‘The program’

I get into the wrong elevator. The buttons are placed, inconveniently, on a panel about seven feet above the floor. It is one of those elevators with an entrance/exit on two, facing sides. I get off when it is called to a floor I would not usually visit. I expected the general layout of the floor to be the same as the floor on which I work, however, it is completely different and very disorienting. There’s nothing to do but try get out of the building altogether, which I manage to do, through the basement. I drive out. This is quite a surprise because I don’t have a car or a license to drive. Worse, though, I don’t recall any of the streets outside. They are all unfamiliar to me. Indeed, I begin to think I may even be in a city I do not know. That would be terrible. How could I have arrived here in the first place? It may be even more serious than that … Who am I? Apparently I am someone who, today, can drive a car … who has a car to drive. I must get myself to a hospital, I think, so I get out of the car and start looking for a place to present myself that looks safe. However, there are no signs to be seen anywhere. This city, wherever it is, looks like an advanced communist state: modern, but entirely without advertising. I head into a building that I think may be a hospital and take a seat next to the receptionist. I begin to explain my situation to her. “I’m sorry to interrupt you. Please don’t be alarmed. I need your help. I appear to have forgotten who I am and where I am. I appear to have forgotten everything. Almost everything. I can still drive, which is something I didn’t know I could do, but everything else is gone. I’m very concerned I might be ill.” The receptionist looks at me very calmly for a while without saying anything. I ask her again if she can help me. She thinks carefully. “Listen to me,” she says, in a low voice, almost whispering, though there is no one around us to hear. “You have a choice. You can either wait here for another minute and I will get the paperwork done for you. You will be asked to sign a consent form, and that is the last thing you will ever know about your participation in the program. Or, if you wish, you can walk back along the corridor behind us, turn left, and you will see a glass door leading to the street outside. If you leave, I cannot help you, but you will be free.” She looks into my eyes and can see that I am thinking about her words in my mind. The choice seems stark. Ignorance, or something worse than ignorance, or freedom, but only freedom. What does she mean by “the program”? I stand up and, without thanking her, follow her instructions to find the exit to the street.


Published as ‘Four events while sleeping’, incorporating ‘Poetry is a small house’, ‘Religion is the art of belief’, ‘Martial art, sans art’ and ‘The program’, FIVE:2:ONE print edition, August 2017.


The blue-haired hero has just had a narrow escape. I am wearing a black suit. My blue hair, a deep, dark blue, is somehow still visible even at night. —Not a great feature, in the circumstances, but I seem to be getting away with it. And I am apprehensive to discover that there is another like me, with green hair, waiting in the dark, at the entrance to what seems to be the only point of escape. I have no choice but to follow him. However, the way he talks gives me some confidence that he knows what he is doing. He takes me into a large network of buildings, part of which is a prison, and part of which is a kind of military headquarters. The whole compound appears to have only a very few entrances and exits. As we walk along a corridor that leads to a courtyard, I realise Mr Green is hoping we will not be noticed if we remain calm. Up ahead of us, standing in the moonlight, is a small group of people talking to each other. They haven’t noticed us coming and, if we’re lucky, we’ll pass without notice. In a moment, we are right on top of them, almost a part of the circle they formed … and we move past. But a voice calls out, speaking in German, and we have to respond. Mr Green raises his hand in a gesture of acknowledgement but does not turn around. This won’t do, and voices are raised. A commotion begins behind us as we make the run for the door. We escape. Why we are not followed into the dark, I don’t know, but as soon as the door is closed behind us we are safe in the dark landscape outside the prison. We are at the rim of a shallow glen. Pine trees, in thick forests surround us, but for the moment we are still in a large clearing. I see, high up on the other side of the glen, the silhouetted figures of a small group of soldiers. We are headed straight for them. I hope that Mr Green knows what he is doing. He leads us so close to them I am afraid we are about to be discovered. When we are so close is it obvious we have been seen, it is also clear the soldiers are Americans and are going to allow us to pass through the woods. We walk by moonlight along a narrow, dirt path into a small town and finally reach Mr Green’s house. He leaves me standing in a stairwell of a building across the street from his house until he returns with a handful of money. He whispers to me while he peels a bill off an untidy pile of notes I know is all the money he has. But he has taken too long and we are interrupted by someone who takes us immediately to a town meeting that is already in progress. For a short while accusations are flying back and forth between Mr Green and other people at the meeting—but it all comes to nothing. Or, so I believed… One of the ‘Northerners’, a bearded, pale man, very old, gets to his feet and begins to talk about past injustices. The language he speaks has a strangely musical and physical quality. I don’t understand a word of it, and yet I’m sure I know, like everyone else in the meeting, what is going to happen. And I know it cannot be stopped. Someone shouts—“No! He is going to kill all of us!” Yes—that is what the old man’s incantation is doing. The sky opens up and a red light pours down on us. Mr Green and I begin to unravel in an orgy of signification, our characters peeling off us like rubber suits. Mr Blue was just a shell that has fallen to my feet. And I also am a skin, which is now peeling off my body and dropping to my feet. Underneath me is another person.

‘The book of Frenchness’

Death of Marat, by David

Externally, the house looks much like the old Heide farmhouse—but it has clearly been abandoned for many years. Outside, and now inside, it is an accumulation of dust and debris. There is little room to move between the piles of books and discarded papers. I find one that I have seen and read before, a book that I know without having understood any of its contents. It is in two very large volumes with a slip-case that is broken and dirty. There are reproductions of paintings and drawings, moving pictures and talkative text in it. The slip-case, split along a long edge and falling part, has a small speaker inside it; when I open the first volume of the book, some music comes out of the speaker. There are different sounds for every page. The introduction by the author has a picture of him as a shadowy figure that retreats from one room to the next whenever the text appears to make some clear statement of his intentions. Many of the other pictures in the book are drawn in the same way: small, animated ink drawings that demonstrate a simple mechanical principle or just add a bit of color or movement to a page: a swinging pendulum, for example. A few are very complex; almost everything concerning music and orchestras, mathematics, and The Terror, is shown in great detail. For a brief moment, looking at the thin, red slash of ink that appears on David’s cartoon of Marat in his bath, I believe a cut has opened on the page.

‘It speaks’

I am the last of my race and the last original speaker of the language of my birth. Everywhere I go, now, with a friend who is my translator. He cares and minds after me like one in possession of an invaluable archive. (Is it me or him? It is both of us.) I am at his mercy, of course, in my dealings with everyone, and cannot really be certain that he is translating correctly what I say. Just as I never know how well or badly my friend and translator is transmitting my part in a conversation, neither does my interlocutor know if he is getting through to me or if his story is being properly rendered into language I can understand.

‘Religion is the art of belief’

In the future the Archibald Prize has become such a big thing that it needs a special building to house all the paintings to be displayed. And the paintings themselves are very strange. I walk around the huge gallery thinking how horrible all the paintings are. One of them has huge sacks of paint hanging off it, a skin forming over the still liquid oil paint underneath. It has not had time to dry before the exhibit. The globs of paint are so large that viewers are encouraged to press the sacks of paint hanging off the painting with their hands, which I do, and it feels a little like sagging flesh. This would be fine if the painting were even a little bit realistic, but it’s not—in fact it’s a mess of abstraction, not really a portrait at all. And I also notice that the paintings are all huge. Doesn’t anyone make small paintings any more? I talk to someone at the exhibition who asks me if I’ve seen the good ones yet, and he points to some inner rooms where all the good paintings are on exhibit. When I go into the rooms all the paintings are still depressing, and even bigger than the ones in the surrounding part of the exhibition. I move quickly through all the rooms, just to be sure there isn’t anything good, and finally come to the biggest room of all—it’s the size of an aircraft hangar! There is only one ‘painting’ in it, a large triptych that occupies every inch of a gigantic wall. As I enter—through the wall on which it is hanging—I am dwarfed by it, and as I look up I see that there are threads or ropes hanging off it, as though it has been stitched together and somehow tied to the wall. This gigantic room isn’t empty. There are enormous ottomans, which seem to be at least thirty feet square and made of red leather, placed around the room so that whole families can jump on them, lie back and look at the big painting. I lie down on one of the ottomans, alone. Everyone one else is just wandering about the exhibition, confused, staring up at the big painting. This is really horrible. I have to get out of here. I leave through a corridor that leads me into a place that feels like a great stone bunker, but I recognise it instantly as the Vatican. I look through a door into a red room that has a small chapel set up in the corner opposite the door I have stuck my head through. A priest is performing mass and some little altar boys are singing their hearts out. I can’t see where the music is coming from but it’s very good. I notice that there aren’t many people in the red room, just a half a dozen or so, dotted here and there, and the mass appears to be for the benefit of the one person who is kneeling, with his back to me, as I enter and take a seat. He is getting up, and as he stands I notice that he is wearing a white cassock, and when he straightens up I see he has a white mitre on his head. Oh, it’s the pope—Benedict!—but he’s already looking very old. It is really the singing that is most beautiful and, as it stops, I’m overwhelmed by the beauty and strangeness of it. My head in my hands, I think about how awful modern art is, what a useless lot of rubbish. A piece of paper scrunched up and left lying on a windowsill. A pattern of bricks. Lead pipes trying to be portrait of someone. The pope is walking by and making his way to a nearby elevator, until he sees that I’m upset and comes over to me. He puts his hand under my chin. I am expected to say something, to explain. “I didn’t understand,” I say. “Religion is the art of belief.” He goes off and, with nothing left for me to do here, I have to go, too. It is easy to get out. In fact, I’m surprised that the exit leads directly outdoors, and that there’s a wire fence, with razor wire on top, very near by. Pasolini would be impressed… There must be poor suburbs just on the other side. I know exactly where I am, and can even picture in my mind where this strange, quick exit from the Vatican was located: St Peter’s hung like a horseshoe on the wall, its arms hanging downwards, the exit I emerged from was just on the right shoulder. It’s so desolate out here. Maybe I should just duck back in?


Published as ‘Four events while sleeping’, incorporating ‘Poetry is a small house’, ‘Religion is the art of belief’, ‘Martial art, sans art’ and ‘The program’, FIVE:2:ONE print edition, August 2017.

‘How do you know if someone loves you?’

An older man is fucking a younger man. Several people are sitting around a table, talking about a matter that it seems cannot be answered, and someone says, “You’d might as well ask, How many angels are on the head of a pin?” And someone else, “Or how do you know if someone loves you?” The older man is standing behind a younger man, who is bent over a table, taking it in the arse. The older man says, “That’s a good question. How do you know when someone loves you?” The younger man turns his head around, still bending over the table, to say, “Give me a matchbox.” He begins writing on a piece of paper the names of everyday objects and places: ‘rice’, ‘pen’, ‘book’, ‘chair’, ‘carpet’, ‘spoon’, ‘candle’, ‘plate’, ‘shirt’, ‘photos’, ‘glass’, ‘bathroom’, ‘shoe’, and so on. He puts the paper in the matchbox and hands the box to the older man, saying, “In a year, give this box back to me.” A year passes. The older man gives the matchbox to the younger man who opens it, takes out the piece of paper. “You see,” he says, as he reads through the names of things, “love changes everything.”

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