Philosophy


For those who feel something is amiss with American culture or the world ‘nowadays’ there is and will remain an easy target to blame–technology.
And why not? There’s always ‘a new kid on the block’. Maybe its comic books, Nickelodeans, radio…something’s rotten in the state of Denmark and hey! what’s different around here? That new fangled beeping thing!

(My grandmother would have been mortified to know that my dad snuck his family’s radio under the covers to listen to Sky King.)

Of course technology is more than just gadgets, but there is a perennial fear that knowledge (think apple and naked people) or new technique (we’ve always prepared Thanksgiving this way. No Tofurky!) will upset the gods or cultural norms (idols in their own right).

So the late Neil Postman (1931-2003) entered the fray with Technopoly to diagnose “what’s wrong with America”.
Its too bad that he offers no sense of cure or treatment…but that’s alright in the end since the diagnosis was wrong to begin with.

After all is said and done, Technopoly represents a bogeyman created by Postman himself, and while presumably technology has evolved into a monster, his portrayal still comes out as underwhelming and certainly not convincing.

I wish I could say that Postman’s thesis was ill argued but his thesis wasn’t argued at all. It is a screed, a rant written for uncritical minds who may have enjoyed his previous work so much that they were willing to take any bait.

So what is a “technopoly”? 
Postman achieved something that every author wishes for: an awesome title that becomes catchy jargon in college sociology and media clases. Beyond that, what a technopoly is and how America is that…well is not much to write home about let alone a book. He creates a triad (what social theory would be complete without one?) of cultures in the world: tool-using, technocracy, and technopoly. 
A tool using culture is comprised of cultures whose tools “were largely invented to do two things: to solve specific and urgent problems of physical life, such as in the use of waterpower, windmills, and the heavy-wheeled plow or to serve the symbolic world of art, politics, myth, ritual, and religion…With some exceptions, tools did not prevent people from believing in their traditions, in their God, in their politics, in their methods of education, or in the legitimacy of their social organization (23).”
I’ll get back to that in a minute.
A technocracy is: “a society only loosely controlled by social custom and religious tradition and driven by the impulse to invent (41).”
And lastly, a technopoly (America) is a rampant hyper aggressive form of technocracy. It is a culture defined by “the submission of all forms of cultural life to the sovereignty of technique and technology (52).”

Okay. Firstly, in tool using cultures Postman writes that the tools are just to solve urgent needs or else ‘serve’ their politics and art. As though the rest of a culture is in a vacuum aside from their artifacts, know-how, and formed by the very needs that their tools are employed to solve. Right off the bat, Postman reveals a vital flaw in his thinking. That a culture is somehow able to compartmentalize its technology to leave its religion, art, governance free and unhindered. This ‘unblemished’ culture apart from the dirty machinations of technology is opaquely referred to as ‘tradition’ and for the most part really means ‘orthodox oldtime religion’.

The religious traditions of a tool using culture as protective–saving the people from the oppression of technology. Their theology and worldview “provides order and meaning to existence, making it almost impossible for technics to subordinate people to its own needs (26).”
Yes, they’re free to worry about cholera instead.

So what were Postman’s other failings, aside from a thin and vacuous premise? Let me point out some broad problems before focusing on more specific instances of bombastic rhetoric. (All page numbers cited are from the edition in the endnote.)

Postman takes for granted that his audience will accept that America stands as the sole expression of a ‘technopoly’ in the world yet  never compares or contrasts America with any other nation. How much does Postman write on Germany? India? China? Japan? Not at all. That’s right. Perhaps Postman was thinking that his audience does not travel, does not read about other countries, does not listen to the news. It seems this could be entirely possible that he was hoping for this since he does not give his readers much credit throughout the work. What I feel Postman wanted to do was write about education policies–and that is what he should have done, for it seems his strength–and given concrete evidence as to how the U.S. education policies and structures are insufficiently preparing our youth. But, he does not do that.

Postman seems to really be giving a long and convoluted answer to why U.S. students fare so poorly when compared to other country’s youth. “We are testing them wrong!” Postman would seem to say. If one would like to critique in a thorough manner the way our youth are taught and then compared to children around the world, that would be an interesting essay indeed. Rather, Postman seems to be clinging entirely to an American exceptionalism that is mythic in scope: not only is the U.S. much more challenged than any other as a ‘technopoly’ but whose ‘story’ is a “moral light unto the world (173).” Postman provides not solid argumentation for why our youth are failing in the competitive global marketplace of ideas and knowledge, but rather provides the myth of technology as he sees it.

How did the U.S. become entrenched in this situation of ‘technopoly’? Postman gives the sense that it is a deviation from and a low esteem for tradition. Postman is nothing if not a traditionalist though throughout this book, he never states what traditions of which people groups he means. It appears from reading Postman that the U.S. has but one tradition, and may one assume that Postman means ‘white, anglo, European?” perhaps. He writes about his concern for traditions that may be lost (122) but never specifies any marginalized, colonized, or oppressed people groups that stand as examples of Technopoly’s, that is to say the U.S., destruction of cultures.  

Whatever tradition Postman is thinking of, he assumes that the majority of the U.S. television viewing audience doesn’t care for it. He writes that writers of television shows need not “consult tradition, aesthetic standards, thematic plausibility, refinements of taste, or even plain comprehensibility (136)” because TV shows are only beholden to ratings. Is Postman saying that TV viewers don’t care about tradition, beauty, themes, taste, or comprehensibility? Yes. That is what he is saying.

I wonder how Postman felt about Murphy Brown having a child without being married. Gulp!  

Postman has an interesting view on history that only charts the bogeyman of technology–it is without nuance, or qualification and plainly misses events and trends of the past for the sake of fitting his paradigm.

He writes, “[t]he thrust of a century of scholarship had the effect of making us lose confidence in our belief systems and therefore in ourselves (55).”

If Postman is trying to say that the enlightenment demystification of the world knocked Western Christendom from its ‘center of the universe’ worldview, yes, that has been a theme of the past 600 years or so. Point fingers at Kepler, Copernicus, Galileo, Curie, Mendel, Darwin, et al. But you’ve got nine other fingers to point with if you’re looking for causes behind humanity’s ‘questioning itself’ of late: two world wars, nuclear threat, environmental degradation and climate change…

And hey! aren’t humanism and its supposed hubris also features of the last century?

Postman failed to pay attention in his high school rhetoric class when Ms. Atherton peered over her cat’s eyes classes and intoned: “beware the nebulus we.” Postman regularly writes about ‘we’ and ‘they’ as though folks where blue shirts around town with a yellow “We” printed on the front in vinyl lettering. “Today, we believe in the authority of our science, no matter what (58).”

Really? That’s why the Republican party almost as a matter of policy denies human caused climate change? Or evolution? That’s why many Americans currently believe the Earth is 6,000 years old? Right.

Much of his ire about technology in America is how much ‘information’ is out there. He writes (quite crudely I must add), “Technopoly is a form of cultural AIDS, which I here use as an acronym for Anti-Information Deficiency Syndrome (63).” What a useful and tasteful acronym! Then, writing as though loaded with amphetamines and disregarding a moment’s pause of consideration he writes “[t]he fact is, the are very few political, social,, and especially personal problems that arise because of insuffient information (60).”

As someone who has a loved one going through cancer right now I’ll tell you: information is pretty good. Knowing where the cancer is, the best treatment, and how much of a pain in the ass Chemo is going to be is at least some consolation. Having a liver in death’s grip is made a bit better by fewer surprises. 

How about energy crises? Creating scenarios for economic and job growth? ‘We’ get the sense that Postman begrudges expertise, professionalism, knowledge and mastery–partly because he spends nearly a whole book saying just that.

Postman writes as though from a great distance not only from technologies but from those who use them. From this distance he tries to imagine what computer-users think and sets up staw-men arguments about them. For example, he writes “writing lucid, economical, stylish prose…has nothing to do with wordprocessors. Although my students don’t believe it, it is actually possible to write well without a processor and, I should say, to write porrly with one (120).”
Whoever Postman’s students were, I think they would grimace at this belittling and obviously incorrect portrayal.

Most maddingly perhaps is that Postman writes as though he is living in a world without Feminist critiques of science and technology, notably Donna Haraway, and without Postmodernity at all. Whatever valid points Postman stumbles upon, have been made a hundred times before. Postman makes no reference to Feminist theories and major thinkers outside of Feminism who critique technology get little or no acknowledgment. Jaques Ellul appears only in the foreward and Martin Heidegger is not included at all though much of Postman could be said to be deriviative of Heidegger’s more nuanced work.

Kinsey, Freud, Milgram, and just about every scientist and social theorist have been well critiqued and raked over the coals. That is the nature of science as a process of peer review, competitive thinking and fact checking. Postman writes as though this process does not occur, but if it did, it would be a bad thing because reliance on reason and fact is dangerously idolizing technology. Hmmm.

Since the U.S. as a Technopoly is a farce, it makes sense that Postman’s weak solutions are also bereft of sense and power. He hopes that his readers will become “loving resistance fighters (182)” which turns out being described as meaningless and sad.
He writes, “By ‘loving’, I mean that, in spite of the confusion, errors, and stupidities you see around you, you must always keep close to your heart the narratives and symbols that once made the United States the hope of the world…(182).”
Loving means ‘remaining nationalistic’? Is a drooling sofa jockey who believes in U.S. Exceptionalism and the banner of ‘peace via militarism’ loving?

The resistance fighter is then described as basically anyone who ‘thinks critically’ and ‘takes religion and tradition seriously’. His banal and milquetoast expectations of a ‘resistance fighter’ reveal the little respect he has for people and the low bar he sets for them. 

Perhaps Postman was not only Technophobic but a misanthrope also. 

The bottom line is that Technopoly  is a wasted effort and a mishmash of ill-reasoned ranting.

Neil Postman. Technopoly (New York: Vintage Books. 1993)

http://www.scottlondon.com/reviews/postman.html
http://www.ucs.mun.ca/~emurphy/stemnet/technop.html

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I believe that it will be artists who will be on the leading edge on liberating you, your family, and friends from the categories that now constrain bodies.

What categories? Gender, size, sex, proportion, ‘wholeness’, ability…to name a few.

These often rigid categories give cause to a number of social ills–
Including but not limited to: transphobia, sexism, misogyny, heterosexism, anorexia, masculine stereotypes of being violent and emotionally aloof, homophobia, size discrimination…

The way we judge people by the shape of their skin is instable and
like other shaky but violently defended institutions, sex, gender and other body ‘norms’ will prove vulnerable to the artists of today and tomorrow.

The way we have ‘been doing gender’, thinking of abilities and ‘wholeness’ in America will be changing radically soon and it will be artists who open doors to new possibilities and a more just and safer culture.

I snapped the photo above while walking along Santa Barbara, California’s waterfront.
Its a great example of public art re-enforcing an idealized body. Like DiVinci’s Vitruvian Man, many murals, the art deco movement, oil painting traditions, and pop marketing, the picture above hands over an image of a heavily coded body–where proportion, gender, and ‘wholeness’ are unified in a standardization of ‘human body’.

But daily lived experiences for many reveal a world of more than standardized bodies. In fact, there is a consistent historical trend of folks pushing their bodies to be lived expressions of individuality–an art.

There are now artists who are pushing boundaries of how we think of bodies’ size, shape, ‘essence’, and gender. One of my favorites is Stelarc.

Stelarc states in an interview with Paolo Atzori and Kirk Woolford,
“Well of course one shouldn’t consider the body or the human species as possessing a kind of absolute nature…What it means to be human is being constantly redefined.”

Stelarc is perhaps most famous for hanging naked over cities by piercings in his back or the human ear he has grafted unto his arm, and has over decades declared the body a flexible platform for expression and redesigning.

As bio and nano technologies are improved more artists will be undertaking body art that will shatter conceptions of what human bodies are. Its exciting for me to see the work of the Church of Body Modification which couples spirituality and expressions of bodies’ liberation and the continued success of trans artists like Athens Boys Choir.

My favorite definition of art right now is ‘that which illuminates life’. What what is more in need of illuminating than the very bodies we live in and love with?

Stelarc. “Extended-Body: An Interview with Stelarc” Digital Delirium ed. Arthur and Marilouise Kroker
(New York: St. Martin’s Press. 1997)

Church of Body Modification
http://uscobm.com/

Against many interpretations, I hold that Lynch’s brilliant Inland Empire is a statement about the possibility of hope. This is at a purely philosophic level a retreatment of the way we speak of time but holds a personal spiritual element of how one faces life.

The ‘time’ that I feel Lynch forwards here is not about sequence of events calculable, measurable, and linear but wholly spawned through the relations of conscious beings and the self-conquering of those beings’ ego illusions.

The film begins with Future watching the parade of Samsara’s cycle of suffering. The illusion is that ‘time’ is changing, but from the view of anticipating newness and true freedom unlocked from ego, the human experience and history is a sham of repeated failures and cycles of violence and corruption.

We are told in a number of ways, with one prophetic character stating as much clearly that the film is ‘about time’. It is a tale of one hero’s journey (Dern) through pasts, total commitment to the present through her art, and finally through her renunciation of the cycle of ego she releases an opportunity for change–a true future.

I see Dern as awakening to the reality that everyone is synonymous with another in terms of their imprisonment in Samsara. A key moment may be when on the sound stage with her director (Irons) and fellow actor (Theroux) they learn that their project ‘has been done before’ and ‘ended in murder’. It this transitional moment that our Hero later returns to and revisits.

In a promotional interview for the film Dern states that she may be playing ‘three characters’ or ‘all of them’ and hints at a support for this interpretation.

Another key element is the green watch. Here we have the time message repeated with the color green perhaps standing in one of its mythic meanings corresponding to the Green Knight of medieval literature. In one story, Gawain takes on the Green Knight’s challenge to kill him, with the warning that if he does not succeed the Knight will have a free swipe at Gawain with an axe before New Year’s. Well, Gawain of course can’t kill the Knight and when the tables are turned as the deal prescribed, Gawain gives his neck freely only to be released.

So too does our Hero give all to her art (in this case acting) despite all costs and in the face of immanent mortality only to be released into newness.

Another key is a moment in the Rabbitsverse where we see again the livingroom of the rabbits and one dressed in a gown brings in two candles. I take this to be an allusion to Shabbos, a ‘suspension’ of time, a transformation or divine time for even in the next scene we see the Hero meeting for the first time with God.

This God figure may seem irreverent in its silence and seeming lack of care or attention to the plight presented by the Hero. God stands mute to her, speaking only over the phone as if within the Heavenly Council or among God’s angelic host. However, it is this ‘Mute God’ that eventually leads the Hero towards her culmination, her great triumph. This occurs in the movie theatre scene where she follows God’s beckoning up a staircase to meet The Phantom/Ego.

The Phantom/Ego has been a mysterious figure up until this final moment, also wearing Green and leering in shadows. The Hero ‘kills’ The Phantom/Ego and is allowed to face the burgeoning/anticipating Future. The woman the film opens with, Future, embraces The Hero and the Hero Past/Present/Ego dissipates and unlocks what unfolds next: A mythic ‘reunion’ where Future embraces an idealized family (using heteronormative and nuclear family structure which are mythic tropes that shouldn’t be taken to be prescriptive for a Hero) and we then see a celebration/curtain call/Apocalyptic Age Turning through the credits where everyone has stepped back and seen the ephemeral and illusory nature of existence (soundtrack is Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman”).

Of course there are huge statements about the exploitation of and violence against women especially through a critical eye on class, but Lynch keeps the journey open enough so that many forms of violence and social injustices are within purview including race.

As a whole, the film is beautiful, touching, challenging, and ultimately requires a personal investment and invites to a personal transformation. It is a spiritual film speaking in the language of myth and archetypes that gently nudges its viewers to give capriciously, generously, and without fear to their art while removing themselves from ego. A transcendent and enduring film of great detail and nuance, it evoked from me a trancelike state through much of it that, like the best of spiritual literature, was singly horrific and divine.

Finding good news in times of war is tough. So when an article titled “Droning on: How to build ethical understanding into pilotless war planes” in the Economist detailing a new technology in development from the Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Interactive Computing I was excited.

The technology reviewed in the article is called Ethical Architecture by the Georgia Institute folks and would be active in pilotless drone planes over battlefield conditions. These drones are operated remotely by specialists safely away from danger sometimes as far removed from the field as to be in Nevada. These drones are a great development over traditional piloted planes with one important area of concern: their use has been involved with missle attacks that resulted in killing innocent people. The Economist cites the tragedy of 23 June, 2009 in Makeen Pakistan where a missle deployed by US soldiers from at least two drone planes killed 80 people.

I phrased that last sentence in a very specific way for a reason. In common parlance, an article might simply say “drone attack kills civilians” and the reader gets a sense of “oh, one of those tiny little robot planes killed people.” This must sentiment must be carefully avoided when writing on these crimes. (I use ‘crimes’ very awarely. ‘Event’ or ‘tragedy’ do not fit for what happened on 23 June, 2009. An event is a catered meal and a tragedy can be a lightning strike or flood.)

On that date, mourners were gathered in a processional and gathering of prayer for two local men who had been killed earlier in the day by remote controlled drones. US intelligene wrongly placed Baitullah Mahsud, leader of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) at the funeral and that was reason enough for US soldiers to approve the firing of at least three missiles into a crowd of praying women and children. Mahsud later died in August 2009 by a remote drone fired missile strike.

Context matters, and the larger picture here gives us a good idea of why the Ethical Architecture program for drones is important. Think of it: in this case, operators somewhere in their flight consoles far away from the field have been given intelligence that a high ranking baddie is at the funeral. Multiple missiles are fired into a crowd in hopes of killing him. This action, I submit, is unethical. I invite arguments otherwise but my conscience is sure. No AI here, no ‘robots run amok’. Just decisions made by many military authorities.

That is just one situation. There are others where the operator may not have a clear field of vision available through their camera-feed or they may be unable to keep a solid understanding of nearby buildings or civilians they could jeopardize by firing. This situation is probably common. These operators are called to function at very high levels of stress and attention and in the heat of a split second decision they may neglect to ‘see the bigger picture’.
This is where Ethical Architecture comes is.

As the Economist describes:
The drone would initially be programmed to understand the effects of the blast of the weapon it is armed with. It would also be linked to both the Global Positioning System (which tells it where on the Earth’s surface the target is) and the Pentagon’s Global Information Grid, a vast database that contains, among many other things, the locations of buildings in military theatres and what is known about their current use.”

The drone would ‘learn’ in the sense that it could collect data from the blast to compare with its previous estimation. If it was wrong, it would update its understanding for the next situation.

Now the cool thing: If an operator began a missile launch protocol, the drone could put on the brakes. If it saw that there were hazards to holy sites nearby, or a blast may damage a civilian building, it could act as a ‘safety’ and require a second human opinion. Of course, its measures could be turned off by the operator.

From the Economist we know that the drone is not ‘learning ethics’. Ethics is a human endeavor as of right now and it is the developers who are ethical. It is the people around the world who will not abide by a single non-combantant death who are ethical. It is the desire to minimize violence and destruction and respect cultures’ holy sites that is ethical. The drone itself just has a ‘wider lens’ than the operator. It can know the battlefield better and alert when the ‘trigger may be pulled’ too hastily.

Many contemporary firearms have safety switches of some fashion to prevent firing until absolutely certain. This is just a multimillion dollar update.

So let me now turn to Inglis-Arkell’s article:
Right off the bat, her title is wrong and misspelled: “A New Program Teaches Ethics to Robot Soliders [sic]”.
Are drones soldiers? That’s a bit of a semantics game. Are they like K-9 dogs who (are rightly) given full credit of ‘police officers’? Or are they tools? I suggest the latter.
Is anyone teaching a robot ethics? Not really. Ethics involve cultural value, desire, relationship, accountibility. This robot assess buildings and geography and basically flashes a red light when estimated munitions damage would threaten outside target area.
It makes for a catchy banner, Inglis-Arkell, but you or your editor are stretching.

She starts off the article with talking about how the armed forces are seeking to create an unmanned frontline and asks:
How do we do this while avoiding an Asimovian situation where our robots go crazy? And is that even possible?”
Disregard the sloppy writing of whether the second question is asking if “crazy robots” or “avoiding them” is possible.
The problem is ‘unmanned’ right now and for the near future means “remotely controlled”. The issue at hand is important–remote drones–and their improvement through Ethical Architecture is important. Considerations for whether non-human intelligences will be involved in US military action is an interesting subject, but Inglis-Arkell is conflating two issues to the disservice of the issue at hand.

I also feel there is a reductive quality to the way she speaks of ethics. She writes:
The drone would then compare and contrast the expected consequences of its action with the actual consequences. If they didn’t match, it would then adjust its own behavior. The drone would learn ethics, just the way we do.”
Many people operate their lives on more than outcomes. I realize that there is an amount of interior checking that can occur where intention-behavior-desired outcome/actual outcome are balanced out by an individual and called ‘ethics’ but I personally feel it is important to emphasize the relational/social dimension. A person must be vulnerable to be ethical. They must have ‘stock’ in other’s feelings and beliefs. Ethics requires explanation or excuse for one’s behavior. These are currently out of reach of the drone planes.

So I’m feeling that Inglis-Arkell simply misunderstood the Economist. It may be that she saw the project was called Ethical Architecture and thought that perhaps rather than the project being born of ethical desire to lessen innocent casualties on the battlefield she assumed that drone planes now were social creatures who were prone to regret, responsibility, and diachronic and conflicting agendas.

She quotes Noel Sharkey of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control:
You could train it all you want, give it all the ethical rules in the world. If the input to it isn’t correct, it’s no good whatsoever, humans can be held accountable, machines can’t.”
As we saw above in the funeral bombing, humans in our military services (or the mercenary contractors that get too little attention) are not held all that accountable if they can approve missiles being fired into crowds without condemnation. This quote also muddies the issue and is a distraction. We know that a machine cannot be held accountable. No argument. It is the designers and operators that we should be concerned with.

Until we have human level AI, we must keep our focus on where it deserves to be: the human element.
And as we hold each operator of a drone and their superiors to the highest accountibility, so must we pressure our government leaders to demilitarize and demand of them an emphasis on non-violent strategies in world relations.

Inglis-Arkell closes her article saying she is doubtful human level AI will ever occur. It will.
I just hope that when our newly created equals arrive we can present to them a world without war to enjoy with us.

Here’s Inglis-Arkell’s article:
http://io9.com/5510275/a-new-program-teaches-ethics-to-robot-soliders?skyline=true&s=i

The original Economist article:
http://www.economist.com/science-technology/displaystory.cfm?story_id=15814399

Here’s the homepage of Ronald C Arkin of Georgia Tech, designer of Ethical Architecture:
http://www.cc.gatech.edu/aimosaic/faculty/arkin/

The Seminarian
By: The Seminarian

…for certainly no one has yet altogether escaped love, and none shall
so long as there is beauty and eyes to see.”

A ‘Greek author’ as quoted by Johannes de silentio.

Because I was lax and easy with myself, I came upon the summer and my thesis had yet not been finished. Too many nights at the bar, watching Syrah and Cabernet pass under my nose while I made the usual liberal political noise and the most trite of philosophical observations.

“There’s always tomorrow.” I would tell myself. “Give yourself some grace. Cut yourself some slack.”

In this way, my thesis examining history through a humanistic lens and borrowing heavily from Hegel and Marx was twenty pages behind schedule and even farther from conveying a single coherent thought. This gave me a whole other summer to live off loans, off the sweat of my presumed future brow.

Through my years at seminary, I was not the god hating type. I was the god apathetic type. I knew the week’s liturgy reading by mere glance at the calendar. I had sermons on jurisprudence, temperance, and constancy that I could tailor to fifteen minute to half hour installments memorized. The god to whom one would pray I knew only through Tillich, Bonhoeffer, Fosdick. I squirmed in my seat at the utterances of others from the pulpit. I knew their theologies were absolutely forty years old and I would scribble notes like “falsifiable? No! Gulp.” and “standard operating procedure of the patriarchal machine” in my sermon notes.

I had everything figured out with the one exception of how to make money over the summer.

There are some that are made for labor. I am not one. My hands are too weak, and my back too strong to bow to any work beneath me. I am a thinking man and the only career that I’ve considered honorable other than professorship, are those homeless philosophers in the park near my seminary’s coffee shop of choice. These Cynics, these heroes of resignation have their own great plaza there, replacing the Stoa of old, the open air markets where the free exchange of ideas and politics were cherished bulwarks of culture. Theirs is a philosophy fringed with madness (just as it always was and should be) and now meth, crack, Boone’s Farm Wine. I envy them. When they give up job, sanity, acceptance from family, culture, church, they do so boldly and never look back. I would walk by them after my Christology class and see them there, smoking the butts they’d found on the street and incarnating their own divine breech into the world. But I couldn’t join their number. I had a thesis to not think about. I had loans to defer. I was after all, a seminarian.

I went out into The City one weekend with my friend Verna who herself had just found philosophical credibility by dropping out of her Masters of Philosophy program. She of course had overdressed for either the occasion or for me. Or else I had underdressed, but in any case I felt uncomfortable. (This is most typically the case. How can one feel comfortable in a Post-Structuralist world?)

We found a table in the back of a dingy little place who’s inhabitants seemed to be that auspicious class known as hipsters. Their definition escapes me at the moment, but you know them when you see them: their public veganism wrapped around them in thinness, their convenient smoking habits displayed at the right moments, their drinking bordering on the obscene (even from my perspective!), and most usually sardonically happy.

Verna asked me about my summer plans.

“I’ve got to find something to supplement my income.”

“What’s that?”

“Well, I’m expecting a tax return.”

“Okay.”

“And I sometimes sell blood.”

“Really?”

“Well, I did once. But I hate needles. So, hence the supplementing.”

“Yes. Well, have you thought about tutoring?”

I’d tried that before. Last summer. I’d posted on Craigslist:

“Learn Philosophy and Theology! Personal Tutor-15/Hr.”

But no responses came back even after two weeks. I later went back on and edited my add listing by adding:

You don’t deserve to learn anything from me! You mouth breathing half wits! I curse you! I wouldn’t stoop to teaching you a thing for anything less than 30/hr. you cretins!”

Strangely enough, I got a response after that from a high schooler who instead of seeking my tutelage, left me a snarky message quoting C.S. Lewis and Rick Warren (whoever that is).

Verna’s presentation that night, apparently didn’t make other beaus in the bar uncomfortable, because they made a veritable queue when I left the table to smoke. I sat back down and glumly cleared my glass as the most recent suitor laid his best lines on Verna, who played along kindly enough.

“Lust is a Siren.” I said to neither in particular. “But worse yet is the lie of love.” The fellow tried to ignore me, but through his drunkenness and leering gazes, I knew that I was getting through to him. “At least lust understands that we live temporal lives. There is a narrative ‘curve’ to lust.” I flagged the waitress and she steered back to the bar to get another wine. “Love mocks us with its eternality. Entertaining its demonic thoughts, makes liars of ourselves.” The waitress set my Syrah on the table. “In wine there is truth. Its joy is fleeting, its recompense is headaches and fatness. For every night of wine there will be equal to or greater many nights of loneliness and dread. And I’d much prefer that that to the lie of ‘I love you’.”

Someone must have been listening to me, because the two of them agreed to go back to his place. I waited on the sidewalk with Verna for the cab while the fellow settled his long bill inside.

“How’d he know that we weren’t together?”

She laughed.

“What? Couldn’t we have been on a date together? How’d he know that we weren’t?”

“Oh, Ian. You’re no threat.”

I got the keys to Verna’s-since the train had stopped running I’d have to stay the night at her place. “Have a great night.” I said to the two of them as they got in the cab.

That night, I tooled around on Verna’s laptop over a bowl of her ice cream I’d poured some Bailey’s I’d found in the cupboard. I figured there was no better time than three in the morning to find a summer job, and I stopped at the usual sites before sifting through Craigslist again.

In The City’s service section, there was the entry that caught my eye.

“Seeking help. Tutor needed immediately. Soren Kierkegaard and other Theologians.”

It had listed a phone number believe it or not in place of the standard encrypted email reply, and I scribbled down the number. Two things struck me about the message: one, there was no mention of money. This would usually have caused me to pass right by it but the second thing that jumped out at me so piqued my interest that I had to find out more.

I looked up at Verna’s Pet Shop Boys poster on her wall. “Kierkegaard and other Theologians?” I asked the Pet Shop Boys. I’d not really looked into the Dane so much, but I knew that he had misrepresented my Hegel and had been largely a waifish misanthrope with a chip on his crooked shoulder.

Whatever the reason, whether the drink or the excitement of having a possible tutoring job in my future, I followed the internet rabbit hole into places that Verna would have objected to both on principle and fear of viruses.

She found me on the couch in the early morning, the birds doing their ‘shame on yous’ and the sun breaking the bad news of a new day to hungover drunks.

“How was it?” I asked but she ignored the question and set to work on her French press. “Coffee?” she asked.

I struck a cigarette and sat in the tiny kitchen.

Verna hustled off and showered as I watched the boiling water and poured it into the press. I poured her cup and handed it to her through the shower curtain.

I sat on the toilet lid. “So how was it?”

“We’re meeting for breakfast in an hour.” She gave a little peek through the curtain and smiled.

She put on some music that was fashionable enough for me not to recognize what it was and just loud enough to her neighbors to if not wake them, at least invade their dreams.

“What is it about this guy that deserves a breakfast?” I asked.

“He’s different.”

“Different in that the sex was actually okay?” I knew enough about Verna’s weekends to know that they were generally unspectacular.

“We didn’t have sex, smartypants.”

“Oh no!” I jumped up from the couch. “This is the kind of guy to watch out for. You’ve got to cancel this breakfast.”

“What are you talking about? He’s very nice.”

“I knew you were going to say that. ‘Very nice’. ‘Different’. No sex! Can’t you see what this guy is doing?” I had been grossly unimpressed by the fellow last night-his martini glass, fashionable pants, his hair mussed in just the right way, facial hair that was too ‘forgotten’ looking to be truly forgotten. He had all the markings of another City crawling scenester. But this new information exposed him for what he really was: an artist.

“Look, Verna. It’s like this. Either he’s playing towards the beauty of a romance or he’s a Romantic.”

“What are you talking about?”

“If he’s building up from lust, he’s a deceptive artist who’s looking to create a romance. You’ll know it if he brings to breakfast for you a flower he’s stolen from a yard or is playfully aloof. But it could be even worse! He could be building upon love which means he’s self deceived and could be so caught up in it that no behavior could ever give him away.”

“What about ‘we’re two people who had a good time together last night and want to have breakfast together’?”

“Where are you going?”

“To some vegan place.”

“Oh just great! Great! Did you suggest it or he?”

“I don’t remember, Ian. Why?”

“If he did, that’s better. That means he’s probably an artist who knows the right fashionable place to go. If you did and he agreed to it, that’s worse because it means that he’d be willing to sacrifice a good proper breakfast of sausage and eggs for a love interest. And that’s bad news, in that case.”

She threw on a tidy little coat and wrapped a scarf around her neck. “What’s so bad about love, I wonder.”

“Love? It’s an uncrossable sea! It’s a universally adored dream. If it was an idea proper, then I could get behind it. But ask people to explain it or define it and they get all misty eyed and start talking like William Blake or Kahlil Gibran or something! Its attraction lies in its untouchable nature.” I shook my head, “If this fellow,”

“His name is Sabastion.”

“If Sabastion means to provoke loving feelings, he is as dangerous as an asp.”

“An asp?”

“Who can question love? Mention it and you’re free to do whatever you want. Every ethical system will at one time or another appeal to it. It’s a sacred cow. In the Hindi sense of cow. Not the slaughtered sacrifice kind. The sacrifice will be you-your sanity, your dignity, your Self!”

“Lock up my apartment when you leave, will you?”

“No, I’m leaving with you. I’m going to head home.”

I walked her to the corner and turned to go to the bus station. As I was walking away, Verna asked, “Just for a moment imagine that…Well, it just sounds like you’ve been talking about ‘love’ abstractly. What if he loves me. And I love him. Isn’t that not really about some detached nebulous idea…”

“Dream. Remember, love is no idea proper.”

“Okay. But what of that anyway? What if I love him?”

“Who is he? Who are you? Are you anything more than a wisp? Or maybe you imagine that you are as constant as the number ‘three’. Or a Platonic Form. Either way you think of someone: a vaporous illusion or a constant substance, both are ridiculous and dangerous.”

“I’ll call you later this morning and tell you about our ridiculous and dangerous breakfast. I hope yours is more reasonable and safe.”

I held up my cigarette, “You’re looking at my breakfast.”

I pulled the morning paper off my sidewalk and read it on the porch where I found an article headline reading: “The Least Likely Happiest Place On Earth: Denmark Happiest Place You’d Never Want to Visit” which reminded me of the number crumpled in my pocket. Without thinking if it was rude to call on a Sunday morning before noon, I dialed the number.

“Hello.” A featureless voice said after one ring.

“Hi. I saw your listing about a tutor.”

“Yes.”

“And I uh wanted to know…” the voice on the other end had shaken me a bit and I wasn’t sure how to proceed. “Uh, how much are you offering?”

“Are you a minister?”

“…I currently attend seminary. I’m in training.” I conveniently neglected to say that I was in academic training, not ministerial. “I’m in my last year.”

“You’re in religious training?”

I figured that getting a Masters in religious studies counted. “Yes.”

“What do you know about Soren Kierkegaard?” The voice said it strangely: Searen Keergegor.

“I know him first through his criticisms of Hegel.” Silence. I continued, “And I like him a lot. There’s no better place to start in discussion of existentialism than Kierkegaard.” More silence. I was grasping now, “And his theological understanding of course.” I guessed that he was a Christian, “As far as his comments on Christianity…I just love him…and what he’s got to say…About Jesus.”

“Are you available today?”

“Well,” I gauged how hungover I was and how quickly I could recover. “I’m available after four this afternoon, yes.”

“Great. You live in The City?”

“East bay, yes.”

“Perfect. Are you familiar with….” The voice mentioned a beautiful white hotel resort in the hills.
“Yes, I live quite nearby, actually.”

“Go there at five o’clock. There is a fountain by the tennis courts that looks like the statue of Lady Justice. There will be a key in the fountain. Are you there?”

“Yes, I’m here.”

“I want you to speak to my father. Tell him everything you know about Kierkegaard. But listen. When you go in, just sit on the couch. That’s it. Just sit on the couch. How long will it take you to tell him everything you know about Kierkegaard?”

“Oh,” If I had answered honestly, I would have said ‘two minutes’. “About two or three hours, I guess.”

“Perfect. When you’re done, the money will be in the top drawer of the desk by the door. When you’re done, you can put the room key on the dresser and take the money. You understand? Tell me what you’re going to do.”

“Get the key from the fountain, tell your dad everything I know about Kierkegaard (Keergegor I said) and then when I’m done, put the key on the dresser and take the money.”

“And sit on the couch.”

“Right.”

“Thank you very much.” The voice intoned flatly. I got the sense that our conversation was over.

“And what is your dad’s name?”

“John. Thank you for doing this. Goodbye.”

I was going to say, ‘good day’ or something polite sounding but they’d hung up already. I popped a cigarette into my mouth and thought: “They’d better be at least forty bucks in that drawer.”

After brunch of a coffee and bearclaw, I stopped at my seminary’s library and checked out as many Soren Kierkegaard books as I could. I surprised to see that the ol’ curmudgeon had written about Christianity. In my survey courses we had mentioned him as a footnote to existentialism and though I knew that he was popular among fashionable ‘liberal and educated’ Christians, I always thought it was because he had coined the phrase “the leap of faith”. (It wasn’t until recently during my transfer to the state penitentiary-a long, hot, four hour drive-that I learned that he never actually wrote “leap of faith”.)

I filled up my backpack and bicycled over towards the ______ Hotel and Resort, an old landmark of a place in the hills which had strangely survived a fire some hundred years ago. Some had said that it survived ‘miraculously’ but the farm owners, from the viewpoint of their destroyed crops and barns thought otherwise. I always figured by the haunted look of the place that it had made some demonic pact with the Devil like Robert Johnson at the crossroads, Faust, or St. Theophilus. However it had survived that fire long ago, it now housed the rich and famous at times for an entire season while they relaxed and enjoyed the fresh bay air.

I parked my bike by the tennis courts and tried to look as though I belonged as I passed white clad tennis goers. I found the small fountain with a statue atop whose raised arm held a double edged sword and whose other arm held scales. The Lady’s head was down turned as though eyeing her target of her raised blade and she wore no blindfold. I liked this because what kind of judge allows oneself to be blinded? Shouldn’t Justice very much care to look, inspect, watch, and examine? I thought that it went back to the Myth of Scientific Objectivity. Or maybe it was just a patriarchal stamp disempowering a goddess of such strength and importance. How quickly the Goddess of Victory, Nike had been forgotten! The Queen of Gods, Hera now lost! The current age had bypassed blinding them and skipped straight ahead to their burial.

In the lily pad covered water, I found a hotel key with the number 237 on its tag. I sat in the shade of a spreading tree until my watch read five minutes to five.

Inside the hotel, everything was placed at an extravagant scale and had a pristine cleanliness of an upscale convalescent home. In the grand entrance, there were broad and low oak tables and leather chairs with the indents of many fat and important backsides. The concierge and her bell boy cronies eyed me suspiciously and I tried to walk with the same confidence I’d seen from my fellow seminarians in the M.Div. program.

I clicked open 237’s door and found the lightswitch. The room’s heavy curtains were drawn and none of the still strong sunlight found its way inside. Desk lamps and a ceiling light revealed a large and eloquent room whose décor was definitely in the style of “too rich for their own good and too old to know better”. At the far end of the room, I saw a small human frame under the heavy comforters of the king sized bed and near it was set medical looking equipment: a buzzing thing, a whirring thing, maybe a clear bag sending medicinal liquids racing through veins.

“Hello.” I said three times, consecutively and louder each time.

The small person didn’t respond. I closed the door and stepped into the room and made a lot of purposeful noise in case the old man only needed to be jostled from a nap. As I came a bit nearer, I could make out a prunish bald head propped on pillows and what may have been open eyes.

“I’m here for…” What was I there for? To ‘tutor’ this vegetable? The sheer ludicrousness of the task had at first been enticing but the prospect of teaching a geriatric who would be better served in an ER than by a wanna-be philosopher discussing a cranky Danish hermit was just too much for me to bear.

At that time, I almost reached into the drawer to withdraw the money promised me and thought “I’m out of here. I’ll tell him what I know, all two minutes of it, and I’ll get outta here.” But something wouldn’t let me. I know it wasn’t ‘honesty’ because I’ve never relied that to motivate me before. I think it was my own strange curiosity about Kierkegaard and figured what better way to learn that by teaching? So that was that. I sat on the not-so comfortable love seat at the front of the room, a fair distance from the bed and opened my backpack.

“Well, John: Here we go.” I said. His machines clicked and whirred as a response.

I read him passages from a number of sources, all seemingly under pseudonyms and I became quickly frustrated at figuring out exactly what Kierkegaard was trying to say through all the convoluted mess. I finally found one essay that he had had the courage to put his own name to called Works of Love.

“Here’s the answer to that old question, John: ‘who wrote the works of love’?” I sang. “Tell me tell me baby, oh, who wrote the works of love?” I scrutinized the bed to look for movement. “Better not sing too much.” I thought. “My singing’s so bad that for a fellow in his condition, it could be deadly!”

“Listen to this John!” I read,

“Something that in its total richness is essentially inexhaustible is also in its smallest work essentially indescribable just because essentially it is totally present everywhere and essentially cannot be described.”[1]

“This is exactly what I was saying to my friend this morning, John! What a buncha malarkey!” I thought malarkey might appeal to one from the older generation. “What’s the sense of talking about something ‘that’s all around but indefinable’?” I caught myself because that sounded like the same context that godtalk often occurred.

This is where my analytical philosophy training kicked in, seeking to understand clearly the definition of terms, only now its peering gaze was uncomfortably aimed at me. How was I thinking and using both ‘love’ and ‘god’? It was taking my mind down passages I didn’t want to go. Passages I had boarded up for good reasons long ago. Or at least what had seemed like good reasons.

I read on where it quoted Matthew 22:39 about loving your neighbor as yourself.

It was written in caps, “YOU SHALL LOVE”

“What’s the point of commanding someone to love? Can it really be love if its commanded? Then isn’t just a buncha brownnosing?” I caught myself. Such a term as ‘brownnosing’ probably wasn’t professional, and since I was a paid private tutor, I said, “Excuse me, I mean, isn’t it a bit silly to make a legalistic command something that should be freely given?”

There was written below,

“if one is to love the neighbor as oneself, then the commandment, as with a pick, wrenches open the lock of self-love and wrests it away from a person…Just as Jacob limped after having struggled with God, so will self-love be broken if it has struggled with this phrase that does not want to teach a person that he is not to love himself but rather wants to teach him proper self-love.”[2]

We have to make the choice of how we love, I thought.

“Choice.” I said aloud. “That sounds like Heidegger-constantly engaged with the proposition of choice.”

I felt that love wasn’t as far away as it had seemed a moment ago. As I related to my self as Subject, I could so meet others in the same way. But what struck me was that Kierkegaard (as far as I could tell from the picture I have always seen of him as a frail black-clad mope) himself was a depressive melancholic Dane (I would have thought that a tautology before that newspaper article I’d just read). I was awakening to relationship as an intimate Subject among Subjects; not among objects, not as shadowy imaginings of solipsism’s garish nightmares.

“John. Are you awake? I hope that you can read my mind over here, because there’s some great stuff happening. If I could only put to words half of it….half of what I say is meaningless; but I say it so that the other half may reach you.[3]” I quoted from John Lennon’s Julia.

I felt waves of interest, the purest drives of duty, and ecstasy wrack me in the swirl of thoughts. I needed a cigarette. I walked forward into the room towards John on his bed and opened a window in which I sat and ravished a delicious smoke. I thought of Verna, of my hidden love for her and in a moment of introspection wondered if my scheme to make her fall in love with me was working. It’s hard enough to love someone, harder still to entice them to love you, hardest still to not let on that that is exactly what you’re doing.

I was broken from my reverie by a new sound from the area of the bed. It was not a machine clicking or whirring, but the lightest moan. I snapped up, slammed the window shut and scurried back to the couch. Maybe I didn’t love Verna at all. Maybe I was too interested in the romancing of a perfect subject who would never want to be romanced by me and even deeper I wondered if I would ever really want her love. I felt the pang of self doubt-and more dangerous still (as through the back door of my mind) a doubt against doubt. It was only this last doubt against doubt that kept me from unraveling.

I read aloud,

“Even in Goethe’s understanding of Faust I miss a deeper psychological insight into the secret conversations which doubt has with itself…Only when one turns Faust back in on himself in this way-only then can the doubt appear poetically, only then does he himself genuinely discover in reality all its sufferings…Anyone with any idea of what it means to live on spirit knows also what the hunger of doubt means, and that the doubter hungers just as much for the daily bread of life as for the sustenance of spirit.”[4]

I looked at the body in the bed. Was there another whimper? Had I imagined it?

“John, what do you doubt? Are you questioning the love or absence thereof in your life? Had you played the fool? Attempting to tempt a smoke and vapor? Do you doubt your love? Or your destination after…”

I hadn’t thought of the ‘after life’ in the decade after my first receiving my driver’s license and it was difficult to even think in such terms.

“Do you doubt your destination once you…pass on?”

Again a machine clicked in response. I read to him,

“There was a time when the Gospel, grace, was changed into a new Law, more rigorous with people than the old Law…Through petty self torments, they had made God just as petty…”[5]

The wind howled about the ­­­­­­______ Hotel then, whipping along its stately eaves and its many wings. It was downright terrible and necessitated another cigarette. The wind of course blew all the smoke right back inside so I snuffed it out and closed the window again. The floors creaked and high whistles of wind found invisible cracks in walls. A feeling of haunted presence filled the place like opera box number five in the Phantom of the Opera-an unseen menace seemed to bear down on me. I was left with only a faint hope that it was only a loveless creep named Erik with a penchant for French opera.[6]

“What are we to do, John?” I asked without thinking.

From the bed, to my great surprise and horror, I saw a skeletal arm raise off the bed from the elbow. The hand was nothing more than bones, twisted and crippled with arthritis. The white death’s hand hung there and then just as slowly lowered back to the bed.

A change came in the air. The wind died, a crack of lightning afar sent a tremor in the electric lights and the room was momentarily dark. I repacked my bags, went to the dresser and in the top drawer found thirty two hundred dollars in worn fifties.

I left the room as I had found it and stepped into the now dark Resort grounds. That was the entirety of my time spent in the _____ Hotel and Resort.

And that is exactly what I never uttered a word of to the well groomed investigators when they had set me under the bare light bulb lit interrogation room. My bike’s tires, surveillance cameras and tennis playing witnesses made a quick trail for me to be found and before I even had the chance to return my library books, flashing lights lit my apartment.

How did I come to visit room 237? Well, when the cops tracked down Verna for questioning, the websites I’d visited the night at Verna’s had crashed it and there was no history showing any information about the Hotel and Resort. My phone did show that morning that I’d called a pay-phone located in Arcata but no one at the orphanage across the street was able to say they’d seen anyone ever use the phone.

The fact that I had such a large amount of money whose issue numbers had been recorded at the old man’s bank was perhaps a little strange, sure. “Mighty good pay for a couple hours, ‘tutoring’, I should think huh?” said one of the many suit-clad cops.

As I sat there on the first of many hard plastic chairs, facing alone the hours of questioning after denying my right to an attorney, I thought of some passages I had also seen that night.

“…because the human being is able to speak, the ability to be silent is an art, and a great art precisely because this advantage of his so easily tempts him. But this he can learn from the silent teachers, the lily and the bird.”[7]

The silence was the easiest part. There were other passages that came to me in the trial which I was allowed to ruminate on in the short proceedings which I declined to defend myself.

“-No! God is greater than your own heart! Ah! Whether it was a sickness of soul that so darkened your mind every night that finally in deadly anxiety, brought almost to the point of madness by the conception of God’s holiness, you thought you had to condemn yourself; whether it was something terrible that so weighed upon your conscience that your heart condemned itself-God is greater!”[8]

As I’ve been spending my days now in solitary, I have greater things to think about than any fear of justice and condemnation. I think back to that statue of Lady Justice and her raised double edged sword: wherever there is punishment, there is some sort of mercy, alleviation, and freedom. I think of that wasted away living corpse, John _____, the owner of the Hotel at the time of our meeting and what I taught him and what he taught me. There are some things that they cannot teach you in seminary and it is exactly those things that one must learn.

Something broke in me that night, and maybe there was a breaking outside of that which occurred in me. The ______ Hotel and Resort was swallowed up by the fires that fall, lost to time to be forgotten just a month after its owner.

Above my bunk I have written one passage that I first found that night, and there just as there is no escaping my prison, my solitary, there is no escaping it:

“…love’s judgment is the most severe judgment…Thus there comes a new sin, a new guilt, the gult of being forgiven only little, a guilt incurred not by the sins committed, but by the lack of love. If you want to learn to fear, then learn to fear-not the severity of justice, but the leniency of love!”[9]

Reader’s Note: As a seminarian once upon a time myself, I can assure you this is a piece of fictional literature in specific details only. This kind of thing happens to me all the time.  –Eric Hanson


[1] Soren Kierkegaard Works of Love in The Essential Kierkegaard (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997). p. 278.

[2] Kierkegaard, p. 279.

[3] S. is only partially right. Lennon did take and change this line for The White Album but as quoted here it is a line from Kahlil Gibran’s Sand and Foam. –Eric Hanson

[4] Soren Kierkegaard Fear and Trembling (New York: Penguin Books, 1985). p. 132-133.

[5] Soren Kierkegaard For Self Examination in The Essential Kierkegaard (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997). p. 394.

[6] Gaston Leroux’s ‘Phantom’ Erik seemingly adored alongside Verdi’s Othello, Gounod’s Faust.                   –Eric Hanson

[7] Soren Kierkegaard The Lily in The Field and The Bird of The Air in The Essential Kierkegaard (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997). p.333.

[8] Soren Kierkegaard Christian Discourses in The Essential Kierkegaard (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997). p. 330.

[9] Soren Kierkegaard Two Discourses at Friday Communion Discourses in The Essential Kierkegaard (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997). p. 388.

Brother Eupsuche
By: Semper Sansrespite
It was in the summer of most extreme heat, when the dogs lay in the streets panting and dying that I came to take on the case Brother Eupsuche. It was my sixth and last year at the law school[1] and the city’s heat wave was a picture of my own exhaustion and feverishness.
My nights were spent by the river, a wet rag on my neck, reading by the gaslights and actually watching the fleeting thoughts pass through my head without a single one holding tight. My failing grades, I wrote mother, were not a reflection of my commitment to Law, or of my ability to succeed as a magistrate in the future.

“Sweat blinds me” I wrote. “Send money for ice and new shirts!”
She answered back on a pretty stationary,
“If the heat is getting to you, take your mind from it by marrying.”
She had always seen my endeavors in law as merely a point of advertising in the proper circles “of available young women who are well situated.”

As an aside, my mother did convince me to pursue law. It was either stay at the Villa and become an artist, or come to the law school three hundred miles from home.

The decision was made for me.

That year, I had interned at a small legal firm overseeing minor quibbles of unpaid dues to a miserly old shrunken head named Dowling. Dowling had come to build a slum around him that should have been exposed to the police Chief for any number of offenses against humanity, but his ghetto’s tenets had come to terms with being at the whims of one who is more shrewd and merciless.

He paid our firm to represent him in cases where a family, broken by debt and newly appeared children, had lapsed on a payment of some sort or another. I won most of these trials without ever revising my notes from the first. I would simply fill in the appropriate destitute family’s name in the blank.

Kerner, Troble, Arnoun, Jornaut…they all stared at me weakly from across the sweltering court. What they all would have loved to know is that I lived not but a block away in an equally squalid tenement filled with rats just as lousy as theirs. I was grateful that I never met these families in the street, but it was not by accident.

I frequented a market and park nearly a mile away to assure it.

These menial cases of the sort that any first year student could win were the only successes I had. My firm took me off Dowling’s roster and allowed me to delve into a few meatier projects where large sums of money and citizens of respected classes were brought before the jury.

For all my work, all my contrived and theatric arguments, I won only two cases of this sort. I was pulled repeatedly into my Superior’s office.

“Troulle.” he always called me by my family name, “Come sit.”

I would sit on the piano stool in his cramped sauna of an office.

“Tell me again how our client seemed to, despite all evidence to the contrary, be found at fault?”

I would tell him that it was the heat, I was sick, my mother was sick back home, that I was doing the best I could and that I would be able to come back and win the next, just give me a chance.

My chances wore out and finally one morning I found Dowling sitting at my paper piled desk, looking pallid in the heat and handing me a file for a family in need of eviction.

What I never told my Superior and what I never breathed to anyone save but once in a veiled way to my army-time friend Lucas who had served with me in the Provincial Wars when we were young, was that every case I had lost was the cause of our City’s sect, The Fellowship of Dror[2].

This ancient philosophy had made its way westward by boats filled with mysteries of far off lands and exotic bodies whose colorful loose wraps enticed the imagination. The Fellowship had found like minded and sympathetic patrons in high society who in return for massive financial backing were given audience with the darkly mysterious priests and priestesses who would sweeten their ears with agreeable prophecies.

In this way, The Fellowship soon had a marbled complex in the City center, a place of cultural and political power. Their Temple was more a city onto itself and housed thousands within its columned exterior. Its influence on life was as palpable as the Temple itself. One could not hear any orator’s address without the necessary Fellowship preamble of reverence towards Dror and the rite of hand wringing in respect.

On the young people’s lips were the stories that had come through The Fellowship’s writings and none other. The old epics, the stories of the field, the songs of the mountains, all were choked and consumed by the narrative of their books, their holy writ until one could hardly find another to toast with him the name of Ardenides, patron of women, hearth, and victory.

A foreign philosophy, brought like pestilence to our shores had like the roots of a barren tree, gripped our city.

To come to the conclusion that this obscure, albeit popular, philosophy was the cause of my legal failures and humiliation is only a matter of course. It was plain to me that in each occasion, enough members of the jury recognized the dress and manner of the accused as that of their shared brethren. No amount of reason and tangible and irrefutable evidence could convince any member to decide against one of their own.

Once this idea came to me, I knew that there was no one to whom I could turn with the terrible truth: nearly everyone within the City was connected to the Fellowship in some way, either by secret initiation or by childhood sentiments towards the yearly festivals. To air my conviction would be to commit professional suicide.

As well as I was able, I surveyed each jury during the selection process to weed out those who would be sympathetic towards the defendants. I studied closely the language of the brethren on endless afternoons near the Temple gates to find any linguistic cue that could give one away. I approached potential jurors with my hand outstretched as though to make the handshake of the rural people to survey their expression. I found that to unearth them was a nearly impossible task without out and out asking and this would have been a deeply offensive intrusion in the court’s eyes.

So, I returned to picking away at the poor like a scavenging dog where the accused found no affinity within the Fellowship.

The summer went along, I lost weight, my shirts became more and more grey, and I was seriously looking at the prospect of graduating law school a failure. I had seen those like me whose school careers ended and were summarily spit out into districts in the hills representing cases over lost goats, or perhaps worse, living in the City without

the honor due them, professionals in the labor class.

I wouldn’t stand for it.

The country was for irrelevant minds, for the married and fat. It was where only memorials for dead soldiers were cause for beautiful things. It also was where my mother lived.

I could not abide by the thought of serving among the sick and dirty endless poor of the City either. As far as any lawyer might go within those circles, he simply could not make entrance to any society worth attending.

I was becoming more and more anxious as my graduation date approached. I cancelled an appointment with my student loan officer and my school’s career placement office. I began drinking during my study sessions by the river. A flask cooled me in place of the wet rag.

I was absolutely desperate. Whatever good looks my dear old mom gave me were melting off me and I must admit my behavior became at times erratic. My pastime of meeting girls at the bowery and letting my gilded tongue do its work had allowed me to keep a fresh font of women passing through my date calendar. Throughout my school years, I had had no problem revolving them about me as though they were at a dizzying game of Musical Chairs and I was the last remaining chair. It remained happily this way until upon these last hot drunken days I became possessed with the evil idea that I should settle down and find a wife for me.

Then, by accident, I was invited to a dinner.
I was standing on the front steps of school finishing an essay due for the afternoon’s ethics class when I overheard two classmates discussing plans for the upcoming full moon. I had known them for a number of years, as they were only a year behind me in study and made a reputation for themselves as class clowns who always traveled in the pair. I fortunately even remembered their names, but not which name went to which.

“Hey Bernard, hey Jack.”

“Oh, hiya Ian.” Said back one.

“How’ve you been?” said the other.

We made small talk then about the sports events of the week and the topic on everyone’s lips, the heat.

I managed to get out of them that some of the school’s professors were attached to certain civic organizations and might be appreciative of the mention of their Clubs founding fathers in term papers. I let them believe that my father too was currently a dues paying member of two Clubs. This allowed the forced conversation to continue for another few precious minutes until a bounding girl approached us.

“Hey Bernard, hey Jack” she said to the pair. She too had most likely forgotten which was who.

“Hiya Meg.” said back one.

She looked at me for just long enough in silence that I knew I was not going to be introduced my either Bernard or Jack.

“Hi. I’m Ian.” I shook her hand politely, but a bit longer than might be necessary.

I made sure she noticed me pull my flask from my coat and take a daring pull.
“I just wanted to ask again if you fellas could make it to my Father’s place for dinner after all.”

She glanced in my direction ever so quickly also.

The pair made some weak noises and two hasty excuses came from them followed by half hearted thanks.

“I’m free.” I said.

Meg looked a bit flushed and caught off guard.

“Good. We’ll love to have you.” She made a motion as though to check her bag.

“Oh no! I don’t have an invitation. Father’s is really hard to find. Especially by street car. It’s way down by the marina.”

“I’d be taking the river ferry.” I lied.

“Here you go, I’ve got my invitation with me.” Said Bernard or Jack.

He handed me a thick papered envelope and I tried not to let on that Meg

looked not a little betrayed.

“I’ll see you there. I look forward to it.” I even bowed a little.
I jumped on a street car for as long as I could without the ticket taker seeing me before hopping down to walk the rest of the long way to the marina.

I had put together as much of a dinner ensemble as I could from my army uniform and some items picked up from a consignment store. I looked half way good when I first put it on, but in the evening humidity I began to feel like a clumsy doorman.

The house was an egoists dream. No detail was left overlooked. The family crest was etched on every wall and its resident’s intention to intimidate every visitor was plain.

I made my way through the greeting room, and stopped at the busy bar in the open courtyard. I recognized faces from school, the faces that belonged to students of good blood, students who had been raised in the City and had been handed everything that I had fought for.

I drank too much too quickly but without allowing anyone to notice, making use of a large potted plant to hide my empty wine glasses.

We were escorted to a large dining hall and I sat between two young women whose hair had obviously met extensive attention before arriving.

“Good evening. My name is Ian.” I announced to the both of them, which was awkward since I had to turn my head one hundred and eighty degrees to see them both.

The one on my left was a horrible bore and I was happy when she entered into a conversation about taxes with a couple across the table.

“What do you do?” said the one on my right.

“What’s your name?” I asked.

“Ana.”

“Asking someone’s profession at dinner is dangerous idea. What if I was a fisherman? Do you really want to discuss the ins and outs of gutting flounder all day and hitting tuna on the head with a five pound hammer? This is why at the Clubs popularly, members can let years go by before finding out they’re dining with their son’s prison warden.”

She made a polite laugh.

“Well, I think I know your opinion of Clubs then. And I wouldn’t have asked if I imagined you were a fisherman.”

“What did you imagine I was?”

“When I first asked, maybe a philosopher.”

“My god, am I that thin?”

“No, but you’re drunk and do a good enough job pretending you’re not.”

“Well, I think I know your opinion of philosophers then.”

She took a bite of her salmon and sipped her white wine with her long fingers barely touching the glass at all.

“Who do you know here?” She looked at me and my already empty plate.

“I don’t.”

“Well, aren’t I lucky to be sitting next to you?”

“Yes.”

“Meg is my cousin. This is my uncle’s estate.”

I looked at her quietly.

“What do you do?” she tried again.

“I’m a lawyer.”

She made an impolite laugh.

“Meg isn’t one either. But she’s been saying that for 4 years.”

“I graduate this winter. I am currently a lawyer for a firm…”

“Internship. Who?”

“Small private. What do you do?”

“Nothing.”

“Everything, even nothing, is something….hmm! Maybe I am a philosopher.”

“Drink this and we’ll see.” She beckoned the passing servant and he filled my glass.

She continued, “I spend most of my time on the marina and watching my father’s boats going in and out.”

She saw my question.
“He owns fishing boats.” She took a bite of salmon.
We drank a lot more and left before dessert. We walked the long paths towards the marina and the rising full moon. She showed me four objects in the moon that I had never seen before, one of which made me gulp and become lustfully plotting for long minutes. Perhaps she heard the wheels turning in my head because she made an excuse to walk again along the docks.

We ended up at her family’s house which made her uncles estate look downright dreary and we sat on a balcony overlooking the sea.

“Are you married?” Ana asked me as she lit a cigarette.

“Oh yes, of course” I played, “but she lives in the country. I’ll go back to her when I’m graduated. I imagine all the kids will be grown by now.”

“Oh! Maybe she knows my husband. He’s there too. Yes. A farmer. Joseph is his name. Does your wife know him?”

“Maybe.” I stole her cigarette.

“Maybe intimately.” She said flatly.
“How dare you!” I tried to sound convincing. “Polly would never betray my trust!”

“And what are you saying? Joseph is some bigamist? Didn’t he make vows to me too? But the country is a lonely place where only ghosts reside. Oh, it’s sad, Ian. So horrible. Our fates are so entwined. Could there be any way to heal our broken hearts?”

“Let’s go give ourselves to the Mer-people. Tie rocks to our ankles and sink to the bottom of the sea.” I stood up with the cigarette courageously clenched in my teeth.

“No… My father’s boats would snag us in their nets and he’d never forgive me for the shock to his men.”

“Well, I’m going anyway. Your father be damned.” I made to take off my shirt.

Ana stood up and stopped me only to begin doing it herself.

Weeks passed until one morning while I was walking by the Temple, on my way to meet Ana for a picnic, I heard what sounded like a festival or riot. I turned down one of the Temple’s many narrow avenues and wound my way through the vendors and past shrine processionals until I was emptied out into a large courtyard where around a small stage, hundreds of screaming brethren had gathered. I received only looks of confusion when I asked those gathered what had happened. The Fellowship and the Temple especially was well known to be quiet in civil matters and this was a complete reversal of their popular image of reserved and methodical people.

At last, a trio of brethren ascended the stage and the crowd seemed placated enough by the mere presence of their bright priest’s robes to quiet.

“Brethren!” the oldest raised his hands.

Those gathered took postures of bent backs and submissive attitudes. I, although short on average now stood the tallest in the square.

“The Tree that gives life has many branches does it not?” the crowd murmured in ascent. “These will grow ‘though there be war or peace, fire or flood’ and each branch grows together ‘alike in sameness, alike in difference’.”

The priest made a dramatic sweep with his little arms.
“Today two branches have been removed from the Tree. One to everlasting glory.

One to everlasting damnation. It is not we who judge but Dror. It is not we who cast brethren from our midst, but Dror. Our sole commission is to love and love alone. For it is ‘love alone that heals’.” He turned to someone on the side of the stage and immediately, a small framed brethren with the dress and appearance of a monk was brought onstage by another grim faced priest.

“Brother Eupsuche. You will be banished from this community and sentenced to exile on the island of Forgiveness. There you will toil in solitary for the rest of your days….”

The priest went on like this fleshing out the details of the gravity of exile as punishment. I pressed forward through people that stood transfixed and came almost to the foot of the stage. I pulled at the robe of a priest.

“Father, what did this man do?” I whispered, using his title as a sign of respect.

“Just but an hour ago, he killed a man in the street. In full view of us all. He will be exiled….”

“Father, how could this happen? Has this ever happened before?”

“Never. We only know what to do because Dror had the forethought to prescribe the punishment for murder in our book.”

“He is a monk.”

“Yes, he is a monk.”

“Father, how could a monk do this?”

“There is evil in the world.”

“He will be exiled? When?”

“Now. He must leave for the island of Forgiveness before nightfall of the day of his offense.”

“That’s impossible. He needs to have a hearing. A trial of law.”

“He killed another brethren. It is in our jurisdiction.”

In short minutes I had found my way out of the Temple and was racing towards the City police headquarters.

With the production of my law apprenticeship papers and the description of a murder whose accused was being summarily exiled in the Temple’s walls, the Chief of police followed me with two of his lieutenants.

At the Temple, the Chief made a grand entrance and I’ve never seen brethren jump like they did at the sight of a City official daring to come in their walls and barking orders. This was a novelty to the Chief too, who seemed secretly ashamed to be demanding to speak with the council of priests on the matter of a cold blooded murder. He disappeared into their chambers for three tense cigarettes before an orderly from the Temple came alongside my arm.

He introduced himself as Brother Veritas and he pulled me along cool corridors.

Somehow, in the middle of the Temple, they had achieved in escaping the heat. Maybe they knew something after all.

“We have made allowance with your Chief for a trial. It will occur this evening and a jury of Brethren will hear it. Our book makes no distinction about these matters. He must be exiled and aboard a boat by nightfall to fulfill our law. I assure you that your prosecution of this man with be quick. We have several witnesses.”

He was a mousy little man, weak legged, and he huffed as we climbed and descended endless stairwells into the Temple’s labyrinthine guts.

“Veritas,” I stopped him, blocking his way. “I will be defending Brother Eupsuche not prosecuting him.”

“I was told you were a Prosecutor. We were arranging to have one of our Brothers defend him. What is this?”

“You were only mistaken. I will be his defense attorney.” I stepped out of his way and begged him to continue. “Take me to my client.”

Veritas took me down through endless hall where engravings of Dror looked down on us with stern expressions.

“I will need my legal books.” I told him as we went where to gather them.

“I will also need my assistants.” I scribbled a note for him as we went.
We came to a small arched stone door.

“Here. The address of where my assistants will be found is on the front. Make it your first priority. Time is of the essence. Is this his cell? Open it.”

“This is Brother Eupsuche’s room. And it’s open.”

Veritas felt my disregard for him, his robes, his faith and he left me with what he knew could hurt me most.[3]

“Goodbye, and blessings to you.” He was gone with a bow.

I opened the door and found Eupsuche sitting on his bed with a small book in his lap.

“Come in.” He said uselessly as I was already seating myself on a plain wooden chair.

“Have they hurt you?” he blinked questioningly “have they hurt you at all?”

“No. Of course not.”

“Why aren’t you under arrest? Why is your door unlocked?”

“I’m not going to try to escape. I told them that.”

“My name is Mr. Troulle, I will be your legal council.” I said, trying to sound competent and sure.

“I don’t need legal council, Mr. Troulle. I will be exiled tonight.”

“No you’re not.”

He stood up and walked his room’s floor. His body was small and early aged. It showed the wear of years worshipping and studying. His eyes had been dimmed by too much reading. He placed his book gently on the room’s one bare desk.

“I did it, Mr. Troulle and the book is clear on my fate.”

“Who did you kill?”

“I killed a man. What more is there to say.”

“You’re a monk. How long have you been a monk?”

“All my life. I was born to be a servant. If you are called, you know it.”

“Who did you kill? If you’re a monk than you have to tell the truth.” I stood up for effect. “What are you hiding?”

“I killed a man who I knew to be dangerous.” He looked me in the eye with the piercing eyes of one who has seen god. It made me tremble. It was the look of a madman.
“Tell me more. Whatever you tell me doesn’t have to leave this room.”

“I serve the Fellowship by serving the poor. The poor of your City. Daily I serve food to those whose hunger is overlooked by the City. Each day we give generously as much as the Fellowship can, yet we see them become thinner and thinner. A woman named Mira and I became close and I invited her to live in the Temple.”

He slowly sat on his narrow bed.

“She came to us and became a brethren.” He paused, “and with her came her husband. In the Fellowship, we don’t have these problems, but in the City you do. We tried to help them….”

“What problems? What do you mean?”

“He beat Mira, Mr. Troulle. He beat her and we knew it. We were trying to help. We don’t have these problems and we didn’t understand it. This is what happens in the City. Not here.”

“So what did you do?”

“We tried to help. To counsel. Then today, I saw Mira.” He paused and dug out prayer beads from his robe. “And I went to the kitchens and got a knife.”

I opened the monk’s door and flagged down a passing orderly and had him send up two bowls of strong stew for us and found from him that time was passing quickly. The trial was but an hour away.

We sat and ate, the monk and I and ate our bowls slowly. Eupsuche seemed especially to not have a stomach for his.

“I cannot eat.” He said again and again, but with a little prompting, he began again.

As we sat and waited to be gathered for the trial, he tried to read from his book but would nod off from time to time.

I looked at him as a fox might a rabbit.

The trial, by the Chief’s orders was to be held in the public court in the City’s central plaza where only the trials sure to garner public interest were held. My client and I were sat at the defendant’s table on the court platform and already there was a large public crowd of Citizens and brethren from the Temple. The jury comprised of entirely Temple priests and priestesses sat stunned in the jury box waiting to hear a trial the first of its kind.

The heat was amazing. The sun seemed to draw close to us also in interest of hearing the case. I felt that before nightfall would come, we would all be burned.

Lastly, a quorum of City officials took their seats, and a judge I recognized from the City’s High Court took the bench.

Not a sound was made throughout the plaza. Even as workers were headed home from their day’s work and stopped to watch the goings on, not a sound could be heard. From all districts then came the crowds, having received word of the trial and soon we were in a sea of people soundlessly sweating.

The judge made his cursory and necessary introductions.

The prosecutor, a young and fashionable lawyer I recognized as a graduated fellow student, connected socialite, and Fellowship sympathizer if not outright supporter.

Of course he would have to be. At any given time of day, the Temple’s shadow fell on some high office, some wealthy bureaucrat, some elitist Club.

He made his introductory statement overly long and flourished as though he would not have another chance to speak again in the trial.

Maybe he did believe this. If he did, he was right.

It was the defense’s time to make opening statements and I turned to Brother Eupsuche to see how he was holding up. He wasn’t. He was fast asleep with his chin on his chest.

“Citizens, we are hear for a sad reason indeed. A friend, husband, neighbor, co-laborer, and son is dead. Our City has lost a Citizen, loyal and true.”

I walked the perimeter of the platform as my sweat dripped audibly to the floor.

“This is perhaps not an unusual occurrence. Unfortunately. Our City sees violence in the streets from time to time. Perhaps, it will always be so.”

This got a rise from some of my audience.

“But today was different. Our Citizen was murdered in the Temple. By my humble client, a monk. There within the hallowed ground of marble and glass. I will not deceive you, it was a horrific crime.”

The jury was looking piqued in the hot sun. They were used to the shade of porticos.

“My client committed the crime. I cannot change what happened. We have all been introduced to our noble prosecutor’s assembled witnesses. What I am here to convince you of is not of a different telling of today’s events.

“I am here to convince you of his innocence.”

I wonder to this day if the prosecutor had his arguments prepared to answer my assertion that the monk acted out of pity, out of justice for the young abused Mira. I will never know.

“Is a man not innocent when he acts within the nature that that has been burned into him like a brand onto cattle? Was this monk acting out of the ordinary when he found it in himself to kill another? As one devoted to Dror, a god who appeals to the strong and the mighty, could he not become strong himself and exercise his power on one Dror had forgotten?”

The jury seemed to be tightened harp strings in their seats and looking to the judge whose hand was moving towards his gavel.

“Placed in a marble tomb in the heart of our City, could he not become cold himself?”

Portions of the crowd stirred as through embers were dancing across their feet.

Brother Eupsuche slept still, the contents of my flask sitting in his full belly. He was unaware of what his act of justice just hours previous would accomplish.

I raised my voice to a pitch like that of the priest I’d heard announce Eupsuche’s exile.

“We won the Provincial Wars but we had truly lost before they began. Our City had been taken by a foreign body, by those whose allegiances lay elsewhere! Their origins are from far afield and whose concerns are not of The City, nor of this world at all!”

Brethren from all throughout the crowd were uneasy and shouting negations but they seemed half hearted and self conscious. The jury of Eupsuche’s peers were livid and some priests stood in objection. The judge was unable to move.

“Everywhere we see the murder of our people, our families, our very City itself!”

I was screaming over the noise of a few scattered fights.

“What is one more? My client is innocent in the face of the Fellowship’s guilt!”
Screams were loosed and I think at that time a child was trampled towards the bank as simultaneously its front windows were shattered, broken glass exploding.

My assistants that I had asked Veritas to alert had indeed come to my aid.
Kerner, Troble, Arnoun, Jornaut, they and their families, they and their drinking mates from the ghetto pubs, all as many as could from the poor districts had all answered my anonymous note.

Within its few hand scrawled lines, I had told them that the Temple would fall tonight, along with Dowling, along with all those in power who kept their ilk above them. The disgusting autocrats who came in a hundred guises but all hearkening back to the Temple and its Dror loving murderers.

I saw a woman in Fellowship robes in the first rows away from me be stabbed in the neck and bright crimson misted the blazing air.

The jury had made its decision and the case had been won.

I was stepped on and my clothes torn as I made my way towards the marina. Before I passed over the hill, I looked back and saw black smoke pouring from the skyline. It looked that the Temple had already been breached and I could see that my district too was burning.

Ana found me sitting on her front porch smoking and I held her as though I loved her.
I led her down to the docks and had her show me how to launch a boat.
Out beyond the breakers, we felt the heat increase through the night and I lied to her, telling her that we would move to the country.

Editor’s Note: Never in our contemporary literature have I found a more apt and honorable hero. As much as I look up to Mr. S’s invention of such a one as his Ian Troulle it is a shame that there is none so brave as to become the hero he is. Our male readership has echoed the same in many letters to The Orphan and I do hope that Mr. S finishes his sequel tentatively titled Both/And: Both My Thoughts And Life Are Wrong very soon.


[1] “Law school” has a number of meanings in The City. It can refer to the training of lawyers, judges, magistrates, etc. or it can refer to those who live sordid lives in the criminal underground. In this latter sense it is like “the school of hard knocks”, learning the “law” of the street. In The City it can also refer to Seminary or Yeshiva. In the case of the narrator, its meaning should be plain. –The Author

[2] The Fellowship of Dror is one of the two major sects in The City and I just as well could have picked the other. However, it is the Fellowship’s credo of “loyalty, honesty, fidelity, chastity” that attracted me.

–The Author

I’ve frequented some of the parties held at their temple and let me assure you, that any rumors of their piety being only toga deep are unfortunately false. It turns out that not even a flask of mead is permitted in their Spring festivals. –The Editor

Dror may be etymologically connected to “swan” or “goose”, however it is of interest that in recent years the ostrich is most commonly depicted on their banners. –The Seminarian

[3] How often have I felt my wife’s most damning reproach in her simple silence? The most barbed retort is the one not uttered and is the secret weapon of both the wise and the wife. –The Editor

The Religionist
By: Aletheia Sansrespite

“Talk [Abraham] cannot, he speaks no human language.
Though he himself understood all the tongues of the world,
though the loved ones understood them too-he still could not talk-
he speaks a divine tongue-he ‘speaks with tongues’.”
-Johannes de silencio

I am waiting for a thunderstorm. I haven’t left my apartment for close to three weeks, or however long it takes to deplete one’s food pantry. As I’ve just thrown one more cigarette pack sized tin of sardines into the pile of rotting garbage in the corner of my living room, I believe that it may be close to three weeks. And yet I wait.

What will be the effect of this thunderstorm?

That remains to be seen entirely, but I have clearly seen the streets washed clean in a dream and that is enough.

I live on the South side of the City, where the forgotten go to make tenements so that they can pile their forgottenness on top of each other so as to drown out the crushing roar of their vacuous lives, and the ignored cries of unwanted children in the stairwells.

I had always thought that I was the only one who imagined that life could be better. After the fire that swept the City after the Eupsuche Riot, I was momentarily hopeful that change would come. It was like the corner Punch and Judy show where the laughter rises quickly and surprisingly-so much so that you find yourself laughing too-and then it ends abruptly and after the show you realize that it was not funny at all. You realize the puppeteers were horrible, you couldn’t hear a single word of it because of the coughing and muttering in the crowd, and the sidewalk smelled of urine. And yet you laughed. At show’s end, all you have is urine smell and the shame for having fallen into laughing.

And then I found it.

I had been travelling past the orphanage on Rue Montaigne when I spied behind a rubbish bin a small black book that spelled for me the answer and gave me hope that I was not alone in the world. I was not a solitary and lone voice in the wilderness screaming only to myself. There was another, who like me knew that change could come. The change would be not only momentary change that would be forgotten in a flash, or remembered faintly in dreams, or be made to exist only in the drunken imaginations of pub-dwelling philosophers. The change we sought would be real, lasting, revolutionary, necessary, can I even say divine?

Not only did the book tell me there was another, but it told me how the change was to come.

I looked on the first page and in the small and faint type of a local printing shop was the title: The Religionist.

I was on my way to work, so I slipped it in my purse and during break I went and sat on the dock and flipped through the pages ravenously as I nursed absently on my pipe.

It was written in the style of a diary at times, a story at others.
April 17th I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.[1] I had a dream last night where I saw a child dying in the stairwell. This is not an uncommon sight in waking hours, but for some reason, in the dream this one struck me particularly as sad. I took its light body into my arms and began to run to the hospital. (This is especially dreamy, for there is no hospital at all in the South side.) As I went hurriedly, the streets became so clogged with debris and dead bodies that I couldn’t move at all and soon I was being swept under by a tide of death and filth. I was so scared that I crushed the child in my arms like an empty plaster mold.

I never did go back to work that afternoon and I’ve never gone back. A few days ago someone slipped an envelope under my door that contained my last paycheck that had large deductions in it to cover my shipyard uniform that I hadn’t returned and my sail mending kit that was on loan from the company. All told there wasn’t much money left in the check for me so I ripped it up. I didn’t want to benefit from that work anyway.

Sept 8th –I met with my last remaining friend today at the market. She is a neophyte in one of the City’s two great sects.[2] This being the case, she is under the belief that she knows everything. This is the great bane of everyone who learns something. All the world seems now opened to them and they are just at their wits end holding back their great new theory. I told her of some of my thoughts towards the End which I had been devising in my mind and she placed her coffee cup down politely and stroked at her chin.

“Well,” she said. “That certainly would seem to work, but it wouldn’t.”

I leaned back in my chair and said, “Good. That’s what I wanted you to say.”

She looked a bit puzzled and continued to give her reasons why my approach wouldn’t work. She kept a list of reasons tallied on her fingers as she counted. It is a dangerous mind that wants to count things.

When she had finished I said again, “Good. That’s what I wanted you to say.”

More flustered now, she asked what I meant by that.

Says I, “If I had constructed a plan so that you would have believed it, I would have surely wasted my time. Do you imagine that I spend sleepless nights organizing my thoughts in such a way so that a young untrained and easy excitable mind might appreciate it? If you were to have in any way understood or had faith what I was saying, I would have had to start from scratch. As it stands, I know my way is correct.”

She finished her coffee in deep thought. The young and beautiful looking waiter came and collected our cups and gave us the nonverbal impression that he wanted us to leave his table so that waiting customers could take their turns and swill the café’s horrible cappuccino. We did those in the queue a favor and sat for another half hour in silence until she finally said: “Okay. I think I understand it and it just might work.”

I left her then alone at the table with the bill to pay and only one last remark,

“You’re a liar and I don’t ever wish to speak to you again.”

I decided to leave my apartment. My time of confinement was over and I was ready again to face the world. But it was not the same world that I had left those many weeks ago. Or I should say that it was the same but I was seeing it with new eyes. It was not the cesspool that I remembered. It now was a cesspool with the shadow of a thunderhead, or falling comet, darkening it.

I went to see my analyst at her office at my scheduled time. She was quite surprised to see me, but happy I am sure, since I am her last remaining patient.

“Come in! I thought that you had died! No word from you for over three weeks!”

“Why would you imagine that I was dead just because-?”

“The last time I saw you, you’d said that you’d ‘rather be dead than live in a world like this’.”

“Oh. I don’t remember that.”

“Surprising.” She said sardonically.

She had me lay down on the couch and I told her my conception, my plan, my direction of life. As I spoke, I joyfully heard her scribbling notes on her pad. I saw the hands of the clock pointing near the end of our session and I concluded my thoughts with the flourish of throwing the bust of the Respected Psychiatrist on her mantle against the wall.

“Well, when would you like to schedule your next appointment?” She asked.

I told her, “I refuse to be analyzed by any shrink that will accept me as a client!”

“You say that every week.” My analyst said.

“I do? Well, that exactly proves my point! What am I paying you for anyway? You wouldn’t know madness if it looked you in the face!”

“Please! Tell me about madness.”

“The first type is that of the Madness That Enjoys Madness. This is where everything presents itself as completely ridiculous and the Madman revels in it. They imagine themselves quite the life of the party but their Madness interesting in that it is interesting, which is quite boring actually. You will find them at all the best parties in mismatched clothes drinking absinthe from a shoe and scratching at their waxed mustaches with mirror shards. The second type is the Madness That Is Purely Mad. This is the sort represented in the dirty insane that pluck lice from their scalp, show it to the world and eat it on the street corner. You can spot them in the hills howling at the moon. They draw crowds and exorcists and no chains can hold them. They have Madness so in control and wholly explored that to watch them is like looking up “Madness” in the dictionary. This type of Madness is sure to catch the eye of the Charitable Sisters, whose ethical laws demand that they care for Madness. I pity them both-the Madman of this type and the pious who seek them. The last type I hardly dare mention because of the high esteem in which I hold them! This is the Madness Which No One Knows Of. You hear of them typically only after they are dead or imprisoned. ‘She seemed like such a nice young woman. So quiet!’ The neighbors will say. ‘We never suspected them capable of such horror!’ the family says. Oh! What artistry this Madness is! This last type of Madman is so hyperaware of the beauty of Madness that they never question the Sanity or Insanity of any individual because they know the dark inwardness that the best kind of Madness brings. Many have been married to these specimens without the slightest idea that inside them whirs the gears of paradox, insanity, and a mute madness that if screamed would either wrench the world from its orbit or be so totally bonkers that it would be mistaken for a belch or sneeze.” I concluded this with the flourish of gathering the broken pieces of the bust and throwing them against the opposite wall.

“Gesundheit.” Said the analyst.

I left her in a hurry vowing to never see her again. “You hack!” I yelled up the stairs.

June 2nd –I’ve left my apartment. What a world. I overheard a street preacher say on the corner that “this world is a love letter to you,” and I stopped in my tracks.

“From whom is it addressed?” I asked. “I may only guess, because it’s written in my blood. The very blood produced by the paper cut it gave me!”

He only looked puzzled. Funny how preachers always seem surprised when someone listens to them.

I’ve got four red strings tied around fingers. I forget when I tied them there, and what they were to remind me to do, but I do know for a fact that they were supposed to remind me to do something so they’ve served their purpose.

These strings are the clearest picture of what I strive for my life to be.

My way to perfection is clear and now comes to the doing of it.

There are those who are happy with loving themselves and they become great to a certain extent. There are others who love of others and they too become great. I am not satisfied with this sort of greatness and I reject both of these loves.

I have met those who say a better life, a better world is possible. I may have at one time entertained this as wisdom. I also have heard from those who look into all things at once and absorb all eternity and stare longingly into the infinite. This perspective is to me now too limited. I seek only the impossible and that which is either forgotten or reviled by all others.

I see the lines of kings and conquerors, generals and heroes, who have fought with and dominated the world. Let them rot with the world! Their end is no different than that which is eventually rejected even by termites. To say that they will burn with the world is to suggest that they bring light or warmth and I will not ascribe to them such value.

I see those who have through great adversity come to control and subjugate themselves. I pass by the hunger artist in the Market only to ignore him and allow him to see my upturned nose. I see the monk atop his Stylite and I laugh to myself.

I got to where the others would never dream. The altar is ashamed of itself as I pass. The temple wishes it could crumble and destroy itself as my shadow graces its steps. I am alone in this perfection perfectly.

Or so I thought until I found the book.

Its appearance in my life assured me that there was at least one other who went beyond mere heroism.

I set to the work. For doing is all there is. Thinking is the work of the philosopher and is really no work at all. I bought a long knife at the Market and concealed it in my dress.

No one expects a religionist to be a woman it seems, and I was allowed into the Temple of Dror without hassle. There I came to a chamber where there were a number of adherents quietly praying. My knife and I did our work and again, the knife was hidden and I repeated this process in a number of annexes and chambers.

I then made my way to where the Family of Aelia hold their rites and rituals and again, the true religionist apparently is not assumed to be a quiet and calm looking woman for they greeted me warmly. Their greeting became crimson as my vocation realized itself. As I made my way unto the boulevard, my stained blade became veiled under my dress’s many folds.

I was as I passed behind the orphanage that I was stopped by a young woman.

“Miss,” she said “You dropped this book behind the rubbish bin there.”

She said, pointing.

“I did?”

“Yes. Just now.”

“Oh! I don’t remember that.” I took the book from her and read the first page.

The Religionist’ it read. Had I seen this before?

“I’m sorry, I don’t remember this book. I don’t think it’s mine.”

“Oh, you always say that!” said the young girl, handing it to me before returning to the orphanage’s steps.

Editor’s Note:

I found this story at the bottom of a rubbish bin this past fall. I included it in this current edition again because of the appreciation it received from our female readership. Our mailroom was almost flooded with thank you letters saying ‘How nice it is to see woman’s literature!’ and ‘Finally! A story that isn’t all from a man’s perspective!’ I commended Mr. Sansrespite on his daughter’s work when I saw him in passing on the street and he incontrovertibly denied that his daughter Aletheia could be the true author.

“She has no interest in religion at all. It must be someone else.” He said.


[1] Harry Jaffa wrote this into Barry Goldwater’s 1964 Republican nominee acceptance speech. –The Seminarian

[2] That is, either ‘The Family of Aelia’ or the ‘Fellowship of Dror’. One commentator hints that neither of these Sects proper are alluded, but individual teachers, either The Historian or The Self-ist. –The Editor

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