CONJUNCTIONS: A Web Exclusive
You have been offered a position at the office that violates your principles. Of course, no one says this. They speak instead of fantastic career opportunities. But you are not concerned with the fantastic, whatever that might be, you are only concerned with not violating your principles, unless your principles themselves are to be considered fantastic. And yet that is exactly what you refuse to accept. But that is exactly what they are asking you to do. These people seem to think that principles are merely a matter of words, and that having expressed in words your opposition you are now free to do what everyone else at the office does, which is what they have to do, whatever that is, as if these words of opposition came out only for balance. And now having expressed your opposition in words, if you were to accept the position offered—fantastic opportunities or not—your opposition would amount to nothing but a series of words, and words with no relation to your actual position. No doubt this is the desired effect, at least for the time being, for you have been commended by your nominal superiors for your principles at the same time that you have been told that no one can see what your principles have to do with what you actually do at the office. But that is the point, that is what you are protesting, if only through a series of words, since that is the one action left you, and that is what no one hears, or can hear, anymore. The union to which you have brought your complaint has advised you to plead not moral principles but incompetence: you have no training for the position. But that is nonsense, real nonsense! Not much training is required for what you do at the office, and absolutely no training for that position, and besides you are a professional, you have been trained to do anything, and that is the problem: a human being should not be trained to do anything, there are things in this world that should be excluded, there are things in this world that we should never do, our freedom depends on this, and more than our freedom, and yet act on this principle and the doors in front of you, transparent as they are, at once and forever close.
H is everything that a man should want, except rich: she is kind, she is generous, she is intelligent, she is beautiful, and she loves B and only B. But wealthy as he is B does not want to marry someone poor. When the authorities tell B nevertheless that he must marry H, for she has done the authorities a good turn, B realizes that he has no choice, the authorities being what they are, but decides not to consummate the marriage; and thus no sooner does he satisfy the authorities than he sends the woman now his wife to his mother, a widow and in need of company, he tells himself, and sets out to seek his fulfillment in war. Before he leaves her H extracts a promise that should he ever give her the family ring—something he has sworn not to do—and make her pregnant—something that under the circumstances cannot even be imagined—he will return. B has made the promise in the full confidence that it will never be kept and departs for the wars, where, killing many human beings, he is recognized as a hero and admired by all who admire and recognize as heroic such behavior in a man. Informed of his actions, H announces her desire to make a pilgrimage to a sacred place, only to show up at the battlefront, in disguise, where she discovers that her hero husband is now heroically wooing D, another kind, generous, intelligent, and beautiful woman, who, like H once, is without financial means of her own but who, unlike H, does not love B. The now-rich H works out a deal with D that will help D to overcome her one clear shortcoming: D agrees to accept B’s advances, though only on a verbal level, and at the appointed time to let H take her place. After the consummation of her marriage H has her death announced so that her husband in an illusion of perfect safety will come home. Only H has arranged to have the now rich D tell the authorities the truth and, pregnant and in possession of the family ring, which B had ceded as a pledge in the blindness of his passion, is herself produced as proof. Poor B has no choice now but to admit the sins of his youth and, in front of everyone, to beg for forgiveness. This is not as you like it, there is too much plotting for a comedy of errors, and in our company we have recently begun to offer alternative performances in which H and D change roles; this has proven so popular that we have begun to rotate the parts of B, H, and D as well. It is clear what development this logic must lead to, and it is only a matter of time until all our roles become interchangeable, rich and poor, male and female alike.
The Hunger Wall
The wall is built in the following manner: the poor are assembled and told that the wall is necessary for the nation’s defense and that they therefore are contributing to the defense of the nation. The wall is to be built by hand and thus to have all the benefits of handicraft. The area decreed for the wall is a rocky one, in fact it is hard to imagine why a wall is necessary there, or why anyone would even think of invading such a territory, rocky as it is, but rocky as it is the rocks can be carried by hand or cart to the hill where the wall is to stand. At the end of each day food is distributed to the workers, but only when they are too tired to continue their work. Of course, the wall will never be finished. This is clear to all of us who have worked on the wall, by the time a new section has been reached the old section has already begun to disintegrate, rocks needed for the new must be transported to the old, rocks needed for the old must be transferred to the new, the longer the wall becomes the farther we workers ourselves must be transported, and the farther we workers are transported the less possible it becomes for any one of us to have a clear and distinct image of the wall. In fact, it is only because of our hunger that the wall exists, such as it is, and for this reason the wall is known as the hunger wall and to this day, it is said, serves as an instrument in the nation’s defense.
Bruce Lawder has published three books of poems and a book of essays on poetry, Vers le Vers. He lives in Switzerland.