MISSING IN FICTION
From Nonstop, or Missing in Fiction, †A Synoptic Margin to a Trilogy
Obviously, everything is fiction. But you believe some stories and not others. That is why you are here, and that is where we can begin. We have to start from what we have in fact already done. Does that require a comma? Letís leave it open then. Of course a story can be altered as it unfolds. You can generate random numbers mechanically, if you wish. No, I don't believe in coincidences; I believe in accidents. Let's wipe this out. Trust me, this no longer exists. They won't see this. And even if they did, it would not affect the way they'll read the rest. I don't like them either. No, I don't think so.
I was being shown around.
"Top floor. Sea view. Water bed in the bedroom, Dali reproductions, and state-of-the-art audiovisual equipment in the living room; dehydrated food for six months in the kitchen, in case there's a catastrophe."
"I guess you planned this for yourself."
"Maybe I did. These days I can afford to prepare for all sorts of surprises and coincidences and accidents. Freedom is a great place. You should visit sometime."
Ruffling my pubic hair for good-bye: "Don't forget what we said. They're prepared to do anything." The moment the door slammed shut I fell asleep.
"Once more. At least."
I'm too tired."
"OK, OK. Let's take a break. With you guys this is like doing brain surgery with a wooden knife."
"You didn't have to come back."
"It was because of amateurs like you that I quit in the first place. You're too stupid even to be simple, every one of you. You don't have the slightest grasp of your roles even."
"Maybe the director's to blame. Let's hire someone else."
"New actors rather. I've got a perfect right to use outsiders if I prefer. You have to get yourselves new roles if you want to go on with this. Let's say an avant-garde artist turned businessman, a burned-out police officer responsible for internal security, a writer for whom literature is an abused orphan, an outlaw immersed in videos, and an interviewer whose strength lies in mediocrity. Any questions?"
"But these have nothing to do with the whole thing!"
"From now on they do. You're allowed to improvise. And by all means keep changing the mannerisms. They're as arbitrary as everything else."
"Excuse me, there's someone in the lobby who wants to talk to you."
"Throw whoever it is out. Haven't I been clear about this?"
"You do it. This one is pretty big."
"I wonder what it is you lift weights for. Or do you just use steroids? Let them in then."
"We havenít met before. My name is John Miller, and Iím doing an interview."
"Not with me you aren't. I can't even be bothered to interview myself."
"It's a book really, not an ordinary interview. Everyone is given a completely free hand. No censorship. Just what you really want to say. I want to do an honest documentary about the No Point group."
"That's just a name that was tagged onto us some time ago. Moreover, we've already said that we've got nothing to say."
"We could talk about that, too. Especially now that you've come back."
"What I'm doing isn't really a comeback. Or perhaps it is - it's my comeback to the stone age."
"First night is two months from now. We'll see then, I suppose."
"I've sketched out a suitable foreword. I can leave it for you to read or correct or whatever."
"Whatever. Wait a second. This thing, is it just a personal problem of yours, or is someone else involved, publishers for instance?"
"You'll find publisher's number inside that foreword I've written. They were keen as hell, so money shouldnít' be a problem."
"Remains to be seen. Taking care of your brain chemistry is getting more and more expensive. Have you been in touch with the others?"
"They're a bit hard to get hold of."
"Tell me what they think sometime. Now I'd better get back to teaching what can't be taught."
One of them was said to be involved in business transactions that wouldn't hold up under scrutiny. There were all sorts of rumours, but nothing illegal was ever discovered. Interviews were almost impossible to get; the few that were obtained followed the same pattern - I confess to all the charges; we've been among the leading drug dealers in the capital for some time; the arms trade is of course one of the most profitable and fascinating market phenomena this decade; we now control the entire black market for pornographic videos. Some saw the present activities as a logical extension of a previous career in art; in any case, it was well known that many people were eager to get this "artist" out of the way. At first I met with almost no response. I described and redescribed the idea behind my book. Even the foreword I'd composed got chucked straight into a drawer.
"Do you think unamputated hands can be free?"
"I guess I do, why do you ask?"
"I might have some interesting material for your book, but I have one condition. The manuscript has to be made available to everyone or no one at all. It must not be read unless it's published. Do you understand?"
"I understand. Everything's already been arranged. Look, there won't be any problems, I assure you. I'm just sick and tired of repeating it over and over again."
"Understanding might mean something different to you from what it means to me, or us. Let me turn on the video. For clarity's sake, I thought I'd introduce you to my bodyguard."
A bodybuilder with an unattractive face was destroying a hotel room with frightening efficiency.
"I met George in prison, in the art therapy group. I soon found better use for his talent. When he was released I got him a job and a place to live. These days he handles my security and shoots videos in his free time. He's doing pretty well for himself."
"It's easy to get the wrong impression of George, especially from the videos. You see, they don't show the fact his IQ is over 150. A lot higher than yours, for example, I'd imagine."
"This is one of my greatest favourites. I asked George to do a documentary on his own life, and he brought me this. The policeman is authentic, by the way; I don't remember what club it was where George picked him up. This gives you a pretty clear idea of what it is like when one has free hands but the other doesn't. The handcuffs are probably authentic too; they must have acquired a certain sentimental value by now."
The tape came to the end. I wanted something to drink. My host poured slowly and stared me in the eyes.
"I've got the sound version too, but that can wait until next time. Many of my friends only come here for the videos. You'll have to come too, if you still want that interview."
"Of course I do."
"Would you like to watch something right away? I've got everything here. Documentaries filmed in secret, docudramas, advertising, porn and rock videos, plays on tape, art films, and other rubbish. And combinations of all the above, as well as autobiographical clips by lunatics of various kinds. There have been a few attempted burglaries. Pathetic twits. As though I didn't have backup."
"I heard Naked Truth has put out a new video?"
"Well heard. This time they aren't completely naked. The guys were condoms. I guess that won't stop a scandal from blowing up, although there's no reason really, 'cause the new arrangement guarantees that the sucking audience doesn't catch anything. The guys were a bit scared of being bitten, though."
"How much have you made through the band?"
"Exactly as much as the bastards themselves. We have more solidarity than anyone. I don't
think your question was very good."
"You mean money can't be discussed?"
"No, but if you're more cynical than the cynics, you might cease to be a cynical. One more thing: always call beforehand when you come. The previous interviewer had a nasty little accident. Do you want some paper towels?"
"So let's hear about it."
"The idiot's insane. I can read you some."
"How are the novels?"
"Well, for example the one that was to be composed by using hidden microphones and cameras."
"We're already recording. Day and night."
"I wonder whether anyone listens to us anymore, except us?"
writers were so supercilious it was disgusting. They preferred to ask their own
questions rather than answer mine and never game me more than half an hour of
their time. I primed myself meticulously, but it didn't help at all. They
wouldn't answer a single question properly. I gave them a tape recorder, in
case they'd like to dictate some of their flitting "synopses"
("stories that just come and go like everything else") or answer my
pages and pages of questions. Later, browsing through my prospectus, I discovered
that they were giving a series of lectures - "The Death, Euthanasia and
Suicide of Literature". I decided to attend and see if I'd get a chance to
get on with the interview.
I was summoned to the office. This was unusual.
"How are the interviews coming along?"
"They were a bit nervous at first, but things are picking up now. They'll soon talk all right."
"Have you already met all the members of the group?"
"Everyone except E, who seems a bit elusive."
"In fact it happens to be E we're mainly interested in. A little tÍte-ŗ-tÍte with the party in question might even be in order. We would refresh some old memories. Can you arrange it?"
"I guess so."
"We're in a hurry. Have you asked the others about E?"
"They only talk about themselves, unless you manage to distract them and lead them on."
"Well fucking lead them on then. You donít get paid for listening to their arty bullshit. We're heard plenty of that before, in court and elsewhere. This time we're going to put them away."
"I'll do what I can."
"Not enough. I don't have to remind you of your shared interests, do I?"
"There was no need last time either."
"It only did you good, didn't it? And we can always move on to better tricks if we like."
"Now we've got no one who can cope with this situation. Shit, why suicide, and why just now?
"Was it suicide?"
"You know just as well as I do."
"Anyway, it doesn't matter now."
"No, it doesn't, but the memos on that Dictaphone might be useful. Why don't you have a listen through? I don't have time."
"Are you saying you can't handle this on your own?"
"Not anymore. This is no longer a tiny side issue. And you better watch your balls, too, if that bitch gets the chance to publish what she knows."
"It's your job to prevent it."
"And it's your job to decide how far we can afford to go."
"You know all right. There aren't many ways to bury information."
"Of course not, but you have to find it first. Jesus, we can't just do anything we want."
"As far as I've understood, that is exactly what you've been doing up to now. Well OK, OK, I'll have a listen to the memo and decide what we'll do next. Meanwhile, you'll have to stretch your authority as far as you can."
"How about the press?"
"That won't be a problem. No one will publish rumours, especially if you announce that she's wanted for murder. Pin a couple of unsolved cases on her. That should smooth things over."
I felt perfectly calm when I woke up. I moved around the rooms quietly and soon got used to them. I appropriated the space as I had done in prison. I did Zen exercises in the bedroom and watched videos in the living room. What little thinking I did concerned the proportions of the rooms, although no concept I could think of seemed pertinent to my present circumstances; I couldn't apprehend them through any dialectic, not in terms of the conscious and unconscious, certainly not in terms of a hermeneutic circle, or inside and outside, or the self and the world; there was always differance of course, but. I stopped meditating about my state of being.
Lawyers who specialize in the most appalling crimes, surgeons who want to chop their patients into one-pound chunks, architects who want the houses they designed blown up. I am an expert in teasing out all the petty shitty bitterness in people. You wouldn't believe what resentment plagues the minds of people who are successful. Or not all of them, but the ones who still alive enough to register. People who are in the wrong profession because no profession is right for them. They do their work well, and take good care of their relationships too, but, underneath it all, they are angry as hell. Never enough to change their lives, they know that as well as I do. But if I want a new face, they'll arrange it for me in secret. If I was hunted for murder they'd hide me, not out of friendship or indifference, but as an amusing diversion for themselves. How they'd relish a chance to mail hostages' toes to family members or officials. I'm almost fond of them - if it weren't for them, I might never have thought of setting up the Crisis Center.
We get all types here. Informers who want to betray movements that haven't even started; starving artists who want to know more about people; rebels who think there's something romantically blasphemous about transgressing boundaries and who think they can take their polo-necked nihilism farthest by serving us. Some have, of course, been useful, but only one in fifty, if that. Twenty years ago we mainly hired sociologists, and ten years ago we concentrated on psychoanalysts; nowadays it tends mainly to be art theorists.
Personally, I particularly enjoy listening to paranoiacs because they often imagine and thus provide rudimentary plans for extremely effective control techniques. A wonderful example was the idea of recruiting a few ambulance drivers, doctors, and nurses to hinder or slow down the medical care given to accident victims who belong to the political opposition and are therefore potentially dangerous. Up to now, our experience has been purely positive.
Sometimes I spent hours just staring at the sea. Compared to the white wall, the sea was more interesting, albeit just as meaningless. Later, for lack of anything better to think of, I pondered whether the Zen tradition could be divided into a centric and a differential half, depending whether the object sous rature was the sea or a wall. I recalled how, even as a child, I had been annoyed by pretentious talk about symbolism in films and literature.
Our old song was played on the radio. "Sudden Death." The band was new, though - D's latest discovery and brainchild, Naked Truth. The whole thing was so carefully calculated and financed that you couldn't help liking it. The band consisted of six members, three women and three men, all former porn stars. In this new project, inducing a sense of inferiority and humiliating the audience was apparently an even higher priority than making a profit. This was why the band performed naked and gave concerts that were essentially a combination of appalling rock clichťs and peep show. During the acts the music came from a tape. To avoid prosecution, the band was marketed as a theater and performance group. So far, they had won all their lawsuits.
Which tapes upset me most? I guess it was the ones where you had to listen to the sound to get even a vague idea of what was going on. I wondered whether they had deliberately been shot so messily you couldn't recognize the persons with any certainty - not with legal certainty, at least. The cover of the tape would typically promise a "Part 2" which was never available anywhere. A few little scraps of synopsis only complicated matters.
The No Point group came into existence after its founding members had all run into difficulties because of their talents, and had "decided to join forces, or more to the point, to their respective culs-de-sac". Members of the group would participate in each others' projects, while simultaneously pursuing private creative work, except for the writers, who always worked in pairs. According to E, the purpose of this arrangement was to curtail the most dangerous consequences of expending energy on individual projects. Not a single member has been willing to clarify this statement, so we just have to make of it what we can.
It makes no difference what artists do. No one is interested in them anymore. I mean, no one is interested in works where something important has been grasped. I often went to theater, for example, and was greatly inspired by the best shows. I often thought of myself as a member of the same profession who just happened to have better equipment. It has been said that art leads us to places we could never reach without it. While I have dictated this memo I have become more and more convinced of this. Soon we will be there. Art will have done its duty, and it will be our turn.
He claimed to be whole inside and complained that speaking shattered that whole. He blamed his teeth, but the attempt to tear them out had evidently not been very successful.
A large part of our lectures on the death of literature has nothing to do with the death of literature. Despite and because of this fact, you have all been given a group of texts that present radically incongruous views of language and literature. For purely pedagogical reasons, it is important that you appreciate their utter meaninglessness. We shall piss right in your eyes until you open them. At least until you open them.
In my dreams I often see children, lots of children, who are behaving in a violent fashion. Restrained, careful and patient, they don't run amok or anything, but seem to know exactly what they are doing. I wake up feeling confused, but during the dream I'm definitely on their side. Sometimes the feeling of uncertainty is so intolerable that I have to check to see what it was I was watching before I fell asleep.
Members of the No Point group referred to themselves with one-letter codes. Because this book is not meant for readers who don't know their "real names" - a concept they brought in everything they did - we may begin with the following summary: No Point consisted of writers A and B, theater director C, rock musician and video producer D, and the environmental artist E.
When drafting plans, it is important never to think of the law or its spirit; one must not even think of received custom. On the contrary, one must, first and foremost, consider how far one can possibly stretch one's prerogative in order to manage contingency at hand. You must meticulously calculate how far you can go without being prosecuted. When so doing, you can gain much from the experience of officials dismissed for misconduct and from the insights of exceptionally intelligent criminals. One might well consider commissioning the latter to carry out particularly hazardous special tasks. I have compiled a list of potentially suitable persons. With one exception, they all have at least two homicides on their record. For them, murder is merely an intellectual challenge, a twist in the plot; they don't ask "Why?" but "What or who next?"
It is difficult to determine what sort of time we are moving in. Do the videos contain previous occurrences or D's imaginary projections and analyses of the future, or does everything take place in real time? The last alternative would never have crossed my mind but for the fact that I'm almost certain I saw an image of myself watching videos on one of the screens.
I wanted to find out exactly how people lived. I had no particular scruples about this because information about people's so-called private lives was already being systematically gathered and gathered to much worse ends - I decided that the only way of resisting the process was to collect information myself. In practice, the only difference between me and others who were practicing surveillance was that I had a better idea of what I wanted to see and of when and where to position the cameras and microphones. Surely it's not my fault that I'm not an unimaginative academic, up and coming or down and out. And I didn't even publish my data, so it's no use comparing me to sociologists or any of the other frigging snitchers. First I mapped out the remaining dignified modes of existence and then recorded their final entrapment and destruction. Then I focused on what has replaced them.
There are seven children, four boys and three girls. They seem to be playing a complicated game, the rules of which are difficult, or, in all honesty, impossible to determine on the basis of the silent video, especially since the tape seems to have been treated in some way, digitally manipulated or something, unless it is the events themselves that create this impression. The game seems to have two centers - a computer with a monitor, and an adult who is tied to a chair. During the course of the game, the children subject the adult to various kinds of violence - blows, kicks, bites, excretions. They appear to be scoring points. Later they begin cutting at the adult with knives. Yet every now and then the children seem to wish to free the victim, whom they partially untie, ungag, and address with perfectly friendly gestures. The tape ends before the game does; the last shot shows one of the children preparing to pour a boiling liquid over the adult, who has fainted in the chair. At this point the adult has no clothes on, but the tape is so fuzzy that it is impossible to determine the person's gender.
The simplest way of outlining the career of the No Point group seems to be to proceed in the chronological order of the court cases. They were first prosecuted for their art in connection with the Living Dead Exhibition. Armed with camcorders, they had recorded the way passers-by reacted when confronted with seven well-known deceased persons, who had been stolen from the mortuary or exhumed the night before and displayed in the form of installations at various central locations. Members of the group admitted no more than having received forewarning of the events; they got away with a small fine.
I watched videos more often than television. Since there were several monitors, I was able to follow several programs simultaneously - say, the TV news, Antonioni films, and material recorded by D. The different kinds of material gradually began to influence one another and to blend together, without ever, however, forming a coherent whole. This happened even though I remained almost consistently capable of identifying and placing a clip within a matter of seconds of its commencement. It was harder to be sure how the different strands in the flow of images interacted and influenced interpretation. At the next stage I found myself having dreams, sometimes even in the middle of a viewing session, which bore a striking resemblance to D's videos. The boundary between sleep and wakefulness was still clear and it didn't occur to me to be frightened; I allowed the different images to mingle because I knew I could stop watching whenever I wished.
by Philip Landon
(From The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Summer 1996, reproduced here by their kind permission.)