Authors: Doris Lessing
CANOPUS IN ARGOS: ARCHIVES
Documents relating to
AGENTS IN THE
The Sentimental Agents in the Volyen Empire is the fifth in a series of novels with the overall title âCanopus in Argos: Archives'; the first is Shikasta (1979); the second The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four and Five (1980); the third The Sirian Experiments (1981); and the fourth The Making of the Representative for Planet 8 (1982).
I requested leave from service on Shikasta; I find myself on a planet whose dominant feature is the same as Shikasta's. Very well! I will stick it out for this term of duty. But I hereby give notice,
that I am applying to be sent, when I'm finished here, to a planet as backward as you like, as challenging as you like, but not one whose populations seem permanently afflicted by self-destructive dementia.
Now for my initial report. I have been here five V-years, and can confirm recent reports that our agent Incent did succumb to an attack of Rhetoric â not, after all, unknown, and not, as I may remind you, always unwelcome if regarded as an inoculation against worse â but unfortunately he did not recover, and suffers still from a stubborn condition of Undulant Rhetoric.
It was ten V-years ago that he fell to the wiles of Shammat, reporting his reactions in a letter which I attach herewith. Please see that it reaches the Archives.
Klorathy, I am taking the liberty of writing to you direct, instead of to the Colonial Office, because of our meeting when I came home to Canopus on leave last year and you said you had been assigned my supervision. I feel that what I want to ask is so important it goes beyond my little personal problems, but on the other hand I have no actual administrative problems as such to report.
To come to the point, I met someone on this planet's second planet, Volyendesta, when I was there because of the riots, which necessitated the withdrawal of Volyen's Imperial Forces. I do not have to tell you that all through my training as Colonial
Servant, and during my briefing session, the dangers of Shammat were drummed into me â and everyone else! But imagine my surprise after the most inspiring evening of my whole life when I found that my companion was from Shammat! When he said he was Krolgul of Shammat I thought he was joking. I was awake all night in torment, Klorathy; I can't remember ever spending such an awful night. Then I met him again by chance in the courts as the rebels were being sentenced, and I saw a man of such compassion, such warmth of heart, such sensitivity to others' sufferings. This was the terrible Shammat! This wonderful being who wept as the rebels were led out to execution! I spent the next weeks with him. I was given a view of, first, Volyen, and then of the Volyen âEmpire.' I put it in inverted commas as is our Canopean way â but does this not show arrogance on our part? The Volyen Empire, consisting of the two moons, Volyenadna and Volyendesta, and two neighbouring planets, Maken and Slovin in Volyen terminology (the Sirian planets PE 70 and PE 71), hardly stands comparison with our Rule, or that of the Sirian Empire, but from their point of view it is something, an achievement. I was quite ashamed to see Krolgul's ironic but kind smile when I spoke of the Volyen Empire with what I am afraid I now see as something not far from contempt.
And it was not only of Volyen affairs but of Sirius and ourselves as well that I was introduced to a very different view.
So different there was a point when I realized, and with what shock and distress I hardly dare to say, that my attitude was no longer consistent with that of a loyal servant of Canopus.
I am prepared to offer my resignation. What shall I do?
Your always grateful pupil,
I did not reply to this, though, of course, had he resigned I would have asked him to reconsider. But he did not. I heard he was sufficiently involved with the rebel forces on Volyendesta, to the point where he was wounded in the arm and
had to be hospitalized. Since I was due in the Volyen system, I decided to wait till I had seen him.
Volyen itself seethes with emotions of all kinds, its four colonies no less â to the extent that there is nowhere I could place Incent hoping he would be free from the stimulus of words long enough to recover his balance. No, I had either to send him home to Canopus with the recommendation that he was unfit for Colonial Service, and this I was reluctant to do â as you know, I am always unwilling to waste such experiences in young officials who might be strengthened by them in the long run â or to regard it as a case where we must decide to exercise patience.
Of course we can decide to submit him to the Total Immersion Cure, but that does seem rather a last resort. Meanwhile, he is still in hospital.
This is the largest planet of a Class 18 Star situated on the remotest verges of the Galaxy, on the outside edge of its outer spiral arm. It is in a very poor position for Harmonic Cosmic Development; and for this reason it has never been part of the Canopean Empire. We did not do more than maintain Basic Surveillance for thirty thousand Canopean years. At the beginning of this period an evolutionary leap had taken the population from Type 11 to Type 4 (that is to say, Galactian Basic), and a predominantly gathering-and-hunting type soon developed agriculture, trade, and the beginnings of metallurgy, and built towns. There was little contact between Volyen and near planets. Then, because of a cosmic disturbance resulting from the violent âsoul-searchings' of the neighbouring Sirian Empire, the population increased rapidly, material development accelerated, and a ruling caste came to dominate the entire planet,
making slaves of nine-tenths of the population. All the planets in that sector were similarly affected, and there began a period of history during which they have been invading and settling one another, as short-lived and unstable âEmpires,' for twenty-one C-years.
Volyen has several times been dominant, and several times a subject.
The Sirian Empire, like us, had never made any attempt to absorb Volyen. During Volyen's stable period, Sirius was more or less stable and had made a decision not to expand. When Sirian influences upset the balances of Volyen, it was because of the turmoil, from end to end of the Sirian Empire, attendant upon the conflict between the two parties known as the Conservers and the Questioners, a conflict that split even the governing oligarchy of Sirius, the Five. Some of their outlying planets rebelled, and were instantly punished. Some asked to be permitted to secede and become self-governing. There were reprisals. These energetic, not to say savage, measures caused the Questioners to redouble their protests and demands that Sirius should be studying its own nature and potentialities from points of view not exploitative. For a short period the Conservers were dominant, and the Questioners were also punished. While all this upheaval went on, the fact that Volyen, in a dominant phase again, had developed its armies and sent them out to conquer its two moons, or planet's planets, went virtually unnoticed. When Volyen dubbed itself the Volyen Empire, Sirius, like us, merely noted the fact, as we had done before. But when Volyen expanded beyond its own planets and sent armies into the two other planets of its solar system, Sirius did take notice. For these two planets had been for S-millenniums subjects of sharp debate and disagreement. When the Sirian Empire, long before this time, had made a decision not to expand further, it was these two planets (Maken and Slovin) that had been next on the list for conquest and colonization.
Neither we nor Sirius had named these planets; in their system they were designated PE 70 and PE 71 (Possible Expansion). The Questioners volubly, not to say violently, objected to having any attention whatsoever paid to this âEmpire,' which from their point of view was useless because of its backwardness, but they were overruled. The decision of the Sirian governing body, the Four, to âpunish' Volyen, and to claim PE 70 and PE 71, marked the beginning of a renewed Sirian expansion, which was nothing like the planned and controlled developments of Sirian expansion under the Five but was the result of internal convulsions. The Sirian Empire made a wild surge outwards, intensifying its own instability, and leading inevitably to its collapse.
NOTE BY ARCHIVIST
. Klorathy arrived in the Volyen âEmpire' when its two planets and Sirian PE 70 and PE 71 were in revolt and rebellion against Volyen, and before Sirius invaded.
Apologies. I have been engaged in cultivating Shammat on Volyen's planets, found myself afflicted by brief attack of Shammatis, put myself into Restorative Detention while it lasted, and came out to deal with Incent, as a priority. This because of the key role he is now in with Shammat. I told you Incent was hospitalized for a flesh wound. I had him transferred to the Hospital for Rhetorical Diseases, and went to visit him there.
I positioned this hospital on Volyendesta because of probability forecasts that Volyen itself, as its âEmpire' collapses, will be savagely overrun, whereas Volyendesta
will be little affected. As indication of the healthy state of Volyendesta: Agent 23 was able to have the hospital built and equipped by the rebellious party that is led by a rather remarkable character, one Ormarin, of whom more later, on whose
freedom from illusions I am learning to rely. The concept of the hospital, as I explained it to him, amounting to a (for him) completely new outlook on (as he put it, in the current Volyen mode) âthe nature of the class struggle' â but we must not expect too much too soon â caused in him a sharp but fortunately short attack of Elation. You will of course have seen that his agreement to build this hospital was partly due to a misunderstanding of our purposes. By the time he had really understood, the place was up and in use. There followed the routine riots and protests. But the effort at attempting to understand this hospital, the discussions and debates, some of them violent: this process itself caused the creation of a new faction, political in expression, which came to support and strengthen Ormarin.
Volyendesta is a watery planet, with a large, rapidly circumgyrating moon afflicting its inhabitants with a vast variety of unstable moods; but the sheer effort needed to cope with these conditions has evolved a breed (partly originating, as you will recall, from the Volyen stock) able to withstand rapid changes of emotional condition while ostensibly succumbing to them. On my first visit to this planet I was disheartened by its inhabitants' violent reactions to everything, but soon came to see that these could be regarded, rather, as surface storms over a comparatively untouched interior. And I saw that a few of the inhabitants had even been able to use this condition of constant stimulation to evolve and strengthen inner calm. Ormarin is one.
I went straight to the Hospital for Rhetorical Diseases. This, on advice from Ormarin which Agent 23 was quick to take, is called by them the Institute for Historical Studies. I
was in the guise of a lecturer visiting the place to judge whether I wished to take up an appointment.
The site was chosen after consultation with their geographers to provide the maximum opportunities for natural stimulation. It is on a short and very high peninsula on a stormy coast, where the ocean is permanently in a tumultuous roar, and where its moon has full effect. Immediately behind the peninsula the mainland affords, within achievable limits, extremes of terrain. On one side rise grandiose and gloomy mountains, full of the graves of overambitious mountaineers. On the other reach vast and ancient forests, guaranteed to bring on thoughts of age, the passing of time, inevitable decay. And, extending almost to the hospital itself, a ridge of barren, rocky sand which, if followed, leads to the beginnings of a desert so very hot, cold, bleak, blistering, and hostile; so full of escarpments emphasizing skies sometimes scarlet, sometimes lilac, often a sulphurous yellow, but always changing; so thickly piled with sands, shales, gravels, and dusts incessantly moved from place to place by ever-shifting winds, that reflections on the futility and vanity of all effort are automatically provoked â leading, if the sufferer persists in his stumblings through and over dried bones, bits of stick that were once forest, or the remains of ships (for this desert was once, fortuitously, the bed of an ocean), and rocks in which one may find entombed the imprints of long-dead species, to a most satisfactory and salubrious reaction. This has been named by our Agent 23 as the Law of Instant Reversal, describing what happens when, in the words of the inhabitants themselves, âthere is too much of a good thing,' causing a stubborn inward strengthening which they express thus:
And so what? One still has to eat!
I surveyed all this terrain by Space Traveller, comfortably and with enjoyment, and was set down on the ridge of sand far enough from the hospital to enable me to say I had been conducted thither by local means of transport.
Large parts of the building still lie unused. I told Ormarin that the intensifying crisis in the âEmpire' would fill them soon enough, and he kept his followers quiet with excuses about faulty planning, unreliable contractors. Who was paying for it? He told them a cock-and-bull story about Sirian spies who were offering money for secret support, and this is close enough to things actually happening for it to be believed. His supposed cleverness in outwitting the Sirians has gone to his credit.
The building does not differ much from others we have devised in similar conditions on several of our colonized planets.
With what dislike I enter these places you know full well: and yes, I have, believe me, understood why I find myself in them so often. I have even mastered myself to the extent of contributing somewhat to the science: I shall shortly come to the Department of Rhetorical Logic which I devised.
I have to report that Incent is in a bad way. I found him in Basic Rhetoric, for he has not progressed beyond it. This ward is at the front of the building, on balconies built over continual crashing, moaning, or murmuring waves. The winds whine and roar all day and all night. To augment this we have arranged background music of the most debilitating kind, largely originating from Shikasta. (See
History of Shikasta, Nineteenth Century Emoters and Complainers: Music.)
Most of the patients â a good many of them our agents, for it will not have escaped your notice how many are succumbing during this phase of heady partisan enthusiasms â have advanced beyond this basic and infantile condition and were in other wards, so poor Incent was by himself. I found him gazing out over the ocean, where a morbid sunset tinted the waves scarlet, his inner condition aptly expressed by a robe of red-and-pink silk, its luxuriousness emphasized and made striking by his soldierly bandaged arm. Tears flooded down his pale and tragic face. You will recall that his choice was for large black soulful
eyes, an indication we might have taken more notice of (it comes into my mind for the first time that perhaps you did). But it was a bad signÂ â¦ Yes, large tragic black eyes mourned over the wastes of water â a sentence I might have found in the book that lay open on his knee, again from Shikasta, entitled
The Hero of a Lost Cause.
He was not looking at the screen on which was being projected his medication for the day, which happened to be a programme I am rather proud of: Shikasta again! How invaluable is that poor planet to our Canopean treatment for these conditions! Two vast armies, equipped for killing to the limits of current technology, fight each other for four Shikastan years with the utmost heroism and devotion to duty and in the most vile and brutal conditions, for aims that are to be judged as stupid, self-deluding, and greedy by their own immediate descendants a generation later, urged on by
used to inflame violent rival nationalism, each nation convinced, hypnotized by
to believe that it is in the right. Millions die, weakening both nations irreparably.