PROFESSOR S.B_______ WAS A RECENT DIVORCEE, GREY HAIRED AND FASHIONABLY DRESSED, TEACHING AT KING’S COLLEGE ON THE DALHOUSIE UNIVERSITY CAMPUS IN HALIFAX.
She wrote her doctoral thesis at Leipzig University, where she had daily walked passed monuments to Karl Marx inscribed with proletariat epitaphs such as: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.”
At King’s, she took up a permanent position lecturing on contemporary topics of political philosophy. It was a historic institute of the old world, with phallic pillars and weathered sandstone buildings cocooned in scaffolding. As is the case with most liberal arts programs, the conservativeness of the structure and the antiquated program were compensated with the privileged in- and out- of class rapport between student and teacher. The honours program had been developed years ago and the success of a few select students in the early years declined to near oblivion as time stretched forward and the founders retired.
Attendance to the lectures were hit or miss depending on the material covered that semester, and most of the students would only sit in to mock the past and the weakness of bygone words. Those that were serious about their studies there were often those who carried the pretense one would expect to find from a bourgeois education abroad. Then there were the other students, the quiet ones that listened in with a grimace and refused to participate in the open discussions.
S.B_______’s course was among the more popular of the honour program’s foundational core. She did not view the program as a failure and spoke the quotes of famous German intellectuals with the trembling fervour of having once been near the sites in which they were first written. The tenure professors’ would give lectures to one another’s class, giving gifts of wine and praise for the favour done. She would invite her students to gather at the campus bar, after class hours, to discuss the old world knowledge over cheap beer and casual dialogues. Looking into the faces of those flushed youth, and laughing with the nervous excitement that follows from the novelty of powerful ideas, a sense of eros would stir in her. She found herself leaving with the same feeling she had when she was writing her thesis, deep in the heart of those cities of past greatness.
The door to her office was always open. Often she would be found, outside of office hours, correcting the marks that the TA had made before logging the students grades into an official performance sheet, that would eventually become part of their official transcripts. Students would know to visit her and she enjoyed the critical conversations that would come about concerning the assigned essays. It was as democratic as academia could be; she listened to the grievances and did what she could to change the evaluation for the benefit of her pupils. She would spend late nights reading essays under her desk’s goosenecked lamp light and when it became too late in hour, she would take the work home with her to share with her daughter in bed or at the kitchen table.
When this happened, usually twice a semester when term essays were due to be returned, her daughter would listen to the thoughts of the young minds that her mother had guided through so many seasons and lessons. Often her daughter, not always understanding the thesis being explained, would drop the point being made and, instead, guess what kind of people they were by the tone of their written words. She liked this game that they played together, her mother told her you could tell the morality of a person by the style of their writing, that Karl Kraus was the one who said this and that he was to be trusted when it came to these things. Everyone was to be trusted as long as they proved their point respectfully, as strange and uncharted as it might be. Significance may be found in the most unlikely of places.
“Thinking,” said the mother to her daughter, “is thanking.”
Her daughter and she would sometimes go to the cafe near the school campus, when their obligations kept them out for longer than they would like. The cafe was always full of students studying or writing studiously, alone or in groups. The daughter would ask her mother if she recognized any of the young people at the cafe, or if she was marking a paper that one of them had written. Sometimes this would be the case and the professor’s daughter would see for herself the similarities between the words written and the person that had written them. Marveling at her successes and disappointed by her failures, the daughter soon listened keenly to the array of words that her mother would read out loud to her in their corner of the cafe, while looking ever closer at the people that surrounded them.
One such night, shortly before the daughter’s ballet class was to begin, the mother and her daughter, who’s dressed fully and pirouetting in her slender black leotard, decided to stop at the cafe and drink a tea and read over some of the essays that the new TA had forwarded onto her with marked difficulty in grading.
This year, August seemed to have lasted well into the fall. The changed leaves had not fallen to the ground, and because of the unseasonably warm weather, had deepened into a startlingly intense brilliance of colour.
It was the first batch of papers from another semester of fresh faced honour student and her daughter, impatiently burning her tongue ever so slightly on the steeping water of the tea, was excited to hear all about who was who and choose her favourite writer from the stack.
After a couple of papers, her daughter grew bored and started watching a children’s show on her mother’s phone. It was narrated by strange creatures in a kaleidoscope of patterns, a hallucinatory landscape unfolding to the viewer. It depicted a shared fantasy that the children and the creatures had made together– a secret covenant against the adult world. The colours of the show reminded the mother of the leaves on the late summer trees that, instead of decaying in brown piles that crunched like a rotted material under your every foot fall, continued to sustain their explosive vibrance out of the dark wind of the winter to come.
Returning to the activity at hand, she stopped musing and turned the previously viewed paper face down onto the completed pile. The cover page of the next paper in the pile had a sticky note that had been left for her by the TA. It unintentionally covered the title of the essay. The note read, in red ink, “I left this one entirely up to your judgment, for reasons that should become apparent to you on first read. I just don’t know what to think about it…that is, whether it was intended as joke or if it should be taken seriously. It doesn’t appear to cover any of the topic questions and yet, it does, in a rather strange way. Your TA _____.”
She sighed. Sometimes this would happen with students that couldn’t properly explain their undergraduate thesis to the required academic standard. Some would even get carried away in the midst of their own voice. There was something desperate about this that made her melancholic and, for this reason, she usually avoided sharing them with her daughter.
She tore off the pink sticky note like a band-aid from a wound, revealing the assignments title: Propaganda For Daemons by That Individual.
Just then, as if broken out from a trance, a youth charismatically asked the two of them, if it would be alright if he could sit next to them. The daughter looked at her mother, and the two of them nodded back in unison. His smile was sincere and gracious. Unpacking his texts and notebooks, and settling into the spot, the daughter continued to stare, probably wondering if her mother knew this student. She did not, but there was something familiar about his presence. It usually took a whole term to get to know a class of her size properly, and she couldn’t tell by what he was reading whether or not he was one of her new students. The book titles were all too obscure for her course.
Her daughter returned to the strange delirium of her show and she began to leaf through the paper in her hand. The TA had marked up the first paragraph in red ink; the margins and spaces between lines were decorated with question marks and other annotation. Following the first paragraph, the TA had abruptly ceased grading, and the remaining pages were un-vandalized by the pen, left blank besides for the dark impressions ink leaves over white paper.
Her attention was spirited away again by the youth next to them. Her daughter was struggling to plug in the phone’s charger into the outlet, and he had assisted her in this endeavour. They began talking of the show she had been watching. She noticed the mature way in which he talked with her daughter, as if he had been a child of her daughter’s age the day prior.
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful to let live in the world like they do. Forever allowing the frequency of objects to surprise them, again and again, to perpetually change their aura, to speak their own colourful language without reducing it to the ordered essays of armchair thinkers. If you listen carefully, you can hear them calling to you in the leaves…look, through the window before you, at how they refuse to follow the laws of nature! How splendidly rebellious those leaves are.”
The daughter, amused by the stranger’s weird story about the leaves, blushed and commented on what a funny thing it was to imagine that the leaves were capable of deciding on their own doings. The mother listened and saw that he was talking to the both of them at once, minding her with his attentive eyes as he spoke on about the swelling leaves on those incandescent treetops.
He scratched out a hastily written line into his notebook, as though his pen could not keep up with the urgency of his thoughts, and mumbled under his breath some highlighted reigns of the text he had opened up to, and then closed them like a Japanese fan full of messages. Then, packing up his belongings, he plopped on his soft felt hat and tipped it in farewell.
The professor felt compelled to say something polite, whether he was a student of hers or not. “You are a very nice young man. The world would be a better place if there were more people like you.” She could see her and her daughter in the translucent reflection of his small, round, wireframe glass lenses.
He hesitated and then gave up a rather unflattering countenance, a jarring response that betrayed something more than was intended by her expression, almost as though she had cursed him by saying such a thing. But it was only a moment’s lapse and his physiognomy quickly returned to its attractively genuine disposition. He thanked the two of them for their company and took his leave.
Like what you’re reading? OddMadland is a reader-supported publication, so consider donating to support more of this kind of creative writing in Canada and internationally. It only takes a second to donate!
The following day, when her office hours were ticking away on her silver wrist watch, she returned to the paper she had left off on at the cafe. As she remembered the young man at the cafe, her painted red lips spread into a bone-white smile that creased her wizened face. She put a hand to her mouth and regained her attention.
Rereading the title and the false name on the cover page before her, an unseemly feeling rose in her stomach, like a hand scratching its nails from inside her. She unclipped the dogeared sheets and read the first line out loud to herself, “Thinking is a sort of dying dream…”
The hand in her stomach seemed to have reached her throat, and she had to clear it before carrying on, this time in the silence of her own head. Slowly, she read the first line again. The essay read as follows:
“Propaganda For Daemons
Thinking is a sort of dying dream. The dreamer who is also a thinker will forget the dream they had, they will think it away, completely. A dead dreamer has thought their dreams dead and so continues to sleep in the vacuum of thought, as a spinning arachnid in the corner of a dream catcher would. To be a dead dreamer is to be a daemon. Daemons don’t dream at all; they are incapable of creating such fantasies and so leave the dream-work to the soul sleepers, crouched and waiting on mortal chests like a bear fishing in the vaporous mist of a mountain stream. What the demon catches is a hallucination, a rarified thing of nature that has been banished to the repressed, repressed, repressed wellsprings of the paralyzed body of the soul sleeper.
Before the world was made, the daemon’s face was everywhere and the human’s face was nowhere. Nature was an aesthetic realm and in-between to the waking dreams of the dream walking humans. Visions were not withdrawn into the recesses of the individual sleeper. Collective hallucinations were brought into the group fantasy by way of each member living them out in a continuum of socialization through individuation. This is the inverse of Lacan, who himself reversed Fraud by claiming that the individual fantasy came after the group’s. Nature and human culture were bound.
Daemons of nature unbound this seal, vicariously causing the pathological power of these group interpretations to become distrustful for the individual dreamer. They achieved this by frequently altering the outcome of what could possibly be predicted to occur. The chthonic demons of the earth could not create what wasn’t already there to manipulate but they could make a pandemonium of the group’s accumulated belief systems through individual fantasies.
Daemons are propagandists. Controlling chaos through chaos, drugs and propagation of life models that exploit the over-health of maximal survival into a phantasmagoric world fair. This would lead human groups to sacrifice the individual for the sake of the whole.
As cultural groups increased in number, the quality of the subject’s every dream was formed into the quantity of the majority’s every dream. We dream into them so they can control us. Religious propaganda would be perfected by capitalism’s telecommunications technology, and the mouths of the multimedia would foam up in all its rabid media sickness. The world would be made to manufacture consent in an industrial dream factory, that would disseminate a convergent symbolic logic of thought. Smoothing over the subjective experience of the individual and, alienated from the means of production for the benefit of mass reproduction, stuffed those gaping sensory holes in their head silent with misinformed data-organs, and so humans would become propaganda for daemons…”
S.B_______ stopped reading. This was inappropriate, given the topic was the history of the propaganda model and for whatever reason, this student had used daemons as some sort of avatar for the phenomena’s unknown variable. The invisible force that is propaganda is a daemoniac force? Unlikely, not to mention superstitious. She had no name to connect the paper to, so she pushed it aside and decided to make an indirect announcement regarding it during her next tutorial. Maybe she would find who was responsible for it.
Over the intervals between assignments, she watched the many heads of her audience intently. As usual, she delivered wonderfully prepared orations from her lectern, putting the meat on the bones of the week’s select readings. Some of the students would invite their friends to sit in on the class just to appreciate what it was to let teach. She would mingle with the students after class, investigating their word usage like her and her daughter would, finding commonalities and keywords. The degree of seriousness in which she searched turned her face tight and wooden.
In tutorial, she had asked that whoever had not received their assignment back should come immediately to claim the anonymous paper, with it’s anonymous material, that she still had out on her desktop. It remained in her office for weeks.
When the second essay was due, S.B_______ did not wait for the secretary of contemporary studies to begin stamping the late papers, nor did she let the TA pass the difficult papers on to her in a week’s time. Instead, she nervously rushed to the course’s deposit box and retrieved them herself. Closing the door to her office, she began flipping through the papers, looking passed the banal titles and tidy layouts of the standardly formatted cover pages. There it was, again. That Individual. And the title this time was no less surprising than the previous one:
“Quarantine the Cosmos
…If everything is withdrawn into an unobtainable yet complete vacuum sealed being, How can anything touch? Intimacy is the most alien thing to the cosmos because it is impossible without risking the destruction of the whole. The surface tension breaks in the friction, in the closeness of sliding things. Nothing can truly touch what it intends to touch without contaminating the space between. When things make contact, they fuse, and what they were is translated into a third thing that becomes stickier and sticker with time. As humans, we are a nothingness, in contact with the unknown on all sides of our being and yet, we are. Making contact is a disease, a plague, an epidemic, a pandemic, an extinction…”
There was no thesis, and no explanation for what was being said. The sources were cited, but rare and difficult to track down, if not outright fabricated. There was no regard for the topic; it was simply an admission of thought through fear.
Unsettled, S.B_______ rapped at the door of the professor adjacent to her office. He was the head professor of the college’s faculty in contemporary studies and taught classes on topics not unlike the weird writings of that nameless individual. She showed him the two collected papers and explained the odd circumstances under which they were received. After a moment’s reflection with them, he asked if he could hold onto them for the time being and that if anymore of their kind were to reach her, for her to bring them directly to him.
She did not want to concern her students. Again, she told them that there was another paper submitted without a proper address for return. She saw paranoia grasp the faces of her students. Something was behind them, something was looking through the blind side of their eyes, behind the many headed creature of the crowd. She didn’t trust them anymore; they all came across as hypocritical and conspiratorial objects without a purpose, without a home.
Who were these people that were thought to death by me? she asked herself.
Like what you’re reading? OddMadland is a reader-supported publication, so consider subscribing to support more of this kind of creative writing in Canada and internationally. It only takes a second to donate!
During a coffee break, S.B_______ made conversation with the employees of the student run cafe and, at their suggestion, sat down to read the new issue of the college’s campus paper The Signal over coffee. The contributors of this month’s publication were primarily on the subject of disinformation. Several of the poems were good, and she recognized a name or two that wrote some of the longer pieces. Then, the feature:
“That Individual. Inverted Sorcery: The Magic Realism of the New Left
…Where do we go after the revolution? The revolution that the old left purposes as a necessary violence against the establishment? After a radical anarchy, when the monuments have all exploded and the flatness of the desert is unbroken by the upright posture of the human figure on the horizon, Where will we be? The sorcerer that has been inverted by the work of the adult, will return. That resplendent surplus that neoliberal excess overflows from…This sorcery is the future of the left, made possible by the infinite debt that regresses deeper into the dark brightness of the wellspring, of the ecological economy, of the new source. Our words are spells. Cast them like a stone into this infinite well of finance and say the stone throws itself. Let your words be the objects themselves. Want everything, want it all! for there is no bottom to the debt economy, just more objects to be thrown. The things will speak for themselves, if you go to them. Listen. They summon you…”
“Who wrote this article?” She asked the head editor of The Signal.
The editor explained to her that it had been sent to them as a random contribution. Their team of journalists had recently reduced in size and they decided, with some revisions to the framing, to put it in to fill space.
Besides, they said, there was an eerie quality to it that seemed to radiate from nowhere.
It was the final essay of the semester. She couldn’t focus on the lessons any longer. This person’s persistence was becoming more than a minor threat to her intellectual hygiene.
On Survival Beyond was another black box summoning her to open it, a pandora of evil thoughts. “I’m going to throw you out!” she said shrilly to it. She had even included an extra drawn-in column in her marking sheet for it. This would now have been the third ‘F’; it gave her power over it, to be able to tell it that it was worthless, to tell it that it had no future outside the wastebasket of academia.
Before committing it to the silence of the grave, forbidding it to speak, she flipped it open and sighted words at random:
“…Who is time? Time is survival. To place time over space is to place survival over extinction. What’s beyond survival? An absurd question, admittedly so, but interesting. Without survival, adaptation would be obsolete. Adoption, however, would become the fitness of inclusion. Evolution would be so intertwined with itself that what it coevolved with would be no threat and would freeze all relations from the violence of reproduction. The long of the short of it is, what isn’t us would become us and what was us would become them.
What would imitate space with such precision that it melted into the very space it imitated? What invisible monster could adopt the absolute dejection of space? Whatever it would be, it is the empty stuff of Nirvana, it is the inverted face of a bodhisattvas’ enlightened darkness. To be above change, one has to be a cannibal leper that suffers the burning surface of decay like spilt oil ablaze on the sea, an ocean of compassion beneath. Eating itself to live, the fire burns the physical remainder while the depths remain an untouchable purity nearest the flame…”
S.B_______ WALKED OUT FROM HER DAUGHTER’S BALLET PERFORMANCE, A BOUQUET OF FLOWERS IN ONE HAND, AN ECSTATIC CHILD EXCITEDLY SWINGING ON THE OTHER.
The leaves had still not fallen. Flapping like a flag on a deserted planet, on cruel branches, they remain attached to the wicked fingers of a trunks contorted and blackened figure, gnarled and twisted and cancerous. Like ancient starlight whose absence has not reached the retina of an observer, the leaves reached a colour beyond brilliance but were already long gone, having suffered the grey distance of spacetime.
The news said it was symptomatic of global warming, that anomalies to the laws of nature will become more frequent as the climate changes. That facts will change to accommodate the paranormal shifts in normal science. We just need to get used to other possible realities, and the information concerning them. Although strange at first, we will acclimatize to them, the broadcaster reassured us.
“I didn’t fall, I didn’t fall!” The daughter yelped glibly. “I’m like the leaves, mom, they don’t fall because they’re dancers, and dancers are graceful — like me. Look: tra-la-la-la la-la la-la…”
She dances her choreographed number, humming the lowest register she can before coughing at the baritone, the utmost seriousness, facetiously so, her puffy winter coat billowing over her slender figure, clumsily, hiding the subtler mechanics of the composition and making a hugely exaggerated parody of the whole elaborate dance she had just performed. Her mother bursts out laughing and then they both laugh, trying to hold it together, but coming off like two robots breaking down and falling apart into a junk heap of amusement.
Later that night, S.B_______ received a call from the head of the faculty. He says that he had looked into the papers she had given him, and that they were, in part, identical to the writings of a late nineteenth century philosopher. A philosopher whose notoriety for his existential meditations on faith and death was almost as infamous as the multitude of mysterious pen-names they were written under. Some of those names were said to have still been out there as, unidentified, posthumous ghost writers, writing until the names that outlived the philosopher were all reconnected to that one name of that one philosopher.
She felt the scratching hand crawl up into her mouth, pretending to be her tongue behind her teeth. She clenched down, hard, grinding them against each other, trapping the sinister thing in her head from pulling her into her own sort of dying thought.
Whoever had gone through the trouble of copying them out into english, the director had said in a voice impressed though not with pretense, had gone as far with the farce as to have used the epitaph inscribed on the tomb of the great thinker.
Enjoying OddMadland? If you’d like to keep up-to-date on OddMadland publications, you can donate on the Support Us page (We promise to never spam you). And, of course, you can follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.