The Intrepid Explorer recounts his travels for the benefit of subscribers to the Magazine of the Museum of Everything, who enjoy his accounts of unreliable natives, the geographies of being lost, encounters with creatures that may or may not be unknown, and the ways in which things do not go as planned.
The Intrepid Explorer takes a sip of Pimm’s
We hadn’t yet made it to the rainforest that we had to cross in order to explore the Mountain, an enormous sandstone cube the top of which is likely full of things marooned since Pangaea broke apart. I noticed that we were low on petrol. The native driver used hand signals to indicate that a station lay not far ahead. Or I misunderstood him. When we ran out we had a long, silent argument.
The Intrepid Explorer dreams of domesticity
O Millicent whom the vicissitudes of being intrepid has caused to fade from my memory into a proper name and movements imputed to elements from photographs: Millicent, the ghost who sends me to sleep at night and whose whispers awaken me in the morning, audience for the narrative that duplicates paths cut through forests by machete, first viewer of the photographs that expand the Museum of Everything; Millicent, whose colors I wear to every tournament, how I struggle to remember your tastes and smells while I keep an eye out for poisonous snakes.
The Intrepid Explorer is befuddled
When we finally reached the Mountain, we climbed an interminable seam of forest between two plates of sheer sandstone. The natives say the trail turns to a waterfall when it rains. I looked through a break in the forest and stone and saw long thin ribbons of water fluttering and twisting as they fell into a void.
The Intrepid Explorer makes a discovery
The natives thought I was lost. They lead me along a considerable river: the trees were full of birds and monkeys; the ground a continuous possibility of poisonous snakes.
Finally we arrived at a village.
I was greeted by an anthropologist. He referred to himself as the Chair of Department. In their natural habitat, they are quite hierarchical.
He said: We came here from museums and universities all over the North until there were so many of us that there was little left to observe. So we formed a community and began to do the anthropology of anthropologists in the field. At first we approached it with a kind of irony. But with time we made a system for ourselves.
The anthropologists describe each others’ actions and rituals in minute detail. They map their own social structures. They write papers about themselves that are vague as to appearance and outfits and publish them. The most elegant lamentations of a disappearing way of life to yet appear in print have come from this village.
Readers of the Magazine of the Museum of Everything found the account of the village of anthropologists to be disturbing and wrote strongly worded letters to that effect.
The Intrepid Explorer is a series of photographs
In each he stands with a booted foot atop a fresh kill. He wears jodhpurs and the other beige accoutrements of civilization. He holds a weapon in one hand and directs his gaze toward a future of continuous rearrangements.
The Intrepid Explorer makes the individual an example. In the accompanying text, he situates that example on the List of All Known Things.
Readers imagine a Museum of Everything Taxidermy Division comprised of many remote outposts, the activities of one of which accompanies their reading, finalizing the posture this newest specimen will have in the relevant gallery and arranging its face into that wistful smile that implies dreaming of home.
The Museum of Everything is everywhere merging with the world.
The Intrepid Explorer attends a dinner
The Trustees of the Museum of Everything and guests are arrayed in a glittering ballroom along white linen tables amidst the machinery of elaborate courses made from endangered species and an orchestra that plays Viennese waltzes.
When the signal is transmitted the music is replaced by the sound of the Intrepid Explorer tapping a water glass with a knife.
He delivers a toast to thank them for their support of the Museum’s invaluable work of assimilating a world of accidents into the Laws of Known Things and bids them farewell for he is to set out on an important adventure tomorrow.
Invisible within the machinery, drinking Chablis and swaying slightly to another orchestral waltz, the Intrepid Explorer wrestles with the sense that Millicent, whom schedule conflicts prevented from attending, is carrying on a dalliance with a cabana boy who does not know where Germany is.
From the Intrepid Explorer’s Journal
Day 1 One missed greatly the fat rolling globular clouds. For want of better remedy we sucked pebbles which stimulated salivation and allayed the thirst to a certain extent but for the high fever, which brought about fearful exhaustion and severe aches, and the unpleasant, abundant electricity in the air caused by the intense dryness which has a most peculiar effect on one’s skin. There was an extraordinary family resemblance in nearly all the heads one saw.
Day 2 One missed greatly the fat rolling globular clouds. The electricity with which the air of the desert is absolutely saturated is gradually absorbed by the human body and stored as in an accumulator. On touching the barrel of a rifle or any other good conductor of electricity, one would discharge an electric spark of some length. By rubbing one’s woolen blankets with one’s hands one could generate sufficient electricity to produce a spark. As for the cats, if one touched them they always gave out a good many sparks: at night if one caressed them there was a luminous greenish glow under one’s fingers as they came into contact with the hair. There was an extraordinary family resemblance in nearly all the heads one saw.
Day 3 One missed greatly the fat rolling globular clouds. There was so much electricity in the air that it gave quite an unpleasant feeling and had a curious effect upon one’s skin. On coming in contact with the woolen blankets the cats discharged sparks all over. Sparks also snapped from one’s fingers on touching anything that was a good conductor. There was an extraordinary family resemblance in nearly all the heads one saw.
Day 4 One missed greatly the fat rolling globular clouds. Having gone some twelve miles more we stopped at four in the afternoon in a bitterly penetrating cold wind which had a most uncomfortable effect upon one’s nervous system. Whether it was that the intense dryness caused an excess of electricity or what, I do not know, but one ached all over in a frightful manner and experienced the same tendon-contracting feeling as when exposed to an electric current. There was an extraordinary family resemblance in nearly all the heads one saw.
Day 5 One missed greatly the fat rolling globular clouds. We left again in the middle of the night and a great effort it was to get out of one’s warm blankets and scramble on the camel, aching as I was all over with the indescribable exhaustion that fever of the desert brings. Luckily, with the rising of the moon the wind had somewhat abated, but the electricity in the air was as unpleasant as it was extraordinary. One was absolutely saturated with it and discharged sparks from one’s finger-tips when one touched anything that was a good conductor. There was an extraordinary family resemblance in nearly all the heads one saw.
The Intrepid Explorer is dreaming again
A projector switches on.
There is an image of an old man seated in a chair. He is dressed in an amalgamation of tribal outfits. He looks uncomfortable. The shot goes on and on.
Finally he is handed a book. A voice says: These are the stories of your people.
The old man flips the pages back and forth.
Without looking up he says:
Our stories are symbols on fragments of bone. We put them in the world as we move through it. The rain takes them. The seasons take them. We make others. Only some are of the past.
Every path crosses another. Our stories are a way-finding. We encounter them in the light and sound and what we are doing. They open the place where we are. They bring the world into being.
When you look around you see outlines. These white spaces and the words you put on them are property and arrangements of things. You separate spirit from body and think you float outside. Your words are paths that cross empty, silent places. There is no world where nothing changes. You are already dead.
These are not our stories.
The projector switches off.
Outline of Fading Empire
In the waning days the old stories do not hold. In the waning days language becomes thin and ghostly. In the waning days none of this registers. In the waning days people cling to routines.
In the waning days, trapped inside obsolete maps that distinguish up from down and figure from ground people see the world as given in advance as what is slipping away.
The Empire talks of freedom but relies on debt peonage to force open markets for agricultural overproduction. So freedom means freedom from necessity for shareholders in the corporations that benefit from this arrangement.
The Empire is built on weapons sales. When a war breaks out involving those weapons, The Empire dispatches negotiators most attentive to detail and process to broker a slow end to hostilities. These negotiators act as if they know nothing of how the weapons systems used by the combatants came to be in that place.
The Empire is a maze of bounded rationalities within which well-intentioned people carry out well-intentioned policies to the exclusion of feedback loops that would connect them to outcomes. The Empire is spaces made of mirrors.
The Empire devotes most of its resources to the elimination of The Enemy. The Enemy is the consequence of the Empire’s actions. The Enemy will never be eliminated. The Empire is a war on itself.
The Empire does not record its deterioration. It leaves that to the servants who archive things.
Interior Ministry Note:
This tract was found on the streets in front of the Presidential Palace.
We have it on reasonable authority that it was written by one of our people.
The Leader in a series of business suits steps down from a series of helicopters.
The Leader is a lifestyle.
He is in demand.
The Leader is the guest of honor at parties.
He is the center of attention.
The Leader makes friends and influences people.
He elicits the yes yes response.
The Leader reads Machiavelli on the weekend.
He drives a little red corvette.
The Leader is modest about his accomplishments.
He struggles with golf.
The Leader is different because he loves you.
The Leader loves you because he is you.
The Secret Lives of Generals
Accompanied by a wave of silence and another of flashbulbs, The Leader enters the press conference.
The prepared statement he reads is the same as every other: democracy; enemies; emergency.
The networks had preceded the event with grainy photographs by swimming pools and chains of compromising text messages.
The reporters want to know about the secret lives of generals.
The Leader talks about strides forward how we are all in this together.
But the secret lives of generals will not go away.
He adheres to the strategic line of not dignifying with a direct response
Inwardly, The Leader is pleased.
The press conference is being carried live.
What offended were not the indiscretions but their banality.
Risking everything should be beyond vanilla sex and protestations of undying love with interns who treat their situation like a Cotillion.
The Generals should be more something: more imaginative; more intelligent; more ruthless; more amoral.
That would justify the situation.
But The Generals did the same thing The Leader would have done.
It ran against his sense of hierarchy.
Like all of us he finds himself in an environment of video feeds, tracking signals and monitored written communications all packaged as benign concern. It’s for your own good. You’ll never go missing.
He is shaped by economic conditions and adaptation toward the elimination of what is unnecessary. The restriction of his movements is accompanied by increasing pressure.
Late at night over a bottle of bourbon he plays a game of Russian roulette. When he loses, no electronic devices will signal: no-one will be notified; no search parties sent out. He will become details spattered about a room, invisible as the corporate persons who hide among the tax havens.
The presidential palace is a network of barriers, a grove of antennae, a backdrop for broadcasts, a bristle of weapons systems, a knot of transmissions, a skein of referrals.
The presidential palace is simultaneous press conferences, gatherings of courtiers, images that were to be sent to mobile editing rooms replaced with the pre-packaged interactions provided by the helpful persons of the Press Office a real time saver, they say, we know how busy you are with all that breaking information and the doorways you must stand near in case the Important walks through.
The central square is jammed with people in the swelter and traffic and dust and the messages that transform it from one kind of space to another, from circulation to liberation, continuity to refusal by a reversal of polarities.
She is drawn to the swirling energies. A radiant moth she relays slogans. She moves discussion to discussion. She takes it all in. She works her way to the front lines of confrontation with the police. She looks around for informants. She thinks: Half of these people work for the FBI.
We look for what is hidden in plain sight like those drone operators who find themselves in front of the infrared exoskeletons of the world they are from searching for the points where a bureaucratic reality intersects with the enemy’s horizontal surfaces.
There are no secrets.
Consider the national security state. We know that it is sphere whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere. We could map its extension, but the map would be endless. We could say what it costs, but the tally would be infinite. So there is no interest in knowing.
Concealment is needless expenditure.
The state allocates funds for our use, so we make the geography of institutions.
We gather data from e-book readers and cell phones to construct maps of the ways ideas move around.
At first we said: We know who reads what and where. We have abstracted figures and made them actionable. If X performs the movements that associate him or her with an idea dangerous to the state, X becomes a target.
But Ideological Forensics declared that an outmoded approach.
Now I maintain the database on my own: I chart the dances of activation and forgetting, sedimentation and variation and watch the world being made and remade there.
Before The Leader was The Leader, he looked and looked for something until he forgot what that something might have been.
But he continued to search for this thing that he had forgotten and emptied himself out in the doing. He made himself a function. Now situations define him. He becomes what you want to see.
But I feel The Leader dissolving. Consent will not be orchestrated. There was a referendum and no-one voted. Such stubbornness and ingratitude after all I’ve done.
Elsewhere is a low-rise facility in which the new invisible proletariat moves metal tubes through work stations, cutting them to spec and bending them a few degrees to the left.
Elsewhere is a resort where she lay on a chaise lounge watching walls of water move like solids until the surface tensions fracture and the wave collapses into a clap, each followed by another message to decipher as you reach for your mojito and look the length of her legs, your lingering on an arrangement of moles accompanied by a clap of collapse and she turns to look at you from behind sunglasses that erase her eyes and replace them with holes.
Elsewhere is the containers that arrive for famine relief filled with left plastic stiletto heeled shoes and millions of razor blades because you know how easy it is to break a heel in a drought and a gentleman needs to shave.
Elsewhere is an arrangement of people wearing business suits who sit in lotus position along a low-tide line, eyes closed, jackets and ties adrift in the rising water, waiting for something to occur to them.