The great stadium in which Agony is played is known as The Frontier.
When a Nameless Soul says "The Frontier," however, he is usually not referring exclusively (or at all) to the stadium. In the mind of a Nameless Soul, The Frontier, before it is a stadium, is the home of most Country Doctors, and a snazzy motel room for Families approaching Agony. (The Frontier may also and at the same time be thought of as a kind of almost-always-in-session preparatory school for life in Laughter.) (It has to be admitted that most of the students who attend this school perish… far short of Laughter. The brochure often fails to mention this.)
This is not to say that the physical aspect of The Frontier—which is, in fact, a stadium—is unimportant, or unworthy of consideration.
A stadium is not exactly a building, not exactly a shelter. A stadium has no roof, no dome. The dome of a stadium is the sky. A stadium may even be open-ended, which is to say, shaped like a horse-shoe. (The Frontier has no open end. What happens in that particular stadium needs the sure and unending closure of a circle.)
Nameless Souls say "at the stadium," not "in the stadium." At the stadium, one is obviously outside, the sky continually attesting. (Luxury boxes are beneath consideration.) Even so, one is not outside in the usual way; one has been lifted up and away from the earth, and one has been seated so as to face in one direction. One's gaze is deprived of its usual outside freedom—the freedom to shift itself 360 degrees. One's gaze has become involved in a concentric circle of attention: the surrounding of a visibly defined, unsheltered area. It is this area, more than anything else, that spectators are at, when they are at a stadium, and they more often than not never set foot upon those grounds.
The Frontier is an unusual stadium in various respects, but the thing that most sets it apart is its complete exclusion of spectators. A Nameless Soul, so long as he is a Nameless Soul, is never afforded the opportunity to be present atAgony. No tickets are ever printed for Agony, except as an obvious joke—something like handing Monopoly money to a grocery cashier. Among Nameless Souls, Agony is only ever seen on Television. Among Nameless Souls, this fact is taken for granted.
Nameless Souls who make an attempt to be present at Agony are usually making a deadly mistake. The rest of the time they are making a mistake which lands them in jail. They are known as Meddlers. This term—Meddler—is applied to anyone who is convicted of transgressing the laws surrounding Agony. (Meddlers are discussed below.)
It is possible for a Nameless Soul to try to imagine himself at The Frontier. Most Nameless Souls don't make this effort because to do so is to will oneself, in some sense, to be in Agony. It is difficult, that is, for a Nameless Soul to make himself oblivious to the inaccessibility of that particular site. It is hard to make the imagination at ease "there."
There is the question of the sound of a tree falling in a forest that is devoid of persons. No one is there to hear it. Does the sound occur? For Nameless Souls, The Frontier, considered as a physical fact, is a forest in which falling trees are never heard. The sounds of the trees falling inside The Frontier would never be heard, were it not for Television. Television is the only way a Nameless Soul ever knows of The Frontier. For Nameless Souls, Television is the source of The Frontier as much as it is a view of The Frontier.
How those in Agony experience the lack of spectators at The Frontier is hard to tell. Speculation about it comes out of Laughter now and then, but this testimony seems somehow to make the whole question irrelevant.
How Nameless Souls experience the lack of spectators at The Frontier is barely a question, given that the cameras that film Agony never provide a view of the stands. Their absence is most apparent in the lack of sound coming from above and around play. This lack of sound may temper, but hardly dispels, the glamour of the players. They know that the audience is huge and enthralled. They know that their every gesture is vulnerable to the generational memory of millions of Nameless Souls.
The Casino Is Just An Aspect Of The FrontierWhen play begins, the field of play ceases to be The Frontier: during play, which is to say, whenever it is inhabited by Gamblers. The field of play becomes The Casino. The Casino remains The Casino until shortly after Agony has been concluded. Pioneer Families approach the emptiness of The Frontier and arrive at the fullness of The Casino.
The moment they set foot on The Casino Floor, Pioneers turn into Gamblers.
The Frontier is empty because it lacks certain Death. The Casino is full so long as the certain Deaths it has promised remain undemonstrated.
It might be argued, then, that The Frontier does not really possess a field of play. The field of play at The Frontier—so long as The Frontier remains The Frontier—is empty: a playerless, spectatorless area, beneath which are housed—(most of the time)—those incredibly few souls bound to be in Agony, and those incredibly fewer souls chosen to handle the private parts of Agony.
The Casino is just an aspect of The Frontier—the way seizures are an aspect of an epileptic's life. The Casino is a veryregular seizure of The Frontier, rendering it unconscious and unrepresentative of itself for a (relatively) brief period. The Casino causes The Frontier to be absent from itself, and to appear as its own antithesis. In The Casino, The Frontier unconsciously and invisibly convulses with its final inaccessibility to those in Agony. These seizures (eruptions of play) are no risk to the long-term health of The Frontier—indeed, the arising of The Casino is thought to be an integral part of The Frontier's capacity to remain The Frontier.
Dimensions And Substance Of The UnattendedThe Frontier is a perfect circle, in terms of its exterior shape. The Casino, whether it exists or not, is an equilateral triangle. Each of the Casino's walls is 90 yards long, 5 yards thick, and 10 yards high. They are made entirely of dark gray-black synroc.
One of the Casino's walls runs perfectly East-West, while the other two move to the North, converging at the Northernmost point.
Seating in The Frontier consists of simple Cambrian Black granite benches, which sink in concentric circles down to walls of the field of play. The Frontier's benches have the potential to accommodate 140,000 Nameless Souls, give or take. Of course, this potential is never actualized; the stands are forever unpopulated with Nameless Souls.
Within The Frontier, at ground level, there are the residences of four Country Doctors: The Lunatic, Yahweh, The Glutton, and The Torso-Painter. One floor above ground level—some call this level "the second floor"—there are the Berths of the Pioneer Families. (The several other rooms and passageways that exist within The Frontier are discussed below.)
Structural damage to the edifice of The Frontier is repaired only when it is serious—which is to say, only when it presents a real threat to the future of said structure’s capacity to function as the site of Agony. This means The Frontier will be allowed to go to ruins, almost, before it is fixed, and from then on it will be made to work in a ruined-looking but still completely functional state.
The exposed parts of The Frontier are never "cleaned," either. As the building mingles with the sun and the snow and the flocks of birds and the clouds of insects with which it is intimate, no time is ever wasted in the attempt to restore it to its original appearance. Nameless Souls think of The Frontier as a living thing--a living area. Changes in its appearance evidence its growth, not its disfiguring.
The Inaccessibility Of The FrontierAround The Frontier there are three concentric mile-wide circles. The circle closest to The Frontier—indeed, directlybeside The Frontier, surrounding it most intimately—is known as Dumb Worship. Beyond Dumb Worship, there is, first,Utterance, and beyond Utterance there is Jargon.
The outer boundary of Jargon is traced by a high-tech barbed-wire fence, outside of which there are another one-hundred mile-wide concentric circles. This area—the whole of the pristine natural area through which a Nameless Soul would have to travel in order to even approach Jargon—is known as The Frontier Nature Preserve.
It is illegal for Nameless Souls to set foot in The Frontier Nature Preserve; those caught trespassing are prosecuted as Meddlers.
The whole of The Frontier Nature Reserve is crawling with surveillance technologies capable of sensing and disabling any Nameless Soul foolish enough to have entered the area. Those who survive their arrest are prosecuted as Meddlers. Needless to say, very few, if any, even make it into Jargon, where the technology of the surveillance makes their survival almost unthinkable.
The Frontier cannot be approached at will. The Frontier can only be approached by those who have been called on to approach it. The Frontier is the site of an extremely unlikely fate, shared and terrifying.
The best way to approach The Frontier would probably be to drop out of the sky—parachuting from a rogue plane, for instance. Such an attempt would not be likely to succeed. The Frontier Casino's air-space is very highly protected. Entering into that air-space is a Deathwish.
From the air—from a great height, forty thousand feet, say—The Frontier would be difficult for a Nameless Soul to see very clearly. What would be prominent is Utterance. This is because Utterance is full of Sounds, which are discarded bits of broken mirrors used in Winter Agony (Sounds are discussed below). From the air, Utterance would shimmer: a ring of Sounds. Yes, if Nameless Souls were allowed to fly high over The Frontier, Utterance would shimmer.
Only flying things—birds, bats, insects—are allowed to frequent The Frontier; non-flying mammals are fenced out and tunneling creatures are excluded by the deep steel foundation of the structure.
The Difference Between Gamblers And Pioneers
In the ninety or so days prior to the Agony for which they were chosen, the sequestered Families are referred to asPioneer Families, and each Family member is understood to be a Pioneer. This ninety day period—parts of which are televised so that Nameless Souls may begin to know the Families bound to be in Agony—is referred to as Going West, or The Covered Wagons. Technically, The Covered Wagons are an aspect of Going West—the dominant aspect, consuming all but a few of the days that lead the Pioneer Families toward Agony.
Before play—which is to say, whenever play is not happening—The Frontier remains intact and firmly itself. The Families approaching Agony, while they live, in a sense, within The Frontier, are, in some other (probably more important) sense, deprived of The Frontier. For one thing, so long as Agony is not being played, each Family is restricted to its own Berth (and then briefly to its own Berth Canal). This means that each Family lives completelyapart from every other part of The Frontier. To live so near to where they are fated to go (the playing field is nearest of all just before a Pioneer falls asleep)... and yet, to have no view of it—to have no sense of it at all (it may as well be on Mars)—... this is strange. And this strangeness imbues the Berths of the Pioneer Families—indeed, imbues the Pioneers themselves—with the sense that presence has been promised. Their presence is not yet, but has been promised. The not yet is what the promise is made of.
The trouble is: in the Pioneers' awareness of the promise, an other presence is implied. Is proven, even. And the proven presence—the Pioneer himself—is nothing like the promised presence. The proven presence—the presence of the Pioneer—is not decisive of anything, and has always still looming before it a greater presence: the presence that is promised. The presence that is promised, because it is certain, decisive, and not yet, makes the presence of a Pioneer seem small and sadly tentative in comparison. The presence of the Pioneer is afflicted, it seems, with a kind of absence: an absence that is oncoming and guaranteed, missing and inevitable.
When a Pioneer takes his first step into The Frontier, he stands—suddenly and inexplicably—upon The Casino Floor, and he is no longer a Pioneer. So long as he remains upon the Casino Floor, he is known as a Gambler. To be a Gambler is to cause the annihilation of The Frontier. The annihilation of The Frontier is what introduces the possibility of Laughter (life outside of Agony) and Death.
Another way to describe the start of play: when The Casino opens, The Covered Wagons are abandoned. Pioneers do not want to abandon The Covered Wagons. Pioneers do not want to become Gamblers. What Pioneers want, however, is not relevant, except insofar as the impotence it engenders is an aspect of Agony’s potential in the eyes of Nameless Souls.
Gamblers differ from Pioneers in that they are less inclined to reminisce; they are much further away from their Nameless Soul past. Where a Pioneer tries to stay put, to settle down, or even to think back, a Gambler moves always forward, always toward, always down in.
A Gambler wades out frantically into the uncertain fate attaching to the simple path that Being takes. A Pioneer wades out more calmly... into something quite certain and undecided. The calm of the Pioneer depends largely upon his ability to imagine Being in The Future. So long as Being is in The Future, the incredibly unlikely and steadily widening chasm between the Pioneer and his own Nameless Soul past seems like no reason to panic.
The Gambler Gambles. What does the Pioneer do? The Pioneer Goes West. What does it mean to Go West? It means to wait. To Go West is to wait for Gambling to begin.
What Is Gambling
Gambling does not take place within The Covered Wagons. The Covered Wagons, in fact, may be defined as the absence of Gambling among born-Gamblers.
The Frontier is to The Casino (play)... as Going West is to Gambling.
Going West is to the Pioneer as The Casino (play) is to the Gambler.
Gambling is whatever occurs in The Casino.
Gambling is play.
Gambling is Agony.
Yes, Gambling, from a Gambler's point of view, is perhaps Agony itself. To Gamble is certainly to bein Agony. One might ask, then, why there are two terms--Agony, and Gambling—for Agony itself. There are two terms because there are two dramatically different perspectives from which Agony can be experienced: the Gambler’s perspective, and the Nameless Soul’s perspective. The word “Gambling” exists to make this difference more apparent. Gambling causes the action on the Casino Floor, the result of which is Agony.
A Nameless Soul, though he knows that Gambling must be taking place, cannot see Gambling; he can only see the action it causes. From a Nameless Soul’s perspective, Gambling is the secret cause of Agony, the secretly interwoven throng of intentions that moves (or stills) the bodies in Agony, causing the specific relationship of Being and Saying. Gambling, for a Nameless Soul, is not in the mind of the Gambler—it is the mind of the Gambler.
Nameless Souls sometimes wonder if Gamblers have minds at all. This doesn't happen very often; the evidence supporting the existence of Gamblers' minds is almost always more interesting than the zoning out that allows it to be overlooked. If not for an awareness (or presumption) of Gamblers' minds, the movement of Being would be inexplicable ans meaningless.
From a Gambler's point of view, Gambling is impulsive willful engagement with fate, moment by moment unfolding on The Casino Floor. The word “Gambling” describes his ownmost basic hopefulness, and then the many cunnings that such hope has at its disposal.