Praxis

May 20, 2007

An Intruder.

Filed under: Uncategorized — duncan @ 5:40 pm

I got back from the launderette, to find an intruder in my flat.

The intruder was sitting in the comfy chair, drinking a glass of wine, and leafing through my copy of the latest ‘Radical Philosophy’. When I put down my laundry, he looked up.

“There you are,” said the intruder. “I thought you’d got lost.”

The intruder was a middle aged gentleman, with streaks of grey in his dark hair. He wore a goatee, and he had an agreeable ironic smile on his lips. It was impossible not to like the intruder, but it was also impossible to believe he had too many scruples. He was the sort of man it would be very pleasant to play a game of cards with, provided the stakes were not too high. He wore an expensive suit, but on inspection this suit turned out to be a little shabby, and his shoes were scuffed. He looked like someone who had once had a promising career in the city. But now he could no longer hope for promotion, and he had let himself go to seed. On the middle finger of his right hand there was displayed a massive gold ring with an inexpensive opal. He watched me with humorous eyes, enjoying my consternation.

“Um… forgive me.” I said. “I wasn’t expecting…”

“I’m a friend of Richard’s downstairs,” explained the intruder. “I was going to visit him, but he’s not at home, so I thought I’d drop by and see you.”

“Listen,” I said. “Um…” 

 “What is this magazine?” asked the intruder, holding up my copy of ‘Radical Philosophy’.

“It’s a journal of socialist and feminist philosophy,” I said. “It carries a mixture of articles, commentary, and book reviews. For instance…”

The intruder began reading from the contents list. “Making Progress on Climate Change… The Promise of Justice… Queer Phenomenology.”  He didn’t look impressed.  “Who’s Adorno?”

”He was a cultural critic and philosopher,” I said, wishing I knew more about Adorno. “Author of ‘Dialectic of the Enlightenment’, he…”

But the intruder cut me short, with a contemptuous wave of his hand. He dropped the magazine to the floor. He snorted up air through his flared nostrils, and fixed me with his gaze.

“I’ve been reading your blog,” said the intruder.

”Oh!” I said. “How nice. It is good to have readers…”

“It’s shit,” said the intruder.

”You should leave a comment,” I said. “It’s always nice to get a debate started…”

“I know your kind,” said the intruder. “Liberal hand-wringers. Leftist polemicists. Gesture politics, meaningless dissent.”

“I see,” I said. “I think I understand where you’re coming from. In fact…”

“You whinge about Iraq,” said the intruder. “You whinge about the brutality of Empire. But where do you think you’d be without such violence?” He ground his fist into his hand. “You profit from violence, but you won’t endorse it. Hypocritical prick…”

The intruder’s eyes flashed. His eyebrows arched. I noticed that the intruder’s ears were not altogether solid. I could see the back of the chair through the intruder’s jaw. The intruder was translucent.

“Mind if I smoke?” said the intruder.

”Well,” I said, “I usually try not…”

But the intruder lit a cigarette. Smoke billowed out from his nostrils. It roared through his teeth. Inside the intruder’s chest, smoke circulated.

“I was there when Churchill fought in Africa”, the intruder said. “I was there when he bombed Dresden. I remember the fire. The ashes. And Nagasaki!” The intruder laughed, remembering good times. “That was real violence. You people have lost the art.”

I began to get an inkling of who the intruder was. I looked over his shabby clothes. It was a long time since I’d read ‘The Brothers Karamazov’, but various parallels were suggesting themselves.

“Listen,” I said . (I wanted to put my side across.) “It’s true that violence is everywhere. But that doesn’t mean we have to endorse it. There’s a memorable thing that Derrida once wrote…”

But I felt the words fall away from my chest. I felt grace drain out of my body. My soul, a heavy clammy thing, sat on the base of my stomach. I wanted to vomit.

“Don’t give me your excuses,” said the intruder. “Look.”

I saw certain scenes from history. Crimes from which my family had profited; murders they committed. I saw the rapes without which my bloodline would have died. I saw various animals, my great grandparents, kill rivals with their teeth. I saw all the food that has ever entered my body, the human and animal lives ground up to give me sustenance. I saw the people I myself had hurt, and am hurting now.

When I came to, I was lying on the couch. The intruder was standing over me. He was playing with his lighter.

“Who are you?” I said.

”I’m your guardian angel,” said the intruder. “You’ll call on me when you’re in need.”

I tried to muster my resources. But while I was thinking, the intruder disappeared.  I checked the bathroom and the toilet, but he was altogether gone.  He’d even washed up his wine glass.

More to follow on this (and apologies to Dostoevsky).

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