Letters from Prison

"the mind is a prison, but if you look inside it you will find no prisoner."

from h2so4 10:

Halliday—

Yes, I was once involved in what might be called a "terrorist" act. Friends of mine some of them still are had planned for some time a kidnapping. The purpose was to be mainly propagandistic; no money was to be extorted, and the victim was to be released unharmed. Eventually a certain well-placed, but not famous, industrialist, with ties to American capital, was chosen for the honor, and the abandoned building where I and several others lived was suggested as a safe prison. (At that time I also had another, "official" address, an unassuming apartment, but for reasons both political and personal it was useless for me to spend much time there.)

In those years I still thought of myself as mainly an "intellectual," in marked contrast to my feelings now, and had no desire to dirty my hands with such an undertaking. But finding it there in my (cavernous) front room... the fascination was very real. I became involved.

The abduction had been planned care-fully, even ritually. Mr. X's car was met on a lonely road in the course of his Friday evening drive to his country house, he and his wife were bound & gagged by two masked persons (a man & a woman, in fact), the husband was moved into a car heading westward. This car was in turn met by a van heading east, into which the husband and abductors moved, the car continued west to the garage it was borrowed from (this alibi cast doubts on the testimony of the wife, the only eye-witness), the van sped back, past the scene of the crime where the wife was hysterically explaining her situation to the motorists who had untied her, and to the city and the warehouse where I and others had prepared a hidey-hole within a hidey-hole for our distinguished guest.

The theoretical justifications for this act had been mainly to announce, to friend and foe alike, the existence of another point of view. We had often observed that the illogical, ugly and immoral outlook that makes our unjust society possible maintains its hegemony mostly by inertia. If a group of people are mouthing the insane platitudes that ordinarily pass for conversation, and if just one of them pipes up with a sincere alternative, often many of the others will change their tune. They were saying the things they were not because they believed them people are not stupid but because they knew that these are the things people say. All it takes is one person saying what he secretly believes and not being struck down on the spot, and we are given courage to say what we believe, also No, we are not stupid, we are cowardly.

So our communiqués were intended to give evidence in simple language of our sincere beliefs. The idea was that our willingness to risk prison for our beliefs would give them a little extra force.

Our intention was to treat our victim humanely and shortly release him to his family, after which this "Revolutionary Wing" (invented for the occasion) would disappear and we would all return to our usual pursuits. Our communiqués gave no evidence of this, of course. We wanted everyone to pore over them seeking our demands, of which, in fact, we had none.

Mr. X, once his gag was removed and he was served some food and beer, was also extremely curious about our intentions towards him. We had decided that it was safest to speak to him as little as possible, so at first we assured him of his safety and said nothing more. When news of his kidnapping appeared, in alarmist terms, along with our first communiqué, we were sufficiently amused and pleased with ourselves that we gave him a paper to read. Perhaps he felt, as we did, that we were letting him in on the joke a little bit or perhaps he simply thought us stupid. For whatever reason his attitude began to change slightly. While still wildly indignant, he seemed to be looking at us curiously, out of the corners of his eyes.

This in its turn had its effect on us. We had never hated Mr. X as a person, though we hated the insane system that defined him and which he in turn made possible. But for us, as for his American masters, he was a token, a symbol. "Mr. X." I suppose that it seemed to us that his psychology was somehow simple, almost a joke. If he had reasons for living as he did, they were not reasons like ours, but a conditioning so deeply rooted it was the man himself. As if he was not a man but a one-line joke, written by capital and told by biology. And we were not laughing.

And why indeed should we have been anything other than an unfunny joke to him? In retrospect I'd say that we, too, were acting roles that had already been scripted for us in the Industrial Revolution that while as individuals we had glimpsed outside the Plato's Cave of capital, we could not see beyond the possibilities of opposition determined by the very system we wanted, somehow, to oppose. At worst we were self-parody, "revolutionaries," "bohemians," and realizing this we had decided to turn the joke around and play it on the world. At best, though, we were still just antibodies in the circulatory system of capital, keeping the industrialized king's body healthy by attacking it in certain circumscribed ways. What was needed what is still needed were ways of being political that had not yet been thought as "political" ways perhaps of being moral. It seems to me now that true morality is more explosive than any pipe bomb.
But I digress. However any of this may be, it was Mr. X, I think, who first saw through our roles and guessed that we might be persons. And the fact that he could see this, that he saw himself reflected in our eyes, made us begin to see ourselves reflected in his.

So without even realizing it I became more involved. I began bringing Mr. X his meals. Masked, silent, I would sit with him for a moment while he ate. Through my mask, I observed him; exasperated, he observed me. I left, to let him eat in peace, and collected his dishes later.

After a few meals like this, he broke our silence. As I turned to go, with a kind of calm violence, he said, "Just tell me. What do you want? I have money, I will give it to you. If you want information, I will give you that. Were you hired by my competitors? By my wife? Just tell me what I am supposed to do, and I will do it."

I wanted to give him an answer. I could have said, "You are a symbol. We see the world differently than you do and we are using you to draw attention to ourselves. You will not be harmed. Eat your dinner." But I did not. Instead I said something that had not been true until that moment. I said, "We want to understand you." Then acting without thought I held my gun to his head. "Give me your wallet," I said. He did; still calm, still waiting. Dropping my gun in my pocket, I began leafing through the contents: cash, credit cards, papers. I began asking him about them What is this, how much is it worth, how did you get it, what doors does it open? Finally Who is this man?

He said, "It is me." 

Why do you have these things? 

"They are mine. I earned them."

How? (I could see he thought he was facing a madman.) 

"By working." 

Do they make you happy? 

"It is not they that make me happy; but, they are mine." 

What does make you happy? 

He stared at me. We had reached a standoff. He could not conceive of where this line of questioning could lead, and I never had any idea. It may be in such frustrated silences that most real communication occurs perhaps, perhaps. I sat down, staring through my ski mask, tore a piece off his bread and chewed it. "I only want to understand you," I said.

There was a long silence. "My life has often made me happy," he said. "Being here does not make me happy."

There was another long silence. He began eating as well.

Finally he looked up at me. "Do you know what? I understand you," he said. "Oh, yes, even with your face masked, even without going through your wallet, I understand you. Frustrated with the meaninglessness of the day-to-day. You want to make a break, you want to change everything, or die trying, you want not only joy for yourself, but to be a saint, to pour your whole blood into recreating the whole world. I find it tiring to be around you. It is not that I disagree. This world is wrong, I feel it too. If you could show me a way out I might follow you. But you do not. You show me a certain compassion and that is fine, here, eat with me, I invite you, if I were not here I would only be somewhere else, in some other prison but as for the rest, you cannot change the world. You are as lost in it as I am. Less lucky, perhaps, or less smart, or smarter little differences but you have no answers. This," he gestured to the printed communiqués, three so far, we had brought him, "is not an answer, these are just words you use to disguise your-selves. I don't hate you, but, my God, I don't need you. I don't need these," gesturing again at the communiqués. He stopped, and then, as an afterthought: "And you don't need me, you don't need to bring me here to understand me, if that is really what you want. You have yourself to look at, so look!"

He said no more. I took my mask off endangering the entire enterprise, my face was known to the police and threw it in the corner. We stared at each other some more I laughed, embarrassed, and so did he I raised my hands in helplessness and left, exited the compound, and went on a long walk. I did not see Mr. X again. The next day he was released on the outskirts of the city, and his case remained an unsolved mystery.

Mr. X did not turn his factories over to the workers, he did not tear off his clothes and run screaming into the desert. However, he never described me to the police, and later, after things got worse, he lost many of his holdings and was forced to leave the country for refusing to cooperate with the government. I left the warehouse and went back to live with my wife (I may as well tell you that part of my problem in that era was an affair I was conducting). My friends committed a few other mock-terrorist acts symbolic break-ins, etc. and, clever people, were never caught. The world continued turning.

And you, what are you doing? You are often in my thoughts.

Your friend,

N.

from h2so4 9:

Halliday—

I wanted to write an article on The Architecture of Spiderwebs. The metaphor of architecture as it's used in literary , or musical, criticism, for instance would really be much more instructive if the primary example were spiders' dwellings and not people's.

The spider's web is an organic extension of her body. It is her eyes and ears; she its keystone (planted in her web's centre, after carefully cleaning her pointy hands she hooks a strand with each of them and contracts slightly, keeping her web under tension). She exudes it, forms it intuitively, and swallows it when it goes awry.

"I am a trap a living pulsing trap. Breezes pass through me, carrying news. Elastic, I collapse and spread myself again elsewhere. As I feed, I grow in strength and knowledge and intuition, and spread myself wider and wider; an ever larger corner of the world is caught in me. The world is already in me, waiting to be eaten."

I observe nature, and my observation teaches me something. Something practical (though not what you might expect): architecture is the architecture of the psyche.
The spider's thoughts are her web's thoughts.

And so if you live outside? 

"My thoughts are the air's thoughts."

Your friend,

N.

Halliday—

it is my ambition to have no biography.

Perspective: If you are in a strongly receding perspective a tree-lined street for example you do not perceive it as it is painted (or photographed). Your eyes are focused at one distance or another (in fact, they are constantly moving) and all the trees nearer or farther than that are doubled, more split depending on their distance from the focal plane, and transparent, opaque only where they intersect. No one is unaware of this. But, why is this not included in the "laws" of perspective? (It is a fact of perception.) Because, you say, we know that all these doubled trees are not two, but one. Yes but we know just as well that the distant trees are not smaller than the near ones.

Hold your eyes still only a small part of the visual field is actually registered with clarity. 90% of it is color splotches, recognizable only by prior knowledge. 

The eyes are never still they are active participants in the creation of a visual experience in which we are immersed. 

Mathematical total perspective must have begun as a kind of trick, like 3-D glasses. But now, and for who knows how long, our sight is pre-conditioned by it, so the image in our heads of the world adjusts for the doubling, the blur, the movement, but leaves fore-shortening alone. It was not always so, nor everywhere. 

There are more than one, more than seven, ways of perceiving, and they are in a two-way relationship with our ways of representing what we perceive. (Not just one-way.) (Our representations linguistic and otherwise teach us what to expect of the world and lo and behold, that is what we find.)

This point is not only applicable to language. The world we live in is almost completely hearsay. Laws, customs, aesthetics, urban planning, everywhere we turn our minds we find the feeling that it is the way it is, and has always been, and could be no other way. And every time we examine this feeling, it collapses, and the work or adventure or tragedy of curiosity begins.

Your friend, 

N.

Halliday—

The question then is: Why has the alternative proposed (however muddledly) by Goethe, been forgotten? Science has somehow redefined itself as the province of those certified in it.

Science is the study of what can be measured, is the study of a tiny, and relatively unimportant, fraction a tenth, a hundredth of human experience. Why is this not obvious?
How can anyone think for a minute that reality is what can be measured, and all else is somehow "extra," "insubstantial," "unreal"? How did we develop this model in which there is a measurable real world, somewhere "out there," "filtered" through distorting perceptions when the distortions are what is immediate, the reality pure speculation?

We have almost no scientists, in the sense of unsentimental observers of subjective reality (as if there were any other kind). All those who interest themselves in psychology and spirituality in human realities actually lived are relentlessly sentimental, bringing to the subject millennia of preconceptions, all the wishful thinking humanity can muster. And all those who attempt simply to observe accept unquestioningly the ridiculous model of subject and object, and limit their observation to a tiny and arbitrary fraction of what they actually observe...

And strangest of all, I agree, is the fact that no one finds this strange. The most subversive thing you can do is lift your eyes and look around you.

Your friend,

N.