Instructions for the Encounter

From: ‘Instructions for the Encounter’ In Edia Connole & Gary J. Shipley (eds) Acéphale & Autobiographical Philosophy in the 21st Century. Schism Press, 24 June 2021, 69-72.

Nietzsche wrote with his blood, it said, and so we shall write in our excrement. This was printed on a slip of paper passed under my door, somewhere between 10pm, which was when I turned out the light, and 6am, which is when I resumed my life upon waking. I opened the door to my room, which opens to the street, and stood. I returned to the doorway at 8am when it was now light, and, being dressed, extended a leg outside. I stood that way for some moments until finally, decisively, I left the room. The main street of this town is perfectly straight, as the compass will tell, and leads to the gates of the university. This marks the terminus where the logic of learning confronts the logic of commerce and each tells the other something of itself. That was before the university had nothing to offer but a memory of what it was. I entered the grounds, and the path, which led to the main hall where the minds of the time were in conversation about something else. I stood at the back and said, I come looking for those who write in their excrement. The men, for there were no women, looked up and said, did I actually mean WITH their excrement. To which I replied, holding the slip as evidence, no, as it states here, in their excrement. To which they said, this is impossible, and resumed their talk. At the bank on the main street I presented the same question, which was now considered plausible, but nothing was known of those I sought. On the street, by contrast, the question I posed was rejected entirely by walking away, so I tried different questions, such as, where; or I seek; or where can I find what I am looking for, which always got me a response, typically, such as, you will find it over there; or ask him; or go away; or what you are looking for is not in this town, try abroad. There were two options, either to walk inland, or to travel by sea. I rejected both. At the morgue I presented the slip, and was given a coffin to lie in. They visited me as I lay and said things about me that bore no relation to my life, so I sat up, and left, holding one handle of the coffin that I had unscrewed whilst lying there and now turned over between my fingers. The slip of paper was in the other hand. At the treatment plant, they offered to compost the slip of paper, and when I denied this, gave me a shovel and told me to get to work. I lost the handle of my coffin somewhere during the hours spent freeing up the sides of the rolling disc so that it would be able to move again. At the church they told me to kneel, which I did, hoping for an answer, but nothing was given. I had more luck at the prison, where they took the slip and looked at it, and then at me, and then down at the slip, and then at me again, for so long I felt they might lead me to its authors. But then I was turned away. The hospital admitted me but could not find the right ward since each room they took me to was the wrong one and would not satisfy my illness. After which some attempt was made at institutionalisation, but I was judged to be harmless, which stung, and they turned me out. I was also too costly, and not worth the effort, they said. During my time inside I asked each inmate and found most of them receptive but with no answers to my question. One inmate was prone to shout, brothel, brothel, so on my departure I went there, the town did have one, but the antics they had to offer, and told me about as I arrived, bored me before I had a chance to ask about the excrement. At the pub I was offered beer, and there was a pot in which we all had a chance to piss, but some drunk took the slip and danced with it, so I tore it back and left. Now it only said, write in our excrement, which felt like a command, or an invitation. The drunk had the part about Nietzsche, which I couldn’t quite remember. It was now dark again, so I returned to my room, it had been some days since my last visit. In the kitchenette the sink was full and the oven out of gas. The bed was hard, but I slept until the morning. There was a second slip and on this one it said, travel to the outside. I opened the door and stood for the entire day looking outward. That night the bed was still hard, but I slept once more. In the morning there was a third slip, on which was written, go under. Having no clear idea of the meaning, I stood at the window and wondered at the words. Between that wondering and the shadow that fell over my vision, another note appeared, this time on the sill outside, placed so that I might read it from the other side of the glass. Be still, it advised me. I walked to the door and looked outside to see a retreating figure but there was none. On the step, instead, was another note, which read, become hard. I did not know the meaning of that either but took a chair and sat with it by the open door for the rest of the evening and well into the night. My head fell back with the mouth open to the light, which was out. When I woke there was on my lap another note, eliminate your debts, was written upon it, and, release your emissions. I sat and waited, and then stood, and then sat again, and thought for some moments, before finally standing. I took the door in one hand, and the frame in the other, and closed it into the opening. This time I left by the rear and walked along the alley to the main street. Everyone I met offered me some kind of answer to my previous question and spoke these answers to one another as I walked away. It had started at the bank soon after my departure, one told me, with the chief clerk driven from his desk by the possibility that I had presented and determined to find it out. It was, the clerk believed, the solution that the bank had both sought and chased since its first stone was laid, or, more precisely, since the first deposit to its vaults. Every cheque, he said, was signed in blood, but that was nothing. The clerk travelled to the university and visited the men who spoke with the same question that I had presented, only his entourage settled there, brought out their calculators, and displaced the men who spoke to the morgue just outside its perimeter. The undertakers were driven from their work, not by the talk, which fell silent, but by their disappointment before the example of life that was presented to them in the figure of thinking men. They say there is nothing like the disappointment of an undertaker, a phrase that has always perplexed me. Three of them were at work that day, but dissolute now they visited the house of ill repute, as they called it, and found the place just as dead, or repetitious, which amounted to the same thing. Their visit drove all clients away and into themselves, and eventually to the hospital which was inundated by their warts and complaints of abandonment. The hospital was closed by way of a definitive answer, to their question, not mine, and the asylum barred its own gates in preparation for a long siege. The town folk who besieged me instead, and trailed me as I walked, eventually found my wandering inconvenient. They installed me at the church where each confessed to the knowledge of excrement as I sat, in the booth, and attempted but failed to absolve them of their need to speak to me. At some point during the scourge I did not reply any more but sat entirely still with my feet firmly set in the flagstones, one palm to the wall on my left, and the other held against the edge of my stall on the right. They became delirious at my silence and eventually tore the curtain away to reveal my profile, still sat. I was, as they recalled, both impassive and unyielding. The hearse, a mere cart, that is to say, a memory of a hearse drawn by four horses, was backed into the church. Ropes were attached to my feet and my arms, and the entire mass hauled back and out through the narthex. This all took place against my refusal, which being of such magnitude, and indifference, each in its own way a consequence of how they had beseeched me, did tear at my limbs, and my limbs at the fabric of the cathedral so that I took it with me. This was not achieved outright, but only after the horses were tethered to other horses right down to the gate, and after that by the vehicles that were arranged on the street and which tore at the tethered animals, as they tore at me. The baptismal font was the last thing I collided with as I made my exit, they said, or somebody noted. The cathedral was destroyed, or this is what they repeated. Our church is gone, they said. And the graves were torn up along the line that I was dragged from the broken doors to the gate, and then the street too, and every wall against which my arms cut a groove, a wound in the sediment, from which excrement finally began to flow. Not long after that the handle I had lost was found and declared an omen. I was taken to the morgue where the learned men still sat to give them something to think about, and then to the university to give each clerk, now inactive, something to reckon. The undertakers, who had been recruited to assemble the hearse from the memories of their fathers, and their fathers before them, were no longer disappointed and found their vigour in the work of hauling. The town returned to its former glory, then, or what they called its glory, whereafter I was hauled about whenever there was need of something to do, and then no longer that. They found a name for it, and themselves. It was unremarkable.

-§-