by Marcelo Worsley
Legend has it that Postnik Yakovlev, one of the main architects and constructors of Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, was abacinated by Ivan the Terrible so that he could never create anything as magnificent ever again. Blindness as the reward for sublimity; Yakovlev deprived of gazing upon his magnum opus. It is a myth rendered plausible by the cruel reputation of the Tsar, who ordered the massacre of Novgorod, caused his daughter-in-law to miscarriage, and killed his second son by striking him on the head with a staff.
It is also a fitting analogy for the situation in which the protagonist of this piece finds herself. Let’s stretch the comparison and call the latter an architect of personhood, a charisma contractor.
Charisma would be top of any tsar’s wish list, not to mention politicians anywhere and throughout the ages. There are studies dating back to the first decades of the 21st century, learned articles describing how children are able to predict the results of an election just by looking at the faces of the candidates. The purely physical aspects of this blessing—from facial cues to tone inflections and speech delivery—are relatively easy to pinpoint by science; the trick is to shore up this facade with an equally pleasing and solid foundation. And this task falls to our previously alluded architect of personhood. In other words, these ground-breaking specialists provide interior beauty to a fortunate few, so that a strong personality, intellectual prowess, clear thinking, musical ability and every other human trait—save a sense of humour—can be purchased as just another luxury commodity in the marketplace.
The protagonist’s particular expertise owes more to literature than to science. It involves the refining of biographies into alluring chronicles, the shuffling of past events into articulate stories, the imbuing of narrative genre into facets of the subject’s life, i.e., memories thereof. Imagine, if you will, a first date with someone for whom you feel a great deal of attraction, someone of the utmost significance. Try to envisage what you would tell them about yourself, about who you are. You might talk about family and friends, upbringing, passions and phobias, beliefs, past relationships, existential high and low points, what you hope to achieve in the future and so on. Clearly, the content of this discourse, together with the manner of its delivery, will go a long way into determining whether you’re successful in selling yourself or not. The task of this spin doctor of the self would be to ensure the attractiveness and coherence of this personal script—which includes anecdotes, poignant memories, lyrical visions, ethical and moral orientations, general and specialized bodies of knowledge… —prior to its implantation in the psyche of the customer.
Our spin doctor has worked on film stars and influencers, fashioning their narrative identities into assets.Her diligence attracted the attention of a less glamorous but far more profitable type of client. I guess it was the big career break she had been waiting for, even if the job came with strings attached. Under the terms of the contract, in addition to a confidentiality agreement and various privacy clauses, she was to be sequestered in a dacha until her part of the makeover was finalized.
The project has almost reached consummation now. The script is just about ready for the final test in the computer simulation program, in which an avatar of the post-treatment patient is assessed in a myriad of modelled situations and graded according to its real-life potential. But still she delays completion, just as—if one may speculate— Postnik Yakovlev would have done, eager to postpone the incandescent metal.
There is no delicate way to put this: the protagonist’s customer is a horrible human being. (I admit it).
In the course of the preliminary studies, the spin doctor has been privy to this person’s crimes, to his besmirched mind, to his innermost and bestial desires… The gulf between who the patient is and who he will appear to be after the intervention is too great to be overlooked, precisely because the quality of the work bespeaks the highest of offices.
Our protagonist has written something exquisite for the most abject of beings, forged a magnetic personality for a fiend, transmuting the basest of materials into gold. The tests have shown great promise. Excitement reigns within the walls of the dacha. Still, she toils on, polishing and perfecting, styling, condensing and embellishing, knowing that, in this case, beauty is akin to ugliness and the additions to the final draft are just so many nails in her coffin.
I wonder if there is some consolation in the thought that she might not get to witness her magnum opus, when the latter is unleashed unto the world.
Oblivion as the payment for sublimity.
(Unless, of course, the resultant is no longer a horrible human being).
Marcelo Worsley studied Philosophy in London and Madrid. He lives in a small town in the centre of Spain, and his short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Axxon, Artifex, Infinite Windows, Unlikely 2.0, Criminal Class Review and Welkin: A Magazine of the Fantastic.
Science fiction has dealt extensively with selfhood-altering scenarios, not so with those pertaining to the narrative elements of personal identity. For Charles Taylor, the latter is underpinned by the stories we tell about ourselves, and these must include an orientation to value, to what we consider good. Spin Doctor of the Self contrasts the speculative idea of an identity makeover with that of a self-consciously abject personality.