Peter and me were perched over drinks in the late night café. There was much to discuss, few details, an entire dialogue concerning methods and outcomes. In terms of formative discourse, I found this exchange to be somewhat memorable. (i)
"The ensemble is getting restless," Peter said.
"Are they? Let them stew for a while longer. Nothing is gained by constant guidance. Let them determine the next step, to forge their own existence and reasons. I tire of holding their hands and pointing the way, even if it is my grand plan they are unknowingly executing. Initiative cannot be taught. Why? Have they been complaining?"
"Not explicitly, but they do seem like they're waiting for something. May I suggest something?"
"Ah, yes, the waiting. We're all waiting. Suggest away, Peter."
"We should set them to task in our interests, of course."
"What did you have in mind?"
"Proliferation of a message, a mystery, a series of fabricated images. People like mysteries. In fact, they can't get enough of them. When there is no mystery or intrigue afoot, people get downright anxious. Maybe something concerning the Kabbalah, or some obscure medieval text that appears to link the historical mind with this one."
"A research assignment?"
"Perhaps, but one that will make for you a substantial foothold to deliver pledges Something that will historically validate and enrich your current aims. But there is more. They need to spread the word. A name is a word and--"
"--And you think my name would make such a word."
"Precisely. Establish historical authority, create a circulatory system based on your name, and therefore ensure that all your future actions are justified by recourse to a series of irrefutable historical facts."
"Do I require such justification?"
"Regrettably, in the dull eyes of the others, yes. A raging inferno catches more eyes than a bonfire. We may have to stoop to the level of the spectacle, to be excessive, but it is all to our benefit."
"This mystery aspect you speak of What would this entail?"
"Nothing more than making you the centre of an historical aporia."
"I like it, Peter. I do. But one reservation remains: mysteries always court the danger of being solved, thereby rendering inert the thrust of a movement toward resolution. I would not be made happy to see my name emasculated in such manner, to be besmirched by the mystery's painful finality and death in resolution."
"When someone claims to have solved a classic paradox, what is it that we say?"
"Well, we call him or her foolish for being so premature in the findings. We tell them that they have not penetrated the matter seriously, for to solve a paradox is not a commendable act of logic but an act of vile murder. It is xenophobic to kill what cannot be understood I see what you're driving at. I am to become the centre of a paradox without a centre, to be characteristically apart and absent from this centre except as static image without essence behind its veil. That is beautifully paradoxical. If you can pull this off, there will be no end to my admiration of your genius and good will."
"And so what if I told you that it is already in the works?"
"Peter! You never cease to amaze me! What a tremendous gift. You've employed your creative talents well. Don't keep me on tenterhooks now."
"The less I tell you, the more you will discover. It is the kind of gift that perpetually unfolds, each delicate blossom a unique and vibrant colour with a labyrinth of etched striations, peculiar markings, grooves and ridges. It is an infinite rose. (ii) You become the heterogeneous link, an intertextual element where all things move in a sporadic fashion to and from the illusory centre of the discourse. Nothing prevents you from being a link to the mythological Janus, to the bilocation of St. Francis of Assissi, the claim to a Sultan's empire, to being the forerunner to the Russian Futurist movement All things are made possible in their newly forged links to you. This is what the ensemble will do: through directed misreadings, they will create new cloth in the quilt of history, as seemingly tough and viable as what already is woven there."
"I become a knot in history."
"And simultaneously its unravelling. The trick is that it isn't as contrived as it seems. My plan may have already tapped into a situation that is already actual."
"So what will be the role of our ensemble in this act of speculative history?"
"They will commit their hands to the task of research, making this virtuality possible. By researching the links to prove the speculations to be true, they will ostensibly build truth. The process will radiate. New associations will emerge. By plucking words from the world in order to discover the existence of the poem, they will inadvertently create the poem."
"Rest the analogies, I get the point."
"So what of your plan, Jonkil? Could you give me at least a skeletonized version of the method, its aims, et cetera?"
"Certainly. By taking control of the high culture of academia and the low culture of popular hedonism, I will be able to perform a pincer movement. Easy enough."
"But first you must establish yourself as a powerhouse in both these opposed discourses. Hopefully my plan will assist in preparing a suitable backdrop to this process."
"In both types of culture, the economy of the popular is the same in that the exchange value is higher for those things that glitter more, that make themselves more present, that can be held back in mystery, that produce the most in terms of newness. To stay atop either of these discourses I must be shrewd and enigmatic."
We were both dressed like dapper young men, t-shirts and blazers, an apparel that only half gave itself over to the elite. However, our dress was no guarantee that we would not become the target of the unfathomably ignorant. In fact, we were probably beacons for such bothersome nuisances.
Two burly oxen sauntered in at the end of the night when the clubs closed, no doubt still wracked with dreams of petty conquest, exacerbated to an extreme by drink and failure. Regrettably-beyond the regret that they merely existed and we were all forced to acknowledge that they did exist in the world-they took a table near us and began their off-colour harassment of the female patrons that were out to hold quiet discussions like the rest of us. Myself, not being imbued with a silencing mechanism to contain me from speaking in a forthright manner against such offences, could not restrain from confronting these awful yack-boxes.
"Could you leave right now, and restore to this place the decency you so blatantly stole away in coming here?" I said.
"You talkin' to me, muthafucka?" the brute with the gorilla nose said to me. I was sure this was right out of Hollywood scenes, which retort another steaming pile of genre-specific excrement.
"I wouldn't be speaking to the likes of you under any other circumstances, but alas the poverty you have brought to this establishment has called upon me to sacrifice my vow of silence."
"Do you know who this man is?" Peter broke in, now entering the jamboree.
"Sure," the other brute replied, steadying himself to deliver what passed for wit in his circles. "He's dat asshole whose mother I fucked."
"They're really fixated on this mother thing," Peter said to me. "Another Oedipal victim?"
"More to the point," I added, "why should I be offended even if the statement was true? My mother is a free woman and can fuck whomever she pleases. I'd have something to say about her lack of discerning taste, but other than that, I don't believe my mother's sex life concerns me."
"You fuckin' pussy! Come outside so I can smash your fuckin' face!"
"Now there's an invitation I couldn't rationally endorse. That's just silly. Could I assume that if I stay here that my face will remain intact? There's nothing this savage could do to me in the physical sense that the world hasn't tried on me in a more violent and lasting sense. Nothing inside me yearns for being brutalized, and the audacity of this pug is grating. Where do you get off, thinking that with only your fists can you cause me pain? That pain goes away, it is so ephemeral. But mental pain, now that lasts forever. But I'm sure that you have some kind of immunity to that variety of pain, for there are a few conditions that need to be met that I will not delve into here."
"Then we'll do it to ya in here!"
"Are you trying to bargain with me? You're so absolutely ridiculous. How does anyone take you seriously?"
It would be here that, if it can be permitted, I may engage in an act of reverie, an earlier memory, away from this predicament where the brute that bore a disturbing similarity to the escaped villain in El Mariachi could almost be heard to say "wey" in the undertones of all he said. I never found out what "wey" meant, but I knew it couldn't have been very nice, not a greeting to salute one's father with at any rate.
We pause the brutality in wait for this reverie, but DON'T WORRY: the violence will return
The memory concerns my father. I couldn't say whether he was a good man or merely a man, for the measure of such things is so relative to experience in the early years of life. He was a shy an insular sort, or maybe that was one of his many masks. In fact, he was more of a mask than a man, an empty sort who needed to be put on in any given social situation or else the wind might have just blown him off the set. I learned helplessness and shyness from him. He would sit hour after hour in his study, drinking from a supply in his reserves that never seemed to diminish; it was like he drank from the same infinite bottle and just couldn't finish it. (iii) When I came of age, I would do the same in my bedroom under the imposing wall of books my father made for me as a present, as a gift, a curse, a handing off of the torch under whose light I was also be obscured. To be dwarfed by these quiet texts was an unbearable madness that I couldn't seem to pull away from; I was enchanted, yet frightened. I mediated such a feeling through drink, and had almost decided to be like my father before me and fade alongside the spines of these numerous volumes. He never said a great deal to me, and perhaps the gift communicated everything he had to say, but not in the words printed there but in their very presence. He communicated to me his abandon and had me internalize it, to give privilege to a heritage of hopelessness. When he did speak to me on those rare occasions, it was with a soft voice issuing from an apparition's face so resigned that I generally mistook it for an air of saintliness. He was one of those men who once were great, but had since faded into the surroundings of all that he created, those creations now borne aloft and leaving their creator absent and forgotten. He had faded into the past, his mammoth bookshelf, the plush carpet, behind the pipe and the bottle. He smelled distinctly of tobacco and the hearth. I think he wanted to be something other, but some unspoken cruelness had wounded him too severely and in the place of youthful resolve was a stoic resignation so unreachable that I was surprised that he could register our existence. My first role model was this silent tragedy of a man, a man who led me to believe that the sun would always shine half a world away, and when he appeared, my feelings of high-minded confidence would have already been dispersed in the desperation of waiting for his wisdom-a wisdom that would only come if the load of the bottle was lessened. He was a great man, but no one was left to write his elegy, no one remained to give him the praise he deserved, and no one consulted his knowledge. His only son was a kind of unspirited monster ejected from the loins of failure, a son who had prematurely become the father. He never had to resort to any scolding or heavy-handed techniques of discipline, for his tragic desperation was enough to disarm me, enough to demonstrate that all my transgressions were ultimately pointless.
Whenever friends of the family--mostly my mother and her brother--spoke to me about my father, they made mention that he was once a man of strong heart, vitriolic courage, brilliant scholarship, profound wit. Never would they feel impelled to speak of him in the present; I was expected to make the relation. To the world and all of its contents, my father was already dead, as stuffed and lifeless as the padded chair he sat upon in his study and rarely left. In effect, he was dead. Drinking in separate rooms, I had already come to the realization that he was dead and that I was being prepared to take up residence in his corpse, within the dusty confines of that study. These are the shoes and this is the mask. Great men, even formerly known great men, are permitted to make of the vices of excess a virtue. For them, addictions are not chosen, but the addiction chooses them; fate disburses the tragedy that suits best. For my father, it was the drink. However, he knew even this intoxicant pleasure to be tainted by the fact that it was sold to him as it was sold to all the others. All intoxication, medical or religious or political, is part of an economic system of exchange. Of all the things my father could not escape, this fact pained him most. He would send my mother to the store if he wasn't so ashamed, and it was on these occasions that he pooled all his strength to face the world and get his tiny shred of abandon. As he once said, "it is merely medicinal for memory now."
To say that I adored him was the same as the fact that I dreaded him, too like an ugly painting that one admires from a distance with mixed revulsion and reverence but could not bear parting with for fear that something of the self would be lost in the act. It was not what my father meant to himself, but what he meant to me, the startling implications of his immutable yet increasingly softening presence that permeated my development with its very slow disappearance. He was a poster boy of acedia, of endless utopias as literally "no-places", a bibliophile with several depressed strata of information thought lost to the world, a man sealed off from the principles he advocated for the "good life" if only to be a constant object lesson of disobedience. Sometimes I wonder if his fate did not become my own, this fall from grace, this hermetically sealed off and isolated life, this being forsaken by my own creations. Ah, the stranger that I have now become, this stranger my father and this relationship that permitted itself to continue on to his death-a quiet one, a passing away in the night with his flaxen haired head tilting ever so slightly to the east as if he could not bear-even in death-to witness the tragedy that became of the west to which he spent all his life in pointless toil. It was from the west that he inherited so many things that contributed to the greater collage of his decline: the learning, the books, the ideas, the drink. And to the boy he left behind who had now to persevere against this savage west that took no prisoners, that did not pay any heed when any of us cried foul, I would have adopted his manner of roping myself off from the real in preference for a transcendental mystique that was in itself illusory and decrepit. To lose that continuous contact with the real was one kind of death among the many, and death was something we all fantasized about in private moments. But when those private moments supersede and intrude upon everything else, the aspect of the distanced scholar, one becomes the Beautiful Soul whose only meditation is a kind of tragic solipsism that eats at the heart and erodes the last bastions of sanity. Like my father before me, would I crumble into the dust?
It is this shyness and tentative grasp with the real that had eviscerated my sense of action. It kept me introverted and socially numb. For a time I could not carry on a conversation without my thoughts bordering on the prospect of escape into the safe refuge which was the self, which was the bookshelf, and the room and the drink. It had gotten so bad that I could not even make requests of servers and bank tellers without stuttering and falling into a cold panic, the sense that a fainting spell would creep up on me being very real at every instance where mediation with the other was involved. And when even the least intimate communication was made impossible by this barrier, the more intimate occasions would be enough to bring me into a catatonic state. Just like father. I could not face the risk of communication. I mumbled and let the world of the real do what it wanted to me. A fatalist to the core, waiting for fate to disburse unto me what I deserved. The social paralysis was a source of many injustices visited upon me by more outspoken and equally cruel people who smelled the weakness emanating from my sad and lifeless limbs, the realization in the predator's eye that the prey was little more than a helpless puppet already submitting itself in advance to the moment when the teeth would close in. Books afforded the only safety, of a more conditional sort. Books never made any demands, never exploited me, and were ideal devices to keep me sequestered from a world I found too quick and frightening.
Ironically, a book brought me back into the real and instilled in me the confidence to bring down the walls with a mighty trumpet blast of the will. It is a book I keep enshrined in my memory, one I still return lovingly to in times of abject weakness. I must have read it a thousand times, entire sections committed to memory, with bounding leaps in reading, internalizing the aphorisms and passages. Even me, of all people, who spits such declarations against the existence of self-help books and comments so vehemently against those who resort to their reading even I am guilty of such a practice, but I like to think that I have chosen only one of these books rather than the faceless many who merely traipse like addicts from one self-help book to the next in search of constant assurance that would never come. Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil gave me the recipe toward affirmation, a wonderful self-medication exercise. It instilled in me a latent thirst for bold knowledge, for useful and beneficial forms of disruptive power. From there, I was led to Deleuze's fantastic book on Nietzsche, and ostensibly to French thought in general, all the way across a variety of artistic disciplines until my mind was not a closed door but an outward bound energy toppling over anything and everything in a sense of the ludic resolve. To play, to overcome, to be as the child, to cease to be frightened by infinity and one's death that is always both timely and untimely. As challenges came, my hunger grew. I began to surpass the limited confines of my self-reflexive understanding to realize that there was a world outside ready to dance with me. There was now a meaning to my isolation, and a constructive way of going about it. I was better than the faceless many because I could choose my destiny, and the notion of choice was what my father so tragically lacked in his repertoire of action. Rather, fate made of him its plaything, and he so passively let it happen without tearing holes in the sky with a resounding No! Registering high up in the heavens with the might of Zeus. Selection is what distinguishes degrees of greatness. But I fear that in these twilight years I am lapsing back into the patterns of my father, and now the words of Nietzsche do not have the same effect for my attention has been diverted to my tragedies and the words, committed to memory, have ceased to have the same powerful import they once had when they were new. I guess I am a victim of privileging the new.
As these feelings suffused my youthful mind, breathing life into this weary spirit, the taedium vitae, I became equipped to deal with any possible social predicament. I became worthy, triumphant, and joyously mad. I didn't need to wait for the gods to send me into a fever like Socrates, for life itself was enough to grant me all the materials I required.
Returning now to the café and my rather contrasting tale, things were very quickly on the verge of ugly, of ridiculous barbarism and embarrassing pugilistic blood sport. I am not by any means, physical or otherwise, a little man. I may appear average in stature when seated, but this is only because my legs are disproportionately long. Genetics had blessed me-or cursed me, if you consider the difficulty in finding clothing that fits, or the many objects that my head bashes into-with considerable height and a noble carriage. When I rear to my full size, like some diplodocus, I am 6'7" In Boots, add approximately two more inches. So, I stood up.
"You may not know who I am, but that's of little importance here. It is not who I am but what I can do. But it is precisely because of who I am that I am capable of absolutely anything. I seem to lack inhibitions, and I seem to lack ethical filters."
"Oh, yeah?" the brute puffed himself up the best he could with his frame not more than six feet high and not so impressive in build. "Do you know what I can do?"
"I know exactly what you can do. Do you wonder why I'm not afraid? I can predict everything you can do in your limited capacities better than you, whereas you cannot say the same for me, now can you? I find you amusing, albeit in a tragic-comic sort of way."
I must have touched on his last remaining vestige of reason because he backed down. Instead he made the scoundrel's retreat, issuing a flaccid string of predictable expletives and idle insults before making his exodus. But there must have been something more, for the entire café was stopped cold something telling or disarming in my eyes. The offenders were long gone but the silent fear remained. The patrons and the attendant were no longer afraid of the threat the other two brutes had presented, but were now rooted in an even more deeper, epistemic fear: the fear of the man who could obviously do anything, whose capabilities were not limited by any hindrance. Alas, I may only be flattering myself. I like to think that this one moment of real and potential transgression was meaningful to the totality of how my being fit into the greater fabric of history-not to historicize myself too deeply. I would also like to think that people see things the way I do, or how I wanted them to perceive things.
i It is doubtful that this exchange took place in this manner so reminiscent of a satirical play on Berkeley's dialogue between Hylas and Philonus. On different occasions when he reports this conversation in an interview session, there are several different versions ranging from the colloquial to the constipated sort found here. We present this one as opposed to another version for it contains within it the most factual details of his plans, despite its cumbersome style in delivery.
ii Also the name of the plan itself, recorded in Calembour's Confessions as "Project Infinite Rose of Time" and mentioned in a small literary work of Peter's entitled, Days of Sameness.
iii Apart from his usually indicative manner of speech, this may be one of the few fragments where Calembour makes more explicit mention of his upper-middleclass upbringing and his quiet alcoholic father. This may be Calembour at his most refreshing honesty.