, is inevitable from the first mon­key tribe to set up an alpha male; one can­not imag­ine how human­ity could exist with­out daub­ing rock with ocher. But one can imag­ine human­ity with­out the tran­sis­tor, and whence then Blind­sight? The Bagh­dad bat­tery, the wheel of the Inka, the Heroic steam engine, Da Vin­ci’s plas­tics - all these bear wit­ness that the march of progress is nei­ther in one direc­tion nor swift. Blind­sight is unnec­es­sary. To write it is to for a moment mark out this uni­verse from all oth­ers. It is the acte gra­tu­ite. I have read it once; I know no more of it at my start than the author did his. Yet my task is the greater chal­lenge: it is almost too obvi­ous and sug­gest­ed. Where-ever I look, the zeit­geist ges­tures towards it. Watts sought to chan­nel his time, I seek to chan­nel his and not mine, but they are iden­ti­cal. Who can shake this box of night­mare pieces and not wake up scream­ing?”

But as we know, Goul­let per­se­vered, with results more evoca­tive than Watts’. Watts sought a shat­ter­ing of illu­sions about our­selves, to reveal that dystopia lay not in the future or past, but in our­selves and was always there - in the shat­ter­ing absence of an abid­ing self. Goul­let, on the other hand, sets his frag­ment in a phan­tas­mal world where Gib­son evokes glit­ter­ing presents and coins ‘cyber­punk’ while ham­mer­ing on his ancient type­writer, a world where the future was never more glo­ri­ous and full of awe-in­spir­ing tech­nol­ogy than the present had failed to real­ize that which it had. To Stephen­son or Dr Bear, what nov­el­ties that set­ting would have evoked uncon­trol­lably! What gim­crack­ery ful­fill­ing ancient dreams! Yet in Goul­let they are sim­ply there with as many sharp edges as douceurs. His vision feels true, buts its real­ity is false, where the clas­sic SF aimed at the oppo­site. For that per­verted inver­sion, Ms Clarke stands con­demned.

It is shock­ing to com­pare the two. Con­sider how Goul­let wrote that

“–Or you use infor­ma­tion the­ory to flat­ten it for you, to squash the tesser­act into two dimen­sions and the Klein bot­tle into three, to sim­plify real­ity and pray to what­ever Gods sur­vived the mil­len­nium that your hon­or­able twist­ing of the truth has­n’t rup­tured any of its load­-bear­ing pylons. You hire peo­ple like me; the cross­bred prog­eny of pro­fil­ers and proof assis­tants and infor­ma­tion the­o­rists…”

while Watts sim­ply wrote

“–Or you use infor­ma­tion the­ory to flat­ten it for you, to squash the tesser­act into two dimen­sions and the Klein bot­tle into three, to sim­plify real­ity and pray to what­ever Gods sur­vived the mil­len­nium that your hon­or­able twist­ing of the truth has­n’t rup­tured any of its load­-bear­ing pylons. You hire peo­ple like me; the cross­bred prog­eny of pro­fil­ers and proof assis­tants and infor­ma­tion the­o­rists…”

Goul­let sounds almost forced - like the non-na­tive speaker with his painful dic­tion, he invokes par­al­lelism in phras­es, piles adjec­tives on anoth­er, slips in words from his moth­er-tongue, and strives to pass for col­lo­quial speech with his inter­rup­tions and long peri­ods lead­ing into anoth­er, the poly­syn­deton, etc. Watts in com­par­i­son trips off the tongue; he makes no show of his learn­ing, know­ing that his cretinous audi­ence stum­bles already on words, know­ing that they pay the fid­dler & not he.

But note the con­trasts in mean­ing! “cross­bred prog­eny” of the­o­rists and soft­ware: the idea is astound­ing. Goul­let, the con­tem­po­rary of Face­book, does not con­ceive it as a mere rela­tion or inter­ac­tion - but a being of its own, with its own imper­a­tives and a pri­oris. We do not con­trol and develop tech­nol­o­gy, but it seduces and mates with us. The metaphor is brazenly bio­log­i­cal. With the Inter­net Bub­ble of Watts’s day, such a phrase was mer­est con­ven­tion, an exhor­ta­tion to lull the super­fi­cial green con­scious­ness of the pop­u­lace; biol­ogy was to be replaced with tech­nol­o­gy. There was a cer­tain anthro­pocen­trism - advanced as they pro­fessed to believe the machines would become, they nev­er­the­less acted as men had acted for myr­i­ads. In Goul­let, the ill-thought out union, the iden­ti­ty, is an astound­ing anachro­nism, a mis­take we have for­got­ten we ever made.

There is no sci­ence fic­tion which is use­ful. With fur­ther pub­li­ca­tions, its inter­est is obvi­at­ed. Star Wars is no longer an enter­tain­ing movie; Shake­speare a dull mass of cliches and pla­gia­rism. Blind­sight was enter­tain­ing because its events must hap­pen, though we knew they could not. It was good for review­ing, par­o­dy­ing, homag­ing to, but now is an object of fear and dis­trust. Learn­ing a truth is always a form of incom­pre­hen­sion - per­haps the most mali­cious.

What was there of worth in Goulet’s scrib­blings, the nights he racked his mind? Noth­ing. His end­less revi­sion and scruti­ny, his shun­ning of eas­ier paths, his rewrit­ing of a already extant book in an already alien tongue - all these were van­ity of the poor­est sort, an accom­plish­ment of thought as great as a vul­gar pun on Mul­tics. None saw his drafts because they were all the same, and he deleted them, all the same. Equally in vain have I tried to recon­struct “Gilles Goul­let Author of the Blind­sight”.


  1. The afore­men­tioned scrivener Ms Clarke includes a claim that Goul­let wrote a pro­gram that would halt only if P=NP, how­ev­er, Goul­let’s con­tri­bu­tions include no uploads of any Haskell pro­grams, the log­i­cal imple­men­ta­tion choice for such a pro­gram. Likely Goul­let made a claim about what sorts of pro­grams could be writ­ten given P=NP, such as a pro­gram to write effi­cient pro­grams with no fur­ther human inter­ven­tion.↩︎

  2. What man­ner of man would pur­sue such an idea, I will not attempt to sketch his biog­ra­phy. My text files will not pre­empt the giga­bytes of video Goul­let sup­pos­edly took as part of a lifel­og­ging exper­i­ment; what can pal­try sym­bols do against the liv­ing color itself?↩︎