There's no one left in the world. No
one at all. But the cars still drive and the trains still arrive and
depart and announcements still crackle from Tannoy's but from no
one's mouth and for no one's ears. Products are still manufactured
and sold but by who and to who? Import and export still continues but
why? The world still bustles but is simultaneously
silent. There's no one here to clean up the dog shit but that's OK
because there are no dogs to shit.
An algorithm drives things on and
machines fulfil the roles of consumers and
producers. GDP is steady and things are running smoothly and does it
matter that we are no longer here to witness all this because targets
are being met and graphs are looking healthy and wasn't that what it
was all for? There is no one here to see what is happening but
that's OK because there isn't much to see. There is no longer anyone
here to comment but that's OK because there is nothing to be said.
The grass still gets cut.
Dead leaves are swept up.
Healthcare expenditure is nil.
Objects go to the cinema to watch films
made by objects about objects being objects and there is no one to
complain about objectification. And there's no more of the sound and
fury that signified everything. The world is purely utilitarian and
every emotional experience is a simulacrum. A protocol. A
choreographed imitation. The objects in the
cinema laugh at all the right parts. There are no longer any wrong
parts. Things are working at last. We finally got there by removing
the thing that prevented us from arriving - us.
The tide comes in and the tide goes out
and an abandoned tanker bleeds on the horizon. It doesn't matter at
A landscape, like one from a dream.
Sparse with pylons and clumps of trees. Beautiful but asleep. A
silent road cuts through it but where does it lead? Far, far off to
somewhere that can't be seen. And you've no choice but to travel it,
to follow its twilight track. You'll cross over the horizon and you
won't be coming back.
The beguiling geometry of her face
didn't hit him immediately. It took a while for the cunning
collection of angles to coalesce in his
mind and settle there. What first intrigued him was the reserve that,
he wagered, hid a good heart. The reserve itself was hidden behind a
generous sociability but the reserve wasn't hidden that well. You
easily got past the cheeriness to find the guardedness but beyond
that you'd discover the truth. Maybe he could have helped her.
Then there was her laugh. A single Ha!
A spontaneous and genuine expulsion. The kind of thing you'd emit
after getting away with a bank heist. A loud exclamation but warm and
inclusive. He delighted in eliciting it. 'Ah life, such a wonderful
ridiculous thing', the laugh seemed to say. To him at least.
Her body moved easy to the Universe. It
wasn't out of step or closed in on itself and seeking the nearest
exit as his was. It was outstretched. It could protect itself if
required but it was willing to take on all comers. She belonged in
the world and her hips, limbs, breasts and neck danced with it. It
was hard to keep your eyes off her once you'd looked properly.
So, with all those things perceived,
processed and ruminated upon with every breath, he found that he was
truly stuck. He'd been drawn into a snare that didn't want to catch
him. This beautiful trap was seeking other prey. Neater featured prey
with a tidier psyche and a measure of conventional prestige. He didn't
resent this, or at least knew that he shouldn't. He himself had
caught quarry he wasn't pursuing in the past. It's the stupid way of
things. At least she was fond of him. He had made her laugh. Perhaps
she'd remember the laughter he'd caused her and shed a poignant tear
of regret when she found him dangling like a bastard on a rope from
the tree in her back garden.
Jenny was glad to have finally found a
reason for being. She'd had trouble finding any reason but was
actively searching. Her lack of interest in just about everything had
isolated her. She was always on the periphery of conversations at her
school, simulating interest and nodding and
pretending to laugh or gasp at the right times but never truly
engaging. She was no one's best friend or worst enemy. She was just
Jenny. 'Oh, it's just Jenny', people said. Even her mother said it.
Just Jenny, someone adults kept alive and healthy to see what might
become of her. Well, she had decided what she was going to become
and, my oh my, what she became.
Despite her persistence, Jenny's online
forum contributions and Facebook posts always went unacknowledged.
That is until Aarzam from Luton (a place in England) started
responding to her because she responded to him. He kept going on
about God and justice and all this stuff and Jenny asked him what he
was talking about. What followed was a correspondence
that lasted for months. Jenny didn't really care what they were
talking about, the important thing was that they were talking. Jenny
never had a point of view on anything so she consciously decided to
adopt Aarzam's point of view on everything. Not everyone agreed with
Aarzam, in fact some people thought he was crazy or evil, but he got
people's attention and attention was something Jenny craved.
Anyhoo, as the girl in question would
put it herself, this all led to Jenny being stopped at the airport
and asked to step into a back room to answer some questions. She told
them, flatly (everything she said came out flatly) that her
destination was Syria and that she was joining her boyfriend. The
airport security were nonplussed by this strange girl in a homemade
burka fashioned from a bed sheet dyed black. Things became even more
confusing when they asked Jenny where she was from. South County
Dublin was the answer but her accent was clearly United States. She
told them her 'mom' spoke like that too. She was asked if her 'mom'
was American. 'I don't think so', Jenny said. They asked Jenny if
she had ever been to the United States. Jenny said she hadn't. They
asked Jenny why she had an American accent. Jenny wasn't aware that
she had an American accent and said it might be because she 'watched
a lot of shows'.
So, like, anyways, things turned into a
really big deal. Aarzam had been seen in a viral where a
non-unionised freelance journalist got beheaded. Jenny became the
opposite of famous, infamous, for a while but then she just became
famous when she renounced her newfound beliefs and ran a
mini-marathon in aid of something, she wasn't quite sure what. This
was all on the advice of an agent Jenny's mother employed. 'We're
going to need someone to handle this Goddamn fucking shit storm', was
Jenny's mother's reasoning.
The newspapers and the TV went crazy
and spoke to the other kids in Jenny's school and they said that she
always seemed like she was keeping secrets. Jenny didn't know they
thought that about her. It was kind of cool. Better than boring.
Jenny went from being 'Just Jenny' to 'Jihad Jenny' in the space of a
few days. Some professor guy called Schlemp wanted to talk to her for
a book he was writing called 'Online Anomie International: Islamic
Extremism and the Search for Likes'. They were going to make a movie
too with Saoirse Ronan acting as Jenny. 'She's OK I guess, she's kind
of old though', Jenny told Ryan Tubridy on The Late Late Show. Ryan
asked Jenny if she'd lift her burka and give the audience a peek at
her pretty face. Jenny did. There was a big round of applause and
then Ryan gave everyone a hamper of beauty products.
Jenny's mother was really happy with
how the whole thing panned out but she was 'really pissed' at first.
There was silence in the car when she picked Jenny up from the
airport but then she suddenly exploded. She screamed and slapped her
open palm against the steering wheel.
'How the fucking motherfuck did you
wind up facebooking with a bunch of Wahhabi crazies?'
'Jeez Mom, take it easy. I don't even
know what Wahbabbi or whatever is. I just made friends with a Muslim
boy is all. What's the big deal?'
'Just made friends with a Muslim boy?'
Jenny's mother repeated, emphasising her
'Yeah', said Jenny, 'he kind of like
listened to me'.
'And what the heck were you saying that
made him listen to you honey?'
'I dunno', replied Jenny, her voice
trailing off. 'Just stuff I guess, ...just, y'know, ...stuff.'
'I just don't feel the same way other people do
about stuff', said Jenny sadly.
'People don't have to agree about
everything', Jenny's mother reassured.
'No Mom', said Jenny testily, 'I mean I
don't feel like others feel. I don't have feelings like them.'
'Feelings?' Jenny's mother intoned.
'Yeah, people feel things. They really
feel things. They fall really hard in love for each other and feel
really strongly about wars and stuff. They go crazy. I don't have
those feelings, at least not so much.'
'And how does that make you feel
Jenny glanced up at her mother. Their
eyes briefly met to acknowledge the irony. Then Jenny dropped her
'I guess it makes me feel lonely. I
guess that's the only feeling I have. The lonely feeling.'
Jenny's mother looked at her sad
daughter. A curtain of hair spilled from Jenny's head onto the table,
hiding her face. Was she crying under there? Jenny's mother would
have pitied her daughter if she could have but she could not.
'I guess it runs in the family',
Jenny's mother said with a sigh as she turned on the juicer and
annihilated the conversation with the sound
of whirring blades.
His first name was Firstname and his
surname was Surname. He was a disciple of academic trans-philosopher
and uber-thinker Dieter Schlemp. Schlemp had advised that everyone
unburden themselves of all cultural, ethnic and genealogical identification. That was why Firstname had changed his name. His new
name was, in and of itself, an interrogation of identity. 'What is a
name?' asked his name. And that question brought with it another
question - 'what is a person?' Firstname was going to find out.
Schlemp would be proud of him and regret never replying to any of
Firstname's tweets or following him back.
Firstname worked nights. He awoke at
dusk and went to bed at dawn. His was a twilight life of empty roads
and half-lit streetlights. He and his colleagues were like vampires.
Vampires that worked in a depot, moving boxes about. No one knew what
was in the boxes. No one had the energy to care. They just yawned and lifted the things and carried them from one place to another. Firstname put his
ear to one of the boxes once and could have sworn he heard the sea.
At work Firstname was referred to as
Justin, his first name before he changed it to Firstname. He asked
his colleagues to call him Firstname and they said 'sure thing
Justin' and never did. They didn't mean any harm by it, they just
couldn't get used to the name change. They didn't treat his decision
as odd or anything. They didn't make fun of him. They were too tired
Firstname was disappointed at the lack
of discussion his name change had inspired. No one seemed to care.
They were indifferent. People are indifferent to everything. The
Universe is indifferent. Schlemp didn't even respond to Firstname's
constant tweeting. 'Is this what it is to be a person?'
One night in the depot, Firstname
dropped a box and it opened. A seashell fell out. Firstname asked his
boss about it. Firstname's boss told him that the seashells were
ornamental. 'People put them on their mantelpieces and use them as
paperweights and all that shit', said Firstname's boss. Firstname's
boss told him that he could take home a defective seashell if he
liked. There was a bucket of chipped seashells under the
stairwell. Firstname took two. He took them home and attached them to
an adjustable metal arch and wore them like headphones. He used them
instead of an MP3. He walked around hearing the sea all the time. He
preferred it to music. It was less contrived. No one commented on the
seashell headphones but this didn't surprise Firstname. By now, he
was used to people not noticing things. They were preoccupied. They
had work to do. They had bills to pay. They were sleepy. Firstname
was sleepy too but the sound of the sea let him dream. He doubted
anyone he worked with dreamed. The closest thing they had to dreams
were modest ambitions, like the hope for a raise or something. Firstname didn't
judge them harshly for this. They didn't judge him and he wouldn't
judge them. That seemed fair. They were all just doing their own
thing, which was the same thing. Firstname was doing it too but at
least he was wondering what exactly it was they were all doing while
he did it.
'If you wonder don't expect anyone else
to care that you wonder', said Dieter Schlemp in a recent lecture
that Firstname discovered on Youtube. 'If you force people to wonder
they will resent it. They will resent you and they will resent wonder
itself as a distraction. If we must wonder we must wonder in private.
Wondering is a secret pastime for the few and we should remain aware
that it is no more than that. There is no honour in wondering, in
fact there is probably dishonour. Wondering does not make you better
than anyone else. Wondering is ultimately unimportant. There is
little to be gained from it in practical terms. To most, wondering is
an irrelevance and they are right.
Wondering is extraneous. Wondering is about
as important as the whirring sound a clockwork toy makes as it walks
from one end of the room to the other before winding down and
Firstname was shocked to hear this. He
held Schlemp in such high regard. He considered him an existential
paradigm buster. 'Existential Paradigm Buster', that's what the blurb
said on the back of Schlemp's book Derrida Does the Dishes:
Domesticity Deconstructed, published by Anosognosic Books, 2011. Now
it was revealed that Schlemp didn't agree with this accolade. The man
himself considered himself to be a lesser man, whatever a 'man' was.
Schlemp had wondered about wondering until he had arrived at the
conclusion that it was a waste of time to wonder. Schlemp looked
exhausted these days and he seemed intent on alienating his acolytes.
'I do it for the money', he said at the conclusion of his lecture
before leaving the stage to a confused and hesitant cricket match
applause. Firstname suddenly felt a fool for changing his name. He
decided that he would change it back to Justin. He wouldn't even have
to ask anyone at work to call him by his original name again because
they had never stopped.
Firstname collected up all the books he
had by Schlemp and left them in a plastic sack outside a charity
shop. He felt betrayed. He felt he had been abandoned by the leader
of his expedition as he was halfway across an antarctic plain. 'What
a prick', Firstname often thought as he eschewed the ways of a
wonderer and resumed earning and simply living and hopefully having a
bit of a laugh at weekends. He kept the seashell headphones though.
He couldn't bring himself to part with them. He decided not to wonder
why this was, just as the people who sent away for seashells to place
on their mantelpieces and use as paperweights didn't wonder why they
did what they did. For the briefest moment, Firstname found himself
wondering why they did what they did but then
he reminded himself to stop wondering and he did stop wondering and he no longer wondered
as he listened to the sound of the sea.