TW: rape, ablism, mass murder of povvos and cripples
some protestors paintbombed a cereal cafe
and I don’t know why
they don’t just shop at costco instead
gentrification, evictions, state violence
£5 for a bowl of cereal while the homeless starve
and I don’t know why they don’t
vote with their money (they have none) and their feet
those that have them, haha, bants
and I don’t know why they don’t
violence is wrong, you see
paint is more grotesque than blood
cripples are dying alone in empty bedsits, but
I don’t know why they don’t
theyre smashing windows like fascists
because it was the anarchos that led to hitler, you see
not a decade of starving, humiliated poor
violence leads to fascism
I learned that at eton, you see
I don’t know why they don’t
when I saw those old people, there
in wandsworth, eating from bins
the kinder thing would be to help them choose
“just go into that co-op”
I should have got up, out
smashed them in their faces
“just go into the co-op, fucktards”
that’s helping, you see
and I don’t know why they don’t
starve alone like decent people
carve their arms, eat their babies
die alone, shut the fuck up
and I don’t know why they don’t
protesters, hippie cunts
if it were the real hungry, yes
tired on 1500 calories a day
deported to the midlands, alone
crawling when their wheelchairs stolen
popped out their third job to smash that window
(but it never is)
and I don’t know why they don’t
when that kid came at me with his knife
I should have made him fuck me with it
over and over and over
an ocean of blood brings justice, sure, wait
just let me trim my beard
I don’t know why they don’t
that kid became a policeman and
I’m homeless like those bums
bad choices, mine
I don’t know why we don’t
shut up and die
I do have to say, not all men
it must be clear. I am your ally
and you do risk losing a good ally today
In light of such extreme sentiments, then
while his actions I of course decry
I do have to say, not all men
I simply can’t be silent when
couched so angrily you lose support forby
and you do risk losing a good ally today
Such knowledge is indeed beyond your ken
and why criticise when we do try
I do have to say, not all men
Have you tried meditation, or zen?
That chap just there, you made him cry
and you do risk losing a good ally today
I was hit by a girl when I was ten
and your attention-seeking makes me sigh
I do have to say, not all men
and you do risk losing a good ally today.
Grima. Wormtongue. Twice betrayer. Worst of counselors.
Some said that he had been shot by Legolas at Orthanc, in return for slaying Sauruman. Such kind wages the Noble and High dispensed for slaying their enemies.
Yet, if you dig deeper, to find the true story, he had not been shot down by an Elf, but by lowly hobbits, in the back, while running away. Which do you find most just?
Grima. Wormtongue. So they called me. Such were the names echoing in my head, when I woke that evening, famished and near-dead and sore from many wounds. Worm, Sauruman called me. And like a worm I crept and crawled to shelter, and from ditch to ditch, and into a festering pool, where at last I laid down to die.
That was when she found me, a hobbit-lass. Dawn had just came up, and I thought her one of the bright elves with the hard eyes, so I cowered and whimpered and begged without words. “You’re one of the big folk!” she said, and so I nodded, and held out my hand, though my arm was as thin as a worm, now.
“You’re not going to hurt me and steal things and bring more of your kind, are ye?” she asked, doubtful. In response I could only wail, like an animal caught in a trap.
Her name was Lucy Farthing, and it was she who cut off my straggling hair, and bathed me, and dressed my wounds, and fed me soup until I was strong enough to feed myself. When I could stand I thought about killing her, killing her and running away, but when I raised my hand I began to shake and palsy until the knife fell away and all I could do was cry.
She promised not to tell the other little people about me, and when she left to get food I found her pipe and her pipe-weed stash, and had time to smoke it and think.
So much time.
I was high as balls.
It was in the third year of the High King Aragorn that I made it south, into the Kingdom of Gondor. The road was no place for a man travelling alone, and once I had to scramble to hide as a party of elves rode by; while they ate and sang, I cowered like a dog. But some of the men who also traveled the road were kind, and fed me. All I could offer them in exchange was a drag of my pipe. I had taken all of Lucy’s pipe-weed, you see. They called me names, sometimes, like dog and red-eye. I quite liked “old red-eye”. It was ironic. I would sit on my own and laugh for hours.
When I gazed into the fire, late at night, it all made sense, sometimes. No wonder, I realised, that no-one liked me.
Gondor in those days was no place for a beggar. Mostly they spat at me and told me to get a job, these high men, these Lordly men. I almost starved that first winter. Then the announcements came. In reparation for all the damages, the Men of the South and the Men of the East would be helping to rebuild Gondor. Gondor needed managers to help them assign all this free labour to the many needed tasks.
That was when I joined the Gondorian civil service.
Aragorn showed the strain of age in his face. “I just don’t understand it”. He threw down the crumpled paper, paced across the room.
“Sire?” I nodded, being careful to keep my back straight. So long as my back was straight I would never remind them of that dead man, Grima Wormtongue. I was truly old now, and walked with a stick, but so long as my head was shaved and my back was straight they would never link that man with who I was now.
“These demands are impossible, Baliman. Absurd. Ridiculous. It was fine and good when these Southrons brought tribute at the end of the Ring War, but now they are here with delegations and permanent embassies that we can’t get rid of. They even have a woman leading them! A woman! How absurd!”
“Yes, sire.” I used my Patient Counselor voice. Everything had gotten much easier since I had discovered campness, in one of those taverns in the outer quarter of Minas Tirith. I didn’t have to use my wheedling or cajoling voices anymore, which was wonderful, as they would give me away immediately. As long as I seemed like a Serious and Manly Man, I could speak with as much irony as I liked. It was glorious.
“I mean, who can keep all this nonsense straight? As soon as I talk about the destiny of the Men of the North to rule Middle-Earth, some of them whisper that that’s what Sauron told them, all those years ago. This woman even says that she’s 1/4 Numenoran, with a line going back to Ar-Pharazon himself. Bloody corsairs. Of course, I couldn’t stand any more of it. I had to have them all locked up.”
“Of course, sire.” I raised an eyebrow. Him and Arwen must be fighting again. And, of course, little Aragorn II was killing cats and was quite impossible to manage. Tell a boy that he was destined to wear the Twin Crowns of Gondor and Arnor as a true-blooded descendant of Elves and Men, and it all went to his head.
Aragorn the Elder threw himself down on a chair and began scribbling something. “How long would you like them to remain in the dungeon this time, sire? One week, two? Of course, we’ll have to answer some of these demands. It’s twenty years since the War of the Ring now, and a repeal of the forced labour laws is only reasonable.”
“Reasonable?” Some flecks of spit hit my face. “REASONABLE?”
“I am the true king, the TRUE VALAR-DAMNED KING. GANDALF CROWNED ME HIMSELF. I ALONE KNOW WHAT IS REASONABLE!” He thumped his hand on the table, spilling his wine all over some expensive documents. I tutted, inwardly.
“Are you listening to me, Baliman? You’re just a dressed up servant! I am the king.” He folded his arms and pouted. I could see how he must have been an attractive man, once.
“I worked my way up through the ranks of the civil service, sire, once promotion was done on merit.”
“Merit?” Aragorn’s voice went cold and deadly. “I’ll show you merit.” He unsheathed Anduril, and its blade caught the candlelight, turning its sheen to a dull flame. “This is merit.” He turned it one way, then the other, admiring the glow.
Oh dear. Not again. “Sire. Please. Would you like me to have one of those calming draughts brought?”
“There’s nothing more calm. I am calmness incarnate,” Aragorn said, swishing the sword lazily too and fro, bisecting a stuffed owl paperweight.
I sighed, this time audibly. “Shall I come back in the morning, sire?”
“No.” He stood, a fell light in his eyes. “When the Men of Dunharrow crowded around me, the cold light of undeath in their eyes, did I ask them to come back in the morning? When I faced the vile Orcs and foul Easterlings in battle, did I ask them to come back in the morning? WELL, DID I?”
The point of Anduril wandered near my throat.
“Well, sire, no. But, well. Counsel in war is not the same as counsel in peace…”
He snarled. “Let’s be done with this. I’ve been making plans, Baliman. Come see.”
He pointed one finger at one total. “Feeding these people costs too much. And people are becoming horribly accepting of these Southrons. They even named a school after one the other day. It’s time we remembered what being Gondorian means.”
He turned to me and smiled, and for a moment that smile was just like his son, freshly delighted at having pulled the wings off a fly. “First, you see, we have to put them in camps. That’s just the first stage, you see, don’t get excited yet!” He giggled.
“Sire, NO!” I lost every ounce of reserve. “I beg you, listen. I have heard this line of thought once before, from the lips of Sauruman. Talk of breeding soldiers and exterminating one’s enemies. I mean, as soon as you even talk of “races” and genealogies and some kind of overarching Right, you’ve gone off the deep end, in my experience. And, well, those Orcs had enough people wanting to exterminate them, but two wrongs doesn’t make a right-”
“YOU.” His hand pointed at me like that of a skeleton. “You knew Sauruman. Oh, I do know your face, how I know that face. You’re Wormtongue, aren’t you?”
I put my head in my hands. “Not a day goes by I haven’t regretted what I’ve done. I’ve changed. Please listen to me, I’ve changed.” Tears came into my eyes.
“I don’t think so.” He brandished his bright sword again. “Kneel, Worm. Kneel. Oh, yes, this is delicious. This is just the first step.”
My eyes fell on the sharp letter-opener, cast to the floor by my lord’s temper. Quick as thought, my hand reached out.
And that is how I betrayed my third king. A knife, again, a sharp dagger in the neck.
The thing is, little children learning history in school now chant out my name. My new name. They thank me for it now.
No more Worms. No more Masters.
Luke Akehurst tossed and turned, unable to sleep. An austere wind was howling around his lonely Hackney garret, mingling indistinguishably with some kind of whining from outside; protesters or the newly homeless or some other selfish, unpatriotic types, he judged. Luke snarled at them, soundlessly, though when he caught his face in the mirror he saw instead a boyish moue. He shook his head. What a burden it was to bear, that Britain’s most forward-looking politician looked instead like a spoiled child unhappy at having just bitten into a watery peach.
He plumped up the pillow and settled down. At some point his eyes must have closed, because when he opened them again a soft glow was permeating the room.
Luke sat up, rubbing his eyes. A few paces away, an imposing figure stood, arms folded, with his back to him. It was the origin of the glow. Its feet hovered a few inches above the floor.
He pinched himself, hard. “I’ve not got any money,” he began, tentatively. “I’m a Labour councillor, for Christ’s sake.” The figure didn’t move. “The whole country doesn’t have any money, mate. Listen, why don’t you fuck off and get a job?”
The silence grew. Luke shifted uncomfortably. He knew himself, deep down, that he himself wasn’t the sharpest tool in the old box, but most midnight visitors didn’t hover, or glow, or, well, usually he never had any visitors at all, but that was beside the point.
“Look, you and I might have gotten off on the wrong foot. Why don’t we start again, eh?” He shivered again, and it was a shiver that wouldn’t stop. Either he was hallucinating, or this was some supernatural visitor. Either way, he was above Luke on the pecking order, on some uncanny Party list. He became obsequious.
“You’re here for a reason, aren’t you? It can’t have been anything I did.” Luke trawled his memory. It was true that quite a lot of people didn’t like him, and those people had reasons, but, on the other hand, they were all wrong. “Can it? Surely? Please?”
The silence began to get to Luke. One thing he was not used to is people ignoring him. “Please. I’m begging you. Don’t do this to me.” Something finally clicked to him: the date, December 24th, the resemblance of all this to some book by some ancient whiner with an overactive social conscience. “You’re a ghost, aren’t you? The Ghost of Christmas Past. Come on. Show me whatever you’re here to show me.” A tear trickled at the corner of his eye. “I’m ready.”
The figure turned round, revealing a truly impressive beard. “I’m Karl Marx, mate.” Luke gazed into the depths of his deep, dark eyes. There constellations moved, galaxies fused, totalities met and merged and split. “And you’re a cunt.”
Marx’s fist caught Akehurst just under the jaw. There was a flash of light, and then darkness.
Luke awoke to a tremendous clanging. He blinked his eyes free of sleep, clasping one hand to his tender jaw. “Is that the bells? Is it Christmas morning? Am I saved?”
He ran to the window. Everything was still dark. His clock read just before 1:00 AM. The clanging continued. It seemed to be coming from downstairs.
Luke took the steps two at a time. He reached his living room in a breathless heap. A bulky, robed man was dragging something equally bulky from his fireplace towards his rug. The man and the rug were covered in soot.
Luke stood, speechless and confused. The man turned around, revealing another huge, bushy beard. Akehurst couldn’t help making a reflexive flinch.
“‘Ere, mate,” Santa Claus asked him, “Where do you want this var, then?”
“What?” Luke replied, eloquently. “Wait, what, uh, what, what, … what?”
“Var,” replied Santa. “Vee-Aay-Arr. Look, it was a right pain figuring out what one was in the first place, let alone getting it down the bloody chimney. Right, where do you want it?”
“Uhh…” Luke’s mouth opened a bit. Some drool came out. He blinked slowly, forced himself to shake his head, to say “no”.
Santa rubbed his eyes. “Mate. Look, it’s all down in black and white here.” He unrolled a long scroll. “You wouldn’t believe how many I got! Thousands of letters to Santa, all asking for you to get a var of piss. Here’s one, look. ‘Aryan Shitheap’. Funny name for a little kid, eh? Anyway, I’ll need you to sign for it.”
“No! Take it away!” Luke squeezed his eyes shut and flailed like a desperate child. He considered calling the police again, but what would they say if he called on Christmas morning to report a man dressed like Santa in his living room? He still remembered the giggles from last time with bitterness.
Santa held out the piece of paper, waggling it slightly. Luke shrugged, grabbed the pen, and signed.
“Alright. Now for the second part of the delivery. Christ, haven’t half been a lot of sherries this year.” There was the sound of something unzipping.
Luke must have fainted, because when he woke up there was no Santa, no var, nothing. Just blackness. He tried to move his limbs, couldn’t. This must be a bad dream, he told himself. All a bad dream. He’d be awake soon, and-
A light flickered. There were some clunking sounds, approaching from far away. At last a man climbed from a heretofore-unseen hole in front of Luke, holding a torch between his teeth.
“What’s going on? Who the hell are you?” Luke asked.
“Marfargle-um.” The man climbed off his ladder, and took the torch out of his mouth. Blessedly, his beard was mercifully small. “Oh, hello. I’m Thomas Pynchon. I’m not entirely sure why I’m here, to be honest. Must be some kind of literary reference.”
Luke made an “uh?” face.
“Anyway. Where you are is inside a specially modified Trident missile. Normally there’d be all sorts of little warheads, but this one just has one, and you. You’ll see that you’re tied quite securely.” Luke glanced down. His arms and legs were bound very tightly to metal poles by swathes of red, Labour Party-rosetted tape. “So no sense in trying to escape.”
“I’m here to tell you a little story, but since I really hate exposition I’m going to show you instead.” Pynchon unwound an amazingly thin screen from his pocket, stuck it to the bulkhead in front of Akehurst, and turned it on.
“The year is 2022.” The voiceover was irritatingly tinny. “By 2015 Britain was in an appalling state.” The screen flicked between images of disaster.” Camps full of homeless, masses in workfare programs or starving, daily clashes on the streets. Labour were elected under a banner of national pride, promising to bring the land back to greatness.” Uniformed figures could be seen marching in union. “But their promises were empty. The army was lionised, vastly expanded, while the unemployed, shirking poor were demonised even more. By 2020 there were no more elections. In 2021 there was an attempted revolution, by a small section of the army and the surviving remnants of the Left. It was crushed, and the man who came to power then was ruthless, patriotic, uncompromising, basically unable to acknowledge others’ subjectivity” it showed a picture of an older Luke Akehurst, “ginger.”
“Now Britain is at war. It doesn’t really matter who with. All that matters is that the man at the top is a real chap with guts, the kind of man who considers any alternative to mutually assured destruction to be cowardice.” The screen showed image after image of missiles launching, of bright lights in the sky, mushroom clouds in the distance.
“At the end, it was socialism or barbarism, and the world chose barbarism long ago.” The visual was of the Earth from orbit at night, lights gradually going out. The voice was sad.
Pynchon thumbed the screen off. “This boat was the last to get the launch command. There’s no Britain left for it to defend, but that won’t stop these loyal stalwarts. It’s almost reached launch depth.” Luke stared senselessly ahead, while Pynchon tweaked his cheek. “See ya.”
He slid down the ladder and was gone.
Luke was conscious all the way into space, and all the way back down. Through the time he was slammed with acceleration, chilled by the cold, and burned by heat, he did that one thing he had never had time for all the rest of his life. Think.
By the time that missile came down, turning a medium-sized city into ash, Luke’s previous beliefs had crumpled into dust too.
Luke woke up, screaming. “No!” He looked at the clock. It was December 24th, barely past 9pm. There was still time. He shivered with sweat as he gathered his dressing gown around him.
“Hello. Is this the specialist glassmaker? Look, I know it’s Christmas Eve. I’ll pay you ten times as much. Twenty. Yes, I need a var, and I need it absolutely as soon as possible. To my address. Look, I’ll spell it for you. V-A-R.”
Luke sighed. After all that, this would be the easy part. “No, it’s a bit like a vat, and a bit like a jar. Wait, I’ll describe it to you…”
I am informed that some crevice of the internet is having an actual debate about “Real Geek Girls”, and whether they exist, or whether any woman interested in any “masculine” activity is, in fact, only “faking it” for the benefit of men.
If girls do, as a group, assume characteristics for the benefit of men, you can be assured it is not for the benefit of geek boys, because geek boys are terrible.
Let me clarify. What society defines as “masculine” and “feminine” has changed over the past hundred years or so. We adjust what we think is appropriate because of what society tells us is appropriate. Gender is determined, to some degree, by power, and it is determined in the eye of a beholder, that is to say, it is performative.
So why on earth should geek girls perform “geekiness” to please geek boys? Most geek boys are appalling human beings.
I suppose I would be considered a geek. I take some element of pride at my competence at games. I have pleasurable memories of walking into a gaming store and beating a guy at Streetfighter, walking into a Games Workshop and beating another guy at WH40k. I like and enthuse about a lot of things that are considered geeky: SF&F, gaming, dressing up.
Yet I can honestly say I have done none of this for the benefit of geek boys. Geek boys are terrible. When there are so many ways to be masculine, why must geek boys always pick the worst? The whining, the insecurity, the constant urge to demonstrate supposed intellectual prowess, the constant need for attention, the constant need to denigrate women in order to hold onto some tenuous place in some supposed social hierarchy, the need to make women feel inferior so that any woman will be with them at all.
Geek boys have plundered all of history in search of the worst ways to be masculine. The most dreadful tendencies of the romantics, of the fin de siecle decadents, of those pinnacles of misogyny, the slaveowning ancient greeks: geekdom has taken from them all. And those geek boys who do accept their own femininity? More often than not they’re some soggy Rupert, who considers himself a “dom”, who has all the force of personality, life experience, and sexual chemistry of a damp cucumber sandwich.
I have the misfortune to feel pants!feelings for men. I’m primarily attracted to women, and happily monogamous, so it hasn’t often gone beyond that, and my most frequent encounters with masculinity come from homophobic shouts in the street, creepy attentions, and all those generous offers of threesomes. Still, this is not a blog coming from some place of absent disinterest. For all that’s holy, in the name of Saint Clit-boner, geek boys, stop being so terrible.
There are so many non-terrible ways to be masculine! I also have the wonderful fortune to know lovely feminist men, men comfortable with their own femininity and vulnerability, fierce gorgeous butches, hottt eyelinered gender-queers, lovely queer boys with eyelashes spun of gold or of worked ebony, my beautiful femmes with moments of sudden masculinity, sudden solidity that ceases to yield and pushes back. So many ways!
If you’re in doubt of this, have a look at the gorgeous Bear Force One. Don’t you maybe not just want to bone them (even if only a little bit!), but want to be them?
So what does this geek insecurity, this “mewling quim”-ness of geek culture, actually signify?
To me it signifies that, actually, geek masculinity is just as shadowy, as un-real as geek femininity. It doesn’t really exist. It’s all sound and fury, signifying nothing. Geek men are so in the shadow of our society’s dominant visions of masculinity: psychotic cold James Bonds, affable fascist Boris Johnsons, and “bad-boy” hyper-masculine lumpen-proletariat, black, and other marginalised yet occasionally superficially vanunted masculinities, that they can’t see any other way to be.
Give it up, geek boys. Admit you’re immured in your own privilege, yet have no authentic way of being in this society, too. Commit to social justice, or not, but just, for christ’s sake, stop being so tediously hung-up on the whole thing. And join the party.
with apologies and mad ❤ to sean bonney:
the cuckoo is a var of piss
the ideal speaker-listener, the
terrible, the sub-limned
into nothingness; tawny limbs of limbered prose
the ideal- the petit-bourgouis utterance,
the colonized body, the personal is political
the personal is- polis of the city
all cities are bastards
the body is a sub-urban construction
protean assemblages raise under a
bleached olympic sky
all theorists are bastards
the personal is a pretty bird
the petit-bourgeous speaker-listener
linguistic innovation, the cloven palate, the
speaker is a pretty bird, the
all cuckoos are bastards, the
Slavoj Žižek within ourselves,
the ideal speaker-listener, the
young Stalin’s ok cupid profile, the
dialectic of enlightenment is
J for Jarvis, is
the upper-middle class speaker-listener
inside a box we do not know its name
I’ll drown you in a var of words
the diacritic of enlightenment, the
arise, you wretched, the
ideal speaker, listener is
not here the
cloven palate is
a pretty bird
One morning, when Gregor Samsa woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into an evolutionary psychologist. He lay on his intricately evolved back, and if he lifted his head a little he could see his adipose fat-storing belly, slightly domed with a trail of vestigial hair, doubtless still present in modern humans due to a process of sexual selection. His thin bedding, poor in quality due to his low social status, was hardly able to cover it and seemed ready to slide off any moment. His long, strong legs, evolved, in contrast to other primates, to facilitate running, waved about helplessly as he looked.
“What’s happened to me?” he thought. It wasn’t a dream. His room, a proper human room although a little too small, lay peacefully between its four familiar walls. A collection of popular science books lay spread out on the table – Samsa was a copywriter and freelance journalist– and next to them was his laptop, displaying /r/atheism, Boing Boing, some newspaper and magazine science pages, and all of his other familiar online haunts. Above it there hung a picture that he had recently cut out of an illustrated magazine and housed in a nice, gilded frame. It showed a beautiful woman from the cover of a popular fantasy novel, artfully poised to show off her high reproductive value.
Gregor then turned to look out the window at the dull weather. Drops of rain could be heard hitting the pane, which made him feel quite sad, though perhaps this was a genetic predilection “How about if I sleep a little bit longer and forget all this nonsense”, he thought, but that was something he was unable to do because he was used to sleeping on his right, and in his present agitated state he couldn’t get into that position. However hard he threw himself onto his right, he always twitched and kicked and ended up rolling back to where he was. He must have tried it a hundred times, shut his eyes so that he wouldn’t have to look at his floundering legs, and only stopped when he began to feel a mild, dull pain there that he had never felt before.
“Oh, God”, he thought, “what a strenuous career it is that I’ve chosen! Travelling day in and day out. Doing business like this takes much more effort than doing your work online at home, and on top of that there’s the curse of travelling, worries about making connecting flights, bad and irregular food, contact with different people all the time so that you can never get to know anyone or become friendly with them. It can all go to Hell!” But yet, had he chosen his career, or had it chosen him? What evolutionary factors were at play, determinant causes of his current misery? He felt a slight itch up on his belly; pushed himself slowly up on his back towards the headboard so that he could lift his head better; found where the itch was, and saw that it was covered with lots of little white spots which he didn’t know what to make of; and when he tried to feel the place his hand he drew it quickly back because as soon as he touched it he was overcome by a cold shudder. Were they stress related?
He slid back into his former position. He could Google them later. “Getting up early all the time”, he thought, “it makes you stupid. You’ve got to get enough sleep. Other writers live a life of luxury. For instance, whenever I go back to the hotel during the morning to e-mail over the piece, these gentlemen are always still sitting there eating their breakfasts. I ought to just try that with my boss, Alpha that he is; I’d get kicked out on the spot. But who knows, maybe that would be the best thing for me. If I didn’t have my parents to think about I’d have given in my notice a long time ago, I’d have gone up to the boss and told him just what I think, tell him everything I would, let him know just what I feel. He’d fall right off his desk! And it’s a funny sort of business to be sitting up there at your desk, talking down at us Betas from up there, especially when you have to go right up close because the old man is hard of hearing. Well, there’s still some hope; once I’ve got the money together to pay off my student loan repayments – another five or six years I suppose – that’s definitely what I’ll do. That’s when I’ll make the big change. First of all though, I’ve got to get up, my red-eye flight leaves at five.”
And he looked over at his iPhone, sitting in its Kickstarter-funded dock. “Great Flying Spaghetti Monster!” he thought. It was half past six and the digital numbers were quietly moving upwards, it was even later than half past, more like quarter to five. Had the alarm clock not rung? He could see from the bed that it had been set as it should have been; it certainly must have rung. Yes, but was it possible to quietly sleep through that ear-aching noise? Surely, any of his forebears who did that in the ancestral environment would have stood a gravely reduced chance of passing on their genes. True, he had not slept peacefully, but probably all the more deeply because of that. What should he do now? The next flight went at seven; if he were to catch that he would have to rush like mad and the collection of samples was still not packed, and he did not at all feel particularly fresh and lively. And even if he did catch the flight he would not avoid his boss’s anger as he would have to claim a replacement ticket on expenses, and the office administrator would report about Gregor’s extra expenses, even if the client did not mind his lateness.. The office administrator was the boss’s woman, subordinate to the Alpha male and with no understanding. What about if he reported sick? But that would be extremely strained and suspicious as in five years of service Gregor had never once yet been ill. His boss would certainly come round with the doctor from the medical insurance company, accuse his parents of having a lazy son, and accept the doctor’s recommendation not to make any claim as the doctor believed that no-one was ever ill but that many were workshy. And what’s more, would he have been entirely wrong in this case? Gregor did in fact, apart from excessive sleepiness after sleeping for so long, feel completely well and even felt much hungrier than usual. But yet something had changed in his conception of reality, and no fact or observation stood as isolated and inchoate as it had before.
He was still hurriedly thinking all this through, unable to decide to get out of the bed, when the clock struck quarter to seven. There was a cautious knock at the door near his head. “Gregor”, somebody called – it was his mother – “it’s quarter to seven. Didn’t you want to go somewhere?” That gentle voice! Gregor was shocked when he heard his own voice answering, it could hardly be recognised as the voice he had had before. As if from deep inside him, there was a gravelly certainty mixed in with it, the words were unusually clear at first but then there was a sort of echo which made them indistinct, leaving the hearer unsure whether he had heard properly or not. Gregor had wanted to give a full answer and explain everything, but in the circumstances contented himself with saying: “Yes, mother, yes, thank-you, I’m getting up now.” The change in Gregor’s voice probably could not be noticed outside through the wooden door, as his mother was satisfied with this explanation and shuffled away. But this short conversation made the other members of the family aware that Gregor, against their expectations was still at home, and soon his father came knocking at one of the side doors, gently, but with his fist. “Gregor, Gregor”, he called, “what’s wrong?” And after a short while he called again with a warning deepness in his voice: “Gregor! Gregor!” At the other side door his sister came plaintively: “Gregor? Aren’t you well? Do you need anything?” Gregor answered to both sides: “I’m ready, now”, making an effort to remove all the strangeness from his voice by enunciating very carefully and putting long pauses between each, individual word. His father went back to his breakfast, but his sister whispered: “Gregor, open the door, please.” Gregor, however, had no thought of opening the door, and instead congratulated himself for his cautious habit, acquired both from his travelling and from his reading of Freakonomics, of locking all doors at night even when he was at home.
The first thing he wanted to do was to get up in peace without being disturbed, to get dressed, and most of all to catch up on /r/atheism. Only then would he consider what to do next, as he was well aware that he would not bring his racing thoughts to any sensible conclusions by lying in bed. He remembered that he had often felt a slight pain in bed, perhaps caused by lying awkwardly, but that had always turned out to be pure imagination and he wondered how his imaginings would slowly resolve themselves today. He did not have the slightest doubt that the change in his voice was nothing more than the first sign of a serious cold, which was an occupational hazard for travelling copywriters.
It was a simple matter to throw off the covers; he only had to toss aside the covers and they fell to the ground. But it became difficult after that, especially as his new thoughts were so all-encompassing. He would have used his arms and his hands to push himself up; but instead of doing that he found himself utterly amazed by his body, lain there, stretched out like a new, strange territory, a sort of manifest destiny of flesh. He raised his hand, fascinated by it, watched the play of tendons as he opened out his fingers, then clenched them into a fist. “I can’t fully process this revelation lying alone in bed”, Gregor said to himself, “so don’t keep trying to do it”.
The first thing he wanted to do was get the lower part of his body out of the bed, but this effort simply revealed new parts of his body to scientific scrutiny; overwhelmed by his cascading thoughts it turned out to be too hard to move; it went so slowly; and finally, almost in a frenzy, when he carelessly shoved himself forwards with all the force he could gather, he chose the wrong direction, hit hard against the lower bedpost, and was in turn fascinated by the burning pain he felt, the tenderness that portended a coming bruise, pain as a driver of evolutionary and cultural progress.
So then he tried to get the top part of his body out of the bed first, carefully turning his head to the side so that he wouldn’t be distracted. This he managed quite easily, and despite the overwhelming play of new sensations, he at last managed it. But when he had at last stood up, staggering, it occurred to him that if he let himself fall in his state it would be a miracle if his head were not injured, risking damage to his evolutionarily precious brain, so he became afraid to carry on pushing himself forward the same way.
He grabbed his laptop and returned to bed. It took just as much effort to get back to where he had been earlier, but when he lay there clutching his closed laptop to his chest, contemplating the new joy he felt in his body, he still could see no easy way out of his dilemma. He told himself once more that it was not possible for him to stay in bed and that the most sensible thing to do would be to get up and go to work, shoving his thoughts aside, even at the expense of this wonderful new feeling. At the same time, though, he did not forget to remind himself that calm consideration was much better than rushing to impassioned conclusions. At times like this he would open a panoply of websites, browsing himself to distraction while he calmed and slowly thought something through; still, his usual haunts had little of novelty to offer him. “Seven o’clock, already”, he said to himself when the clock outside struck again, “seven o’clock, and there’s still nothing new and interesting on Reddit, on my Google Reader, even on Metafilter.” And he lay there quietly a while longer, breathing lightly as if he perhaps expected the total stillness to bring his conceptions back to their previous diminished, controlled state.
But then he said to himself: “Before it strikes quarter past seven I’ll definitely have to have got properly out of bed. And by then somebody will call from work to ask what’s happened to me as well, as I haven’t confirmed my trip on their employee tracking software.” And so he set himself to the task of swinging the entire length of his body out of the bed all at the same time, though he was smiling and speculating as to the evolutionary ramifications of his almost religiously-exalted state as he did so; if he succeeded in falling out of bed in this way and kept his head raised he could probably avoid injuring it. His main concern was for the loud noise he was bound to make, and which even through all the doors would probably raise concern if not alarm. But it was something that had to be risked.
When Gregor was already sticking half way out of the bed – the new method was more of a game than an effort, all he had to do physically was rock back and forth with his eyes on the ceiling – it occurred to him how simple everything would be if somebody came to help him. One strong person – he had his father in mind – would be more than enough; he would only have to swing him upright and then be patient as he swung over onto the floor, where, hopefully, his legs would carry him upright, and the social contact would distract him from his racing thoughts. Should he really call for help from his kin-group though, even apart from the fact that all the doors were locked? Despite all the difficulty he was in, he could not suppress another smile at this thought.
After a while he had already moved so far across that it would have been hard for him to keep his balance if he rocked too hard. The time was now ten past seven and he would have to make a final decision very soon. Then there was the ring of the flat’s landline telephone. “That’ll be someone from work”, he said to himself, and froze very still. For a moment everything remained quiet. “They’re not answering”, Gregor said to himself, caught in some nonsensical hope. But then of course, his mother’s firm steps went to the telephone as ever and picked it up. Gregor only needed to hear his mother’s first reply and he knew who it was – his boss himself. Why did Gregor have to be the only one condemned to work for a company where they immediately became highly suspicious at the slightest shortcoming? Were all employees, every one of them, leeches, was there not one of them who was so conscientious and self-disciplined, who would be so torn by pangs of conscience if he couldn’t get out of bed, if he didn’t make one planned trip? Was it really not enough to send him an e-mail to reschedule his trip – assuming going out there was even necessary – did his boss have to call himself, and did they have to show the whole, innocent family that this was so suspicious that only the his boss could be trusted to have the wisdom to investigate it? And more, because these thoughts had made him upset than through any proper decision, he swung himself with all his force out of the bed. There was a loud thump, but it wasn’t really a loud noise. His fall was softened a little by the carpet, which made the sound muffled and not too noticeable. He had not held his head carefully enough, though, and hit it as he fell; annoyed and in pain, he rubbed the back of it with his hand.
“That noise? No, everything’s all right”, said his mother, clearly audible through the wall. Gregor tried to imagine whether something of the sort that had happened to him today could ever happen to his boss too; though the man had little imagination, you had to concede that it was possible. But as if in reply to some unheard question, his father’s footsteps could now be heard in the adjoining room. From the room on his right, Gregor’s sister whispered to him to let him know: “Gregor, your boss is on the ‘phone.” “Yes, I know”, said Gregor to himself; but without daring to raise his voice loud enough for his sister to hear him.
“Gregor”, said his father now from the room to his left, “your manager is on the telephone, he wants to know why you didn’t leave on the early flight as planned. We don’t know what to say to him. And anyway, he wants to speak to you personally. So please open up this door. Don’t worry about the untidiness of your room.” “He isn’t well”, said his mother over the telephone, while his father continued to speak through the door. “He isn’t well, please believe me. Why else would Gregor have missed a flight! The lad only ever thinks about his work. It nearly makes me cross the way he never goes out in the evenings; he’s been in town for a week now but stayed home every evening. He sits with us in the kitchen and just reads or works on his laptop. His idea of relaxation is to write on his blog, you’d be amazed how insightful it is, I’m sure he’d be happy to give you the web address. Anyway, I’m glad you called; we wouldn’t have been able to get Gregor to open the door by ourselves; he’s so stubborn; and I’m sure he isn’t well, he said this morning that he is, but he isn’t.” “I’ll be there in a moment”, said Gregor slowly and thoughtfully, but without moving so that he would not miss any word of the conversation. “I’m sure he’s well aware of the bad effects unreliability can have on your business; why, I’m certain he’s only hiding away due to embarrassment at being ill.” “Can you open up and speak to the man?”, asked his father impatiently, knocking at the door again. “No”, said Gregor, feeling a delicious shock as he spoke. In the room on his right there followed a painful silence; in the room on his left his sister began to cry.
So why did his sister not go and join the others? She had probably only just got up and had not even begun to get dressed. And why was she crying? Was it because he had not got up, and had not talked to his manager, because he was in danger of losing his job and if that happened, his parents wouldn’t be able to keep up repayments on their mortgage? There was no need to worry about things like that yet. Gregor was still the same as before and had not the slightest intention of abandoning his family. For the time being he just lay there on the carpet, contemplating the linked webs of the brain, the family unit, and of life; his loyalty to those who shared his genes was unimpeachable, and no-one who knew the exalted condition he was in would seriously have expected him to talk to his boss. There would be no way of doing so without beginning to babble, without baffling the man and unintentionally alienating him. It was only a minor discourtesy, and a suitable excuse could easily be found for it later on, it was not something for which Gregor could be dismissed on the spot. And it seemed to Gregor much more sensible to leave him now in peace instead of disturbing him with talking at him and crying. But the others didn’t know about the glorious thing that had happened to him, they were worried, and that would excuse their irrational behaviour. He lay there potent with revelation, a wide smile on his face.
His father now raised his voice, “Gregor Samsa”, he called to him, “what is the matter with you? You lock yourself in your room, give us no more than yes or no for an answer, you are causing serious and unnecessary upset to your mother, and you have let down your manager in a very unexpected way. I’m speaking here on behalf of your family and of your employer, and I demand an explanation for all this. I thought I knew you as my calm, sensible son, and now you suddenly seem to be showing off with very strange behaviour. Your manager was concerned about your work performance, very concerned, and now we are all worried sick on behalf of you.”
“But Sir”, called Gregor, beside himself and forgetting all else in the excitement, “I’ll open up immediately, just a moment. I’m slightly unwell, an attack of dizziness, I haven’t been able to get up. I’m just getting out of bed. Just a moment. It’s not quite as easy as I’d thought. I’m quite alright now, though. It’s shocking, what can suddenly happen to a person! I’ve had somewhat of a revelation, a paradigm shift, and now everything in the world seems to make a great deal more sense. It’s all quite logical, you see, amenable to rational analysis, one great tree of knowledge stretching from the Enlightenment on up, embracing everything within its grasp. Indeed, its genesis was before the Enlightenment, in the great works of the Greek philosophers, and now we stand, apotheosised, if you will, by this process, aware that everything can be explicated through logic, that man is both an artefact of his evolutionary past and a thinking being, and through this understanding we are made free. You might have noticed quite how distracted I was last night, frantically cross-referencing the works of Richard Dawkins, re-reading the excellent Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. Yet, I’m sure this hasn’t affected my work; no-one has ever said a word to me about my performance. This new understanding is sure to improve things, immeasurably in fact.” He smiled to himself at this little joke; all, of course, was measurable. “Maybe they haven’t read my latest pieces. I’ll call the client and set off now; this extra rest has given me strength. You don’t need to wait, father; I’ll be up in a moment, and on the ‘phone to the manager!”
And while Gregor spoke these words, calmly and articulately from a reservoir of deep certainty that sprung up within him, he made his way over to the chest of drawers – all his movements were coming easier now, though his head was still ringing – where he now tried to get himself upright. He really did want to open the door, really did want to interact with his family in his new state and to speak to his manager; the others were being so insistent, and he was curious to learn what he would say when he first talked to them. If they were shocked and dismayed then it would no longer be Gregor’s responsibility and he could rest. If, however, they took his new insights calmly he would still have no reason to be upset, and if he hurried he really could be at the airport for eight o’clock. He finally stood upright and fell back into a chair, making a loud thump.
“Did you understand a word of all that?” his father asked his mother, “surely he’s not trying to make fools of us”. “Oh, God!” called his mother, who was already in tears, “he could be seriously ill and we’re making him suffer. Grete! Grete!” she then cried. “Mother?” his sister called from the other side. They communicated across Gregor’s room. “You’ll have to call for the doctor straight away. Gregor is ill, and I am too upset. Quick, get the doctor. Did you hear the way Gregor spoke just now?” “Something is very wrong; that voice didn’t sound like my son”, said his father, with a calmness that was in contrast with his mother’s screams. “Anna,” his father called into the kitchen through the hall, clapping his hands, “call a locksmith out here, now!” And the two girls, their jeans swishing, immediately ran together in the hall, embracing and comforting each other loudly – how had his sister managed to get dressed so quickly? At once came the sound of a telephone directory being hurriedly flipped, and his sister’s anxious voice, “I’m held in a queue.”
Gregor, in contrast, had become entirely calm. So the change had some external validity; not only his thoughts seemed clearer, but his speech was drastically different, too. His family had realised, though, that the change had somewhat overwhelmed him, and stood ready to help. The first response to his situation had been uncomprehending, perhaps, yet inquisitive and supportive, and that made him feel better. He felt that he had been drawn back in among people, and from the doctor and the locksmith – both, surely, great upholders of Enlightenment values – he expected great and surprising achievements, although he did not really distinguish one from the other. Whatever was said next would be crucial, so, in order to make his voice as clear as possible, he coughed a little, but taking care to do this not too loudly as even this might well sound different from the way he coughed previously and he was no longer sure he could judge this for himself. Meanwhile, it had become very quiet in the next room. Perhaps his parents were sat at the table whispering, or perhaps they were all pressed against the door and listening.
Gregor slowly made his way over to the door on his little wheeled chair. Once there he let go of it and threw himself onto the door, holding himself upright against it. He rested there a little while to recover from the new sensations involved – the strain of his legs, the cool flatness of the door, everything a combination of responses evolved to fit the ancestral environment together with his intellectual understanding, his precise categorisation of experience cross-referenced with the body of scientific knowledge that he had built up through his ceaseless reading. His hand went to the key in the lock. A new anxiety struck him. What if all of this was a delusion, some odd kind of pre-epileptic state, or simply some psychological disorder becoming manifest? How could he truly know if his new sense of self had any validity, if, as he now remembered that old nay-sayer Orwell as writing somewhere, “There is no certainty, therefore, that the next orthodoxy to emerge will be any better than the last”? He felt as though a tower of certainty was crumbling away beneath his feet.
New resolve emerged within him. As a rationalist, how else could he behave than to make a hypothesis and to test it? And the only testing he could make of his new conceptions would be by interacting with other people, with his kinship-unit. He grasped the key in one firm hand and slowly turned it.
“Listen”, said his father in the next room, “he’s turning the key.” Gregor was greatly encouraged by this; but not only his father should have been calling out to him, but all scientists and rationalists, every great investigative and sceptical mind throughout the course of human history. “Well done, Gregor”, they should all have cried, “keep at it, keep hold of the lock!” And with the idea that they were all excitedly following his efforts: from Aristotle to Plato and to Kant, Locke, Hobbes and even on to Dawkins himself, thus, he finished turning the key, and the bolt shot back with a click. He regained his breath, conscious at once that his sense of these great men standing alongside him was of course a delusion, yet an amusing one and one that contained a grain of truth. Through his actions their great quest towards knowledge, the outcome of their thought and work indeed did live, so long as he kept up their tradition of fearless inquiry; at that thought he shivered, his body transformed into a determining factor, an agent in this great process through fearless turning-inwards of this process into enquiry into evolution, into the nature of man, embodiment and consciousness, brought together in the figure of Gregor Samsa.
“So, I didn’t need the locksmith after all”, he thought to himself, and then “Isn’t this indeed the very founding principle of rationalism?” Then he laid his hand on the door handle and, trembling, opened it completely.
Because he had to open the door while supporting himself with his other hand, it was already wide open before he could be seen. He then staggered forwards, supporting himself in the door-frame by both hands, a very image of the Vitruvian man framed against the light streaming from the window behind. Gregor’s father and mother sat hunched over the table, as though in some careworn old Dutch painting. Gregor’s mother, her hair still dishevelled from bed, looked at his father and took two steps towards him. He found himself collapsing into her arms.