Get You Back Home
AT CLUB PAYNE
1. The Case of A.G. Snodgrass
As was made clear by their exchange at the Conference of Leninists, A.G. Snodgrass
had little sympathy for Lunch and his campaign to revive the populist dialectics
of Dietzgen. Slogans appearing on various brickwalls and flyover bridges round
Bourneville were: `Down with Crypto-Pragmatism!', `No More Max Eastman', `Snodgrass's
Pragma Cape Is Showing!' and the epic `Sexual Materialism versus Structuralist
Castrati - Has Snodgrass Got Any Balls??'.
Snodgrass winced with distaste at the crudities employed by the pro-Lunch faction. His Chair of Philosophy was sponsored by Yorkie bars; he liked to think that chocolate and a penchant for the scholastic complexities of Analytical Philosophy were his sole vices. Sex was definitely not something to bring into philosophical controversy. There was quite enough of that sort of stuff in the tabloids. Although he favoured workers' propaganda that aped the appearance of the Sun, sexual imagery was not something a good Leninist should get involved with. Leave talk of balls and globals - and tits and cleavage - to idiot-brains like Lunch.
However, Snodgrass did have to confess he was `culturally challenged' by new developments in art. To put it bluntly - after 1912, the guy had lost the plot. His admiration for Eggy Tingleton, doyen of Western Marxist literary navel-gazing, had led him to glance at a few pages of James Joyce's Ulysses. It puzzled him immensely. He suspected Tingleton might be recommending James Joyce because of his born-again discovery of his Irish roots. It was so much harder to read than Kinsgley Amis. Lunch's support for Dada and Surrealism and Free Improvisation and J.H. Prim also left Snodgrass cold. What was the point of confusing people with this stuff? Why couldn't people write nice, meaningful novels like Jane Austen and Joseph Conrad any more?
Snodgrass's concept of Surrealism reflected its reception in Britain, where wealthy collectors had bought the pictures, but not the theory or politics. He compared the lunatic landscapes and perverted sexuality associated with Surrealism to weirdo artists and writers of the past like Breughel, Aubrey Beardsley, Edgar Allen Poe. The idea of superseding art - or encouraging revolt by exposing the means by which religion and advertising preyed upon latent sexual energies - were closed-books to him. Politics was politics and art remained art. As far as Snodgrass was concerned, the Surrealists represented an insane world. Indeed, he felt he'd been transported there during Lunch's contribution in the debate at the Conference of Leninists, and he was none too keen to repeat the trip.
Growing up in the 1930s, Snodgrass's study of Latin began at age four, of Greek at six. About the same time, he began to read everything he could find about the natural sciences, especially geology, astronomy, and physics; to recognise rocks, to know stars, and to understand the working of pumps and locks and other mechanical appliances up and down the house. His father - an eccentric autodidact with his own views about everything - gave him lessons in ancient and modern history, illustrated with relief maps in papier-mch made by boiling down newspapers in a saucepan. He introduced him to the wonders of musical rhythm and showed how a simple beat could be subdivided into an infinite number of groupings, each with their own `flavour': 7/4 for example, gave a bright, eggy, breakfasty feel, while 18/4 was like being lost in space. He'd also helped him build string instruments and introduced him to the `science' of harmonics. His father told him about Pythagoras and the cosmic meaning of two, three and five as he halved the length of a string and showed him how its twang altered pitch. These relationships had entranced the young Snodgrass, and he'd immediately applied mathematics to plot the resulting patterns. Indeed, at the age of seven he drove his parents wild with the continual buzzings and twangings. His `musical' researches were finally banished to a shed at the bottom of the garden.
However, by the age of ten Snodgrass had turned against both history and music. His teenage years were spent studying maths, chemistry and physics. These studies had left their mark: an awkwardness in public, an inability to laugh, recoil at physical contact. He'd respond to every remark with `Is that a testable phenomenon?' or `What precisely do you mean by that?'. He would never accept offers of food or drink away from home, as if suspicious of the intestinal disorders promiscuous consumption might set loose. At college his circle of acquaintances - `friends' would be putting it too strongly - nicknamed him `the dalek'. Some traced back his discomfort with `dialectics' - a necessary philosophical encounter for any self-professing `Leninist' - to memories of this soubriquet. Actually, it all went back to a trauma experienced shortly before his tenth birthday.
Exploring an attic with some neighbourhood children, Snodgrass came upon a battered seventeenth-century book, wanting cover and title-page, and full of strange doctrines about meteorology and geology and planetary motions. To judge from what Snodgrass told his father about its doctrine on vortices, it was a compendium of Descartes' Principia. Snodgrass already knew enough about the corresponding modern theories to appreciate the contrast which it offered. It let him into a terrifying secret which the modern books had been keeping from him: that science has a history of its own, and that the doctrines they teach on any given subject, at any given time, have been reached not by some discoverer penetrating to `the truth' after ages of error, but by the gradual modification of doctrines previously held; and will at some future date, unless thinking stops, be themselves no less modified.
Snodgrass returned home from his visit catatonic with fear. He described what he had seen and drew the `erroneous' diagram of vortices for his father, who attempted to give him some advice about travelling being better than arrival, about truth being a process rather than a possession. The boy was inconsolable. He clammed up. He refused any more of the lessons in history and when his father remonstrated, even smashed up one of his papier-mch relief maps. His musical instruments remained locked in the garden shed. All he could talk about now was science and `facts'. The idea that science could have a history, and that `scientific' truth was only a temporary foothold in humanity's struggle with an obstinate nature, was anathema. It had scared him with intimations of his own mortality, and he'd rejected it.
Whereas previously Snodgrass had shown a lively interest in happenings around the house, and had been a clinging and affectionate child, now he became solitary and sullen. His parents called it an `early adolescence', but it was marked by a complete repression of sexual interests. He moved the family's Encyclopedia Britannica into his bedroom and spent hours reading it. He'd quote it at length on any topic as if it was the last word on the subject. At university, Snodgrass studied science, and then the philosophy of science, with the same assiduity. His refusal of historical principles and his distaste for what he called `mudlarking around in the sewerage of the past' led to a passion for symbolic logic and logical positivism. He felt that a clean, logical approach, unencumbered by the cobwebs of verbal etymology and association - he never mentioned the word `poetry' without a sneer - would lead to an objective appraisal of both nature and society.
Many of those attracted to Marxism associate the cause of working-class emancipation with an organic monism that recovers the poetic blossom bourgeois rationalism has plucked from the golden tree of life. Not Snodgrass. He'd become a Leninist after reading Max Eastman's Science Of Revolution. An American pragmatist, Eastman's claim to fame was publishing Lenin's last testament in the New York Tribune - the revelatory tract in which Lenin blasted Stalin's attempt to create `socialism in one country' and his consolidation of the hold of the Communist Party bureaucracy. Virulently hostile to dialectics - which he called Hegel's `mysticism', an unfortunate blemish on Marxism - Eastman ended up a Cold Warrior, writing for the CIA-backed Reader's Digest, denouncing former colleagues to Senator McCarthy and a fervid supporter of the H Bomb. Snodgrass believed that Eastman's turn to the Right was simply a product of the horrors Stalin had perpetrated in the name of Marxism; in a postmodern world, his pragmatic postivism could become the true philosophy of revolution. Snodgrass actually hated dialectics. He'd only spoken about them at the Conference because he'd been bullied into it by Mogg. It wasn't yet the moment, Snodgrass reckoned, to wage war against the dialectical insanity. There were too many dialectical mystics - thankfully few as extreme as the appalling Lunch - floating about in revolutionary circles. As more sensible hard-working chaps and chapesses flocked to the socialist cause, however, the time would come when he could purge all these poet misfits and petit-bourgeois dilettantes and set up a genuine, no-nonsense party of clear-sighted workers. Then they could be done with all talk of interpenetrating opposites and `transcending Aristotelian logic'!
It was a plan. Even when Lunch speculated that this was the case, he had a sneaking admiration for Snodgrass's strategy. However, he knew Snodgrass was building on sand. A leader whose sense of reality was based on repression was dangerously flawed. Lunch was certain that there would be a return of Snodgrass's repressed instincts as soon as the going got tough - or worse, as soon as real possibilities of power arose. Snodgrass hid his failure to face history - the musical instruments abandoned in his parents' shed no less than the genesis of revolutionary thought in so-called `mystics' like Plotinus, Giordano Bruno and Jakob B"hme - by addresses to the Conference of Leninists on `The Science Of The Neutron' and `The Shape Of The Universe As Currently Theorised By Astro-physicists In California'. As the audiences applauded his pop-science renderings of Hawking and Silk, Snodgrass knew - no less than Wislon, Mogg and Lunch - that the real debate had been put on hold. The `truth' that the universe is shaped like a bed-pan was a diversion. Compared to assaulting the prickly thickets that separated Snodgrass from the dialectical philosophy he professed, astrophysics was a holiday picnic, curios selected from the academic beach. Many comrades gawped at them with gratitude. Only Lunch discerned the patrician condescension of the exercise, its refusal to engage on a level that brooked debate and dialogue.
Snodgrass turned himself out of bed, yawned, farted and went to his study to switch on his PC. The fake-blue poesy of Windows 95 flashed on the screen, then his autoexec.bat command file - the creaky old DOS work-horse still slaving away beneath the shakey glitz of Windows - plunged him into his most recent e-mail.
2. Symbolic Schizophrenia on the Cybernet
First off, something routed through from Warwick University, that haven of
cyber-cretinism. Snodgrass grimaced and tore the wrapper off one of the Yorkie
bars stacked by the side of his terminal. `If you're going to choke on virtual
data, at least the chocolate should be real!' he thought to himself, idly wondering
if he could sell the slogan to Cadburys. After all, hadn't Salvador Dali done
an ad for Lanvin Chocolat? He bit into the bar of chocolate butter and milk
solids with a demented surrealist zeal. No, no, such commercial antics would
degrade the aura of seriousness it was his life's work to maintain. Better concentrate
the ludic poison in a boil like Out To Lunch - and then lance it at an opportune
moment! Pus all over. What a thought! The chocolate felt suddenly disgusting
in his mouth. Gagging, he leapt up and ran to the bathroom and spat his mouthful
into the sink. What had he just eaten? Crumbs of brown dangled in a masticated
whorl of cream-whites and sulphuric-yellows. Come, let us feast our eyes! He
rinsed his mouth at the tap.
Returning to his PC, he picked up the torn wrapper. A small piece of card fell out. `Congratulations! You have been selected to receive a sample of our prototype EASTER YORKIE, the chocolate bar with an eggy centre! Please direct your comments to FREEPOST U86C, Bourneville, Birmingham BM1. Tick box if you'd like a complementary bar of REGULAR chocolate or another sample of this delicious EASTER YORKIE ...' Snodgrass gazed with horror at the letters of the FREEPOST code: `U-8-6-C ... you ate sick, see?'. Poisoned in his own home! He rushed to the toilet and threw up. Shaking and feverish, not even pausing to rinse his mouth, he phoned his contact at Bourneville. After some consultation with the promotions department, they assured him that the Easter-Yorkie prototype was indeed being included at random in consignments of their chocolate bars. What he thought was `sick' was actually an industrial-foods approximation to confectioner's custard. The U86C was no message, but simply the FREEPOST code assigned to Yorkie Bars by the post office.
`What's in it, I have to know!'
More consultation. He was put on hold. He was forced to listen to Bourneville's phoneline muzak, the lilting, vacated soul of corporate phone-culture. Snodgrass found himself tapping out its slightly assymmetric time signature - 7/4 - before suppressing this regression to one of his infant joys. The receiver went live again.
`I have the list of ingredients here. Do you wish me to read them out?'
`Well, I have here: Confectioner's Custard for Easter Yorkie. Ingredients: sugar, hydrogenated vegetable oil and hydrogenated vegetable fat, contains emulsifiers, lecithin, mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids, antioxidant, citric acid, flavourings, dried-egg powder, yolk portion, contains gelling agent, pectin, acidity regulators, citric acid ...'
`Citric acid? We've already had citric acid!'
`Er ... it means citric acid is one of acidity regulators in the gelling agent of the yolk portion. The citric acid before was an antioxidant in the hydrogenated vegetable oils and fats. You get citric acid as an acidity regulator in the gelling agent of the sugar matrix as a whole later on, too. I'm sorry, it's difficult to communicate the punctuation - sub-lists of ingredients are bracketed, you see, and there's a distinction between a colon, which announces a list and a semi-colon, which signifies a separation between multi-word phrases within a list ...'. When it came to ingredients on candy-bars, punctuation suddenly became as crucial as in a proof for Samuel Beckett. She'd been giving him a list, the syntactical relations reduced to a paratactic stream by the aural medium. `... It's all printed real small. I'm afraid the difference between colons and semi-colons wouldn't come out, otherwise I'd fax it to you ...'
`That's all right, just carry on ...' said Snodgrass, admitting defeat.
`Sodium citrate, flavourings, colouring agent, anato orange, processed starch base, flavourings, whole milk powder, baking powder, contains raising agents, ammonium bicarbonate, sodium bicarbonate, tricalcium phosphate, glucose syrup, salt, gelling agent, pectin, acidity regulators, citric acid, sodium citrate, preservative, potassium sorbate ...'
`Okay, I've had enough!' Snodgrass replaced the receiver and went to fetch himself a glass of water to wash the sour taste of vomit from his throat. The meaningless data, devoid of syntactic sense, struck him suddenly as a symbol of his own thoughts: a pile-up of meaningless details.
Sipping water from the glass, he went back to his PC and clicked on the e-mail icon. He wasn't concentrating. The barrage of chemical names from Bourneville, his disturbance at the mere idea of sick - derived from his mis-reading of the FREEPOST code - upset his equilibrium, his positivist poise. He didn't look too closely at the screen as he indicated he'd like to read a message from `Otley'. The fateful string `otl' failed to register. He soon recognised its sneering tone, though.
When Alexander Snodgrass relates that his father gave him lessons in ancient and modern history illustrated with relief maps in papier-mch - made by boiling down newspapers in a saucepan - he touches on a terror that edges the vision with a blinding, acrid light. The Esemplastic Schizophrenia of Samuel Taylor Coleridge imagines the totality of the world, and tries to depict it. Artistic practice is an immediate materialism that shrugs off the abstractions of positivism in favour of the concrete. Modernism's focus on the material mechanisms of communication puts all representative realism in a strange light. The will to reproduce the world instead of act within it - the landscape inside the crystal ball of snow-flakes, the stage-set with perspectival lozenge windows, the Hollywood actor who plays a Gangsta rapper, Disney Corporation's Celebration model-city - is revealed as Symbolic Schizophrenia. This is the inability to distinguish appearance from essence, the symbol from the thing symbolised: like primitive magicians, schizophrenics work on the symbol as if it was reality itself.
Irritated, Snodgrass decided to shoot off a quick reply. `Precisely, Lunch, hole in one! Ever thought of getting yourself committed?' Content with this golf-player's retort, Snodgrass abandoned the rest of his waiting mail and went to run himself a bath. However, there was a time delay in the message. As he left the room, a text scrolled onto the screen. It was decorated with skull-and-cross-bone motifs that winked their right blank eye-sockets and Batman/Joker question-marks with little brown-pink anus-symbols instead of points. Scrofulous ivy with wire barbs and blood-drops wound itself around the border.
Materialist Esthetix proposes a science of the floorboards, exposing dry rot to the horrified landlord and worming out the self-serving silverfish. A cold, wrinkled reluctance toward the mollycoddle of hatchery determines a crutchless critique, a rip in the linoleum like a gash of black tar. Totality must be reserved for the totality of everything in the universe, wielded as concept rather than dressed up as system. Schizophrenic art tears up the contract of novelistic realism in order to lay bare a reality that scotches the liberal `we', inviting instead a prurient, voyeuristic, guilty gaze. Materialists are not afraid to face reality, and therefore welcome any psychic drives which rend the tissue-skin on which the picture's painted. Those who weep over the golden varnish have some wallspace on rental, some privilege to protect. Nihilism in art is a precondition for a politics that can allow the working class to speak!
No-one was reading. There was a pop from Snodgrass's stereo multi-media speakers
(he hadn't wanted audio-enhancement, but they came with the package). The text
quivered, then tore itself from its display window and disappeared up the largest
of the question-mark arseholes. Lunch's rhetorical `nihilism' had done the decent
thing, and eaten itself, arsewise.
All this lavishly obscene graphic art - medieval in its obsessional detail - was wasted on Snodgrass. He was in the bath, using a pumice stone on the dead skin of his big toe and singing the `Internationale' in a manly baritone.
3. The Pamphlet
As Soulboy Williams debouched from the steps of the tube at Oxford Circus, he brushed aside a proferred invitation to pay to learn his native tongue. Bolshevik hackles rose at the inevitable union jacks printed on the flyers. Must be raking it in if they can afford colour-printed propaganda. In the press waiting to cross the road - he'd never mastered the art of emerging at the appropriate exit here - he noticed an eccentric with a sandwichboard. He was wearing a rugby player's ear-protectors, a KLF `**ck the Millenium!' t-shirt, maroon hareem-pants and Doc Marten boots. He had a long, thin, twisted nose, a sallow complexion and what was probably the last non-institutionalised Johnny Otis moustache on the planet. Long straggly unwashed hair reached to his sloping shoulders. The sandwichboard read:
VISUAL KULTURE DENIES THY PAST
OPTICAL STASIS IS MORBIDNESS UNTO DEATH
WITHOUT AURAL AUTONOMY NO REFLECTION & HENCE NO ACTION
FANTASY IS AS NECESSARY FOR JUDGMENT AS JUDGMENT IS NECESSARY FOR FANTASY
No-one was paying him any attention. In his hands was a sheaf of small booklets.
The conjunction of fantasy and judgment was intriguing: doomsday sandwichboards
were usually more categorical about judgment. He looked like an interesting
fellow. More original than Lunch's bloody streetside preacher, any road.
`What's your game, mate?' Soulboy asked him.
`I'm not here to answer your cuntish questions!' he barked back rudely. `My opening gambit is written here,' he indicated his sign, `and for further reference you may purchase my Five Theses On The Philosophy Of Music, at 27p a copy.'
`I admire the way you repeat Guy Debord's riposte to questions from the audience at the Instant Puke of Temporary Farce in 1960!', said Soulboy, `so I won't take offence, even though it's already been used in these pages once before.'
`"In these pages"? What pages? Are you threatening to make the heavens above Oxford Stret roll up like a scroll of shoddy old biblical parchment?'
`Of Course. But tell me, does your "Aural Autonomy" mean "Absolute Music" ... or merely a Van Gogh-like Disassociated Eargasm Fixation?'
The sandwichman's eyes bulged like Salvador Dali's as he fanned his pamphlets. He had the quick-kneed motion of the fairground huckster, a Groucho Marx evasiveness. Or was it just he thought Soulboy was pulling his plonker? Soulboy thought maybe his Van Gogh reference was a bit puerile, but he had pronounced the noble Dutch painter's name `Van Go' in honour of the American tourists milling past.
`By Aural Autonomy I mean the undirected logic of the needs of the listening ear, its yearning for completeness and surprise and beauty in the linear time-scale. If that's what you call "Absolute Music" then you're on board. Buy a pamphlet!'
Soulboy looked at the tract in the man's hand. His nails were chipped and soiled like a car mechanic's. It was printed on soft yellow paper with green ink, some kind of process Soulboy wasn't familiar with. Potato print, mimeograph, lino-cut? It had the twinkling, insubstantial look of the authentic artwork: the album you see but once, always remember - and never find again. Instants like this prey on the brain. Failure to seize them casts long shadows over future joys. He reached in his pocket and found one of the new diminutive 50p pieces. 27p? Maybe Lunch would be amused by one too.
`How about 50p for two?'
`Certainly not! The price is 27p. Two will cost 54p and not a penny under ...'
Soulboy unwillingly dug for some extra coppers and gave 54p to the propagandist. The latter didn't thank him for the money, simply handed him two leaflets and, without a word, transaction complete, turned abruptly away and disappeared into the crowd.
Walking up Regent Street towards Portland Place, Soulboy paused outside All Soul's Church. Although the rain had stopped by now, the steps were still too wet to sit on. There was a chill in the wind. He hurried up the steps and slipped in at the entrance. In the gloom of the church he found a pew and sat down to read. In the reddish light cast on him from a stained-glass window, the green letters stood out dark and clear.
FIVE THESES ON THE PHILOSOPHY OF MUSIC
There was no author listed and no date. A quick flip to the back revealed no publisher or copyright notice. The text had the slightly strained lineation of all truly demented publications, a sensation that the pressure of the thoughts is going to rupture the typography, dizzy the whole script into a whorl of arcane symbols.
Philosophy and music are analogical. Both are today in complete disarray, unplugged from any sense - even among the cognoscenti - of purpose or function. This fact suggests an intwined relation little guessed at by the `experts' whose job it is to tend them. In the twentieth century the MASSES have become the Prime Movers in philosophy and music, challenging the rights of the expert in either. Confusion has been compounded by experts who ventriloquise for these masses (`Postmodernists'). These LIARS seek to maintain an authoritarian vantage that - by Popular Will - should be toppled.
European art music was developed on the same model as its philosophy. The task of the composer was to present a sequence of musical ideas as an object of contemplation. Germany's Romantic Music - like its Idealist Philosophy and Scientific History - portrayed world historical events on a large canvas. The splendour and skill of these orchestrations became the boast of Europe.
When Karl Marx declared that the point for philosophers was to change the world, the agent of change he pointed to was the class of proletarians. The idea that a class of propertyless oiks could carry through a solution to history which had evaded the best minds of German Philosophy has its musical corollary: the two-minute rock'n'roll 7" single solved musical problems that stumped Mahler and Schoenberg.
Marx broke through the "proscenium-arch" model of history, the notion that human actions are a pageant to be tabulated by the historian after the event. The thinking subject was now implicated as an ACTOR IN HISTORY: no longer a two-dimensional freize, but a boiling continuum in three dimensions. The crossed legs of the observer protruded into the picture space, smoke from the cannons made the eyes water, hair was ruffled by the rush of events. Likewise, 12-tone and serialism unrolled musical canvases that were too much for the contemplative eye, leading towards awareness of perceptual limits. The stunned audience looked about the auditorium and out onto the street. Jazz and blues tugged at the feet and loins, suggesting to suggestible listeners they were no longer two ears and a mind on the end of a stalk.
Stemming from a culture of in-the-round participation, African music seized technology originally designed to disseminate the alienation of the proscenium arch. Afro-Techno caused fans to scurry through town looking for the right disc, suggesting active throw-down of music in particular spaces at particular times. The quotidian entered history as music broke with the idea of timeless art, and politics realised the act of breaking with philosophical contemplation.
Soulboy stuck the thing in his pocket. As usual, such Benjaminian enthusiasm for concrete possibility veered towards placing a seal of approval on the untrammelled workings of capitalism itself. Lunch could formulate the required Adornoite riposte. I mean, when was the last time Soulboy'd gone out and anyone played anything decent? Why was the guy standing on street corners wearing stupid trousers and handing out tracts if everything in the garden was so lovely?
4. Steif Bohner Works Still Harder
Since the memorable day when Helen and Julie had applied Motivation & Management
to Steif Bohner, his relationship to his boss had changed. Although he was not
subjected to a thorough-going `treatment' everyday - it could take some time,
and therefore wouldn't be good for productivity - he was told to report to Helen's
office regularly for what was termed a `token grovel' in M&M-speak. This
meant abasing himself in front of her, either kissing her feet or licking the
floor in front of where she sat. For this he usually had to strip himself naked,
but not always. Helen Muffin appeared to derive great satisfaction from this,
and would either stand with her arms folded and smile as Steif `worshipped the
ground beneath her feet', or sit in her chair and pay him no more attention
than to a pet animal.
Steif wondered if his work was indeed `improving' - in fact he began to suspect that maybe the whole business was a practical joke instigated by Julie Figglet. Indeed, he reckoned that the repeated `visits' he was having to make to Helen's office were actually impacting his concentration for the worse. Other programmers seemed to be undergoing similar treatment, though only a few were asked to report for daily treatments. Despite Julie's pronouncements about the therapy suiting `male' programmers in particular, he noticed that some of the female staff were being summoned inside. Judging by their flushed and radiant faces when they reappeared, some kind of `therapy' was being administered to them too.
Gradually, the `token grovels' and whippings became less covert. Reference started to be made to them in meetings. Slowly they became an accepted part of office life. Humiliation, removal of some or all clothing, bondage and ritual whippings became so regular as to go almost unremarked. Julie, for example, took to wearing a small riding crop attached to her belt when walking about the office, and even on her way to the car-park or out for lunch with prestigious clients. The sight of it hypnotised Steif, he'd blush and stare at the crop whenever she walked by.
Sally, a young, blonde programmer who started shortly after Steif's introduction to M&M, seemed to be picked on a great deal. Helen would not even bother to close her office door when she and Julie told her to strip off her clothes and lie across Helen's desk. Her cries and the snaps of the whip could be plainly heard, and some programmers could even see her pale nude body as it trembled under Helen's administrations. Julie was particularly vicious with Sally. Occasionally she'd add her own strokes after Helen had finished, scolding her with her own invective. Steif was passing once, on his way back from the laser printer with a pile of reports, when he caught sight of one of Sally's punishment sessions. He stared open-mouthed at the sheer frenzy of Julie's attack, her torrent of verbal abuse punctuated by cracks of the whip across Sally's naked back.
`Keep quiet, you little snivelling work-shy bitch, you daddy's-sunflower pussy-wussie! This whip is your only friend here, so keep quiet and feel it. Stretch yourself, go on, spread yourself so I can cut you, I know you crave it, so here it is, you submissive little slut, you shit, you pale and craving zero, you provocative slim-bitch wriggle-worm!'
Steif was stiff in an instant. Sally had become an abused cock beneath Julie's whip, a length of flesh frigged to ecstasy. Julie paused, panting slightly, then put out a hand and felt Sally between the legs - the blonde programmer was spread-eagled across Helen's desk, wrists and ankles chained in cuffs at the four corners, black-leather straps buckled across her pale thighs and delicate shoulder-blades. Julie bent down and hissed into Sally's ear.
`You're wet with pleasure, you disgusting little slut, you're simply asking for it. It's really true what Helen said in her last report - you can't be whipped enough, can you?'
`No! No!' Sally sobbed.
Crack! `No, Mistress Figglet!'
`What can't be done enough?'
`I can't be ... I can't be whipped enough, Mistress Figglet!'
Steif found himself so aroused it made him feel dizzy. He thought if he touched himself he'd probably come. He was just considering putting down the reports to give himself a rub, when he felt a firm hand grasp him by the shoulder. Helen! He hadn't noticed that she hadn't been in the room!
`It looks like a certain programmer can't keep away from punishment, doesn't it? Do you really think Sally wishes you to pry on her when Julie's giving her some M&M? Public punishment is not on the agenda yet, Steif, so I think you're right out of line here.'
Steif looked at the ground. Helen took him by the shoulders and shook him, her brow furrowed with seriousness.
`Honestly, I think you're fascinated with it all, don't you? You'd better come with me. I'd like a word or two.'
Helen led the way into another room. As they left the doorway, Steif could hear Julie resume her work on Sally's back - the sharp crack of the whip, Sally's squeals, Julie's heated admonishments. Helen ushered Steif inside and closed the door. The room served as a stationery capboard and store-room, there was nobody else there. She told Steif to sit on a small foot-stool by the wall on the far side, and handed him a printed form. Leaning across him from behind, her hair dangling down and tickling his ear, she marked three boxes with crosses, using a red felt-tip pen.
`I think it's time you signed this ...'
Steif quickly scanned the text. It was printed in tiny blue capitals and separated into three columns. Although written in dense and obscure legalistic jargon, Steif was quick to grasp that each one of the numbered paragraphs had a similar drift; each one surrendered his rights over a particular part of his body. The whole thing amounted to a charter for his sexual slavery, an exhaustive forestalling of every possible objection or refusal or limit of decency or taste.
`I can't sign this? Can it even be legal, this kind of "contract"?'
`Think, Steif, think before you dismiss the idea. We've been watching you. I happen to know exactly how happy you are to be treated in the way M&M prescribes. Like dear Sally, you actually thrive on punishment. It's not the case with all our employees, you know. We don't need a psychologist to tell us that. Why do you think you're sometimes told to remove your trousers? Forgive my crudeness ...' her smile could almost have been flirtatious, though the effect was mitigated by her frown and serious eyes, `but we can watch your cock when we tell you what is going to happen to you. Last time, when I told you that you were to be put on a twice-daily series of token grovels, and that you were to be whipped every day this week before leaving, you got an immediate erection. Last Wednesday, we told you to strip, and announced that you were to have three days free from any M&M treatment. Julie noted that your cock actually got smaller. It wasn't what your libido wished to hear, however much your conscious mind might have sighed with relief. Julie entered all these responses onto your database. The conclusion is simple. You're a natural slave, Steif - just like Sally.'
`She's already signed a copy of this contract. At the moment she's assigned to Julie - but the contract isn't to a particular person, it's to the company ...'
`What about the management advice aspect, what you call M&M? Was that all a ruse to build some kind of S&M slavery network?'
`No, not at all!' Helen shook her head. `That particular therapy - the one you've been through - is being used, we're assured, in hundreds - thousands - of workplaces, especially in those where women have a high percentage of male employees to control - in the areas of high technology, administration, university staff. This personal contract company is a spin-off from the general take-up of the therapy. The M&M package includes guidelines for setting up such an organisation, and we pay them a fee and a royalty commission, but when you sign your signature on this ...' she indicated the form in Steif's hand with her red pen, `... you're signing yourself over to our use, not to M&M's.'
`How long has Sally been contracted to you? As soon as she started working here? Was this business a condition of her employment at all?' Steif's head was reeling. These women were behaving outrageously.
`I'm not obliged to answer that, but since you seem so interested in Sally's case, I'll tell you. Sally's been here for three weeks, but she's only been fully contracted to our personal use for a fortnight. She responded so well to certain procedures at the job interview that we moved quite fast once she declared she'd work for us. A week of the therapy and we knew she was ready ...'
`What do you mean by certain procedures?'
Helen roared with laughter, a sudden crack in her severe demeanour which just as suddenly closed up again. `Well, I'm not supposed to say, but ... we just broke her down! I've had job interviewees burst into tears before, when they really need a job and you humiliate them with personal questions and excessive demands. Well, I told Sally about our application of M&M therapy and she wanted to know how it worked in practice. I said, it was to do with employees being prepared to accept a certain amount of "physical correction" for misdemeanours, or simply to demonstrate their commitment to the company's aims. A show of willingness, if you like. She said, kind-of shyly, pouting - you know what she's like - that she'd show "willingness". The way she paused on that word, I knew we'd got her. So Julie just said, Okay - as a sample, go and lie over the desk and raise your skirt. She did it directly - I gave her a token spank, and that was that. When she accepted the job, we knew she was suitable, and we put everything in process to get a contract signature out of her. Now she's Julie's, of course. I give her a discount - because Sally's new to it, and the fact she's our first - but she is actually paying the company for her use. I can argue for all this at the highest level. It all contributes to reaching that all-important bottom-line of return on the capital entrusted to us by our investors!'
Steif thought of the lines Julie has made appear on Sally's exposed backside. Management financial report-backs would never seem quite the same again. Helen handed him a biro. Her confidence that he was sure to sign this ludicrous contract, the strangely impersonal, almost awkward formality of her dealings with him had the usual erotic effect. He felt his prick start to regain its erection. Helen was leading him prick-first into an abyss of cruelty, playing all those aspects of her personality that had initially made her appear sexless to him - her middle-class goodie-goodie straightness, her assumptions about the correct way to do things, her refusal to enter into dialogue. He signed his name, kneeling forward on the stool, using the floor to rest the paper on. Helen stood by him, the hem of her dress brushing his wrist as he scribbled his signatures, taking this abject posture as her due.
He stood up to hand her the contract. A smile played about her lips, but as he held out the paper she suddenly snarled, `Idiot!' and slapped him full on the face. He was used enough to the `token grovel' procedure and fell to his knees. She snatched the paper from him, folded it a few times, then brought a particular paragraph in front of his eyes.
`Don't you know what you've signed? Read this out.'
`I, the undersigned petitioner,' Steif read, `recognise that the contract's full significance will need to be marked by a special mode of delivery. The petitioner will carry the contract in his mouth, on all fours, to the formal representative of the slave-body's owner company. She will remove the contract from his mouth, which the petitioner will keep open. She will signify ratification of the aforesaid by urinating in the petitioner's mouth, an unspecified amount which he will thereupon swallow. He will then kiss the representative's feet and thank her for "giving him to drink of her own water". Only once this has taken place can the contract be said to be fully ratified ... Helen, how do you mean for this to take place ...'
`Quite simple. Quickly, we haven't got all day. There!' She pointed to the other end of the room. Steif went and stood there. `Okay, on all fours.' He got down on his knees. `Put the contract in your mouth!' He did so. The way Helen had folded made it a narrow strip he could bite on. He tried to prevent himself, but he knew he was slobbering on the absorbent paper, creating humiliating evidence of having been through the procedure specified in the paragraph he'd just read aloud. `Now, crawl over to me.' He did so. All he could see was the floor. When he got to the side of the room where Helen stood, he could see her shoes, the shiny tips of which he'd so often been ordered to kiss and lick. Helen took the contract from his mouth.
`Thankyou, Steif, there's a good dog.' She sometimes called him her `dog', generally when his situation was particularly abject. `Now, on your back and keep your mouth wide open, understood!' He grunted assent. He could see that the human level of articulate speech was inappropriate. He had regressed to the animal level. He thought of the gush of urine he was about to swallow, its yellow pungency, like a spout of hot water drained from spinach or cabbage - what Jamaicans call `mannish liquor' - and suddenly imagined himself as a stalk of vegetable matter, green, blind, a mere tube for the passage of Helen's vital waste-liquid. He turned and lay on his back. Helen squatted over his face. She held up her long skirt at the sides. She'd removed her knickers. She lent forward and kneeled astraddle with him, positioning herself with her cunt over his mouth. A blast of vaginal vapours, a smell of fish, yeasty like fermenting beer, starchy like newly-baked bread. The parable of the loaves and fishes was suddenly revealed as a metaphor for the infinitudes broached by sexual arousal. Her pubic hairs tickled his lips. He protruded his tongue. She slapped him on the flank.
`No tonguing, you imbecile! You're to drink, not lick!'
As she started to pee, Steif felt himself regressing from his imaginary vegetable state still further. He was entering the inanimate, as if the salts of her urine were breeding crystals in his brain, calcifying his thoughts into spasmic rock, the fossil-thoughts of eons. He swallowed greedily as she gushed, a hot salty flood. She didn't piss for long enough to make him vomit or even gag; he was aware of ejaculating, hot gobs pulsing beneath his trousers. He finished swallowing, his throat raw with the saltiness, and opened up eyes he now realised he'd closed. Helen was smiling at him in a disdainful way, her dress once again lowered, the contract in her hand. She left without a word. Steif hadn't even been left a copy of the contract he'd just signed. What had he let himself in for?
On To Chapter Ten
Get You Back Home