Pygmalion was a great sculptor. In order to prove his skill, Pygmalion decides to carve a statue so life-like that it would rival the beauty of any real woman. When he is finished, his work is so spectacular, so beautiful, that he promptly falls in love. It is a tragedy to fall in love with your own creation.
George Bernard Shaw wrote a play based on this myth. In the play, two linguist make a bet to turn a flower woman into an elegant duchess. You probably recognize the plot since it was made into a movie called My Fair Lady.
Galatea 2.2 retells this story in the modern age. A group of scientists and an author make a wager to create a machine that can interpret great works of literature in such a way as to fool everyone into thinking it was human.
The story centers around the protagonist, Richard Powers. In the story, Powers, adrift in a mid-life crisis, believes he is at the end of his writing career. He knows only the first sentence of his next novel.
“Picture a train heading south.”
But this sentence leads him nowhere. He wonders if he has read it before somewhere. He searches in the catacombs of his memory for it’s genesis.
It reminds me of plots that still haunt me; books that I must’ve read as a child but can no remember the titles of no matter how long I search. Even as I try to access that memory of those books, they slip further into the recesses of my memory, until I’m not sure how much of the plot I’m making up.
One book from my childhood haunts me particularly. It’s ghost-like in quality. I remember yellow paper, some odd drawings. It was about magic…some sort of transformation took place…something haunting or terrible happened…I think. When I try to access memories of this particular plot, I end up pulling in other storylines, plot points, objects from other books I read as a kid. I will have to be resigned to this unsolved mystery.
But Galatea 2.2 has given me an idea, it would be nice to document the first lines of every book I read when I start them. It’d be an interesting exercise.