The Eighteenth Brumaire Of Peter Schlemihl
an anti-capitalist short story by Marc Nash
Once upon a time ad infinitum.
Once upon a time ad nauseam. Since it is important to encrypt the key archetypes; echo sustain the reverberating symbols; taxiderm the tenacious tropes; and conserve the constant conjunctures. There is much conjecture as to how much degeneration occurred from the oral tradition, once it was set down on the page and ramrodded into the literary canon. But nothing compared to the twenty and twenty-first century mutation of the morals such tales were supposed to inculcate. Besides, contemporary children's imaginations are scarce populated with denizens from the faerie realm. Magic and transformation these days take place courtesy of fibre optics, usually through a gunsight and lots of pixellated cruor.
Once upon a time in the here and now. Did the oral fabulists really start their story-spinning thus? Or was it a superimposition wrought by the literary trans cribbers? It is not insignificant that the Brothers Grimm, stewards of the first from-the-horse’s-mouth volume of fairy tales, hailed from Germany. The country that presided over Max Weber, he who laid bare the nature of all bureaucracy and bureaucratic processes and tied it up with red tape ribbon on the top. Additionally also the linguistic culture whence Franz Kafka could acutely lance that very same boil through fiction:
"Als Gregor Samsa eines Morgens aus unruhigen Träumen erwachte, fand er sich in seinem Bett zu einem ungeheueren Ungeziefer verwandelt".
Note, not once upon a time, but "One morning". One particular specified point in the space-time continuum, rather than some airy-FAIRY finger wagged in the embers of dying orality (down Sigmund, not your cue yet). That is, such fantastical transformation happened irrevocably just the once. There was to be no recurrent climbing out of the wolf's digestive tract. No princes reverting from frog metamorphoses. No moral flip-flopping about to facilitate good triumphing over evil.
Now giant bug conversions and subsequent grievous wounding by an Oedipally discarded apple core, is exactly what I would dub a ‘fairy tale’. But that's a whole other story. Or even the neologistic old chestnut 'genre'. We ain't dealing with far and away tales here my campfire marshmallow roasting confreres. We dare to deal in woah! stories. Wary stories. More briquettes on the barbie please Jaroslav. And Max, don’t let Franz throw his jottings on the flames this time. Plays merry hell with the flavour.
The slain-giant of this, my unsanitary salutary tale, derives from the same stirps as tubercular Franz. In some ways, this tale too is a letter to the father, but this one shall be signed-sealed-delivered rather than wimped out on. Consumer and consumptive derive from the same etymological root. Etymology is not to be confused with entomology, which is where Franz's bug can be taxonomied. Franz worked in insurance, not taxation and revenue.
Oh dear with all this structuralist meandering, we don't seem to have ascended terribly far from the "once upon a time" launch pad. Reality's gravitational pull seems forever wanting to haul nary fairy-teller me back down to earth. Einstein worked neither in revenue nor insurance, but in patents. Newton worked in the Royal Mint. Bureaucrats both, yet with such fiendishly creative minds. They challenged the data of their senses. Not much utility in fairy tale flights of fancy for them then. Mind you, gedankenexperiment…
Fairy stories largely originated within feudal agrarianism, whereby they overtly immersed many of their characters in poverty. Cinderella as a serf to her sisters; Hansel and Gretel living in a time of rural famine and being abandoned accordingly; Jack and the Beanstalk where the family are down to their last asset in the shape of a milch cow. Magic kicks in to enable them all to escape their penurious circumstances, by marrying into royalty or finding the golden egg. Magic in place of the modern day sorcery of agents, PR's & kiss and tell newspaper deals. A supernatural gloss applied to a poorly comprehended mechanism of the market, swapping a cow for some beans for example representing a cockeyed rate of exchange. Other cultures' folklore are full of merchants and even some proto-bourgeois folk, but we're here subsumed within the Western European tradition.
Once upon a time in late stage capitalism (late as in lingeringly tardy rather than demise, more’s the pity), there lived a man. Peter Sch- was a very successful parasite upon the bloated carcass of society. The apex panderer-predator. A superstructural solicit-or, hegemonic gatekeeper to the secret relationships of the material base masked behind law. This jumped-up lad from Manor House, London E.13, lived in a huge, nay bloated manor house, in the anachronistic manner of a squire. Said house wasn't fabricated from gingerbread or chocolate, though it did have gold taps in the bathroom. He dined from gold plates too and as an unremitting meat eater, admittedly cooked rather than raw, my how he liked to see that blood red juice run from his chops. No veggies, no fresh fruit. Save from apples wedged in the mouth of spit-roasted suckling pig. But these Cox’ses had to be bought in, since though this had once been a Mediaeval orchard, he'd had all the trees levelled in order to construct his citydwell in the countryside. As was the fashion in loutish Loughton, land of the churls, near the decidedly unenchanted Epping Forest.
Another facet of fairy tales is the motif of family. Ugly sisters, cruel, neglectful parents, godmothers and grandparents. Many failed families with step-relations, though this actually reflected early age mortality and remarriage in an age of disease, malnutrition and death in childbirth, rather than today’s contemporary malaise of disposability. The fissile nuclear family in meltdown. Whatever the root and branch cause, a signal dialectic of oppressors and liberators.
So this family had all the trappings. Sch-’s wife was caparisoned with her horse. Not though in a Tsarina Catherine The Great way you understand, for there is no place for urban myths in a fairy story. Besides, there might be children reading (unlikely as that is). Nothing remotely tacky in this manor house’s tack room. While his prancing daughter was in receipt of tennis lessons from a dashing coach. But there was no undue double faulting to be had there either, since she was to remain unseeded throughout her life (though not virginal). Crosscourt backhanding her coach's forlornly lobbed compliments away, she never yielded a drop shot. Baseline defensiveness became muscle memory. Me, I had a pot bellied pig for my mute chaperon through the kingdom. I loved that pig (the porcine one rather than the human, though the likeness was uncanny. The jowls I think). No magic beans, pig in a poke barter from me. I was commodity fetishised wedded to my porker. Hey no sniggering at the back there.
Absolutely not, for if there was any barnstorming libidinous behaviour on show at all, it was laid solely at the door of my father and well away from the environs of home. A mobile, boundaryless rite de seigneur. There were no ricks here. The only magic, the only thing fantastical about this whole lairy story, is how a man so ugly as to rank a veritable ogre, pulled such a G-string of beautiful women. Money buys you a lot of pull I guess. That is one of the (a-)morals of this grimy tale. Actually thinking about it, perhaps it's when Western Europe entered a cash nexus economy, that sparked the need to transcribe what had formerly only existed as orally transmitted. When it no longer remains preserved for free by the hearth, or subject to the vagaries of negotiation and barter with a wandering minstrel, but rather set down on the printed page for a fixed price. Arggh, my fairy story barely even rates as a story, for all this dialectical materialist critique. Back to the oppressive construct of discourse.
There comes a time (a sustained periodicity, not a one-off, nor a vague atemporal 'once') when consumer capitalism consumes itself. Granting no further surplus value to be squeezed from the flayed meat picked clean from its corpus. When the illicit affairs carry no sexual charge. When the gourmandising no longer excites the jaded palate. When the copious alcoholic necking fails to intoxicate the senses. Even his propensity for successfully playing the odds, for wagering on horses, cards, equities, future commodities (holes in the ground for the foundation stones of castles in the air), for staking money in order to yield a greater return on that money, speculative specious specie, has all gone to the dogs. Like the dope fiend, increasing tolerance compels yet more potent dosages just to attain the same normative level, which of course in itself is ultimately unsatisfying, since the craving demands only an ever-escalating pleasure. This represents the true moral of this tale, an absolute paradigmatic symbology, but doubtless the hegemonic mutability will reabsorb it and spit out some closing homily with which to leave the opiated reader. Boy the Ancient Greeks sold us a pup with catharsis. It lets the audience off the hook, their stirred sump insurgent emotions assuaged by the purgative action of the text. Bequeathing only the possibility of an anorexic cadre. A vanguard so emaciated that you can simultaneously see their front and back sides on the same vertical plane. Without having to travel anywhere near the speed of light.
So Peter Sch- attained the stage where the ante finally ups sticks and resumes the long march of the antegrade of history. He contracts an STD. He also loses the appreciation of sweet things upon his palate and becomes increasingly bitter at its desertion, particularly in regard to his horrifically calorifically toothsome desserts. He becomes incontinent, whereupon the instant a drop of ethanol passes the frontier of his throat, the much put-upon border guards in the bladder mulct their toll. And finally, he was having to buy-in increasing entry stakes, as the permutations all clicked against him. The parlous parlays entailed longer and longer shots to make good his losses, but they inevitably came up all too-probably short. Long and short of it, he wasn't left with a pot to piss in. So he embezzled money from his clients, creaming off their court payouts. He readily laundered the readies from his law firm. This petty chiseler raided the petty cash without leaving any receipt chits. And of course, being a gambler down on his luck, the whole house of cards blew in on him like a wolf outside a piggy's home fabricated from straw. The bricks and mortar of Manor House were under threat of repossession, though he'd concealed the fact from his family. But there came a time when his law firm caught him with his hand in the cookie jar, concomitant with the Law Society beginning proceedings to strike him off their rolls. Pawnbroker and porn-broker alike failed to assist him halt his alarming slide as he hit rock bottoms up (so much for customer care and loyalty reward schemes). There was only one praxis remaining, a certain self-decentralisation. A withering away of the troubled state of Peter Sch-.
He took a carving knife to his arteries while recumbent in the tub. Not without first sozzling and sousing his miserable spirit in whisky. A cocktail of Dutch Courage and scotch mist and marinaded trousers. Thereby inhibiting the body's inhibitors. Refluxing the reflexes of innate self-preservation. Anyhoo, he opened his wrists up. Venesected his venal venom. Phlebotomised his er flagging phlogiston? ... The blood bubbled like a seething cauldron's brew. The sap spurted like biting into a poisoned Pink Lady (heightened language = heightened awareness, employing Brechtian alienation technique):
FAIRY TALE CHECKBOX:
APPLE YES [ X ] NO [ ]
FOREST YES [ X ] NO [ ]
ANIMAL GUIDE YES [ X ] NO [ ]
OGRE YES [ X ] NO [ ]
FAIRY GODMOTHER YES [ 1/2 ] NO [ ]
The source of red denial. Blood is blood. No matter how many juicy or maggoty apples you bite into.
Mamma in her mourning glory, felt that her presently dyed chestnut thatch (to match the sorrel equine she had recently taken delivery of, albeit unaware that it had been purchased on the never never), might appear a bit too vivid for a funeral and resolved to de-lustre. She stood hunched over the bathroom porcelain, gold taps spouting a gush of water, unbeknownst to her in eerie echo of the spurt from her ex-husband's veins (fortunately the maid had agreed to wash out the bath, in return for an increased stipend. Hey, that's the let the blood run free market for you). She bent her head beneath the cataract and the dye began to sluice. It pooled and flowed and abstract arted, its rich copper tint diluted by the water into a blood-red hue.
There was more than a hint of the Lady Macbeth about this, even though she had whispered no exhortations, nor poured any poisons into the ear of her decedent husband. Typical of the misogyny of the fairy tale world, of washing a man right out of your hair, that such an association could even be drawn. (Thanks Mr Bettleheim sir. Oh and Sigmund's called you out by the way. Reckons you stole his walk on part. See you in court). But there again, we've got the notion of hair dye, of human transformation, of changing yourself into something other and then washing it clean and purified back to the original essence. If the exegesis is longer than the original metaphor itself, then we're inelegantly fabling. Apologue-ies.
My sister, well she was too busy out on the court practising her two-handed return with topspin slice, to attend the funeral service. Live and let.
For my part, I lustrated. Rolled in my father's blood. Smeared myself in it like a pig in mud. Got my pot bellied to do the same to enflesh the metaphor. There’s a ‘dictatorship of the p-roll-etariat’ cached somewhere within that, but the revolution waits for no man, so we lack for the time to unearth its truffle. I completely blood glazed my own skin. Now we're talking all-e-gory. This is what I call a fairy tale ending. Unfortunately it's one of those false (consciousness) endings. There's a bit more business to transact yet. Soz.
The sole shame of it was that it had not been spilled at my hand, but at his own. Still, I revelled in its metallic stickiness. Its tensile blobbiness. The troll is no more. Ding dong (is that a siren in the distance?) the witch (sociopath in today's psychobabble parlance) is snuffed. Rejoice. The tin despotism is over. No more tyranny of walking on eggshells (are eggshells an established fairy story emblem? Why not?) Our estate is free, withered away, the villagers - if we had any - would no longer toil under an autocracy. As evidenced already by the maid van-not-so-guardedly flexing her increased muscle in the labour market.
WITCH YES [ X ] NO [ ]
Sure we might struggle without his formerly plenteous income. We may even starve, though I reckon my pot bellied porker would keep us going for a while. (See, where are the magic beans when you really need them for an unequal trade? Who’s the schlemihl now, oh I guess under the law of patrimony it’s me). But no more do we struggle under the burden of maintaining this falsification. No further will our forearms be bruised and sprained as we reach out to stop him tumbling. No longer will we have to flip him back over into the fray. This festering domestic vesicle can now be lanced for all its pus to drain. The magic spell over this gilded bricks and mortar has finally been lifted like a bad curse. The misfortune brought about by an amassed fortune.
CURSE YES [ X ] NO [ ]
Now you can see us for what we are. Tired and cracked and worn and scratched and threadbare and hollow and haunted and abused. In other words, capitalised.
This is the story of my struggle.
A fare thee badly tale. With an unhappy ending.
It is of course the ultimate sacrilege of the folk tale art. For we all know there is no first person singular narration. A Bonapartism of the worst sort. "I" wants no part in it.
"The first as tragedy, then as farce". "Das eine Mal als Tragödie, das anderer Mal als Farce". So there's no flaming "once upon a time" about it.
Twice upon a time...