Psychosomatics and Ancestors

John Brunner Stand on Zanzibar. The novel's fiction. This exchange between characters spills out beyond the confines of the fictional world. Some of it seems to ring true for the actual world.

"[...] An old man — I suppose you'd call him a witch-doctor — taught me muscle-reading in the back streets of Port-au-Prince while I was ambassador to Haiti. I thought for a moment you must have suffered some sort of major injury to that hand, but I can't feel the effects of one. Whose hand was it, then?"

"My three times great-grandfather."

"Back in slavery days?"


"Cut off?"

"Sawn off. Because he hit his boss and knocked him into a creek."

"Elihu nodded. "You must have been very young when you heard about it," he suggested.

"Six, I think."

And the dialogue carries on. And far later in the novel, one character tells another:

In short, we're not expatriates, you and I. We're extemporates exiled from a country that vanished even before we were born, of which our parents made us citizens without intending to.

At this remove outside the fictional world I wonder if there is not a certain element of self-fashioning in the stories we assume. Not every bit of the past sticks. Is there not an element of choice in what is accepted out of time? Extempore?

And so for day 417