Get You Back Home
1. Ablauf and at 'em
The author is interrupted at the word-processor by the telephone. In the midst of transcribing a taped interview with a guitarist - and, like a dreamer, unwilling to let the environment interfere with his thought processes - he had interpreted the distant ringing as something on the tape. Finally, its familiar sound dawns on him, and he gets up to answer it. The disembodied voice of Derek Bailey, guitarist, carries on, a discreet counterpoint to the exchange on the telephone.
`Hm. Lunch here.'
A voice barks out. `By stuffing all your opinions into the mouths of others you're removing their objectivity, their claim to truth.'
`No, I'm restoring to them their actuality as social vectors.'
`Then why does everything in your book already seem like its own parody?'
`Because you suffer from a metaphysical delusion. You believe the realm of truth is transcendent. You find my situating it in human discourse risible - but discourse seems less risible to me in the mouths of human beings than floating down from heaven.'
`You also seem unable to decide between first and third person. What's the matter with you? Are you going to do a Kafka, turning each of your `I's into an initial. He's already used K. I suggest you use an ideogram made by superimposing the letters OTL. It's reminiscent of Prince's logo.'
`Thank for the advice.' OTL asked. `But, since we're talking identity here - who are you?'
A rude mouth noise, and the line goes dead. His concentration broken by this joker - Dogbiz? Stewpot? a Manic Street Preacher? Stefan `Noizegod' Jaworzyn? - OTL is temporarily non-plussed. He fails to remember that his interview tape is still running; the dodgy contact behind the volume control had failed, ushering in one of the random silences that make his reviewing so creatively erratic. While Derek Bailey held forth to his American interviewer in an inaudible undertone, OTL went to the kitchen to make himself an instant coffee and open up a packet that had arrived that morning.
It is postmarked `Clapton' and his name and address are written in a spidery, Miro-like scrawl. A small gold star has been glued inside the `O' of Out To Lunch. Inside the jiffy-bag is a worn paperback: Doctor Faustus by Thomas Mann, in an English translation put out by Penguin Modern Classics in 1968. There's no letter or note with it, and no inscription, just `70p' written in pencil on the flyleaf. On the cover, a painting of a stocky middle-aged man standing next to a skeleton. He's leaning back with the unfocused yet quizzical gaze of the self-portraitist. A brown, pointed moustache over a massive, cleft double chin. Very menschlich. Behind him are city roofs and church steeples, including one with an East European onion dome, and a chimney issuing smoke. Lunch turned the book over. Selbstbildnis mit Skelett by Lovis Corinth, it said. That `v' was peculiar, like `Louis' read off a Roman inscription - or was it perhaps a spoonerised message with additional cleavage continuity: Clovis Lorinth? OTL's mind was reeling. The skull on the cover had started off an unconscious reverie about the metaphysics of teeth, the single skeletal structure not obscured by the living flesh.
`Why should anyone send me a copy of this work?' Holding the book over the kitchen table, spine upwards, OTL riffled the pages, hoping a clue will drop out. Nothing. However, on closer examionation, he remarked that, at the top right-hand corner, some leaves had been turned down. Opening the yellowing paperback at one of the indicated pages, OTL came upon Wendell Kretschmar's contention that music had found its `highest manifestation' in German orchestration. OTL wondered idly if this Kretschmar could be an ancestor of the Ensemble Modern's pianist Hermann Kretzschmar (the Voice of the German musical tradition - in dialogue with a Public Enemy fan - inside the piano of Zappa's Civilization Phase III). Prescience or what? The extra `z' on Hermann Kretzschmar's name would be a typical Zappa touch. Zapparanoia had struck; the vertiginous suspicion that all culture reduces to motes dancing on one of Zappa's immaculately-polished pinheads. As OTL said later in court:
`My occluded dental meditation was rudely dragged into the light of consciousness when my eye fell on the phrase "dead tooth", neatly picked out in quote marks. In an image Mann admits is "far-fetched", he compares the superannuated effects of romantic orchestration to dead teeth. Although nerveless and moribund, these vestigial features require preservation and "very modern refinement" rather than brutal extraction and disposal. Modernist primitives who jettison all orchestral technique are applying the "barber technique" of dentists who drag out dead teeth by the roots instead of skillfully embalming them.'
Rosa Luxemburg's formula, that the capitalist crisis offers `either socialism or barbarism', hovered in front of OTL's eyes, alongside neon-edged images of Hegelian Aufhebung, Nazis extracting gold teeth from Jewish victims, and the name of the band promoted by Leeds National Front at a `Rock Against Communism' gig in 1980: The Dentists. `I've got to get to your roots,' as the Gestapo officer said to the Jew he was torturing; root-canals, origins, the dark sewers of the unconscious, the middens of concentration camps. OTL's mind flitted with no sense of shame over the lightest and darkest moments of the twentieth century.
OTL's head was in an op-art whirl worthy of Bridget Riley. He opened the book at another place, again marked by a folded corner. A salon full of Weimar professionals and careerists was talking about the `growing tendency of dentists to pull out forthwith all teeth with dead nerves ... they were to be regarded as infectious foreign bodies'. `Forthwith all teeth ...' The sybillants hissed in his imaginary like poisoned snakes. The political implications of uprooting all vestiges of superannuated romanticism were spelt out with graphic clarity.
Observe - it was Dr Breisacher who acutely pointed this out, and met with general agreement - that the hygiene point of view therein represented must be considered, in a way, as a rationalization of the fundamental tendency to let things drop, to give up, to get away, to simplify. For in a matter of hygiene it was quite in place to suspect an ideological basis. There was no doubt that in the future, after we had begun to practise a large-scale elimination of the unfit, the diseased and weak-minded, we would justify the policy by similar hygienic arguments for the purification of society and the race.
Dental hygiene dilemma had never been so starkly explained to OTL before - someone who had once read out to Frank Zappa a tract on reification, Nazism and teeth. Why couldn't he exorcise these connections, grow out of these clusters, set his mind on something else. It was like Walter Benjamin's inability to finish his Arcades prject: the sense of futility that threatens the poetic imagination when it realises it is not `creating poems', but tracing real structures. The rearch can go on forever. But how to serve it up in discrete consumable lumps?
The toothsome anxieties that troubled his mind had founded a most pointed exposition. A molar started aching in sympathy. He put his hand to his cheek; the flesh felt as disembodied and clammy as after a dentist's pain-killing injection. Why had no-one told him about this book before? Was the world asleep? Mann went on to predict an era that would renounce the `humane softness of the bourgeois epoch' and welcome in wars and revolutions, a `return to the Dark Ages' ...
OTL reflected on what distinguished his own brand of modernism from the bootboy antics of Stewpot Hauser. If anything. Did his own cultural critique constitute a correct dialectical twist, one that both destroyed and preserved the best moments of bourgeois culture, or was his aesthetic just an effete hangover, a compromise, a dead tooth waiting for Hauser's revolutionary-proletarian pliers? The was something face-achingly vivid in this way of viewing the dilemma. Middle-class liberals loved to libel the revolutionary left as a mob of Red Fascists. It enabled them to cloak their own collusions with capital as `intelligence' and `refinement', to decry all criticism of their hypocrisy as neanderthal barbarism. This book was an attack on his principles, it evinced the timidity of the liberal who cannot embrace modern life because they fear the working class and its disinterest in the preservation of property values. He noted that on one page Thomas Mann that the barbarism of the Nazis made the dictatorship of the proletariat seem preferable to the `dictatorship of the scum of the earth', but this was hardly revolutionary socialism. It was more like Roosevelt signing a deal woth Joe Stalin!
Returning to his desk to locate a red fibre-tip pen, OTL prised open the book and flattened it on the table.
THIS IS ALREADY THE ERA OF WAR AND REVOLUTION
OTL wrote on the flyleaf
MODERNISM BRINGS NEWS OF A CRISIS ALREADY AMOK
OTL was not to be distracted by Thomas Mann's whey-faced heebeegeebies. Going into the living room, he programmed track two of Descension's CD LIVE, MARCH 1995, a record played by two punk-rockers who'd discovered Free Jazz. Its girder-twang guitar mayhem aufhebunged Xenakis into the gutter-punk iridescence of Hendrix. Here, the dead tooth of romantic orchestration suddenly frisks peacock-tailed through the boudoir, a timbral salute to the gorgeousness of yore improvised out of drumleather and electricity. When Fascism comes, it wears the face of Elton John serenading a dead Lady Diana, an avalanche of self-serving, maudlin, Eva-Peron-itis, OTL concluded; the `hardness' Mann fears is a moral dilemma no Marxist can credit. Incapable of class analysis, everything is reduced to nice versus nasty, soft versus hard, human versus machine - when it's actually capitalist property relations that prevent the machine realising utopia. Property relations! Those small words feared by every otiose cultural commentator ...
The critic hurried back to his word processor and loaded the file for his Hi-Fi News review pages; he had to get some of those adjectives down in ascii before they were lost to the ether. All those straightee nose-picker writers who decry the adjective as a sign of bad style, an indicator of weakness! The foes of nuance, the essentialists of prose, who pretended that their functional sentences were built like rugged rucksacks - they all needed a spanking - a good, hard, thorough, tremulous, dominating, humiliating, boisterous, bollock-swinging spanking! OTL typed his copy with abandon. Things were looking up. Twelve minutes and twenty seconds of Descension always put the lad in a good mood.
Still, though Mann's liberal unction stuck in OTL's craw, too many literary coincidences surrounded the book - not least its anonymous arrival - for it not to harbour further piquant discoveries, perhaps even a poodle? OTL ran a bath and rummaged through his bathroom box-of-tricks for some humungously horrible bath-salts. He wanted to luxuriate in this sentimentalist's lament for a lost culture, its tear-stained Teutonic balladry, its high-cultural condescension, pick serendiptous nuggets from its innocent face as a crow might peck a baa-lamb's eye-balls.
Strange, he thought, as he leafed through the pages while soaking in some pungent essence of pine-forest - its ersatz stench a direct reproach to Heidegger's Teutoberg Ur-Wald. The book was shot through with radicalism, but the author managed to divert each surge of redblood rebellion into grey-green veins of remorse and sentiment. Coming on such statements as `Art would like to stop being pretence and play, it would like to become knowledge', OTL found himself splashing about in agreement like some rubbery dolphin - but somehow everything always ended up wrapped in some insupportable post-war condolence or piety.
Nevertheless, Thomas Mann had evidently encountered some acute minds in his time. Some of these Weimar aesthetes had discerned some essential vectors in the culture, ones still clearly in operation today. Mann's reportage of their arguments was surprisingly lucid. OTL particularly liked a passage that seemed to predict the fast, flat, pressured, materialist musical productions of Frank Zappa and John Zorn. As a critic, OTL had long been accused of bringing a cartoonist's garishness and lack of depth into the sombre world of arcane jazz and post-Ferneyhough classical. His vulgar comparisons and lurid metaphors caused his New Music readers to wince and wish him back in the Hip Hop column where he belonged. Now he was overjoyed to find his punk aesthetic - an unapologetic, populist, advanced-art refusal of commercial glamour in favour of punch-per-second enthrallment - embedded in one of Mann's lordly paragraphs.
We spoke of the union of the advanced with the popular, the closing of the gulf between art and accessibility, high and low, as once in a certain sense it had been brought about by the romantic movement, literary and musical. But after that had followed a new and deeper cleavage and alienation between the good and the easy, the worth-while and the entertaining, the advanced and the generally enjoyable, which has become the destiny of art.
`No evading the ubiquitous Cleavage!', shouted Lunch, flinging the soap at one of his protruding feet. He was impressed - though he also acknowledged that the doughty Thomas was using Cleavage in a dialectically-opposed sense to the Activism of Lenin's splitting a single whole; for Mann, Cleavage was a word to describe the broken, unilluminated world of separation and alienation, as flawed as a golden bowl purchased by an American millionaire using his oil-riches to acquire Kultur ...
Sentimentality was not the means to this end, but instead and much sooner irony, mockery; which, clearing the air, made an opposing party against the romantic, against pathos and prophecy, sound-intoxication and literature - a bond with the objective and elemental, the rediscovery of music itself as an organization of time.
`They really get uptight when you try and move the smoke!' Lunch hollered at the reverberating walls of the bathroom. `A bond with the objective and elemental!' ... Mann had broken through to the alchemical facts of erotic speculation in music science; Lunch could feel his penis stiffen under the water, an astral tension zipping up and down his spine. Lizard vertebrae twisted behind his skin, an intellectual reflex ringed with orgone sparks. His body felt like it had regressed down the evolutionary chain, a hi-speed reverse thrust of chains of chromosomes.
Suddenly, he heard a voice, speaking from just outside the bathroom door. Male, assertive, unflustered. Burglars! Murderers! Anal buggery at gunpoint! OTL stood up to reach for a towel, his willie shrinking in apprehension. Then he remembered the tape he'd been transcribing; the dodgy volume-control must have resumed connection. Derek Bailey was explaining his art to critic John Shiurba, a rapid-fire transmission of Sheffield wit and proletarian handyman materialism. A pig for pearls, OTL got back in the bath and opened his ears to the old man's wisdom.
One of the things I like about Bach's keyboard music, is the incessant continuity of much of it - its something I also like in drum'n'bass - and while this stuff is rattling along, any `expressiveness' it contains comes from the content, not from dramatic gestures. It has a feeling of forward movement but doesn't depend on so-called development nor `swing', as we might say. More to do, I think, with the succesion of ideas, forcing the pace, as it were. There's a German term, Ablauf, that might be relevant. I'm inclined to think of it as one damn thing after another.
One damn thing after another! Ablauf: run up an Alp, then career down the other side, a ski-sick sequence of ideas too quick to allow for meditation, reflection, pathos. Flaunt those spikey ideas in a slipstream of invention too fast for bourgeois collusion. Ablauf! Lunch lay back in the water, turned on the hot tap with his toe and rolled the word on his tongue, calling up the involuntary sequence of associations word-players are heir to: the unstoppable Abba singing the Cabaret pop of `Money, Money, Money', apple-pie, plum-duff, yap-laugh, a bluff, up loft and at 'em! That was surely what made Manga videos so compulsive, so addictive, so electrically, ineluctably modern. Those assholes who prattle on about depth and roundness and fine construction ... One damn thing after another! That said it all, it was all you needed. The phone rang again.
Or maybe Bailey's Ablauf was just music reproducing the relentless pressure of modern life? Dripping and cursing, OTL got out of the bath in order to answer the tele-pester. Doctor Faustus was placed, its cover slightly damp from its bathtime ordeal, on the shelf above the telephone (in between a copy of Eric Tanttrum's useless book on William Burroughs - published by Marion Boyars - and Maurice Nadeau's History Of Surrealism). What was it with this string of insane phone calls? His caller launched into a diatribe without so much as a by-your-leave.
`What makes difficulty is always thought alone, since it keeps apart the moments of an object which in their separation are really united. Don't you think, Doctor Faustus?'
Deep voice, slow delivery, lot of presence.
`Doctor Faustus? Did you perhaps send me the book I got in the post this morning?'
`Book? The tacky little pamphlet in daddy's bottom drawer? I tell you I've never seen that book before ...'
`Gamma! Why are you calling me Doctor Faustus ...'
`It's Holmes, Sherlock Holmes - and you're Doctor Watson, Doctor Faustus, Doctor Who ... what's the difference ... to a sick man, all doctors look alike in suits of sickgreen grey ...'
`You've been reading Lenin!' OTL broke in. `But doesn't Vladimir Ilyich also specify what distinguishes the dialectical transition from the undialectical transition? What about the steps that nature takes, the differentiations structuring the cosmos? Down with grey-green mush! What about the redstart, what about the leap?'
`Leap leap leap - I'm a leaper - or a leper, is that? - I need a doctor ...'
`The leap, Gamma, the contradiction, the interruption of gradualness! Committed to formal logic, the pigs and ponies can only see these two positions as a simple contradiction, an illogical blunder. You quoted Lenin saying that the crucial feature of dialectics is that it declares every distinction unstable and temporary. I quote him saying that its crucial feature is discerning distinctions in the real. However, what does not occur to the those paid to sit by the side of history and think the thoughts of eternity - priests, doctors of philosophy, academics - is that a temporary distinction may itself be crucial. We ourselves, as conscious, thinking, acting human beings, are actually only "temporary distinctions" in the onward process of the universe.'
`We are indeed, Lunch, and I applaud your humanism.'
`But does that mean that we don't matter? Does it fuck.'
`We are matter. The stars are matter. But it doesn't matter.' Gamma sounded great quoting Captain Beefheart. It suited his gravitas more than the psychotic cleverness of the Zapparisms.
`Shop Assistant:' I shot back, `"mind what you are doing. That is only a temporary arrangement." My dad: "Madam! We are all temporary arrangements". Refusing the metaphysics of eternity, which finally despises everything frail and temporary and human, dialectics is a revolt in favour of the specific, the necessary distinction in real time. Our existence here matters; dialectics is revolutionary humanism, Gamma!'
`I'll drink to that.'
`You'd drink to anything, you soak.'
`Marx's dictum - "it is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but social being that determines their consciousness" - is taken by many to be a slur on ideas. However, the slur is not on thought but on the sentimentality of individualism and the dualist separation between mind and matter. It is not about asserting the rights of brute materials. Emphasis on the "social" in "social being" insists on the historical and collective nature of human knowledge. Attempts like Snodgrass's to argue for dialectics by appealing to the latest trends in natural science miss Marx's historical solution to religious and philosophical conundra.'
`Well,' OTL said, attempting to defend Snodgrass - it was all right for him to criticise the great Leninist, but Gamma was coming from outer space here. `Isn't it tempting to find a "dialectical truth" in science at a time when popular accounts of attempts to reach a `total picture of the universe' - a unified solution to the split between quantum mechanics and relativity - are widely read as texts dealing with the ultimate profundities?'
`Like sexual feelings, mass longings for cosmic revelation are prey to exploitation by media "experts".' replied Gamma, ever the Reichian. He hadn't spent two decades reading William Burroughs for nothing.
`Marx's attempt to bring mankind to historical self-consciousness is a permanent outrage to the purveyors of transcendental truth, because it subsumes their answer in earthly motives. The consciousness he wished to reach was radically democratic because it sought to lay bare the economic substructure in the here and now; which is why Stalinism cannot be answered by "theory" - rejigging the "correct" relationship of consciousness to society - but can be answered by empirical research into who benefited from surplus value under state-capitalism. Idealists naturally think bad conditions are a product of bad political theory (that "the consciousness of men determines their existence"), but "theory" is as contingent as anything else in the universe.'
`The philosophers, as a rule university professors, have an interest in preserving for their professional intellect the character of the divine spark.' Said Gamma, warming to his subject. `But we - the common folk - need to grasp that this very intellect is a common natural object. Behind the question - whether there's in our head a "sublime idealistic spirit" or a common human reason - we find the great social question.'
`As to whether might and right are today on the side of the privileged class - or on the side of the common people ...'
`Gamma! You're talking my language. Though phrased in somewhat antiquated, almost nineteenth-century, language, I hear what you say! I get your gist, baby.'
`That's good. Lunch, listen. I didn't just ring you up to throw about some sophomoric Leninism. I've got someone here who knows you.'
`He's doing research into disco and its influence on philosophy.'
`Well he's got the wrong guy if he came to see you. I mean, Gamma, I love you - but when was the last time you looked at Kant's Critique Of Practical Reason?'
`My cricket-stump is as shit-kicking as any smarmy librarian's,' he retorted cryptically. His voice became an urgent whisper. `The ticklesome tic is a fucking coprophiliac! He's one of Dogbiz's crew. I mean, he may be some kind of Cambridge don, but his appetite for that crazy shit is just endless. I mean, he stared at the dirty water in my bathtub for hours. He was so impressed!'
In the background I heard a voice. It was low-key but somehow also hysterical, a clipped Scottish precision to it. I guessed Edinburgh rather than Glasgow. The lack of inflection seemed to indicate that Gamma's guest was reading from something rather than talking extempore.
`Reductive abuses of populist Marxism indicate that without such complexity Marxism can all too easily become an ideology of state oppression. But if Marxism cannot develop popular forms, the prospects for successful revolutionary politics are bleak.'
`What's that?' I asked Gamma. `I heard some Scottish voice talking about Marxism ...'
`That's him!' hissed Gamma. `He's reading out his prospectus for research!'
`Why's he talking to you? I mean you're a man of the people, but I wouldn't exactly call you popular, Gamma. Besides, since when were you an expert on disco? You're more a Blues Boom product, aren't you? Or maybe lysergic acid and Free Jazz - but disco?'
`Shh.' He said. `It's complex, a deal with someone I know in publishing. Besides, I went out and bought "C'Est Chic" and "Y.M.C.A." and "East River" by the Brecker Brothers while you were still wondering if the Boomtwon Rats had any street credibility ...'
`Yeah, and the album sleeve had Michael Brecker sitting on a porcelain toilet, I remember it well!'
`That's not the point. Tonight I'm an alcoholic, a casualty of too many Travolta suits, shirts with pointy white collars and high-decibel disco sonics with strobe visuals ... but listen to this guy, he's unbelievable!'
Gamma turned the phone towards him. `As a commodification of the dance impulse, disco has received short shrift among the community of trust founded by Basil Blenkinsop. The risk is that processes of monetary exchange are taken for political positions, and that criticism is sacrificed to a decorous tension between a private ethics of political commitment and the public afflatus of commercial pronouncement.'
`He's been going on like this for hours. I thought he was coming to ask me questions about cocaine and my work as A&R man for Casablanca, but he's come to read me a lecture ... Can you make head or tail of it, Lunch? Old Holmes sure can't ...'
The voice continued, so involved with its periphrastic parataxes that Gamma's phone-calling hadn't been noticed.
`The secular and rational core of Benjamin's concept of "redemption" is too easily misconstrued, even if Benjamin is right to insist on redemption as the action of freedom, a non-negative equity which is historically implicit in the conception of redemption before its appropriation as a theological motif, however negative.'
`Gloss me, Lunch.'
`He thinks the basis of human communication is poetry, so a system like religion merely travesties a prior inspiration.'
`I see. Hey, Mr Milke! So you think religion isn't so bad after all? But could you explain its connection to your research into 70s disco?'
`Sorry. Mr Proctor, you've broken my line of argument. Dialectic cannot afford to be a moment too soon, but dares to be not a moment too soon. This is the cusp where speculation encounters science and freedom revivifies financial rhetoric. It is all to easy to pastiche Adorno, but the speaker is always already caught up in Heideggerian obscurantism. Suspended scepticism does not fit the bill, even if the bill requires sceptical suspension. By the way, who are you phoning?'
`My helpline. It's a computer-generated voicebox capable of logico-mathematical deduction. Your paper confused me. It also has some passing acquaintance with old disco records, though they've neglected to supply that domain with truly representative data.'
`Well, what's it saying, then, my good man?'
Milke's voice suddenly came over the telephone loud and clear. `Okay, if you've got any help on the line, let's hear same.'
`Mr Milke,' Lunch said, `your notion of "complexity" as a defence against oppression is not Marxism - but a conservative notion of culture as a value filtered down from the "civilised" elite. A golden shower us guttersnipes must sip. Your idea of developing popular forms like disco in order to transmit the "correct orientation" arrived at by higher minds is a recipe for Socialist Realism - or the dodgier aspects of The Red Crayola and Scritti Politti.'
`I don't know whether you've sufficient data-input to make sense of this observation,' Milke said patiently, used to this machine-like arrogance from his years of teaching students, `but I'd like to point out that Miles Davis was highly enamoured of Green Gartside's tunesmithery.' The pop-columnist's word sounded strange in Milke's mouth, like a sugar-pop placed on the polished plinth of a piece of medical apparatus.
`The fact that Miles Davis liked Scritti Politti,' replied Lunch, `is merely another illustration of his poor-taste opportunism. Mr Milke, your study of disco is as unlikely to result in redemption as a gargoyle on Chartres Cathedral. You can't just raid peasant groteqsues and mount them within the gothic eyesore of your towering intellect. Besides, you confuse commercial penetration with prismatic concentration of social tensions. These are not the same, and this is a Frothite error. You treat disco as an achieved form, and hence only consider revered monuments like `I'm Mighty Real' and `We Are Family' and `You're The One That I Want' - whereas it is in its failures that disco is most usefully investigated. I suggest you try and obtain a copy of Extra Disco Perception by the Watsonian Institute or A Whiter Shade Of Pale by Munich Machine Introducing Chris Bennett - or even Frankie Crocker's Heart and Soul Orchestra Presents The Disco Suite Symphony No 1 in Rhythm and Excellence (though some take exception to its glamourized mechanicism, there are others - and I myself lean towards their verdict - for whom the fusion between impatient Fleischlust and relentless Mechanismus has a libidinal charge).'
`Mr Proctor - your helpline's demented. At first it talked some kind of sense - albeit rebarbative and of questionable taste - but now it's spouting pure hokum!'
`Keep trying, Mr Milke, it's a self-regulating and interactive homeostatic system and will soon return your ball.'
`As in tennis.'
Milke put his ear to the receiver. There was a choking sound, then Lunch's rhetoric hit the ground running. `The failure to appreciate the subtlety and complexity of the real, to learn from `non-intellectual' forms of class struggle like crap records is a recurring motif in academic Marxism. You attack Stalinism as a species of "vulgar" Marxism. This has a different ring from its use by Marx to condemn the bourgeois-apologist political economy of idealogues like Malthus. You think what is wrong with Stalinism is that it has not grasped the "finer points" of an oh-so-subtle "discipline". That was not the problem with Stalinism! The Soviet State employed thousands of academics to discuss the minutiae of Dialectical Materialism. The problem with Stalinised Marxism is not its crude vulgarity, but its hierarchical conviction that knowledge can be the preserve of a special caste, a perfect "science" determined by the few and dictated to the mass. But the truth is neither above nor below, neither in Washington nor in Moscow, neither in spirit nor in the flesh, but everywhere. As Josef Dietzgen pointed out: "There is nothing perfect in the world, because only the whole universe is perfect, because the universe alone is perfection itself." You treat the intellect as a thing "in itself", whilst I emphasize that the intellect does not exist by itself, but is interconnected with all things and with the universe.'
This was the third person to quote the infernal `Dietzgen' to Milke in a week! Snodgrass had complained about the fad for Dietzgen in a letter to Socialist Review, but the damn cult was now infecting the academy, running riot on computerised information systems and interrupting empirical research into disco (or `the Socio-Economics Of Commodified Pulse Musics' as they called it in Cambridge).
`This kind of populist pantheism ... ' He began.
`I know, it's ubiquitous!' said the helpline gaily. `Frank Zappa's "Panty Rap" - the song on Tinseltown Rebellion about collecting panties for an artist named Emily James to make into a quilt - everything stitched to everything else via some kind of unwashed miasma - is thus revealed as a prescient act of populist pantyism! The Funk is on the One, baby.'
`Frank Zappa? What had he got to do with it?' Then Milke remembered Gamma's obsession with the hirsute guitar-player. His technical back-up company must have added the dreaded Frank Zappa Website Data-link in order to `customise' the helpline. Come to think of it, it was probably illegal for anyone but Proctor to ask it any questions. Not that it appeared to wait for any. The thing was unstoppable, a gabbling torrent of innuendo and insult. What had he done to deserve this?
`Panties aside, having materialized everything spiritual, there remained nothing for you academic Marxists to do but spiritualize your own profession!' It was saying. `You make out academic knowledge to be of a different stuff from, say, the knowledge of the peasant, of the office temp or of the leather-sex queen. You won't trust the workers to decommision a nuclear-power plant because - counter to the Marxism you profess - you don't trust working-class self-activity!'
How did the helpline know about his power-plant image, one he'd used in a paper delivered to the Seminar of Crustaceous Antidotes in 1988? There was no time to request sources or footnotes. The helpline carried on: `You aren't even faithful to the Adorno whose cadences you replicate! Despite his mandarin tastes, Adorno managed to keep his thought dialectical. He did so by making such offensively partisan judgements about music: he was in for a scrap, just like the office temp or leather-queen. Your "objective", non-judgmental study of popular form, however, refuses to make distinctions - it accepts the judgment of the market-place. You thus maintain a Habermassian split between an ethical political democracy and the depredations of the market, but these are actually two sides of the same liberal system. Rhetorics abot freedom of speech and freedom of trade are not by accident related, Mr Milke. Deleuze and Guattari's hatred for boundaries is more to do with Free Trade than the abolition of immigration controls. Under capitalisnm, vaunting the public sphere against the private is like being for women against men - or for Good versus Evil - a catatonic perpetuation of inert Kantian dualisms. You're a liberal pluralist in love with John Travolta who hasn't even discerned the proletarian protest burning at the heart of Saturday Night Fever!'
`Your prose borders on blank verse - cadences worthy of Honor de Balzac! Who wrote your program? Is it Microsoft software or something Japanese using Artificial Intelligence? And your knowledge of disco is highly impressive. Do you date on the internet or are you designated as a telephonic apparatus?'
Lunch realised Milke was flirting with the helpline. His machine-like sense of purpose refused to be distracted by such blandishments: `Your academicism presents ground rules for universal good behaviour and mutual respect, but in so doing polices a rarefied and polite realm, truly of "different stuff" from the average barney about the worth of any cultural item.'
Milke laughed. `Very good.' He gave him his Cambridge e-mail address and said he'd read any poetry the helpline would care to submit to his journal. `Well, Mr Proctor,' he said, putting the phone down and retrieving his voluminous paper, `that helpline was certainly abusive and pretty misguided, but nevertheless I was impressed by the extent of knowledge of literary and political arcana. You're obviously backed by some pretty advanced think-tanks. It makes me wonder why you live in this slum. However, we've quite a bit to get through, so I'd value it if you'd keep interruptions to a minimum.'
Gamma groaned. Mr Milke's visit had been arranged so he could ask him questions about his years in the disco industry. Theoretically strung out by years of reading among the abstruser members of the Frankfurt School of Sociological Research, Milke's `empirical' field-work actually consisted of the recitation of theoretical treatises to unsuspecting members of the public. After he'd finished, they were asked to answer a multiple-choice questionnaire - mainly about free-associative word-play springing from the images employed in the preceding paper. Any other approach, it had been decided, would smack of populist ingratiation and theoretical slackness (not to mention rank subjectivism). Two-way conversation, after all, is hardly a scientific procedure. Before Milke's arrival, Gamma had spun at least two K-Tel disco compilations on his antiquated record-player, encroaching on much-valued Frank Zappa listening time. He swore quietly to himself as Milke rumbled on, mystified by his logical convolutions and liberal use of the Marxist chiasmus. The way the mise-en-scne had migrated from Lunch's house to his own via the telephone was also puzzling him. It threatened some kind of rhizomatic extension of the procedures of the realist novel. Weighed down by these cogitations, Gamma noted with relief the arrival of a break in the text.
_2. Leathern Philosophy #1
Underneath a railway arch on Pancras Way, Oswald the Cobbler was working on a corset. It was an unusual commission for him, as his real speciality was shoes. Many years ago, in order to develop the right grades of leather, he'd taken to tanning his own, receiving untreated skins from the slaughterhouses and processing them himself. Hides draped the back of the shop, although the actual pickling and tannage was done in a shed on a lot. Use of substances like chromium oxide, sulphonated sperm oil and hydrochloric acid inside the unventilated shop would have been lethal. When a crustie couple from the mountain-bike shop next door had seen some hides hanging at the back of the shop, they'd got interested in having him construct some `customised clothing'. They'd approached him as if he might be shocked at their request - basically, a restrictive leather teddy for her and a harness with a cock-ring for him - which made Oswald want to laugh. He was fully aware of the erotic potential of the material, and back in the day had constructed all kinds of garments for the whores who frequented the area. However, he didn't let them witness his amusement, as he didn't want to offend them. If people wanted to truss each other up, that was all part of the poignancy of desire as far as he was concerned.
He'd allowed the kids to finger his book of samples and choose the particular grade of leather they wanted. He enjoyed their shy enthusiasm, their embarassed fascination with the material. They'd chosen black, of course, with an oily sheen reminiscent of the plastic used for bin-bags. Funny how, even when they went up-market, these punks couldn't shake off their affection for the cheap stuff. Still, they'd chosen well, the Basyntan JZ powder he'd used in the tannage had achieved a fine combination of obdurate impermeability and figure-hugging flexibility. He'd already cut the required shapes from the hide - they produced the measurements as if revealing deep secrets about their sex lives - working with a Stanley knife on a reclaimed butcher's table. Now, using his shoe-tools, he was punching small holes for the gut twine he was going to sew the garment together with. He noted a slight sensation in his crotch as he sewed, and smiled; his own orgone energy was giving the garment his blessing. However, he hoped they wouldn't try on the garments in the shop. Shoe-buyers could get a little upset by witnessing unusual applications of his skills.
He turned on the radio. Sting. He gave a snort of displeasure. The berk was ubiquitous. You couldn't go for a slash in a motorway services without having his strangled tones piped into the unwilling ear. Crack-toned politeness - the antithesis of rock'n'roll, jazz, reggae - all the musics the ex-schoolteacher smarmed together into his halting monotone. What was that video with cowboys and aliens, where he flies aloft onto the astral plane, stretches his arms as if crucified and sings about realising `everything's connected'? Oswald found himself blushing as he worked the punch mechanism. Always embarrassing when total dipsticks voice perceptions you hold dear.
Leather-workers deal with the perimeter between inner and outer, flesh and the inanimate. They restitch segments of previous integumental unities into usable commodities. They seem peculiarly aware of the actual connections between things; Sting's amateur, water-colour version of the Dialectical Esemplasm was bound to offend him. He changed radio stations. Someone talking about a book called Stilled Tongues, complaining about how politicians were incapable of repartee, that their advisors protected them from spontaneous encounters with the public because they were too chicken-shit scared to answer them back. Pleased with this outbreak of critical spleen, Oswald left the dial. He punched the last aperture and reached for his needle and thread.
Later, over a lunchtime pint of Guinness in the Prince Alfred, Oswald complained about Sting's pale pantheism to Gyp. Gyp was an ancient dosser with white hair and beard who was allowed to sit out the afternoons at the edge of the public bar's central carpet. It was tacitly understood that there, where the pile was vacating the weave in chunks and the weft provided trip-up loops for unwary drinkers, he could sit unmolested. Talking to him was rather like having your brain unravelled, anyway. He too was drinking Guinness, pints of which seemed to appear on his table by magic. He never seemed to go to the bar. Rather than anything to do with his rootless lifestyle, Gyp's name was rhyming slang on account a split lip. He came from a South Yorkshire mining family. Having served his political apprenticeship in the Communist Party of the 1930s, he could rarely be caught out where dialectical philosophy was concerned.
Oswald didn't think Gyp would know who Sting was. In fact, he'd broached the subject precisely because it seemed so incongruous. He liked Gyp's responses to off-the-wall subject-matter.
`Sting? The singer with the Police. I always hated him, tell the truth. His band was well-named, the conformist cops of the New Wave. Adonis-without-an-inkling tries to sing reggae. "I'm just an Englishman in New York" - as if he's to be numbered among the oppressed. Pah!'
`I'm surprised you've come across him.'
`Well, I didn't want to. A mate of mine used to roadie for Andy Summers. You know Sting's original name was Gordon Sumner? Too much sunshine in that band, too many blonde beasts. It was a visual thing, nothing to do with sound at all. Real music comes from tilting the self away from the sun, it's a gift from the dark side.'
`Roadieing for Summers?'
`Summers was a professional musician in the early '70s, wasn't "New Wave" at all, session man - he'd be hired for tours - Neil Sedaka, Kevin Ayers, Kevin Coyne ... can you think of a more ill-assorted bunch of song-writers to sell your skills to? They all had `K' in their names - a Ku Klux Klan fixation, probably, which surfaced elsewhere in the Police culture - as it always does. Scratch someone who willingly hires their services to the bourgeoisie and you find a racist psychosis.'
`But what was your mate's connection?'
`He was a Doncaster head-banger who dealt acid in Derby - hence the Kevin Coyne connection. To his credit, he always said Summers was a bourgeois toe-rag.'
`Gyp, these reminscences aren't in keeping with your image as a retired hero of the class struggle.'
`Don't give me that piffle. Student Trotskyists infiltrated our branches because they smoked hash - and the CP full-timers didn't. You've got to know the score. Anyway, what was that lyric you objected to?'
`I can't remember the words, it was that bad. The thing that struck me was the preposterous video - early days of blue-out special-effects - where Sting soars heavenward, stars fly from his arm-pits and he reminisces - that's it, he reminisces - about the time he looked up at the stars and realised "everything connects" ...'
`Aha. You're embarrassed. He sounds like you!'
`I suppose that's possible,' said Oswald, `but that's not quite it. As you say, structurally - poetically, politically, wordplay-wise - The Police are antithetical to my way of thinking. It's not like I'm going to convert to them. I mean, as Marx says, one of the greatest joys of thought is when your own categories explode and you cleave the hymen of your idealist finish to absorbe the new! But Sting? That's going a bit far.'
Gyp raised an eyebrow, but restrained any ribaldry.
`If I didn't know The Police, I might try and play devil's advocate here, but you're right, we just can't include them in. You've got to build the barricade at some point. But you know, Oswald, mockery is always just around the corner. A dialectician can't hold his own in a hostile environment without acknowledging that! Take Josef Dietzgen ...'
Dietzgen was a favourite of Gyp's. He hadn't seen a copy of `Excursions of a Socialist into the Domain of Epistemology' or The Nature of Human Brain-Work Presented by a Workingman: a Renewed Critique of Pure & Practical Reason for thirty years, but something in Dietzgen had stuck in his brain. `Philosophy that moves the will is remembered beyond any school lesson' thought Oswald as Gyp's eye lit up, and he started discoursing. Oswald felt as if Gyp was a surgeon drawing out some sting that had stuck in his flesh.
`The theosophical cobbler of G"rlitz ...' Gyp winked at Oswald, well aware of the profession of his addressee, `knew that his own "everything connects" dialectical philosophy could be parodied. It's not hard to see why. Think of the origin of dialectical thought. Thales of Miletus' original assertion that everything in the universe is made of "different kinds of water" is funny, don't you think? I mean, honestly - transparent, wet water is "water"; brown, crumbly water is "earth"; red, flaming water is "fire" ..'
`Yes, and shiny, round, flat water is a compact disc, and so on!' Oswald broke in. He raised his pint of Guinness, staring at the ellipsis of white head around the middle of the glass, then - deciding not to get into Celtic curves as against Roman straights - drank the remaining half-pint in a gulp. He was at the point - unheard of in his philosophy - of offering Gyp a drink. But Gyp was well into his exposition.
`Well, it's funny - but why? It's the weird tautology behind all attempts to portray the real. How can the universe really manage to include a reflection of itself? It boggles the brain - it gives the thinking taps some welly, that one, I can promise thee!'. Gyp emphasized his South Yorkshire brogue with a kind of satirical glee. `In 1883, Dietzgen wrote a letter to his son Eugen. Among other things - some of it coded kaballistic wisdom about a mature attitude towards sexual matters - Dietzgen entertains the dangerous notion that "dialectical" understanding of the world erases all differences within it ...'
`Ah!' Said Oswald. `It's like the man says, "Grey mush surrounds the dialectician like a numinescent cloud!".
`Yes, but listen to how Dietzgen put it ...'
As he spoke, unnoticed by either Guinness-devotee, a zeppelin floated over Somers Town. If a photographer - though no-one was actually present to document this humble scene we're witnessing - had knelt on the frayed carpet to record these two amateur philosophers, the zeppelin would have been seen in the corner of the window, a lozenge of blurred grey against an indeterminate pale sky. The technician who was directing it from Greenwich - staring into a visually-relayed computer screen and switching propellers on and off via radio-links - could see the roof of the Prince Alfred, but little guessed the conversation it housed.
`It's the problem Hegel encountered, with his idea that the real must be rational because it's there. Seeking to evade the is/ought split of Kant, to explode that dismal dualism between world and thought, Hegel's dialectic can give rise to the idea of "universal reasonableness". It's not just thinking beings - people - that are reasonable, but "mountains, valleys, forests and fields, and even fools and knaves". Dietzgen then compares his own argument to a mid-nineteenth-century student's drinking song: "What's Coming from the Heights?". Apparently it made everything - and this should interest you, Oswald - leathern. The song has a leathern coach-driver, a leathern letter, even father, mother and sister are of leather! It's a totally stupid song.'
`Like Sting's, you mean.'
`Yes. And Dietzgen says he's well aware that his argument that everything is reasonable, and the drinking song that everything's leather, are comparable. He says, "to call leather reasonable and reason leathern brews a howling mixture of language". He momentarily returns to Kant, arguing that language is only reasonable when it classifies the world and distinguishes things by different names. This is easily understood. But he also says that those who use their intellect without logical training tend to exaggerate distinctions - they ignore the connections. All things are not only separated, but also connected! Commonsense logic can't rise to the recognition of the interrelation of all things. The science of reason frequently treats reason and experience as if they were two different things, without a common nature. Therefore, Dietzgen makes it a point to insist that there is no experience without reason and no reason without experience.'
`He's putting knowledge back in the human breast,' said Oswald.
`How does that deal with my Sting problem?'
`In that these two points of view - separation and unity - must be part of a single process. We mustn't bless one and damn the other. In his business deals, you you can be sure that Sting doesn't give a hang for the Dialectical Esemplasm - there's no way in which his love of the Rainforests leads towards a critical attitude towards capitalist accumulation. How else could he pop up on every damn radio? His "everything connects" is embarassing because it's separated out as an emotional climax, a mystic fusion, rather than a sober basis for dialectical research and practice.'
`In fact, Sting separates "everything connects" from everything else!'
`That's right. You've got it. All you need is to put a motor in yourself. You've got to distinguish, but you also must connect. And Dietzgen ends up with the drinking song's absurd idea of a leather lady ...'
Oswald knew about that. He'd just been constructing a corset for just such an individual! He felt like interrupting Gyp with this information, but then thought it'd be more interesting to hang back, see where Gyp arrived without this serendipitous confirmation of his line of thought.
`Dietzgen argues that there can be no reason without specifically separating the things of the world, without distinguishing between leather and lady, between reason and experience. He calls the idea of a leathern lady a "youthful extravagance". However, it also illustrates the "dialectic interflow of all names and things, of all subjects and predicates". According to commonsense, reason only exists in the thinking subject, but this commonsense becomes nonsensical if it doesn't accept that - in so far as it thinks - the thinking subject is interconnected with all the others in the world, and thinking with all the world. The whole of existence - and only the whole - is reasonable, in the highest meaning of the word.'
`You've got to include him in, even if you relegate him to a minute pinprick in the cosmic map.'
`Okay.' They'd reaching a breathing space. Unknown to them, the zeppelin had positioned itself directly above the Prince Alfred. Oswald suddenly felt sentimental towards the old dosser, who'd waxed so articulate on his behalf. Feeling Gyp might have been given the fuzzy end of the lollypop by some omniscient narrator, he offered him a pint of Guinness. As he leant on the bar, waiting for the landlord to stroke their pints with his tineless comb, Oswald reflected on the idea of the `leather lady' Gyp had resuscitated from Dietzgen. It was a bizarre jump from the material he worked to the object of of desire. Subsequent developments had confirmed Dietzgen's would-be-ludicrous example of the co-existence of contingencies in the world. As a fetish material, Oswald reflected, leather bridges the gap between manufacture and nature, inanimate and human, object and desire. Its impermeability dramatises the vulnerability of flesh, while its plasticity fixes human form in erectile stasis.
As the landlord placed two pints of Guinnes on the plastic drip-mat on the bar, Oswald became aware of a calendar pinned on the wall behind him. A cheap booklet of the year's dates - a month a page - dangled beneath a garish picture. It showed an ancient city wall beneath which milled armed warriors and men in togas. On a platform of crude wooden logs constructed below the wall, a woman with a shapely body and long dark hair was standing. Her wrists were tethered to a wooden post. Behind her stood a man in a mask, holding a five-stranded whip. Written on a scroll in the foreground were the words: `A Scene From Outside Brundisium'. Oswald guessed that it must be a painting, but it was air-brushed so skillfully - in a fantasy-art mode - that it could almost have been a photograph, or a still from a film. He found it surprising that a picture like that could be displayed in a family pub.
When he returned to the table with the Guinness, he asked Gyp where the city of Brundisium was.
`Brundisium?' he said, `Off-world - it's a city on the Planet Gor.'
`The planet Gor?'
`It's a counter-earth. Its orbit round the sun coincides exactly with that of the earth, but it's six months behind - or ahead. Hence it's never been spotted by astronomers.' It was never easy to distinguish fact from fiction with Gyp; his literary criticism frequently sounded more like speculative anthropology or - as here - lunatic cosmogeny. Oswald thought he'd throw in some sci-fi references in order to bring some sense to the proceedings.
`Gerry Anderson used that idea in one of his early efforts, didn't he? One of his first films, where he made actors look like puppets rather than vice versa. A terrestrial simulacrum, where everything's reversed, a planetary double helix? While I'm supping this pint of Guinness, my mirror image on Gor is slowly spewing out an equivalent dark liquor into a glass? A counter-clock world?'
`That wasn't quite the idea. Author John Norman - who claimed he was merely publishing manuscripts given him by someone called Tarl Cabot - was more interested in sadomasochism than schizophrenia. Gore is the name of an island off Senegal, a notorious slaving centre in the early bourgeois period. You can visit its dungeons today - it's a regular stop off for the black American `heritage' tours advertised in the back-pages of Ebony magazine. Interestingly enough, from your point of view, leather is of great importance on Planet Gor. It's an archaic society, still dependent on stone and wood and cattle for its basic materials. Palisades are always made of bundles of branches lashed together by leather thongs, the tarpaulin over the sweetmeat stall is made of leather, and so on. Slaves are frequently placed in leather hoods. Whips are made of leather too.'
`You know, when I was seven, eight years old, my sexual fantasies centred on an archaic city. It was Ancient Greece or Rome, but it was a matriarchy. Women ran everything. Boys like me were frequently stripped and displayed on the public streets. I fantasised being tied by my wrists and ankles to a cart-wheel and being towed about the city on the back of a donkey-cart. They'd all stare at my prick, I'd have an erection ...'
`Ah, blissful times, never to be repeated ...' said Gyp with an old man's melancholy, `... and surprisingly like Planet Gor! Except there, it's the men who enslave the women - apart from a few cameo role-reversals, such as Fighter Of Gor, which has some great scenes with the enslaved gladiator working in the grand lady's stables! They line up, nude, kneeling, while she struts among them. They get incredibly excited by the sight of her booted ankle beneath her long skirts. I hope you're a shoe fetishist - Charles Fourier proposed that in his socialist society, all "work" would be redeemed by fulfilling certain sexual peccadillos ...'
`There must be a common root for these fantasies. It reminds me of Fascist classicism - the longing for a simpler society, one where actions speak louder than words, and you can comprehend everything simply by looking at appearances. If you stand in front of the Ancient Greek temple on Aegina, the island outside Athens, you can see the Parthenon and the Temple of Diana on the mainland. All the monuments were built to be mutually visible through crystalline Mediterranean air. I think John Norman is writing about that longing. It's like those old Hollywood epics with Charlton Heston: the catapults and traps are all so easily comprehended by the observing eye, like giant toys.'
`That's it. It's like the clarity with which Herg's line-drawing defines objects like telephones and telegraph poles and cars in Tintin. On Planet Gor, social relations are transparent, too - there's no hypocrisy, no liberal pretence that people are really all equivalent citizens. Just as the slave is stripped, domination is made obvious - there is a lot of obeisance, grovelling in the dust, sandal and whip kissing. Social domination and submission are made evident and titillating. The invisible transactions of modern life are stripped bare - in an atmosphere both savage and bracing.'
`Apart from being used to lash palisades together and keep the sun off confectionary - does leather on Gor have the sexual charge it has today?'
`I thought you were only making conventional footwear these days, Oswald.'
`A week ago, I had a couple in wanting a corset and a harness - the works - all in leather, with metal studs ...'
`Yes, leather's sexual on Gor, but then everything is. The whole place is a sparkling, floodlit sexual fantasy. Norman contrasts the moist penetrability of the pleasure slaves to the frigidity of what he calls the `leather women'. These wear leather armlets and bracelets and keep the slaves in line. In Dancer Of Gor, Doreen Williamson - who's been kidnapped from the library she works in on Planet Earth - has her virginity raffled-off in the tavern belonging to Hendow. This is in Brundisium, by the way. Hendow fingers her cunt and finds she's wet, and everyone laughs because they can see she is `vital' - Norman's word for a woman who responds to sadistic treatment. Humiliated, she blushes all over her face and neck, she even blushes at her ankles. For a moment, she wishes that she was one of those women "like leather" who hated men - but then she decides that's she's too soft and feminine for that, that really she has "slave needs". So, without knowing it, Norman brings Dietzgen's absurd conjunction - leather and lady - into dialectical congruence.'
`You know, you should have seen the couple in the shop, fingering my leather samples together. It's something to do with the way leather is both organic and inorganic, immobile and yet once alive.'
`It's also something in a shop, a commodity, some alien thing they're buying and planning to use intimately. It's a fetish - in both Freudian and Marxist senses.'
`Norman shows that Dietzgen was right to suspect a connection between leather and lady - an interpenetration between the antinomies commodity and person, impermeable externality and inward craving. Sadomasochistic arousal is close to dialectics. It switches opposites, preferring play with polarities to metaphysical rigidity, but still outlining the extremes that break up grey-mush boredom and put an arclight on the world: black straps on white skin!'
Gyp tore the printed surface off a warped beermat which the traditionalist landlord at the Prince Alfred had managed to wrest from the current beermat famine. `Got a pen?' he rasped impatiently. Oswald gave him the biro he used to mark up hides for cutting. Gyp scribbled on the torn mat and handed it over. He'd written a bibliographic reference.
Josef Dietzgen - 22nd Letter on Logic for his son Eugen - 1883
Oswald thrust it in his pocket.
`If socialists forget the oneness of all existence,' Gyp said, `they topple into the dualistic moralism which poses "proletarian decency" versus "bourgeois vice" - and pretend that only Tory MPs wish to do bizarre things with suspender belts and oranges.'
`Stephen Milligan!' said Oswald irreverently, and raised his glass.
`This infringes the rights of every militant human being who wishes to experiment with underwear and fruit! If comrades mock Prince Charles for wanting to be a tampon in the vagina of his beloved, they spurn the sole syllables of poetry that have ever crossed the royal lips. Psychoanalysis is the essential antidote to sexual hypocrisy. It insists on a grain of subjective involvement in every human act: it refuses the division of the world into the public saints, indignant and vengeful, and the private sinner, cowering and guilty. In discerning the subjective component of strictures on sexual behaviour, psychoanalysis is as dialectical as the Marxism that asks about the relationship between a professor's ideas and his or her stipend. Dietzgen's "leathern ladies" and emphasis on "horsey nature beneath the skin" suggest a materialist politics that could break through the binary blandishments of gender and race: an esemplasticity of revolutionary consequence! Beneath the white flowers of the campaigners for innocence lie the birch twigs of corporal punishment. Only a politics that can entertain these ideas in proximity can sport its smarts with pride!'
Oswald looked at his watch. He had to get back to his workshop.
`Indeed.' He said.
`You'll understand once you look up Dietzgen's letter to his son Eugen. Ostensibly, the letters concern dialectics and logic, but they are also transmitters of kabbalistic wisdom about sexual relations ... it's the unity of those two that those Stalinist gits could never get to, that's why Trotsky's interest in Freud was vilified ...'
`You subscribe to David Bacon's thesis that psychoanalysis was actually a scientific, secular manifestation of the anti-patriarchal Jewish sexual-materialist heresy introduced into Jewish thought by Sabbatai Z'ev?'
`Of course. Doesn't everybody?'
Oswald got up from his seat. Although Gyp's conversation was compulsive, he still had an afternoon's work to do. He took his empty glass to the bar. This was partly out of politeness, but also to get another eyeful of the scene from Gor hanging on the wall behind the bar. Although he should have been surprised - for some reason wasn't - the picture had changed. The woman with long dark hair was now crouching at the side of the platform, though still nude, she was now on all fours, her hands bound behind her back. Her back showed striations, as if she'd been whipped in the interim. A tag had been hooked into her ear. Oswald guessed that she had been sold and was waiting to be collected. At the centre of the platform, the slaver was displaying a new girl - tall, slender and blonde - his coiled whip at her throat. As he looked, Oswald fancied he could see her long blonde hair move in the breeze. The pommel on the slaver's dagger appeared to sparkle in the sunshine. He put the glass he was holding down on the bar and made for the exit, nodding at Gyp as he left.
_3. Steif Bohner Works Hard
Steif Bohner's boss was called Helen Muffin, a tall brunette who wore clicky heels and carried her shiny black briefcase like a weapon. Steif found it surprising how many of his colleagues found her attractive; she was all-too girl-guide for him, too clean, with her crisply-ironed white silk blouses and sparse, tasteful gold jewellery. Her hair was cut in a modern but unfussy style, giving her the `timeless glamour' recommended in the more expensive women's magazines. In the endless productivity meetings where Helen produced her graphs of sales and revenue, flashing up pie-charts on the OHP like they were rosicrucian fetishes, he'd gaze with awe at the longitudinal extravagance of her finely-chiselled nostrils. There was something unnatural and hard about her, as if she were made of acrylic or cellulose. If you embraced her she'd crumple and rustle like a packet of crisps. Whether from nervousness or stupidity, she had a habit of nodding after she'd said something, and then pushing a lock of shiny, shampooed hair behind one of her finely-chiselled ears. Steif didn't fancy her at all. But, shameless pervert that he was, he did find that some of her reproaches and dressing-downs gave him a hard-on.
A square of blue suddenly appeared in the lower right-hand corner of his VDU screen. A white shape flickered in front of it like some etiolated, apprentice-oroborus goldfish; Bill Gates's visualisation of an e-mail impatient to be read. He hit the escape key and opened it up. The message was marked with an animation icon, so he clicked on the `run' button. A cartoon Karl Marx popped up, all Jewish big nose and beard. The figure was signed - in a tiny version of Walt Disney's loopy logo-script - with the initials `EP'. Steif had no idea who could have sent it. A speech bubble appeared at his lips, like something in the mouth of an acquarium fish, then floated upwards. Words were written on it, the letters fine and curved like a motto incised on an eighteenth-century wine glass:
Labour is not the source of all wealth! Nature is just as much the source of use values as labour - which is itself only the manifestation of a force of nature: human labour power.
Steif sympathised. He hoped a copy of the communiqu had been sent to his boss's terminal. Helen could do with a reminder that nature wasn't simply a matter of whales and dolphins. She had a poster which made him wince everytime he clocked it: `if the whales live, maybe the world will too ...'. He didn't know which he liked worse, the sentimental irrationalism of the politics or the fantasy-art wave-shapes and yucky-pale, nursery blues used in the design.
He preferred this gnome-like Karl Marx and his thesis that his efforts at the terminal were themselves a force of nature, a vital energy, a heaving power like a stallion in harness. It made his comparison of his hi-tech labours to a chain-gang seem appropriate: nature tramelled by bourgeois property relations. By positing nature as a transcendent, mysterious, almost religious principle - something out there in her sickly-blue ocean waves - Helen managed to get the moral edge on him; whilst simultaneously screwing every ounce of work from him she could. Her conception of work - a pure product of human will sourced from a realm totally separate from the material world - gave her a hideous work drive, one that was quickly passed down to her subordinates. The so-called `necessity' of competition with the company's rivals gave her a belief in progress, which somehow bypassed the question of how it might actually benefit the workers at her disposal. Without any union to posit any counter-argument, all the employees were drawn into her logic. The idiots ended up exploiting themselves, working ridiculously long hours, cutting lunch-breaks, eating McDonalds quick-break egg-burgers instead of breakfast with their households, even coming in over the weekend.
Although Helen wept crocodile tears about her blessed whales, for her, progress was measured by mastery of her employees' natural labour power. As far as Steif was concerned - whatever the Gemtlichkeit of her love for gigantic fish - his boss already displayed the technocratic features encountered in fascism. The `cause' of the software company - measured in sales and revenue - was to be a triumph of the will. Her hard, `encouraging' smiles reminded him of the grins made by the plaited Mdchen who handed welcome-bouquets to the Nazi stormtroopers in 30s news-reels.
Wait, the cartoon Marx was issuing forth another bubble of speech.
What is a `balanced' ecology? How can laws passed by competing nation states regulate a global system? Isn't the current state of the natural world inevitable given the present-day mode of production? If it is human economic activity that is producing these maleficent changes in the natural world, how can legal restrictions - themselves a product of economic relations - prevent them? The Brazilian Eco-Summit is so much capitalist window-dressing!
This wasn't just a golden nugget from the archives: this was written by someone wrestling with reaction today. Who could `EP' be? Ezra Pound. Elvis Presley? Whoever - definitely an Extended Player. `Capitalist window-dressing', indeed! A perfect description for Helen's poster. It was quite literally that, being blu-tacked in the internal `window' of her office; a cunning measure, since it gave her the privacy to discipline her subordinates. His animated Marx was talking sense.
`Steif!' He started. There she was, standing right behind him, a black plastic binder gripped in one of her pale hands. Each long nail was varnished a sickly flesh-tone. He moved to hit the escape key and remove Karl, along with his two speech bubbles.
`Don't!' She barked. She lent forward to read the messages on the screen. `Oh I see - more communications from your political friends - didn't we agree you'd stop receiving those, disconnect yourself from your dodgy past?'
`Yes, Helen. I'm sorry. I'd just finished program XL5(1) and I was proceeding to XL5(2). Then the "e-mail received" icon came on, I thought I'd give it a quick look. You know how difficult it is to resist curiosity'
Her face was impassive, a familiar mixture of diffidence and impatience. `Killed the cat, Steif. Well, I want a demo of XL5(2) as soon as possible, preferably before you go home ...' She passed her left hand through her auburn hair, nodded in her characteristic way, then something seemed to occur to her, `Steif, come into my office a moment, I want a word with you - in private.'
Steif's heart sank. A discussion in her office - the door closed, face-to-face across her desk - generally meant bad news: a reprimand, some piece of work that hadn't been up to scratch, some lack of attention to detail. Good news was announced in the open, where the other programmers could hear it. Nor would it just be about receiving cartoon Marxism during office hours. Steif had been singled out - for some unpleasant pep talk, for some suggestion about weekend work, something horrible. Surely he hadn't done anything serious, something that might threaten his job? He felt a hot flush as he wracked his brains for any midemeanour. There was a private directory on the computer's filing system where Steif had been composing a surrealist poem, but surely he'd set the permissions so no-one else could get in? Besides, it would read as a harmless literary effort he could explain away as the work of a few lunch-hours. A private consultation in Helen's office indicated something entirely more serious.
Her high heels clicked in the polished wood floor as she led the way past the desks of the other programmers. Though younger than Steif (she was in her late twenties), Helen had established her authority by using a tight-lipped formality when dealing with him, as well as by her absolutely conventional lifestyle, which contrasted with Steif's irresponsible bohemianism - both indicated her more complete commitment to the firm, justifying her more elevated status and her higher salary. Her conversation, when it was not about work, was a continual stream of husband, his rugby matches, the two cars, the mortgage, the cottage in the Yorkshire Dales, the holidays in Malaysia. Today she was wearing the inevitable white silk blouse, a long blue pleated dress and shiny black shoes. She was also wearing her sole concession to street fashion - her wide black leather belt, but even that had a dainty butterfly clasp, belying its S&M overtones. Given what was to transire during her `interview' with Steif, this detail became distinctly ironic. In the world of management, butterflies were learning to sting.
She held the door open, ushered him in and closed it behind him. She gestured to a chair - the hard black plastic one, rather than the `guest's armchair' reserved for visiting clients. She then moved behind her desk, her hand on her chin, moving slightly awkwardly, as if she was self-conscious about her tallness, or uncertain how to begin. She sat down in her large executive chair. `Sheba's throne', it was called behind her back. The cost of it had caused quite a bit of gossip when she'd first been promoted and been set up in her own office. She leafed through some papers on the desk.
`Steif, I'll come straight to the point. Julie Figglet and I have been discussing your work, and we simply feel you're not giving me - and the company - all you are capable of. In fact it was she that suggested we have this chat. Is something wrong?' She gave him a hard stare, evidently expecting no particular reply. She had the solution before she needed to hear the problem. His mouth was dry. Their work life was entirely work-based and formal; her scrutiny seemed like an invasion of Steif's personal life. He felt embarrassed. Blushed.
`Well,' he mumbled `I haven't been sleeping very well, and ...'
`What time do you go to bed?' His boss asking about bed-times. This was distinctly bizarre. She wasn't a doctor, was she?
`About midnight. I sleep, but I wake early.'
`What do you think about, when you awake?' asked Helen, quite casually, but quickly glancing up to gauge his reaction. Steif's blushed again and fidgetted on the chair. Helen knew he lived alone - she'd once commented on the fact that he didn't have a girlfriend. He generally woke with an erection, and one thought often led to another, but he wasn't about to start talking about that.
`I lie awake.'
`Thinking?' Steif found that Helen's investigation was making him feel sexually aroused. Her questions had awakened his unconscious dreamtime thoughts - the pleasurable, wish-fulfilling, sexually-gratifying ones, which are suppressed by the urgencies of the day (what Freud called the `reality principle'), and which flash back into the mind when the tired head once more makes contact with the pillow. Why was she stirring up this stuff? It was disconcerting, even a bit thrilling.
That let him off the hook. `Yes. I think about work.' How could he tell her that he usually thought about the sex scene from the last movie he'd seen, or replayed an incident from a favourite Pat Califia story? The bit where the stripper trio tie up the girl in their dressing room and one of them pisses on her, standing above her, legs astraddle ...
`Look, Steif, this may well help you with your sleep as well as your work. Julie has just been on a three-week course on Motivation & Management - M&M - and she's come up with some ideas - she suggested we have a little chat, actually. In fact, she reported that she reckons you've become a bit, well, sluggish with your work and that maybe you needed a shock.'
`What kind of shock?' Steif found himself asking, his voice almost a croak, his tongue was so dry.
`Well,' said Helen, `precisely this one. It's happened before with male programmers - and female ones, that was our problem with Janice, tell the truth - they just become jaded - don't concentrate. This shock will restore your attention to the matter in hand. It's worked before. Since Julie went on the course, they've used it in four or five cases in other departments - and it's been remarkably successful, I'd say. It will probably help you with your sleeping too - and I'm sure you'll end up thanking me for it ...'
`Ending up' grateful sounded ominous. What was this bitter medicine she was preparing for him? The split forced on people's experience by the capitalist separation of work and leisure naturally cause a general pining for the smothering monism of maternal care. Helen's invasion of the privacy of his bedtime moments, her offer to sort out his entire existence both at work and at home had given him a flush of regressive, oedipal arousal. His cock hardened, pushing uncomfortably against his trousers. He couldn't see a way of adjusting himself without informing Helen of his condition.
`What if I say I don't want to go along with it?'
`Steif - I'm afraid you haven't any choice - if, that is, you want to keep your job. When Julie was sent on the motivation course, it wasn't just a whim. This treatment isn't a hobby of ours, it's company policy - albeit in prototype stage. If you want to remain with us, I'm afraid you'll have to go through with it. I know that sounds, tough, but it's the way it's got to be. You can certainly leave, if that's what you want. However, remember that the company owns the main recruitment agency for Multiplex Office & Database. A black mark against your name would close down this area for you. You'd need to learn different software, and you know how costly training can be for an individual. I'd advise you to take what's coming. It may sound a little bizarre, tell the truth ...' she permitted herself a minuscule smile, `but it's in line with the company's interest in the latest developments in interactive industrial psychology.'
Helen leant back in her expensive chair and opened the top drawer of her desk. Reaching inside, she brought out what appeared to be a small leather whip. A whip!? Its thong was made of several narrow strips of black leather plaited together: the handle was encased in an intricate lattice of leather-work. She held it up in the air, horizontally, as you might display `Exhbit A' in a court-room, or a sign saying `No Smoking' to an incorrigible smoker at a board meeting.
`It's a whip, isn't it?' said Steif incredulously.
`Right in one!' she exclaimed, grasping the handle and bringing it down on the desk with a crack. Her eyes twinkled with a new, mischievous light as she watched Steif start at the noise. He could tell she was enjoying this. Was that part of the `motivation' scenario?
`What's it for?' Steif had some desperate idea that maybe he'd be asked to whip a top - or a computer terminal; the same kind of `therapy' that had caused a rash of executive toys like foam-rubber VDUs and blow-up hammers. Toys to relieve the pent-up frustrations that computers were so good at inciting.
`Oh, Steif, use your imagination!'
`You're not saying you want to whip me?'
`I bet you think I'm joking, don't you?' Helen came on boisterous and gay. It occurred to Steif that she must have been like this in the girl guides when she'd taken part in some prank or other. `You've got to understand that this isn't a matter of what I want - though you'll admit that you've been obnoxious enough to make me want to spank you enough times over the last year!' Her glance was almost flirtatious. `But what this is about is effectivity - efficiency and work-attention. The theory has to do with oedipal fixations, reward-and-punishment complexes and the reality-fantasy interface. The idea - basically - is that if you're actually whipped, and I mean actually, physically, corporally punished, rather than merely reprimanded verbally, we get through to the actual you, instead of just to the outer shells of ego-repression. It's like bypassing the user-friendly Windows cosmetic and getting straight on with DOS. That should appeal to you, Steif!' Steif was notorious for dismissing icons and mouse-pointers as user-friendly add-ons real computer professionals didn't need. `Actually,' Helen was warming to her exposition, `I think it's more like bypassing the operating system completely and patching something straight into the CPU. You know how keen I am on hard-wiring much-used calculations into the system? Well, this is a way of hard-wiring personel management!'
In her hand, the whip and its menacing coil of plaited leather started to look like a bunch of patch-wires. Did Steif want to be `hard-wired'? He had one last surge of rebellion.
`But this is totally medieval, Helen! I can't go through with this. It's insane.'
`Well, Steif, you can try leaving my office right now. Try it. Go back to your desk and I can promise you that within half-an-hour I'll be handing you your dismissal, signed by the MD ...'
`But ... my contract!'
`Precisely - maybe you never got to the clause which states ...', Helen read this out from a photocopy on her desk, `"Employees will comply with management initiatives to improve productivity to the best of their ability, including taking measures which may appear to challenge usual etiquette and cultural norms. The suitability of courses, therapies and disciplinary procedures will be assessed regularly as to effectiveness. Failure to comply with company policy on these matters may be grounds for dismissal." Until you check the results of undergoing corporal punishment on your work rate, Steif, you cannot argue back. Actually, you know,' her tone suddenly lightened, `"punishment" is not really the right word. We're not punishing you for your work - and you admit it has been slack?' She waited for Steif to nod his acquiescence. `So much as giving you a reality shock, something that will increase your attention and productivity. Come now - just say you'll go through with it. We haven't got all day. I really don't want to fire you. You've been a good programmer in the past - and I'm sure, with a little encouragement, you can get you on course again.'
Helen surveyed Steif, frowning slightly, and then nodded to indicate the seriousness of her intent. Grey afternoon light filled her office, diffused by a weak wintery mist. The large windows overlooked a canal. Steif found himself wondering if the curtains would be closed for his whipping. He had resigned himself to Helen's proposal. There was no-one out on the tow-path and the cold weather didn't invite any anglers. Steif wanted to ask if the curtains would be drawn, if he'd be whipped with his clothes on or not, but something in Helen's expression kept him silent. He gazed out of the window at the canal's grey, oily surface.
`Well, there's no point in delaying matters now you've agreed. I can't predict how many strokes you'll receive - we just apply what we think is appropriate. The therapy is meant to be for me too, you know, to alleviate my frustrations with recalcitrant staff. Remember, it shouldn't be thought of as punishment - more as an aid to keeping youself in touch with yourself and with reality. Enough chat!' Helen looked at her watch. `Ten minutes - not too long. When subordinates keep me here arguing too long about the whipping, I'm afraid I tend to take it out on them. You can answer me back now, but when you're face down here,' she indicated her document-strewn desk with the whip, `I get the final word. That's what it's about, in a way.' She spoke the last words in a softer, more reflective tone.
`So, I take it you're prepared to go through with this reality-shock therapy?'
`I suppose so, yes.'
`I'm glad to hear it. It won't take too long, just a quick taste of this ...' She held up the whip again, in a rather stilted manner that made Steif think that perhaps emphasis on the particular disciplinary tool was written into the manual for this species of `therapy'. `Then you can get back to work - suitably "refreshed" as it were and hopefully as attentive and diligent as you are contrite. But first, will you fetch in Julie? I need to have a witness, and she'll need to sign the form.'
`You heard what I said! Remember what I said about how this practise also lets me take out my feelings - so don't try my patience, Steif. It's only make the whipping harder and longer. Julie'll understand. It was she who brought in these ideas into the company in the first place. If she had her way, all the programming team would be whipped on arrival, every morning - she calls that "total sadomasochization of work practice". Come on, now, I'm waiting ...'
For the first time she'd sounded angry, as if she was building up to the flogging. Steif quickly got up and went over to Julie, who rose and came at once - not even bothering to log out of the document she was in - her face suddenly set and serious. Julie was young, not even twenty, but made up for her youth with a demeanour that was even more severe than Helen's. Plump and pretty, she was wearing an old-fashioned Laura Ashley dress, all frills and embroidery, in a style derived from the peasant costumes of eastern europe.
As soon as Julie got into Helen's office, she started drawing the curtains. Dusk was falling and Helen had switched on the lights. The brightly lit office would be exposed to vision of anyone passing on the canal tow-path. As she tugged the heavy material across the windows, she said over her shoulder, `Steif, I want you to know that this isn't for our benefit - it's for yours, okay? We've found that it works. It really does make slack members of the team more attentive.' Steif wondered if she caught the phallic resonance of her words. He doubted it. `You'll see. Your work will improve, you'll get code out faster - and more accurately. It'll all be worth it in the end.'
Knowing that Steif was waiting for a punishment like some naughty child allowed Julie to patronise him, disregarding the fact that he was nearly twice her age. Julie positioned herself behind Helen's desk, standing straight and serious, as if trying to impress everyone with the formal nature of the operation. The whipping was to be an impersonal ritual she was merely there to witness - though it cam back to Steif that Helen had said it was Julie had suggested that he'd be invited in for this `chat'.
`Can I ask a question?' Steif said, concurring with Julie's air of solemnity, but perhaps also with a hint of satirical exaggeration.
`Of course you can, Steif.' Julie replied, a little impatiently, a furrow dimpling her forehead. She'd taken on the role of his interlocutor. Helen meanwhile was swinging the whip and pacing up and down, as if finding the right place to position herself for the whipping.
`Will this - um - "therapy" require frequent doses?'
`Well, Steif, that's entirely up to you, isn't it.' said Julie, in her most proper, school-marmish voice. `Now, let's get on with it - we've wasted enough time already. I don't know if Helen has informed you yet, but we are going to ask you to remove all your clothes. It's not just the physical pain caused by the whipping, you see, but a certain kind of catharsis we're after.' Julie had obviously taken her course seriously. She was using words that sounded quite bizarre in a Barnsley accent. `So please take off all your clothes now, Steif. All of them.'
No wonder they had drawn the curtains. Steif immediately began to loosen his tie. First Helen's questions about his mental activity on waking in bed, now stripping in the office. All the usual divisions of his day were being rearranged - and it wasn't even the office Christmas party. He undid the knot and hung the tie over the back of the black plastic chair. He then unbuttoned his shirt, took it off and put it on the chair too. Shoes followed. As Steif bent down to undo the laces, he was aware of Helen standing over him, the pleats of her dress brushed an elbow. He felt the end of the whip trail across his naked back like a cold, threatening snake. Whether this was by accident or design he could not tell. He placed the shoes out of the way, under the chair.
`And socks,' said Julie, ` - everything, like I said.'
`I can't bear a man who leaves his socks on, can you Julie?' Helen's humorous remark was quite out of keeping with Julie's seriousness. Both women laughed. It wasn't meant for Streif. Helen had spoken as if he couldn't hear; he was shut off in a bubble of guilt and shame, supposedly deaf to their laughter. He took off his socks and placed them on top of his shoes. Undressing in front of these two women - coupled with their cold, humiliating laughter - was tickling Steif's masochism. He felt a wave of sexual excitation. It would become obvious if he took off his trousers. He stood there, his hands on the buckle of his belt, and blushed.
`I'm afraid, I ...' he stammered.
`Yes, that's okay, Steif, we don't mind, do we Helen?' said Julie. `We've found that some men find this treatment sexually exciting. As far as we're concerned, that's your problem, not ours. Some Motivation & Management theorists even argue that a certain sexual charge helps to give intensity to the treatment. So go ahead - we're not going to be shocked of your penis is erect - just take off the rest of your clothes and get ready for the whipping.'
`That's right.' Said Helen. `It's the fact of the whipping, something physical and real applied to your person that's important, not your somatic reactions. That's just another factor.'
Steif stared at them.
`Trousers.' Said Julie, sharply. `Take them off, now!'
Steif undid his belt, unzipped his flies and took off his trousers. He wore no underpants. Strangeley enough, this elicited no comment from Julie and Helen. He added his trousers to the heap of clothes on the chair. It was obvious that he was sexually aroused. He stood there before them, an erection pulsing in his cock.
`We've got a genuine little masochist here, haven't we!' said Helen, indicating his cock with her whip.
`I'm sorry, Helen. I really can't help it ...'
She put out her hand and grasped the tip of his cock between thumb and forefinger.
`That's all right, Steif, as long as you're sorry - remember that contrition is the name of the game. As long as you're quite contrite ...' she gave his cock a little squeeze. He gasped and stood up on tip-toes.
`Yes. Yes. Helen, I am!'
`About everything, that is - the slackness, the lack of attention, the daydreaming, the private e-mails, as well as this impudent and uncalled-for erection ...'
`Yes. Quite contrite, Helen.'
`Good. Julie. He'd better be tied. We'll not bother with the full gear.' I noticed now that there were various straps and buckles fastened to the front of the desk. Black against black, I hadn't noticed them. `He's quite docile. Just use the piece of string ...'
Julie reached in the desk drawer and brought out a small length of white cord. She approached Steif and told him to stand behind the chair, facing the desk. He paused before obeying and received a sharp slap on his flank. He stood where he'd been told. She quickly and rather skillfully looped the string round his balls and the base of his cock a few times, then drew it tight and fastened the ends to the back of the chair.
`Sorry about this, Steif,' she said as she worked, `but we learned that this is the simplest way to secure a man. It means you'll hardly be able to flinch, so Helen won't miss a stroke. It'll make for a much tidier whipping. Okay, Helen, that's done. Steif, bend over the chair and rest your hands on the top of the desk. That's it.'
Helen paused an instant before starting to whip him. A hush fell. Then Steif heard a short sharp swishing sound, and a glowing, fiery pain across his back. The next stroke came across his buttocks, the next across the back of his thighs. Then another stroke across his back, his buttocks, his thighs, and so on. The pain was more intense than he expected. He could hear Helen breathing heavily with the effort. Julie was counting the strokes under her breath - not to reach a predetermined number, but to enter a figure in the paperwork. Helen paused. Steif thought she'd finished. Then he heard her say, `Okay, another ten strokes, and that's it.' To his astonishment, Steif found himself convulsed with sobs.
`There, there, Steif. I'm sure you can take another ten. Remember this is a whipping that's meant to shock you. Big boy now!' said Julie. She stroked his neck. As his sobs subsided, sge added:
`Now, ask Helen to resume - and use the word "please" or you'll probably get some extra strokes.' She gripped one of Steif's ears and gave it a playful tug. `Go on, beg her for it, you little crawling masochsitic worm!' she hissed in his ear.
`Helen,' he croaked, `Helen - please, whip me some more!'
Julie tugged at his ear again, `Again, louder!'
`Helen, please whip me some more. Please!'
`All right, Steif,' said Helen, `Julie - that's enough. Raise your arse, Steif, to attention.'
Stretched across the chair with his cock tied to it, hands resting on the edge of the desk, Steif could hardly present a better target, but he tried to obey Helen's instruction. In so far as Julie's tight knots would permit, he arched his back and dutifully presented his buttocks for Helen's ten final strokes. They arrived in quick succession, Helen methodically shifting across his arse so that none fell in the same place. This time, an end in sight, Steif managed not to cry.
`Untie him.' Said Helen. Julie reached between Steif's legs and untied her knots, her knuckles rubbing against the inside of his thighs as she worked a recalcitrant one which his flinching had pulled tight. As she unwound the string from around his testicles, Steif's cock twitched: Julie dabbed a forefinger at the tip and held her finger up to Helen, a drop of pre-come glistening on it.
`He's started to spurt!'
`Steif, you really are disgraceful.' said Helen.
`May I get dressed?' He asked, feeling uncomfortable, naked before them, his buttocks and back red and raw, his erection now at half-mast, protruding in a silly way.
`Not before you've thanked Helen - and that must be done with a proper grovel, you know, lips to her shoe-leather, Steif - literally. It's time we made literal use of our metaphors, as it says in the Motivation & Management manual. You're going to be quite the most active arselicker around by the time we've finished with you ...' The whipping didn't seem to have satisfied Julie's anger. Quite the reverse.
`Shh, Julie, we'll get onto that later. Steif - get on the floor and do as Julie says. Now, I don't expect you'll need to be whipped every day, but we are informed that a regular grovel - obeisance like this - helps to keep male employees keyed-up for work. Since your libido is evidently aroused by this treatment, we may insist that you reach orgasm on the floor in front of us ...'
`Or we may deny you it.' Said Julie.
Helen extended one patent-leather shoe.
`Just kiss my foot and thank me, then you may dress and return to work.'
Steif got down on his knees before her, then prostrated himself and kissed her shoe. From database to sheer abasement, this was a special day for Programmer Steif, nouveau serf of hi-tech drudgery. Sure-fire inputs for sexual software: abasement and prostration. Did too much wanking cause Frank Zappa's prostate cancer? A worrying thought creased the author's brow.
`I promise to try harder at my work. I promise not to make so may errors. I promise to stay late and sort out my bugs. I promise not to daydream and to concentrate. I promise to stop my Marxist friends from communicating with me via e-mail. Thankyou for whipping me.'
`Thanks to who?' Said the nascent dominatrix.
`To call by name?' Slobbered Steif, his mouth still on her shiny shoe. The patent leather felt cold, slimy with his drivel. `The name is but an abstract symbol and does not express the thing-in-itself, the Ding-an-sich, the Sache selbst. "How can the particular be expressed?", as Lenin put it.
`Stop mumbling down there, Steif. Who has whipped you? Who are you thanking?'
`Helen. Helen has whipped me! I'm thanking Helen for whipping me!'
`I? Me? Who do you mean.'
`Steif, Steif Bohner - Steif Bohner is thanking Helen Muffin for whipping him ...'
`Again, louder, just use first names ...'
Julie handed Helen her whip. She cracked Steif across the back for good measure. Meanwhile, Julie was dangling a microphone over Steif's head. He convulsed with sobs again: `Steif is thanking Helen for whipping him, Steif thanks Helen very much ...'
`Little Baby Steif thanks Mistress Helen ...'
`Little Baby Steif thanks Mistress Helen for whipping him!'
`Little-itty Baby-waby Steif thanks good kind gorgeous super Mistress Helen ...'
`Little-itty Baby-waby Steif thanks good kind gorgeous super Mistress Helen for whipping him!'
With Steif reduced to infantile helplessness - he was blushing crimson as he mouthed this baby-talk - and a record of his humiliation captured on a sampler with Midi interface, the women had finished their Motivation & Management therapy.
`Put your clothes on and get back to work ...' Helen snapped. `Pronto!'
As Steif hurriedly dressed himself, Julie went over to Helen's terminal and pressed some keys. She plugged a lead from the sampler into the back of the VDU and touched the <RETURN> key. Helen came over. She coiled the whip and replaced it in her desk drawer. She folded her arms and stood back, watching Julie's work.
`There,' said Julie, `that last "Steif is thanking Helen" has been stored in the database next to his other details. It's been normalised to a subsidiary table, of course.'
`Why?' said Helen. Despite several years impressing clients with the wonders of `relational' databases, Helen had not quite mastered the details of how they actually worked. She'd refrain from asking such a stupid-sounding question of a programmer, but Julie was her trustie, her right-hand, her protege - and well aware that the path to success in information technology was talking up a storm to clients, not understanding petty technical details. Indeed, the way in which Helen still thought in terms of Cobol's files and records and fields was something of a private joke between them.
`It means we can record an endless series of soundbytes like that next to his name, yet not have to repeat his other data. The soundbyte is posted on another table with a key that points to his entry.'
Helen smiled. `An endless series - it's the "torture that never stops!" - we've initiated a whole history of Steif's voluntary humiliations and involuntary exclamations! You know, Julie, I think this "relational" business has its uses ...' Julie smiled back. Helen has understood the correlation between the boundless nature of work under capitalism, its Faustian greed, and the repetition-compulsion of sadomasochistic sex. De Sade himself would have smiled on the pair: Julie thought she might change her name to Juliette. She could always say she was inspired by childhood memories of reading Georgette Heyer. Motivation & Management was proceeding to plan.
On To Chapter Eight
Get You Back Home