Quarta carta de Sophia (Cartas de Insurgentes)
- Dear Yarostan,
So much has happened since I sent you my last letter and most of it has confirmed your statement that you and I live in completely different worlds. I have no idea what place you would occupy in my world and you can't know what place I'd occupy in yours. It certainly wouldn't be the place you assign me!
I admit I was shocked by what Jasna told about the people I've regarded as my comrades. I was particularly shocked by the ruthlessness and inhumanity with which Marc and Vera attained their bureaucratic goals. But I don't have even a shred of sympathy for the path they took. Nothing in me could have accepted, or even drifted in. the direction in which they moved. Your characterization of me fails. I didn't identify with Marc, Vera or Adrian and I obviously didn't identify with Claude. If I identified with anyone in Jasna's or your narrative it was with Jasna herself and, much as you hate my saying it. with you. I identified with you, Yarostan, not because my life was anything like yours but because I wish it had been, particularly right now. I'm genuinely overjoyed that you're finding in your present life everything I sought but never found throughout my life: a real and significant project with people who are alive and want to be. I came close to that kind of activity only once and you've just about convinced me that I wasn't close to it even then. Since then I've come no closer than a caricature comes to an original event. My experiences during the past two weeks have been such caricatures of the experiences I've longed for.
Two weeks ago there was a demonstration at the university where Daman Hesper teaches. Daman was my friend during my student days; we were on the university newspaper staff together. He's the person who helped me find my present teaching job. At the demonstration, about a hundred students barricaded themselves into the university administration building and announced they wouldn't leave until the university accepted a long list of demands. The university president announced that if the students didn't leave the building immediately, he would call on the police to evict them by force. In response to this announcement several hundred students and teaching assistants planted themselves in front of the administration building to act as a kind of “buffer” between the police and the occupying students. Only one professor was among hose in front of the building: Daman Hesper. That evening the police attacked. According to Daman it was more like an invading army. The police, who far outnumbered the people inside as well as outside the building, simply pushed their way into the building. They arrested all the students inside as well as most of the people outside, including Daman, whom they beat. Daman called me that night and told me to be ready with bail money in the morning. I went to jail the following morning but he was already out. Everyone had. been released. Daman had an ugly cut across his face. We came to my house by taxi and I called a doctor.
Daman is really the only good friend I have now except for my two housemates. He's the only one of the people with whom I worked on the newspaper staff whom I still see. Sabina has an intense dislike for him and Tina doesn't think a whole lot of him either. My own respect for him went down considerably during the past two weeks and your letter had a lot to do with this. I think that without the observations you made I wouldn't have been so critical of the role Daman played in the events that followed that demonstration.
A week ago Daman came to the house to tell me several students were going to call for a strike to protest against the police repression of the students who had occupied the building. He brought me several copies of a leaflet they had prepared announcing a student general strike. I thought it was a good leaflet. It didn't only attack the repression of the student demonstrators but also raised questions about the university's involvement in weapons development and war strategy, questions about the ugly relationship between the university and the working class community that surrounds it and questions about the education itself, about its authoritarian form and its apologetic content.
Although I'm no longer connected to the university, I decided to take part in the strike. I became very excited thinking I would be involved in activity that in some way resembled the strike you described in your previous letter, i was intensely disappointed. The event resembled a strike only in name.
The day after Daman's visit I went to my job at the community college. Since the leaflet wasn't addressed only to students of the university but to all students and was a call for a general strike, I read it to my class. I also announced that I wasn't a strikebreaker and wouldn't come to class on the day of the strike. This was probably the longest lecture I had given in my class. Not a single one of the “students” expressed the slightest sympathy for the leaflet, for the coming strike or for me. Most of them were completely indifferent and some were actually hostile. One person criticized the students who had occupied the administration building because they had “illegally trespassed on private property.” What was more upsetting to me was that I was the only one who laughed when he said this. I should remind you that the people in my class axe workers, they haven't yet reached the managerial posts to which they aspire, they still work in factories. “Since they trespassed on private property,” the person continued, “the police were only doing their job when they arrested them.”
Another student argued that strikes were for higher wages and improved working conditions, and that therefore the leaflet was not calling for a strike but for a not. I argued that it was up to strikers to define what they were striking for, but this statement provoked protests from almost all the workers in the room, workers who had all participated in strikes. “If everyone defined his own strike it would be anarchy,” one student complained. The dominant view was that the unions and the government define the aims of a strike. There seems to be a great deal of similarity between a situation where strikes are illegal and a situation where strikes are institutionalized. Here strikes are nominally legal but only those strikes which are called by the unions and sanctioned by the law are legal. In practice this means that any genuine strike, any strike organized by workers themselves with aims which they themselves define is as illegal as it was in your environment for the past twenty years, and is just as savagely repressed.
Even the fact that I talked about such a strike in my class led to my being intimidated. Or rather, it wasn't just the fact that I talked about it but the fact that I acted on it, took part in it, called off my class, that led to intimidation. Just talking is all right.
My last class before the “general strike” was dull. No one even mentioned the coming event. Everyone seemed to know that something was going to happen. Later on I learned that several of the students in my class were also in a psychology class and that they had talked about me in their class. When my class ended some of the students left but others stood in the hall and were joined by a professor I had seen before: he teaches behavioral psychology and is on some administrative body of the college. The professor shouted at me as I came out of the classroom. “I understand you've decided to revise the length of the school term.”
“You understand correctly,” I told him. “I'm not a scab and I won't come to work during a strike.”
“Such matters are taken up by the proper authorities, Miss Nachalo,” he said.
“No they're not,” I said. “Since when did the bosses determine when a strike was to take place?”
“You encourage violence against what you call the bosses, don't you Miss Nachalo?” he asked.
“What does that have to do with it?” I shouted. “I'm taking part in a strike and you're not going to stop me!”
“That's just the point, Miss Nachalo,” he said, and he grinned. “Nothing at all is going to stop you. You're a dangerous person. You shouldn't be teaching in a college. You should be undergoing treatment in a hospital.”
His statement, his smugness and his idiotic grin enfuriated me. Such people and their cousins in the police are called “pigs” by a small number of radical students; I certainly sympathize with this attempt to call certain people by their proper names. “Why you bastard!” I shouted. “I'll show you just how dangerous I am!” I slapped his face twice with all my might.
He didn't raise his hands to protect himself. Instead he grinned even more stupidly, like a genuine masochist. He said, “Everyone can see you're an extremely violent person. Miss Nachalo.”
One student yelled, “Bravo, champ!” The rest dispersed like zombies. I walked away trembling with anger and frustration. After that event as a build-up, the actual “strike” that took place was a real let-down.
Your letter arrived one day before the “general strike.” I was so excited by certain passages that I translated and typed them up; I wanted to show Daman that experiences similar to ours were taking place on the other side of the world. What struck me most was your description of your situation in the carton plant; I then imagined my own situation was about to become similar to yours. I thought I was about to experience a progression of events similar to the one you described: last week there had been an unprecedented demonstration; today a general strike of students was breaking out; next week workers might go on strike and if the ferment continues then a new life might be possible here too — as you put it: a human life inhibited by no barriers external to the developing individuals. But I was only dreaming, so please don't take this as another of my misguided attempts to identify my situation with yours.
On the morning of the “strike” I waited impatiently for Daman to come by for me. He normally didn't start teaching until noon and consequently wasn't in the habit of starting out early. When he finally picked me up at lunchtime I left the house without the pages I had typed up for him — but you'll see that those pages, in fact your entire letter, strongly affected my perception of the day's events and particularly of Daman. My disappointment with Daman began the moment he arrived; I was peeved because of how late he had come and how nonchalant he acted about the whole thing. He seemed to be going to the university the same way he would have gone any other day, at the same hour, apparently with the same thoughts. He seemed completely indifferent about the strike and didn't talk about it. I realized that I had magnified the importance of what was going to happen because of what had already happened to me. I even asked him, “Aren't you excited?”
“No,” he said. “Why should I be excited?”
“I don't know,” I said. “What if the police attack again?”
“What makes you think they're going to attack again?” he asked, snickering at me.
I really do have a vivid imagination when I think about strikes and demonstrations. That's one critical observation of yours that really hits its mark. I suppose I got that from Luisa, Every time a group of people get together to protest, I see the revolution around the corner. The expectations I had built up in myself for that strike certainly had no relation to what actually happened. It was a beautiful spring day, the first really warm day of the year. The strike, it turned out, was one vast picnic which seemed to extend over all the lawns of the university campus. I'm not saying this with irony. I was actually somewhat pleased. Nothing of this sort had ever happened at the university when I had been a student. The picnic seemed enjoyable enough. Students had come with their lunches and thermos bottles. I even saw groups of students with large coolers, with boxes full of picnic supplies, and some had even brought lawn chairs and folding tables. It was a nice picnic, but it wasn't the event I had anticipated from the leaflet that had announced a “general strike,” and it certainly wasn't the violent riot anticipated by the domesticated students who attended my night class.
The event wasn't particularly festive. There was no singing or dancing or theater. There were just groups of friends picnicking on the grass. The event didn't indicate the end of the university or the beginning of anything new. Everyone knew that classes would resume “normally” the following day. I suppose that would have bothered me less if your letter hadn't arrived that very day. I looked for signs of something new but there wasn't a trace of the ferment your letters have described. As a general strike this event was a bad joke. Only one minor detail reminded me that the event was not merely a picnic. A young woman ran up to Daman and announced, very proudly, “You know what. Professor Hesper? A group of us ran through the administration building yelling `Jailbreak!'”
Daman smiled and said, “That's great. Was anyone there?”
Losing most of her enthusiasm, she answered, “The secretaries and deans.”
Several students sitting on the steps of the administration building caught sight of Daman and began waving and shouting for him to join them.
“Come on,” Daman told me. “I'll introduce you to the political students.”
Normally I would have said that I'd be delighted to meet the political students; normally I would have preferred, the company of “political” students to that of apolitical students. I don't mean “normally.” I mean before your last two letters came. Because of your letters I began to hear words I had never really heard before and I began to see a Daman I had never really looked at before. When we came up to the group, Daman introduced me: “Sophie Nachalo, meet the organizers of this unusual event.”
One of the “organizers” said, “I know who you are. You're the faculty radical who was fired a year ago right after the riot.”
“I recognize you too,” I told him. I recognized two or three of the others as well. A couple of years ago, right after I had gotten my first teaching job, I attended a large protest meeting which was destroyed by manipulative politicians who had elected themselves the leaders of the student movement. I think I told you about that meeting. Three or four of those very politicians were among the “political students” to whom Daman introduced me.
What happened next on the steps of the administration building was so bizarre that I'll try to describe it in detail, first of all because I'd like to engrave that event on my memory and secondly because I'd like to show you that I do read your letters attentively. Your letter is what made this event clear to me.
It was the day of the great strike against the university. The leaflet announcing the strike had specifically described the authoritarian character of the education as one of the targets against which the strike was launched. Yet Daman placed himself on the bottom step and began lecturing like an orator in a colosseum, the omniscient professor lecturing to his ignorant admirers. What took place on the steps of the administration building was the most authoritarian classroom situation I have ever experienced, and those subjected to it were the students who had been introduced to me as the organizers of the strike against that type of authoritarianism.
Daman always introduced himself to people as “basically a worker.” He had worked in a factory for several years before he was employed in the university. In this context, among those he called “the political students,” the fact that he considered himself “basically a worker” made him their idol. The lecture began when, after introducing all the students to me by name, Daman said, “This was easy! But this isn't what counts.” (By “this” he meant the student strike.)
A young woman I didn't recognize objected to this put-down of the student strike. “I think this does count. Many of the students come from working class homes and most of them are going to be workers of one type or another.”
At that point Daman began a tirade. At one or another time I had agreed with most of what he said, and I still do agree with much of it. But he spoke in a tone that was terribly intimidating and in a context which totally falsified what he said. I remembered what you had written about the `mirrors' created by politicians, mirrors which reflect people's desires and transform them into images, words. Daman turned to the young woman and said, “That theory of students and professors being part of the so-called new working class is so much baloney invented by petty-bourgeois academic sociologists.” He spoke calmly but what he said was so intimidating to the young woman, to the rest of the group and even to me that he might as well have shouted at the top of his voice. It's probably true that the “theory of the new working class” is baloney invented by academic sociologists, but Daman's statement had nothing to do with what the young woman had said. He intimidated her by identifying her comment with a theory she was probably unfamiliar with; he transformed what she had said into an expression of sympathy for a petty-bourgeois theory. He then continued to push his point in the same direction. “The only test of class is someone's relation to production. People whose function is to manipulate others, like professors, are best defined as middle class.”
I felt like shouting and telling the “political students” that they were being taken in by a hoax, precisely the type of hoax you described. I again agreed with his words. But how were his listeners and he related to those words? He was talking to students some of whom were already experienced manipulators. He was himself a professor. Yet he spoke as if his and their lives and functions were totally unrelated to what he said, as if he were talking about other professors, other manipulators, other members of the middle class.
“The best paid and most thoroughly unionized workers in the basic and heavy industries are crucial to revolutionary potential and cannot be brushed aside and replaced by clerical workers, students, professors and so on,” he continued. “The fact that workers are at the point of production is the source of the revolutionary capacity of the working class. Their work teaches them how to run production.”
Up to this point I thought I agreed with every statement Daman had made. But the very fact that I agreed with his words made me realize that such agreement has nothing to do with shared commitments and projects. I agreed with the statements but the context of those statements made me want to shout my disagreement. I grew increasingly frustrated as Daman's lecture progressed further. I stopped agreeing with the statements he made, although I wasn't able to articulate my disagreements until later that evening, when Tina tore into Daman's arguments.
He must have talked without a break for at least an hour. The main point of his lecture was that capitalism, by concentrating workers in the basic industries, had itself created the organization and discipline of “the new society.” I had heard that whole argument innumerable times before and I used to agree with it. I started to doubt its validity before I started corresponding with you but thanks to your letters and especially your brief descriptions of Jan Sedlak's insights I'm finally able to express my understanding of what's wrong with that argument. Daman glorifies the absolute degradation of the human individual and the human community for which capitalism is responsible. He locates “the new society” in the assembly lines, the furnaces and the mines. His argument is an apology for the unprecedentedly inhuman hell created by capitalism.
I was so irritated by what Daman said that it didn't dawn on me until later that I had heard every single one of his statements before, in exactly the same words. He had already said the same things fourteen years earlier! The context was apparently irrelevant; it was nothing but an occasion for repeating the same performance. The statements he made on the steps of the administration building were the political beliefs of the organization to which he had belonged when I had met him on the newspaper staff. Despite all that's happened during the past fourteen years, Daman has somehow managed not to change a single one of his ideas! I can now understand why you were so shocked when you read my first letter and recognized a person and an outlook you had known twenty years ago. I hope I haven't been as rigid as Daman! That's frightening. He could have put all his views on a phonograph record fourteen years ago and anyone who wanted to meet him could simply play the record. That's eerie. Daman isn't altogether a living person.
There were no questions when Daman finished his lecture. He simply said, “Well, see you next week.” This was incomprehensible to me. The students got up and joined picnickers on a lawn.
I asked Daman, “What do you mean you'll see them next week? Are they going to call for another general strike just so they can listen to you deliver the same lecture another time?” I was furious at Daman. I was also furious at myself for having made such a scene at the community college for the sake of this travesty of a strike and especially for the delusions with which I had filled myself while anticipating this great day.
He either disregarded my anger and frustration or else he didn't notice it. Very matter-of-factly, as if everything was exactly as it should be, he told me, “I'll see them next week because we get together one night a week. Since there was no school today we had decided to meet during the day.”
Indignantly I asked, “You mean this was a class? And you carried it on precisely with the group who had organized the strike against classes?”
Still matter-of-factly, as if he were unable to grasp the contradiction, he said, “This isn't a formal university class. It's an altogether informal affair and it was convenient to all concerned to meet today.”
“You hypocrite!” I shouted. “You call people to a strike and you're the one who breaks it! That was the most formal university class I've ever attended. Informal my ass! It's infinitely more formal than mine and I walked out of my teaching job because there was a strike!”
He looked at me with genuine surprise and asked, “Did I ask you to do that?”
Of course he hadn't asked me to walk out of my job nor had he told me that this strike would be the first stage of a revolution. He had merely given me a leaflet and I had asked him to drive me to campus on the day of the strike. I had neglected to ask if the leaflet meant what it said.
I asked Daman to take me home. On the way to his car I asked about the class he was giving to those he called the “political students.” He told me that some of the students I had just met were “in the process of forging a relevant type of organization.” I could guess which ones. He went on to say there had already been talk about publishing a newspaper.
“Another student paper?” I asked.
“No, not a student newspaper,” he said. He was peeved. “I've had my fill of student newspapers, haven't you? What I'm talking about is an organization that organizes itself to publish a workers' paper.”
“But you've just convinced me that you and those other members of your organization are anything but workers,” I said. “What do you mean by a workers' paper? You've just spent an hour describing the paper's publishers as middle-class manipulators.”
With an appearance of genuine surprise he asked, “What's that got to do with it?” The naivete with which he asked this made me suppose that I had missed something which would have been perfectly obvious to anyone else. I recognized the source of his ability to intimidate.
Echoing your argument (probably word for word) I said that such a newspaper, published by Daman and his group of “political students,” could only transform the real activity of workers into the political program of Daman's organization, once again representing and replacing the workers like all the other politicians who speak in their name.
Daman finally lost his matter-of-factness. He spoke to me in a tone he's rarely used on me before, a paternalistic, condescending tone. “I didn't say we were going to write the paper. The workers themselves are going to write it. I'm not talking about a newspaper for workers. You're the one who is talking about that. I'm talking about a workers' newspaper. Its I task will not be to speak for the workers but to let the workers I themselves speak. There's no question here of representing j workers or replacing them or any of that old crap. I said earlier , that the new society is created at the point of production, particularly in the basic industries. It's not created in the heads of intellectuals. The sole task of this paper will be to recognize the existence of the new society and to record the facts of its existence.”
This statement mystified me completely. The words described a project I would have embraced without reservations under other circumstances. Yet under the present circumstances everything about it seemed false. The selflessness that such a project would require was to be carried precisely by people who were among the crassest politicians I've ever seen. That paper would recognize, not the new society, but merely Daman's ideology, and it would record, not the facts of the struggle for the creation of the new society, but the rising influence of Daman's organization among workers. But it sounded like something altogether different.
It became clear to me why Daman had remained consistent for so many years. He had answers to everything, detailed and documented answers which he had worked out and perfected years ago, and the more he repeated them the more perfect they became. He carried a corpse in his mouth.
On that day I recognized Daman as the pedagogue who deserves all the critiques you've formulated. How grateful I am for your letter. I really don't think I could have seen through him on my own. How perfectly he fits your description! He and his students are going to edit “a workers' paper, not a paper for workers.” Daman agrees with your critique of representation. He agrees so much that he'll represent the end of representation. He knows who the real revolutionaries are and therefore his paper will really be revolutionary. He knows that professors and students are middle class and therefore his paper will not be a students' or a professors' paper. He knows that the new society is located at the point of production and therefore his paper will not be merely another political gimmick nor his organization another racket. He'll reflect the new society.
On the way to my house I tell Daman about my correspondence with you and I beg him to come in and read the excerpts from your letter. When we go in, Sabina and Tina are sitting in the living room discussing your letter. Daman takes the translated sections and goes to my bedroom to read them.
I tell Sabina and Tina that I'm going to call Luisa. Tina asks if I really think Luisa will be willing to experience another scene like the one we had last time we discussed your letter. I call Luisa and tell her your letter contains a long account of Jasna Zbrkova's life. Luisa says she'd like to borrow the letter and read it by herself at her house. I guess she was really upset by our all-night session.
Tina's first comment about your letter is, “Wow. what a put-down of all your friends, Sophia!” Tina, predictably, is enchanted by the put-down.
Tina goes to the kitchen; it's her turn to make supper. When I go to the kitchen to make myself coffee she makes another comment about your letter. She raises the same question you and Jasna both raised. “You know, neither you nor Luisa have explained why you three were released twenty years ago after you spent only two days in jail. Saying that George Alberts arranged your release doesn't explain anything. Yarostan wants to know what power Alberts had to arrange your release. I'm curious about that too.”
I can't answer Tina because I don't know. I vaguely remember that the police apologized to us. Perhaps they told us that our arrest had been a “mistake,” as they later told Jasna. I also vaguely remember that George Alberts wasn't arrested. But it was Luisa who said that Alberts made our release possible. I didn't think to ask her how he had done that; I simply passed her comment on to you. I'll try to remember to ask her.
When I return to the living room, Sabina reminds me that you didn't answer the questions she had asked about Manuel. You commend her for “guessing” that Manuel and his friends were repressed by the revolutionary leaders and not by the reactionary generals, but you don't elaborate. She says the comment she made wasn't really a guess. She learned a great deal about that uprising from George Alberts; that's why she never accepted Luisa's view of that struggle. Although Alberts didn't explicitly tell her that revolutionaries had been jailed and shot by the “revolutionary government,” she suspected this from what Alberts did tell her. Your account of Manuel confirmed her suspicions. She tells me that Alberts viewed that struggle as a struggle for industrialization and nothing more. In Alberts' view everything else was romanticism or ideological obfuscation. That's also Sabina's view of that struggle. To her I'm an example of the romanticism and Luisa of the obfuscation. Alberts told her that the sole task of that revolution was to sweep away the dark ages and create the conditions for progress; all those who opposed industrialization had to be pushed out of the way. These reactionaries included the church, the landowners and the military. What always bothered Sabina was that Alberts also included “reactionary saboteurs among the workers and peasants.” Alberts, like Luisa, called these people “lumpen” and “hoodlums.” Sabina was always suspicious about the inclusion of “saboteurs” among the “reactionaries” for the very reasons you mention in your letter, but she had no way of knowing who they really were and what they were fighting for. She had thought they were revolutionary workers and peasants who fought against both regimes because they wanted to industrialize on their own, without “revolutionary leaders,” without managers like George Alberts, without a “revolutionary army.” Manuel was apparently one of the people Alberts described as a saboteur and a lumpen. But what you've told about him so far doesn't exactly fit the picture she's constructed of these revolutionary saboteurs. That's why she wants to know more about Manuel.
Sabina also wants me to ask you and Jasna a question about Jasna's second arrest. Jasna says that the police insisted she had known a “notorious foreign spy.” They also asked her if she had known Luisa and me. Then Jasna comments mysteriously that “they had the wrong last name down for Sophia and Luisa.” Sabina asks if Jasna happens to remember the name the police had for us; was that name, by any chance, Alberts? When Sabina raises this question I ask her if she's suggesting that George Alberts was that foreign spy. “I'm not suggesting anything,” Sabina says; “I'd just like to know if she remembers.”
We call Daman when supper is ready. Tina and I look at him quizzically; we can't wait to hear his response. It's the first time Daman has ever eaten at our house and I can see that Sabina is waiting for the slightest pretext to tear into him. She dislikes academics in general; she dislikes Daman even more because he pretends not to be one.
Daman starts eating and his sole comment is, “Mm, this is very good. What is it?”
I ask myself if he's going to avoid your letter. I've seen him do that before. Whenever he confronts a situation he doesn't want to face he's like an ostrich with its head in sand; he simply pretends the situation isn't there.
The three of us eat in silence, glancing at Daman between bites. Finally I can't stand waiting any more and I blurt out, “Did you read it?”
“Every page,” he says.
“Well?” I ask. “What did you think?”
“I don't understand why you asked me to read It,” Daman says. “The entire exposition revives the worn out theory of the backwardness of the working class.”
All three of us are startled.
“The what of the what?” Tina asks, almost spitting out the mouthful of food she's just taken.
Assuming his pedagogical posture again, Daman explains to Tina: “The theory, or so-called theory, of the backwardness of the working class. It's nothing but a rationalization of the prejudices of petty-bourgeois writers who don't know a thing about the revolutionary potential of the working class.”
Before Daman is done speaking Sabina throws her knife down on her plate, gets up so abruptly she knocks the chair down behind her, and pointing her fork at Daman she shouts, “You're full of shit, professor!” Carrying the fork, she rushes away and slams the door of her room.
Daman remains perfectly calm. “She obviously agrees with him,” he says, and continues eating.
Tina, who remains as calm as Daman, asks him, “How does that so-called theory apply to those sections of Yarostan's letter?”
“Is anyone else going to wave a fork in my face?” Daman asks, but neither of us laughs. “If workers were as backward as he describes them, socialism would be impossible.”
“Show me where he says workers are backward!” Tina insists.
How glad I am that Tina never attended school and therefore never learned to be intimidated by pedagogues who force one to assume what they then proceed to prove.
“Do you want me to quote the actual lines where he says it?” Daman asks, trying to suggest that the passage I typed is full of such lines.
“How else could you show me what he says?” Tina asks.
“The idea of the workers' backwardness pervades his whole argument,” Daman says curtly, as if with that statement he had definitively proved his accusation rand he proceeds to shift the conversation to something else: “The working class is inherently revolutionary. This is not a matter —”
“Hey!” Tina interrupts. “Aren't you going to show me where he says the workers are backward?”
Daman is obviously not used to arguing with a person whose perception hasn't been dulled by formal education, and he proceeds as if he had succeeded in shifting the topic. “The working class continually develops the capacity to create a new society, there as well as here. The workers always and everywhere exhaust the available possibilities.”
Tina just glares at him.
“Now wait a minute. Daman,” I say, becoming as frustrated as Tina seems to be. “Do you think the police regime Yarostan lived under for the past twenty years exhausted the available possibilities?”
“I didn't say that,” Daman insists. “I said workers create organizations to struggle for whatever seems useful to them. These struggles win for the working class whatever it is objectively possible to win. These victories are never granted without struggle, and they are never tricks to deceive the working class.”
“If you're not saying that police regime was a working class victory then what in the world are you saying?” Tina asks, apparently giving up her attempt to get her earlier question answered.
“What's wrong with your friend's comments,” Daman says, “is that he criticizes the role of all types of organizations and leaders in restraining and limiting the revolutionary capacity of workers. But he never deals with the question of organizations and leaders in a fundamental way. Unless you accept a conspiratorial theory of history — that organizations and leaders are always and everywhere introduced to restrain and defeat the workers.”
“I'm lost,” Tina says. “At least I think I'm lost. Everything you say sounds like an evasion and seems to have nothing to do with what anyone is saying.”
“I'm lost too,” I admit. “What's your point? That Yarostan doesn't deal with organizations and leaders in a fundamental way whereas you do?”
“That's right,” he says. “His critique of organizations and leaders is totally misplaced.”
“Misplaced!” I shout. “He's been experiencing the effects of those organizations and their police for the past twenty years!”
“He's not the only one experiencing those effects; so are millions of other people,” he says.
“What in hell does that mean?” I ask, starting to shake with frustration. There's no way to talk to him! I begin to wish I had walked out like Sabina instead of trying to communicate with him.
“Your friend doesn't like real revolutions,” Daman says. “That comes through every line. He wants a revolution to be pure. But real revolutions are the only ones that take place and workers' struggles are never pure. Your friend is against all real struggles.”
“You're a real card, professor!” Tina says, unsuccessfully pretending to be amused. “Next time you come to dinner I'm going to fry you a turd fished straight out of the toilet bowl and if you don't like it I'll ask; What's the matter with you, professor? Do you only like food when it's pure?”
Daman turns to me pretending that he's being persecuted and asks, “Do I have to listen to that?”
Without a trace of sympathy for his plight I tell him, “Daman, you don't have to listen to anything except your own inner voices.”
“I'm trying to make the point,” he continues, “that your friend is like ail those petty-bourgeois writers who condemn real revolutions because they don't live up to certain standards set up, not by the struggling workers, but by the bourgeois writers. Workers always struggle for whatever is objectively possible, whether or not it's pure, whether or not it lives up to the standards set up by the bourgeois writers.”
I start to boil. “That's an apology for police states if I ever heard one!” I shout. “Whatever happens to workers is for you a working class victory. If workers are shot and jailed then that's the only victory that was objectively possible! Whatever happens to workers is all that was objectively possible. You're an apologist for the status quo!”
“Yarostan is no more of a bourgeois writer than I am!” Tina shouts.
Daman at last shows signs of becoming angry. He turns to me and pretending to be injured at the very core of his being, he says, “Sophie, your last statement is a complete distortion of everything I have ever said, and you know it. You know perfectly well that I'm not talking about counter-revolutions so don't you dare call me an apologist for counter-revolutions. I'm talking about revolutions that don't live up to the expectations of a middle class intellectual.”
“You don't know what you're talking about!” Tina shouts. “You, a full-fledged university professor, are calling someone who spent half his life working in factories a middle-class intellectual. Talk about distortions! How do you dare —”
“That's just plain horseshit!” Daman shouts, cutting Tina short and losing his professorial detachment altogether. “No factory worker I know could have written anything like this!”
“Wow!” shouts Tina. “Look who's talking about the backward workers who can't write and have no standards!”
“Do you want to talk seriously or do you want to have a shouting match?” he shouts. “If you'd like to have a shouting match then count me out because I've got more important things to do and my nerves can't take it. So what if he spent half his life in a factory? So have I!”
“And you sure have capitalized on that fact,” I comment sarcastically.
“What's that got to do with anything?” he shouts. “That doesn't make me a factory worker any more than it makes him a factory worker or anyone else in this room. It's obvious that he spent the other half of his life getting a political education every bit as complete as mine.”
Without the slightest hope of getting through to him I comment, “But Daman, this afternoon you said that one's relation to production is the only test of one's class.”
Tina says with venom, “You're not the one to talk about other people's distortions, professor! You're talking about someone who spent the other half of his life in prison, and if you call that a university education you can kiss my ass and call it love at first sight since it's obvious that with all your education you didn't learn to call things by their names!”
Pretending not to have understood what Tina said, Daman turns to me and asks, “Is this the level of your usual political discussions?”
“No it isn't,” I say with a venom that by this point matches Tina's. “Neither Tina nor I have ever discussed anything at such a low level.”
“I can see that it's time for me to leave,” he says, getting up.
I get up too and continue in the same tone, “You've evaded every one of Tina's questions with cheap tricks and sneaky shifts of topic. She asked you how you could call a worker who spent half his life in prison a middle class intellectual. And not just any prison, but a prison created by the organizations and leaders you defend.”
Fidgeting with the doorknob he says, “I hate to say this, Sophie, but when it comes to politics you're a complete ignoramus. If you knew anything at all about the working class, you'd know that leaders don't simply impose themselves on the working class. Leaders are products of the working class. If workers are defeated, it's not because of the evil ways of leaders but because the working class isn't able to take control of the means of production. It's not their leaders but their work itself that teaches workers how to run production.”
Shaking with frustration, I try to talk calmly, “Daman, you just keep repeating that, but you obviously don't believe it. You learned your whole argument, not from work itself, but from the writings of so-called revolutionary leaders. Half of your statements are quotations from the writings of the first dictator of the working class.”
“Your naivete simply amazes me,” Daman says, still fidgeting with the doorknob. “It so happens that workers produce their strongest leaders when they're themselves strongest. The strength of the leaders derives from the strength of the working class!”
“Now you've said it!” I shout. “The stronger the leader the greater the triumph of the workers. You're an out and out apologist for the police state and you camouflage it with such unbelievable claptrap about the workers themselves. For you the total enslavement of the workers by the first so-called proletarian dictator is the model of the workers' victory. That's what you call the new society. The almighty leader is the sign of the strength of the workers. Slavery is freedom.”
Daman throws the door open but remains in the doorway. “Your critique of the first great leader —”
“Is misplaced!” I cut in. “All critiques of the great leader are misplaced, because under all your talk about workers at the point of production you worship the great leader. The sun rises and sets with the great leader!”
While I'm shouting at him, he walks halfway to his car, then turns around and shouts: “That's right! Misplaced! By raising the role of the great leaders in that way, you assume nothing has changed during the past fifty years. You're only demonstrating your complete ignorance of the fact that the working class today is even better educated and even better organized, not by political organizations but by production! With modern technology and advanced means of communication, nothing can stop the workers from building a new society and a new state!”
“A new state! You said it! An even newer state and an even more total dictator of the proletariat!” I shout while Daman rushes to his car.
Tina runs behind Daman. It looks like she's going to rush into the car with him. He slams the car door. She plants herself by the driver's side of the car and starts shouting at him through the closed window. “Now I understand what you're all about, professor! You're a conservative bureaucrat who thinks workers are all popcorn eaters and baseball fans who don't know they're being had when someone calls himself their leader. To you all those popcorn-eaters are impure and that's why they'll always be tied to the point of production. And that's why there'll always be room for flunkies like you in the government palaces —”
Daman drives off. Tina, standing in the middle of the street, continues shouting at the quickly vanishing car: “And anyone who tells you they're not going to remain at the point of production, that they're going to come out in mass to destroy the government palaces, is a misplaced petty-bourgeois intellectual and an ignoramus who doesn't know that workers are impure. And you're betting they'll remain impure. They sure as hell better remain impure if you're going to keep your cushy job!”
I burst our laughing. Tina looks so ludicrous standing in the street shouting at nobody. When she sees me she starts laughing too, and when we go in she comments, “Some fancy friends you've got.”
Yes, I certainly do have “fancy” friends. You and Jasna made that perfectly clear to me. I obviously couldn't have known it before your letter came, but now I see that Daman is in suitable comany with Marc Glavni, Vera Neis Krena and Adrian Povrshan. Your letter was the instrument that unmasked this academic with a corpse in his mouth. This phoney factory worker who parades as an expert on factory workers perfectly fits the picture you drew of him before you knew anything about him, He really is everything you say. The rigid theory he's been carrying around all these years transforms revolution into something like his own private domain. He's a priest of a sect of believers. That organization he's trying to found will only spread his own rigor mortis to others, and the aim of that newspaper he's talking about is to plant corpses in lots of people's mouths.
Thanks to your letter I can see through Daman. And I obviously understand that Adrian, Vera and the others are opportunists. But I think your comments about me are extremely unfair. I once engaged in projects with those people and those projects were very important to me. Does that make me one of them? Does that mean I was an opportunist too? I once shared a project with Daman. Does that mean I'm like him?
I think it's mean of you to identify me with them. What I did and who I was can't be defined by what Daman became nor by what Marc and Vera became. Even if Jasna is right, even if Marc, Vera and Claude were already starting to climb bureaucratic ladders at the time I knew them, this doesn't mean that I was climbing such a ladder too.
Daman was already a priest of a sect when I first met him and worked with him. But that doesn't mean I was a priestess of a sect, nor does it mean that the activity we shared consisted of propagating a religion. The activity I was engaged in, however flawed it might have been, was some kind of affirmation of life, not any kind of affirmation of death. If Vera, Marc and Daman were running alongside me but heading elsewhere, you can't say that I was heading toward the destination they reached. What they've all become doesn't tell you anything at all about who I am, nor even about what I did with them.
Yes, like Daman, and like Marc, Vera and Adrian, I went to the university. I do have that much in common with them, but not much more. Jasna went to college too, and she's neither an official nor a missionary. And if you call the carton plant our “first university,” then you too have that much in common with the rest of us. My similarity with Vera and Daman ends where it begins. My life in the university has nothing at all in common with Vera's or Adrian's or Marc's bureaucratic ambitions, just as my activity on the university newspaper staff had nothing in common with Daman's missionary activity.
When I first met Daman on the newspaper staff his relation to Minnie Vach was very similar to Adrian's relation to Vera. Daman and Minnie were members of a political sect like the one Daman is trying to bring to life again now. Minnie was always the theorist and Daman was something like her henchman. Their organization published a paper but I never read it and consequently I can't tell you how well the self-chosen prophets recognized and recorded the new society while workers remained at the point of production. What I can tell you is that I did not work, and would never have worked, on their organization's newspaper, and that Daman and Minnie did not transform the university newspaper into their organization's organ. In this respect Daman and Minnie were much more decent than their political enemies on the staff, Lem Icel and Rhea Morphen. Lem and Rhea would have liked nothing better than to transform the university newspaper into a propaganda sheet for their organization, and I was as hostile to their attempts to do this as anyone else on the staff.
You're probably right in saying that I recognized the repressive aspirations of Lem and Rhea mainly because they expressed them so openly. But you're wrong when you say I glorify their more sophisticated political cousins. If I “glorified” Minnie and Daman in my last letter, it was because the moments I shared with them on the newspaper staff were among the happiest moments of my life, not because I shared any of their organizational commitments. I really do think you get carried away by your own rhetoric. In my last letter I told you that my friend Alec had to trample publicly on all his past political commitments before Minnie and Daman accepted him as a friend and ally. Admittedly I didn't make an exhaustive critique of Minnie and Daman but the little I did say hardly amounted to a glorification. And I certainly didn't glorify anyone else on the staff. I rather think I made the others seem more ridiculous than they really were.
I'll stop trying to compare my activity to yours. I realize that the circumstances are too different and I'm obviously failing to communicate the similarities I see between the two situations. I finally understand your critique, and I recognize some of the people I worked with as the targets of that critique. But I don't think the activity itself was determined by what those people were, nor by what they've become since. I think that my activity in the university was a modest but genuine act of rebellion against a repressive social system. I see that Daman fits your description of a repressive “revolutionary.” But I don't think the activity I shared with him can be described as “repressive rebellion.”
The activity I'm about to describe began fourteen years ago. We were among the first students who raised our voices against the witch hunts taking place at that time. Our activity didn't stop the witch hunts and it obviously didn't destroy the social system that perpetrated them. But by raising our voices we did stimulate others to raise theirs and this is why I'm proud of having been part of that activity. Students at another university followed our example and in time moved much further than we had ever dreamed of moving. In time the protest movement grew so vast that it did play a role in putting an end to witch hunts, while it simultaneously reproduced i relationships which were at least as repressive as the ones we had started to fight against. Our initial gestures weren't as far-reaching as those of the movement which later grew to such proportions, but the repressive overtones of our activity weren't as far-reaching either. Not that ugly relationships were absent among us. Unfortunately that wasn't the case at all. A great deal was ugly. But there was one trait we didn't share with the later “student movement,” or at least with its spokesmen. In the activities I shared with them, these individuals didn't consider themselves spokesmen or representatives despite the fact that almost half the people on that staff were members of political organizations which did claim to represent the interests of other people. Whatever they might have done in their organizations, when I worked with them they didn't act as if history had elected them to reflect, represent, recognize or record the desires of workers, students or anyone else. Each one of us fought to realize her or his own desires. We represented no one but ourselves. No, we didn't even represent ourselves. We were ourselves.
In my last letter I told you something about the articles we wrote, articles which exposed the militarization of professors and students and documented the repression of radicals. I also mentioned the biggest article of the year, Minnie's interview with a campus general who kept files on all the students in the university.
Minnie's article caused a scandal on campus. Alec and I were night editors on the issue in which Minnie's article was published. We worked on it on the very night when Sabina came to the co-op to tell me Ron had been killed. The following morning, Minnie, Daman, Alec and I went to four of the boxes from which students took the paper. We engaged students in conversations about the article and asked their permission to publish their comments in the paper. We then ran a series of interviews with students in several consecutive issues.
Some of the students' comments were priceless, especially those which expressed sympathy for the campus military establishment. I still remember the gist of what a bristle-haired athlete told me. He said he wasn't at all surprised that the army and the police (Minnie's article hadn't said anything about the police) kept files on the entire population. “After all,” he explained to me, “It's their job to protect society from dangerous elements, and the only way they can do their job properly is by constant surveillance of all actual and potential dangerous elements. They ought to use those files they've got and start rounding up all subversives, homosexuals, pacifists and other crackpots so as to make life safe for the rest of the population.” He ventured to guess that “the reason the government isn't rounding up all those sick perverts is because the cost of imprisoning or exterminating them would be too great for the government's present budget.” He concluded by saying that “I, for one, would be glad to pay more taxes so as to enable the government to carry out that enterprise.”
I got several other interviews similar in outlook to this one, but none of them were as rabid. Minnie's interviews were precisely the opposite from mine. She said she couldn't stomach students who sympathized with the military and she only interviewed those whose comments were hostile to the general's files. One student she interviewed said he wouldn't be able to sleep any more because every time he heard the police siren at night he'd think the police were coming to arrest him. Others she interviewed spoke at length about the “unconstitutionality” of the general's files, and one student commented on the general's anti-Semitism. One of the “insights” the general had gotten from his files was that “subversive traits” appeared more frequently among “Baltic Jews” than among any other “easily identifiable” group.
I felt that my articles were much better than Minnie's precisely because I didn't just interview students who said things I agreed with. I felt that the students who defended the general exposed him much more effectively than those who attacked him. Besides which it was such a ball to interview those reactionaries. I did them the favor of making their statements coherent and grammatical. Most of those protectors of civilization and culture, future officials and managers, hadn't ever learned to use their own language.
Daman and Alec were terribly disappointing. They didn't contribute a single article. Instead of interviewing students they had gotten into heated arguments with them, and Alec even got injured in a fight with a student he was supposedly interviewing.
Every single one of Minnie's and my articles were published. It was obvious to Hugh (the editor) that my articles reflected “one side” of the picture whereas Minnie's reflected “the other side,” and consequently there was never any question of excluding any article.
This series of interviews caused as much of a scandal as Minnie's original interview, and the scandal led directly to the repression of the newspaper staff.
Professors and students discussed these articles in their classes, and the city newspapers started to take an interest in the question. But the two city papers were owned by people just like the general who kept the files, and they weren't interested in our exposures of the general's files but in us. They started publishing stories which said the university newspaper had been “taken over by a clique of reds and pinkos,” and that this clique was intent on defaming and destroying “the university, the army and the flag.” They quoted some of the most extreme statements of students we had interviewed and said the statements had been parts of editorials which “expressed the newspaper staff's policy.”
I've never known if it was the campaign carried on in the city newspapers, or pressure from the campus military, or the university administration's own embarrassment that set off the repression. It was probably all of these things plus some others I'm not even aware of. Only a few days after Minnie's original article appeared, we got a note from the administration ! demanding that the editor and managing editor go to the office of the university president “immediately, before the preparation of another day's issue.” Hugh and Bess rushed to the president's office, and the rest of us continued working on the next day's paper. When Hugh and Bess returned an hour later all the work stopped. Bess said the president had told them that the paper would have to stop publishing articles about the general's files. If such articles continued appearing, there would be “severe consequences.”
Hugh said he had objected to being called to the president's office “on a matter that is completely within the competence of the elected editor,” and that he would disregard the president's threat and continue to edit the paper “according to strictly journalistic standards.”
Every one of us jumped up with relief and congratulated him for his principled stand. But he still wanted a vote of confidence. “Since I was elected by the staff, the final decision has to be made by the staff. I feel that these articles are of high quality and of great public interest and that each article expresses a different side of the problem. Therefore the question is whether or not the staff wants to continue to do what is perfectly justifiable from a journalistic standpoint, but may lead to severe consequences the nature of which is unknown to us.”
None of us could imagine what the “severe consequences” might be, and no one was particularly worried. Minnie and I still had several more interviews to publish and the vast majority of the staff voted in favor of publishing them. Lem and Rhea abstained from voting.
After all our articles were published we all thought the crisis had blown over, although the city papers continued carrying completely made-up accounts of who we were and what we did.
About two weeks after my last article appeared, two weeks during which there hadn't been anything really interesting in the paper, the university administration struck. Something called a “directive” was released by the administration to the city press and the student government. We all gathered in the office and read the statement with disbelief. Minnie started crying. I felt like crying too. Hugh seemed thunderstruck and just paced back and forth.
According to this directive, the student newspaper would be “given back” to the student community at the end of that week. Since the directive came out on a Thursday, this meant we would only put out one more issue. The directive went on to say that “after a brief delay, competent journalists selected from among the student body will resume publication of a newspaper that reflects the interests of the student community.” This sentence suggested that we were neither competent nor students, but it also suggested something much more ominous. As far as any of us knew, the editors of the university's newspaper had always been elected by the staff, and this was now going to end; the selected journalists would obviously be people appointed by the administration. The statement also gave away what kind of people were going to edit a paper that “reflects the interests of the student community”: obviously not people like Lem and Rhea who in their own eyes reflected the interests of the student community, but rather people who reflected those interests in the administrations eyes, namely people who served the administration's interests, stooges appointed by the administration.
The directive went on to explain the reasons for this action, It said that “a self-perpetuating clique of radical agitators has taken over the publication of the student newspaper, thereby endangering the education and well-being of the student body and doing irreparable damage to the university's public image.” This statement was not an outright lie. It was authority's way of stating the truth. “Self-perpetuating” simply meant that we elected our own editors, as opposed to the new arrangement which introduced an administration-perpetuated clique. But the expression “self-perpetuating clique” made the electoral arrangement sound so underhanded and manipulative.
It was also true that there were proportionally many more “radicals” on the newspaper staff than there were in the student body as a whole. For all I know every “radical” in the university at that time was on the newspaper staff. But it's perfectly obvious why this should have been the case. It was a period when all self-expression was being fiercely repressed. Those few students who refused to be muzzled were by definition “radicals” since they were swimming against the stream. These were the only students who tried to express themselves at a time when self-expression was taboo, and where should they have gone if not to the newspaper staff, the only place in the university where self-expression was still possible? The directive also said that the present staff of the paper was not being fired; on the contrary, the staff was being urged to cooperate with the new editorial board to make the paper “a representative student newspaper which is a positive asset to the university community.”
All of us skipped our classes and spent the day at the office, planning our last issue. I felt as if a major historical event had taken place, as if a world war had just been declared.
Hugh suggested that each of us write an editorial expressing our side of the question; he said the bias of the last issue would be more than compensated for by the fact that all the issues from then on would express the other side.
I suggested that black borders be placed around every page, expressing the fact that the press had just died at the university. Bess Lach was violently opposed to this. “Just because we won't be the editors doesn't mean there won't be a paper!” she said. Someone called for a vote and everyone but Bess was in favor of the black borders.
Rhea suggested that we use the front page to call for a mass demonstration against the suppression of the paper. Bess objected, “You can't use the school paper to advocate a demonstration!” and Hugh agreed. I tried to argue that we were no longer bound by regulations that the university itself had just broken, but only Lem and Rhea agreed with me.
Suddenly Thurston Rakshas, of all people, made a suggestion that seemed to be similar to Rhea's, although Rhea didn't think so. Thurston argued that it was perfectly legitimate to announce a coming event, since this was one of the paper's functions. We could announce that on Friday morning the former staff members of the university newspaper were going to march in a funeral procession across campus, carrying the corpse of the university newspaper inside a coffin. That upper class dandy always did have a sense of humor. I was immediately fired up by the idea. Hugh and Alec were also enthusiastic about it from the start. Minnie favored some kind of demonstration but she argued that a funeral would only suggest that we had been defeated and had given up the struggle. For once Lem and Rhea agreed with Minnie; Daman obviously did too.
The argument about the nature of the demonstration was sidetracked by Bess, who had worked herself up into a hysterical state. “We can only express our opinions of the university directive! We can't use this paper to advocate one or another course of action. That's a betrayal of our trust! It's a crime! By calling for such a demonstration we would be using the paper as our own private organ. But the paper doesn't belong to us. It belongs to all the students. And it won't be dead just because some of us no longer work on it.”
Thurston defended his idea of announcing the mock funeral by pointing out that by the time it took place the people taking part in it would no longer be the paper's staff but merely a group of anonymous students.
Bess shouted at Thurston, “But we're not anonymous students today. We're the editorial board and staff of the university newspaper, and today you can't transform this paper into an instrument for your own demonstration. Tomorrow you can carry all the coffins you want!”
Thurston angrily called for a vote.
Bess shouted, “It's not in our jurisdiction to vote about university regulations!”
“It isn't?” Thurston asked. “Watch this! All” in favor of Bess's position.”
No one voted in favor, not even Bess since she disapproved of the vote.
“All in favor of mine!”
Everyone's hand went up except Bess's. But that was a sneaky maneuver. Thurston hadn't only put an end to Bess's objections; he had also closed the discussion on the nature of the demonstration. We were all aware of this but no one reopened that discussion. I suppose we all knew that if we spent the day arguing we wouldn't have time to prepare any kind of demonstration, to write our editorials or to put out our last paper. And I suppose Minnie and Rhea considered Thurston's suggestion better than no demonstration at all.
Bess stormed out of the office while Thurston's hastily called vote was taking place. She returned later in the day, but only to submit her editorial. She didn't take part in the work on the last issue.
Later in the day Rhea suggested that we run off leaflets announcing the demonstration and that we distribute them to all the student dormitories. I was in favor of doing that. Hugh objected to this type of “agitation” because the very nature of the demonstration required us to be “dignified and responsible.” Minnie said we simply didn't have time to do that, and she was right.
We worked feverishly. Since everyone was composing an editorial, no one started doing the typing and editing until evening. Hugh did the layout in Bess's absence, and although he was as good at it as she, he wasn't nearly as fast.
Late that night Rhea made another suggestion. She said the former staff should start publishing an off-campus paper as soon as possible. Only such an act would clarify the real significance of the black borders and the funeral procession. The official university newspaper would have died, but not the people who had given it life. The contrast between the two publications would make it obvious to all that the press was still alive in our publication, whereas the university paper had become a corpse.
I was moved by Rhea's suggestion but no one discussed it. We were simply too busy. We didn't get the paper to the printer's until two in the morning; we didn't leave the printer's until five, and we had to get up again a few hours later to carry out the demonstration we were announcing.
Fortunately, when Thurston had made his suggestion he hadn't expected the rest of us to do the work of implementing it. Thurston himself worked out the details of his mock funeral after he left the printer at five in the morning. One of his father's friends ran a funeral parlor. Thurston went there at six in the morning and explained to the undertaker that he needed a coffin as well as several wreaths and bouquets of flowers for a theatrical performance. He drove all the props to campus in a hearse.
All of us except Bess gathered at the newspaper office at eight in the morning, but the copies of the paper hadn't been delivered to their boxes yet because of how late we'd gotten the layout to the printer. The papers didn't arrive until nine, and we spent the hour frustratedly waiting for them, since our “funeral” would have been incomprehensible without any explanations. Rhea, naturally, reminded us that leaflets would have solved this problem.
We were all dead tired, but we started out full of enthusiasm. Thurston came dressed in a tuxedo and Hugh wore a black suit and a comical black hat. Daman and Minnie walked in front of the procession giving out copies of the newspaper. Hugh, Thurston, Alec and Lem carried the coffin, which was covered with flowers. Rhea and I walked behind the coffin with wreaths. We walked, very slowly, in front of all the administrative and academic buildings and in front of all the dormitories.
But our initial enthusiasm died. The mock funeral was a big disappointment, even to Thurston. Students would pause briefly, stare at the paper, stare at us, and then continue along their varied paths. The main response was an icy indifference. Some students said things like, “Go back where you came from!” and “Who do you think you're fooling?” Not one student said anything sympathetic. I had hoped there'd be a mile-long procession, but not one student joined us. I don't think the fault lay with Thurston's idea. The eight of us would have looked even more ridiculous if we had announced a “mass demonstration” instead of the “funeral.”
After walking for two hours which seemed as long as two years, the “procession” returned to its starting point and the coffin was taken into the editor's office. Lem and Alec came back out, but Hugh and Thurston stayed inside the editor's office and closed the door. I lay down on the bench. I. was exhausted and I felt like crying.
Minnie asked if we had all read the managing editor's final statement. I lazily picked up the paper and started leafing through it. I thought I had seen all the articles the night before, when I'd edited the copy, but I remembered I hadn't seen Bess's editorial.
“You don't have to hunt for it. Sophie. It's right on the front page,” Minnie told me.
I sat up. I was furious. The headline in the middle of the front page said, “Shades of Grey.” The first line of Bess's editorial said, “There is no “black and white; there are only shades of grey.” That didn't apply to the university's directive, which is what her article was about. Her next statement said, “There are some arguments in favor of the staff's point of view, but there are also arguments in favor of the administration's point of view.” The argument in favor of the staff was that the staff had consisted of “relatively competent journalists” and that the coverage had “in general been responsible and fair. But responsibility and fairness broke down when some staff members engaged themselves in an anti-military campaign.” According to Bess the editors, “including the undersigned managing editor,” convinced themselves that by printing articles favorable to the general and his files alongside articles hostile to the general, the paper was expressing both sides of the question. But those were not really two sides of the question; according to Bess they were the same side, since the administration had made it clear that both types of articles created an image which damaged the university. “Yet the editors and staff voted in favor of excluding the administration's side.”
I asked, “Who put this garbage on the front page?”
Alec answered, “Hugh typed it. edited it and laid it out in the middle of the front page so that the last issue wouldn't spoil the paper's tradition of fairness.”
“But it's full of distortions and outright lies!” I said.
“Hugh must have known we'd all want to leave it out,” Alec said. “That's why he didn't let us see it before putting it in the middle of the front page.”
I felt like vomiting. I had not only hoped that a mile-long procession would follow our coffin. I had also hoped that our course of action would somehow be very clear when the demonstration ended, that we would know what we had to do next. But nothing was clear except that my project was over. It had ended as abruptly as my activity at the carton plant had ended when we were arrested. And at that moment I blamed Hugh for the failure of the demonstration: I convinced myself we would have had support, and lots of it, if Bess's ugly argument hadn't appeared in the middle of the front page.
But instead of storming into Hugh's office, I lay back down and closed my eyes. My exhaustion was greater than my anger. I must have dozed because I wasn't aware until later that a strange sequence of events had begun to take place. Hugh and Thurston had been in the editor's office for over an hour. I vaguely knew that at some point Thurston had asked Daman as well as Alec to join them in the office and that sometime later Lem was called in as well. But I didn't respond to the strange fact that Rhea, Minnie and I were left outside, I asleep, Minnie and Rhea wondering what was going on but far too hostile toward each other to start a conversation.
I woke up when Alec stormed out of the editor's office and slammed the door behind him.
“What in hell is going on in there? What's all the shouting about, and why aren't we in on it?” Minnie asked him.
Alec sat down next to me. I could see he was agitated. “Were you fighting in there about that dumb editorial?” I asked.
“I'll tell you exactly what's going on in there!” he said. “It's the dirtiest shit I've ever seen. Hugh and Thurston had worked out a filthy strategy when Daman and I were called in. I made such a stink about it that they dropped it. But then Thurston convinced all four of them to accept an even filthier scheme, so I walked out.”
“Can you hold yourself together enough to tell us about it?” Minnie asked him.
“Thurston had this idea that we ought to publish an off-campus paper —” Alec began.
Rhea interrupted him to say, “That wasn't Thurston's idea; it was mine, Alec!”
“So it was! I remember that now. Sophie was the only one who responded when you suggested it. That was your idea. God damn them!” Saying this, Alec shook his fist at the door of the editor's office. “Well, they stole it from you, Rhea. That's what happened. Thurston loves your idea, but he doesn't want you to be part of it. He convinced Hugh that if you and Lem were both on the staff he, Thurston, would soon quit, Hugh would be outnumbered, and the paper would become a propaganda sheet, and when Thurston says propaganda sheet he makes it sound like toilet paper with shit on it. Even if he didn't say it that way, you know that Hugh must have nightmares about being caught in a paper that's biased. Fair and responsible. He's got those damned words etched on his brain. He thinks he's still editing the university paper. When they call Daman and me in, Thurston tells us we're going to put out this off-campus paper, all of us except Lem and Rhea. I ask what's wrong with Lem and Rhea. That fucker Daman grins and doesn't say anything. I tell Hugh and Thurston I don't understand. Hugh, tells me this shit about not putting out a propaganda sheet and then I do understand. I start shouting and telling Hugh and Thurston to crawl to the administration, ask to be forgiven and beg to be rehired on the administration-run paper. I tell them they're about to do to Lem and Rhea exactly what the administration just did to us. Hugh pretends he'd never thought of that, and says I'm right. I argue that if we're going to put out that kind of sheet, we've got to include every single member of the fired staff, even Bess if she's not about to sell out to the administration's staff. At that point Thurston calls Lem into the office and I'm under the impression that I won the argument. But that Thurston is as slippery as a fish. He explains the idea to Lem and then tells him that all the men on the staff are going to put out the off-campus paper. That blockhead Lem says that he understands that! He starts talking about how dangerous it is to publish what he calls an underground newspaper — much too dangerous for women. Thurston has to cool Lem down when he starts talking about a revolutionary underground newspaper. I shout at Lem and call him a stupid asshole. I tell him that a minute ago it was he who was being excluded. But I can see that he's enchanted about being included. Lem may be your comrade and all that, Rhea, but you can't deny that the fucker is dumb! What cheap shit! I can see right through it! Thurston thinks Lem and Daman won't ever vote on the same side. That means the vote will always be three to two, and Thurston and Hugh will always be on the winning side. If the three of you were included the vote would usually go the other way. That's why they're leaving you out and that's why I'm walking out. Without me the vote will always be three to one. They can have it!”
“Didn't Daman say anything?” Minnie asked.
“They can have that bastard too!” Alec said. “No, he didn't say a word. He rust sat there and listened. That's why they wanted him in there instead of you.”
Alec squeezed my hand and said to me, “I'll talk to you some other time, Sophie. I can't stand this place for one second longer.” He walked out of the office. I started to cry.
The door of the editor's office opened and Lem stepped out, grinning, looking as if he were intentionally trying to confirm Alec's characterization of him. “The press is dead! Long live the press!” Lem shouted. The three of us didn't respond. We stared at him with intense hostility. He continued, revoltingly self-satisfied: “I'd like to announce the birth of a new publication out of the womb of the old. It will be an underground newspaper, and two names were under consideration: The Spark, suggested by me, and Omissions, suggested by Hugh. The majority voted in favor of Omissions because the specific task of this underground newspaper will be to publish the news which will from now on be omitted from the crippled official newspaper.”
“That's a perfect title for it,” I told him. “It began its career by omitting half the people who ought to be on it.”
Rhea got up and started walking slowly toward Lem. She looked as if she intended to strangle him. When she was a foot away from him she said, through her teeth and with her mouth nearly shut, “It was my idea to publish that paper.” Then she started trembling. I asked her if she was all right. She walked out of the office, her eyes red with rage. She looked hysterical.
Today I think it strange that Lem and Rhea were so committed to that paper. The project which it was to carry out had much more in common with my outlook than with theirs. It was I who was in favor of printing omitted facts and letting scandalous information speak for itself. Letting facts speak for themselves and letting readers draw their own conclusions conflicted with Lem's and Rhea's political commitments.
As soon as Rhea was gone Lem turned toward me and tried to explain that it hadn't been his idea to exclude anyone. This had already been decided without him. And then he went on to talk about the dangers of publishing and distributing an “underground” newspaper: “Counter-revolutionaries might attack the newspaper headquarters at any time of day or night; goons might attack us while we're distributing it.” I turned my back to him and he left the newspaper office.
Daman came out of the editor's office looking like a dog that had just been beaten, shuffling his feet, his head bobbing from side to side. Thurston came out behind Daman, slapped him on the back, said, “See you next weekend,” and rushed out of the office with a victorious grin smeared across his face.
Minnie walked toward Daman, shouted, “You traitor,” hit him twice across the face so hard that I jumped up both times, and she too rushed out of the office.
I remained on the bench, staring at the typewriter I had used so many times. I turned around when I heard Hugh come out of what had been his office ever since I'd been on the staff. He was surprised to see me. In his arms he held a large bundle of papers he had collected. He had tears in his eyes. Looking away from me he said, “I'm awfully sorry.” He walked away slowly. He was just another student now. To me he was still the editor.
I was alone with the typewriters, the u-shaped desk in the middle of the room, the doors to the editor's and managing editor's offices, the pages tacked to the walls with errors circled in red. I cried. I was going to miss the typewriter, the desk, the walls and the people with whom I had spent so many hectic days. I hadn't felt so lonely, so excluded since the night I had gone to the beach with Ron and Sabina and had walked home by myself after Ron wrecked his father's car.
I started to think they would all miss this office. And then the thought passed through my mind that Alec hadn't told us the truth about the meeting that had just taken place in Hugh's office. I convinced myself that they hadn't wanted to exclude Rhea, but rather Minnie and me, and that Rhea had “been excluded with us just for the sake of appearances. They had all turned against Minnie and me because we were the ones who had provoked the repression with our articles. I convinced myself we were being blamed for having destroyed the paper for everyone else. I simply couldn't accept Alec's explanation of my exclusion. I couldn't make myself believe that I had been excluded from the “underground” paper because Thurston was counting votes. I couldn't accept such an explanation because the exclusion meant so much to me and the motives for it were so petty. My exclusion from Omissions by my own friends was much more painful to me than my exclusion from the university newspaper by the administration. Not only because the newest exclusion was so personal but because Omissions was a project being launched by the people who were going to engage in it, whereas the university paper was an institution that had existed before any of us had ever joined it; it was not our project. I was hurt because Omissions was precisely the kind of project I had hoped I'd find when I first enrolled in the university. It seemed to me then that this project was identical to the project I had taken part in years earlier, with you and Jasna and the others at the carton plant, when we formulated our own goals and strategies, printed our own posters, distributed them ourselves. I was excluded from the only genuine community I had found here, the second community I had found in my whole life.
I now recognize the validity of your critique of my earlier activity. I didn't understand the context in which it took place and I wasn't aware of the motives that animated the people around me. But I don't think you can impute their motives to me. The activity in the carton plant was not a rung of a bureaucratic ladder for me, and unlike Vera and Marc, I haven't risen in any hierarchy. My desire to participate on Omissions wasn't motivated by bureaucratic ambitions. I was pained by my exclusion not because it deprived me of opportunities or comforts but because it deprived me of a project, of a community, of genuinely independent activity. I sat in that office and cried because my project with you, Jasna, Vera and Marc was going to remain the only genuine project in which I had taken part.
I understand Jasna's narrative. I've even extended it by telling you who Daman was and what he has become. I'm sure I'd be equally disappointed if I learned what the other people on that newspaper staff were doing today. But that's not the point. My point is that the activity I wanted to share with them was not composed of their character traits, any more than the activity at the carton plant was composed of Marc's or Vera's bureaucratic ambitions, and no matter what they've become I since then, you can't take away from me what I experienced I because what I experienced was my project, not their ambitions.
What I don't seem able to convey to you is that what I sought all my life is something that's completely my own. It's a significant project within the context of a community. When I tell you that I learned about the possibility of such a project and such a community during those days I spent with you, I'm merely telling you a fact about myself, a detail of my biography; I'm not telling this to you in order to glorify those specific people nor that specific project. The reason I felt so miserable when I was excluded from the off-campus paper was because I was deprived of something I had learned to want many years earlier. It had nothing to do with Vera's or Marc's titles. It had to do with activity and with human relationships. What I learned to want didn't have to be related to posters or newspapers. After my exclusion from Omissions I became desperate and I leapt from one world of activity to another in search of such a project and such a community. I sought it with Alec within the university itself, and we both got expelled from school; I sought it by trying to correspond with you, and failed to reach you; I sought it in a fictional world that I myself invented, but I never finished my novel; finally I went to the underworld where Sabina and her Mends were living, still seeking the kind of life I had learned to want during those full few days I spent with you twenty years ago.
It was dark when I finally dragged myself out of the newspaper office and back to the co-op. I fell asleep as soon as I got to my room and I slept through most of the following day, a Saturday. Alec came shortly after I woke up. We had supper in a small restaurant and then we took a walk around the campus. It was early spring, as it is now. The campus was deserted. We mechanically retraced the path of the previous day's funeral procession.
For a long time we just walked silently. Then Alec started to express thoughts that perfectly echoed my own. “It's funny,” he said; “I always thought putting out that paper was a lot of hard work and I never thought all of it was such great fun. Sometimes I even wondered if it was worth all that work. But now that it's over I don't think I'll be able to stand it around here.”
“I know I won't,” I said. “I know I'll hate it.”
We sat down on the steps of the administration building, the very same steps on which the striking students sat a few days ago when Daman lectured to them about the point of production.
“Why don't we do something together, just you and I?” Alec asked.
“I was just thinking the same thing,” I said. “I was thinking about that military professor and his files.”
“You mean writing more articles about him? I'm sick of that,” Alec said.
“But you didn't write a single one of the articles,” I reminded him, laughing. “No, I wasn't thinking of more articles. I was thinking that you and I could sit in on one of his classes and ask him questions about his files.” That wasn't really such a daring suggestion. In recent years students have planted bombs in such files.
Alec was enchanted by my suggestion. “That would drive him up a wall!” he said. “He might even try to exterminate a couple of reds right in the classroom. Doesn't that frighten you?”
“You just said you wouldn't be able to stand it around here if we didn't do something like that,” I reminded him.
Alec got all excited. “If that works out, we could go visit some other classes and do the same thing. I can think of at least a dozen where I'd like to do that. Those smug bastards are always asking if anyone has questions, and they're used to hearing some pip-squeak say he didn't have a chance to write down every one of the professor's words. We'll give them questions. God damn it, maybe some other students will learn how to ask questions. This place would have to shut down!”
We continued speculating about the possible effects of our activity until late into the night. We decided to launch our project the following Monday.
We didn't talk about the kinds of questions we'd ask nor about what we'd do if we were thrown out or if the professor didn't call on us. We didn't prepare a single thing. We simply decided to sit in on the general's class. That Monday I decided to skip all my classes again. When Alec came for me at the co-op, I could see that he was as nervous as I. We hardly spoke to each other. We found the room where the general's class was supposed to take place and, trying to look inconspicuous, we sat down in the last row.
We didn't succeed in our attempt to be inconspicuous. The room gradually filled up with identical-looking young men in suits and ties, all of them short-haired. Alec wore jeans and a T-shirt and I was the only woman in the room. The students kept turning around and looking at us; several of them made obscene gestures. I don't know if those gestures meant that the students guessed who we were or if the people in that class were automatically vicious toward women and casually dressed men. They all looked at me like bloodthirsty marines'; and I'm sure every single one of them has by now exterminated countless human beings on some distant battlefield.
The professor paid no attention to us; he simply pretended we weren't there. He lectured during the whole hour and didn't ask if there were any questions. I couldn't believe that lecture. I had known that such people existed but I had never spoken to any and had never looked at military literature. That man talked about the slaughter of thousands of people as if he were describing a game of chess. If a person who cannot distinguish people from roaches is a psychopath when he starts talking about exterminating the vermin, then this professor was the i most dangerous psychopath I had ever seen. I couldn't have asked him a question if I had memorized one. I was frozen in my seat. I imagined myself being exploded into scraps, being burned alive and being shot full of holes by the weapons he described. I was chilled to the bone. I don't think I've ever been j so frightened. When I got home I vomited.
Alec apparently didn't respond to the lecture the way I did. When the hour was nearly over he became impatient and raised his hand. The professor didn't call on him. So Alec interrupted the lecture and started shouting. “Why do you keep talking j about such far away places, professor? Why don't you describe what those weapons will do right here in this town, when you start killing off those enemies you keep files on? Tell us about burning out certain parts of this city. Some of us might have relatives there. That'll help us understand your lecture a lot better.” Alec was sweating when he finished and he started shaking like a leaf.
The professor paused while Alec spoke, but then he ignored Alec completely and continued his lecture, as if he had been interrupted by a psychopath. When the bell rang he walked up to us, said he didn't remember having seen us in his class before, and asked if we were registered for his course. Alec told him we were considering enrolling the following semester but before doing so we had wanted to hear one of his lectures and, having heard it, we were no longer considering enrolling. The professor then said that we couldn't simply walk “off the street into a classroom,” but that we first had to have permission from the proper authorities.
When we left the classroom, five or six of the students were waiting for us. In spite of their suits and ties they looked like a pack of vicious bristly-haired dogs. I was scared to death. Ever since that day I've sympathized with anyone who urged the population to “get guns and protect yourselves,” even in situations where that slogan was totally inappropriate. And I've certainly sympathized with every guerrilla anywhere in the world who ever shot one of these monsters. Alec was scared too. We didn't exchange any words with them. Alec grabbed my hand and we started running without looking back to see if they were following. We ran to Alec's car, drove to the co-op, and I rushed to the bathroom and threw up.
We didn't know whether to consider the first stage of our project a partial success or a complete failure and we didn't have the time to evaluate it, nor the chance to try another approach. Two days after our visit to the military lecture one of the city papers carried a long story about our escapade. The story was so distorted that if we hadn't known the mentality of its authors we wouldn't have recognized ourselves in it. The few facts there were in the story must have come out of the professor's files and even those facts were wrong. I realized that the files we had made so much noise about couldn't have been of much use to anyone. The headline was: “Outside Agitators Disrupt University Lecture.” The names of the agitators were “Miner Vach and Sophia Narcalo,” namely the authors of the articles that had appeared in the school, paper rendered in the city reporter's or the professor's spelling. The article described the two agitators as the leaders of the “cell” that had temporarily taken over the student publication. According to the article, the university had taken vigorous measures to remove from the newspaper staff “all communists, homosexuals, fellow travellers and other outside agitators” and had given the publication back to “the student community.” However, the article observed critically, the university's measures had not been vigorous enough, because “dangerous elements are still being allowed to run rampant in our university, among our sons and daughters, among tomorrow's leaders.” The last paragraph stated that “Miner Vach and his consort” were obviously no students, but did not explain why this was obvious; undoubtedly the name they chose for him made this obvious. The article concluded by describing Miner and his consort as dangerous elements who were intent on disfiguring the minds of the entire younger generation and who would stop at nothing in their determined attempt to bring the university to a complete halt. This article was an example of journalism as it was practiced outside the university. We had been fired from the newspaper staff so as to be replaced by people who aspired to this type of journalism.
The following morning both Alec and I were served subpoenas by the university administration, or something just like that. A messenger brought both of us notes which told us to appear in the office of the president “immediately.” Alec came over as soon as he got his notice and we discussed what we would do about it. Our first impulse was to disregard the president's invitation. But on second thought both of us wanted to have a taste of that experience. Neither of us had ever seen the university president or his office and we were certain that whatever happened, it would not be as terrifying as the moment when we left the general's class and faced a pack of his snarling students.
We obviously didn't dress up for the occasion, but I must admit that the president as well as his secretary were very open minded about that. The secretary told us, “The president will be right with you; please sit down,” and indicated that we should install our dirty-looking jeans on the plush chairs in that carpeted room.
The president came in, introduced himself, and shook our hands while we remained seated. He asked if we wanted coffee.
“Yes, please,” we both answered simultaneously. Later on Alec told me he wished he'd thought of asking for breakfast as well.
The president himself went out and a few minutes later returned carrying a tray with two cups of coffee, a cream pitcher and a sugar bowl. Apparently he wasn't going to join us.
“Did you summon us here so as to serve us coffee?” Alec asked.
In a very apologetic tone, the president said, “Oh, that note. Yes, it was excessively harsh. We merely wanted to get somewhat better acquainted with you.” Then he grinned and added, “I hope you don't mind.”
Oh, not at all,” I said. “The coffee is very good and the room is nicely decorated. I wouldn't mind coming here every morning.”
“Yes, well,” the president continued, “I should tell you that I understand you young people perfectly. I was quite a gay blade myself during my college days.” Alec snickered and the president paused. “However,” he then said, “you have to understand that we must face certain realities.”
Alec and I obviously didn't understand that; if we did we wouldn't have been drinking coffee in the president's office.
“Realities like the present war hysteria?” Alec asked. “Is this a university or an army barracks?”
“I understand your point perfectly,” the president said. “However, there are certain political considerations, and also certain financial ones.”
“The hysterical politicians could fire you and the war profiteering corporations pay your salary; is that what you mean?” I asked.
My comment irritated the president ever so slightly. He said, “I can see that you're both reluctant to face these realities.” Then he immediately reverted to his original tone; he didn't want us to think he was an evil man. “Your point of view is in many ways justified, I might even say admirable.
Unfortunately, I have certain responsibilities and the university has certain responsibilities toward a larger community, and your uncompromising attitude makes it very hard for me, and for the university at large, to carry out these responsibilities.”
I got angry and said, “If you think we're going to compromise our attitudes —”
“Oh, no,” he interrupted. “Nothing of the sort. I merely wanted to get better acquainted with you. From my point of view this interview has been completely satisfactory.” He got up and shook our hands again, saying, “I honestly wish you the greatest success in your endeavors.”
I certainly didn't regret having accepted the president's invitation: I had never before met such a completely unprincipled person, such a perfect politician. The following morning the same messenger who had brought us our invitations brought Alec and me notes informing us that we were being expelled from the university.
Neither Alec nor I were terribly upset by our expulsion. We had already felt expelled when the administration directive had closed the newspaper office to us and neither of us had wanted to remain in the university without working on the newspaper.
Alec found an apartment and moved away from campus on the very day the notice came and a few days later he already had a factory job. He asked me to move to his apartment but I knew that I'd be making a terrible mistake if I did that. We hadn't ever discussed the question of marriage and I knew that the day after I moved in with him it would already be too late to begin that conversation. Besides my lack of desire to become a wife, I didn't want to leave the university environment so quickly for several reasons. First of all I wanted to see how the purged newspaper functioned and I also wanted to be on campus when the first issue of Omissions came out. Secondly I had started writing my novel again. This time my experience on the newspaper staff was its central topic and I was afraid that if I removed myself from that environment I would lose my desire to continue working on it.
The university newspaper didn't come out for a week but when it did come out it looked almost the same as when we had put it out. I must admit I was disappointed by this fact. I had thought that somehow its very appearance would reveal what it had become. Bess Lach hadn't merely been accepted on its staff; she had been appointed news editor, a position which was only one notch lower than her previous position. I assumed that the paper looked so much like ours because Bess had done all the editing as well as the layout, but maybe I gave too little credit to those pliant journalism students picked from the fraternities and sororities. Of course the paper.didn't have the kinds of articles Daman, Alec, Minnie and I had written, but not all of our issues had carried such articles either, nor had all I of our articles been masterpieces.
A few days later the first issue of Omissions came out. I was disappointed by that too: it was so small! Only two letter-sized pages, with, typewritten articles. But it was beautifully laid out and the articles were fun to read. I was particularly moved by Hugh's description of the purpose of the paper. Thurston's humor column was hilarious.
I had called Minnie to find out if she knew when the first issue was going to come out. She told me that she and Daman had become friends again and that she was going to help distribute the paper. They had been denied the right to distribute the paper on campus and consequently they were going to give it out across the street from the administration building, namely on the side of the street which was not on university property. I joined Minnie and Daman there and without even being asked I grabbed a bundle and gave out copies to the men students who lived in the fraternity houses across the street from the administration building. Hugh and Lem were giving them out at the other end of the campus to students who drove their cars to school. The paper was given out free, like the official paper; the editorial asked people to subscribe to it so as to help defray printing expenses which were being paid by the editors.
When we ran out of copies Daman asked me to come to the next staff meeting at Hugh's house. I didn't say I'd come. I thought of Rhea and Alec. I didn't want to be one of those who had betrayed them.
But I couldn't stay away. Minnie and Daman came for me on the day when the second issue was to be laid out. When I walked in with them, Thurston and Hugh acted as if they took my presence for granted. I sat and listened while they discussed the materials to be included in the issue. There were no arguments, no cliques, no majorities or minorities; there was no reason for voting. Hugh asked me to write an article but that was where I drew the line. I was willing to help with the typing and the distribution but I refused to become one of the editors.
I went out with Alec once a week. I told him I was taking part in the distribution of Omissions and gave him a copy whenever it came out. I didn't tell him I was also taking part in the production of the paper. I was ashamed to tell him that. I also felt ashamed at the co-op several times when Rhea saw me go out with Daman and Minnie on our way to Hugh's house; she must have known that I was on my way to work on the off-campus paper originally suggested by her.
I took part in the production of the paper but I continued to be an outsider, not only in my eyes but in theirs as well. After the second issue all four editors as well as Minnie urged me to write articles and take part in the decisions, but I continued to refuse. I just couldn't forget the way the paper had been started and my failure to participate in those activities didn't let them forget either. They hardly spoke to me; they were afraid I'd take offense at something they said or even at the tone in which they said it. They didn't want me to walk out. The production of that little paper was a lot of hard work and by the third issue I had become indispensable for the paper's distribution as well. Daman and Lem helped distribute only the first two issues. Both had morning classes every day and Daman had always been a good student. Lem also went back to being a good student, although I can't imagine why, since he then left the university before finishing the school year. And of course the upper class dandy Thurston never took part in the distribution. He'd as soon have been a peasant guerrilla. Handing out the paper across the street from the university was for Thurston an activity worthy of outside agitators and union organizers, and he was equally hostile to both. The only reason he found himself in our company was that the witch hunt mentality of that time was even interfering with the ability of the ruling class to make jokes about itself, which was all he wanted to do. As a result, Hugh, Minnie and I were the paper's only distributors. Minnie and I continued to give it out across the street from the administration building and Hugh continued to distribute it to commuting students on the other side of the campus. How ironic. The argument that had justified our exclusion had been that the distribution of the “underground” paper would be far too dangerous for the women. I did undergo a terrible experience before the year ended, which I'll describe later, but this experience had not been one of the dangers that had been anticipated when our exclusion had been justified.
There were numerous favorable responses to the publication of Omissions: several encouraging letters, some classroom discussions of questions raised by Omissions, a certain growth of political awareness on the official newspaper staff which would not have taken place if Omissions hadn't been published and if it hadn't maintained such a high level of quality. I'll only describe one of the responses because it's related to events that took place long after the first Omissions had been forgotten.
Around the middle of the year we learned that a group of students at another university had heard about our series of articles in the school paper, about the directive and about the mock funeral. One of those students was one of the first paying subscribers to Omissions. Stimulated by our example these students launched a similar publication, which they also named Omissions. They were not former editors of the official publication. The official paper of that university had apparently always been as self-repressed as the one here became after the directive. Another difference was that the kinds of articles they carried were not at all like those that appeared in our Omissions but rather like the articles Minnie and I had been publishing in the official paper just before the directive; they were exposures of the militaristic and repressive engagements of professors and academic departments. That group of students didn't disperse at the end of the school year, the way we did. They kept their publication going. Its staff as well as its readers increased. Its name changed several times; new students replaced those who graduated. Several years later the entire editorial board of that publication got themselves elected to the student government: it was the first time within memory that radical students had been so prominent. These students became the first official spokesmen of what became “the student movement.” I learned all this many years after the demise of the original Omissions when I re-enrolled in college. I'm mentioning all this because I do understand what you mean when you describe our activity in the carton plant or mine on the newspaper staff as a stepping stone toward a political career. That's what it was for Marc Glavni, Vera Neis and the group of students I've just described. But the activity was not a stepping stone in and of itself and I'm not the only one who knows this. Nowadays, when the student movement is vast, several of its politicians are writing the history of their movement. They invariably identify the origin of the present movement with the publication of the first issue of the Omissions that was published at the other university, which came out several months after our first issue. There's a very good reason why they locate the origin there: that group was a group of politicians and the historians are politicians writing the history of their “likes.” They don't mention our activities because we weren't politicians, because we spoke only for ourselves. They know it, I know it, and I think you should know it too. If our activity were ever included in a history, it wouldn't be a history of politicians but a much vaster history of people's attempts to fight against repression on their own, for themselves, without politicians. Our activity had innumerable flaws. Our motives weren't pure and our achievements weren't terribly impressive. But the establishment of political careers was not what motivated us and that certainly wasn't what we achieved as a result of that activity.
Some months before the end of the school year, Lem Icel announced that he would be leaving the Omissions staff as well as the university. He was one of the students selected by his political organization to attend a world student conference which was to take place in your part of the world. I had thought Lem had left that organization when he'd joined the Omissions staff and had fallen out with Rhea but I'd been wrong. To his credit he hadn't once let his organizational commitment define his relations to the other people on the staff. I reluctantly admitted to myself that Thurston's calculations had not been altogether without substance: if Lem and Rhea had both been on that staff they would have blackmailed each other into implementing the organization's position on every question. Not that their positions would always have been wrong. They would always have been rigid, inflexible. and consequently the discussions wouldn't have had the character of genuine communication but of people shouting at phonograph records that just kept repeating themselves. But even that would have been preferable to the exclusionary course that was taken.
Lem's coming trip gave me an idea. I asked him if he'd be willing to deliver letters to all the friends I had known eight years earlier. I didn't tell him we had all been arrested; I was afraid Lem would suspect there was something wrong with my friends, that they were all “stained,” as you put it in your second letter. Lem was delighted by the fact that I asked him for a favor. I hadn't asked him to do anything for me since high school. He was also enthusiastic about the prospect of meeting people who had once been my friends, and was positively enchanted when I told him they were all workers.
I had two weeks to write letters to all of you and except for the day I spent working on Omissions and the morning I spent distributing it, I did nothing else during those weeks. The uprising in Magarna had just broken out. Lem had told me something about that uprising and the city papers carried front page articles about it which conflicted in every detail with Lem's account. I suspected that both accounts were wrong and some of the descriptions in the city papers gave me the impression that the Magarna rising was in some ways a continuation of our activity in the carton factory eight years earlier. In fact, the vehemence with which Lem denied certain details even led me to suspect that the events unfolding in Magarna went far beyond anything I had experienced, that in fact a revolution was taking place which was as extensive and profound as the revolution Luisa had described to me. Those suspicions were of course confirmed in later years, when I read documented accounts of the Magarna revolution, but at the time I had no way of learning those facts. The closest I could come was to reach you.
I feverishly wrote long letters to every one of you. Once I wrote straight through the night and continued writing the whole next day. The letter to you was the longest. In my recent letters I've repeated most of what I told you then. I described the extent to which two key events had affected my life: the revolution with which Luisa had familiarized me, and the agitation in which I myself took part with you and the others in the carton plant. I told about my lifelong search for the elements which had made those experiences significant to me; I narrated all I've just finished telling you about my activity on the newspaper staff and the off-campus paper, and I summarized my earlier attempt to compare you to Ron. I was eager to hear about your life and the lives of the others, about your experiences, activities and projects. I wanted to hear about the rising in Magarna; I was sure those events were giving a new life to the community I had once known. I wanted desperately to be in touch with those of my friends who were closest to it; I wanted to be part of it and part of them. At that time I felt that I was still an integral part of that community. I still thought of myself as one of you. If I had gotten your newest letter and read Jasna's account then, I would have been heartbroken. I imagined all of you were still in the carton plant. I had no way of knowing what dreadfully long prison terms so many of you had served already then. I obviously thought of all of you as I remembered you, as you had been when I had known you.
When I wrote those letters, there was nothing I wanted more than to be asked to return, by one and all of you. My letters almost begged for such an invitation. In each letter I described my life since my emigration as the life of a foreigner, the life of an outsider. I described the environment and the population that welcomed me with the slogan “Go back where you come from,” and the university in which I had never been anything more than an “outside agitator.” I also described my exclusion from the single activity I had found here which I would have embraced as my own: the off-campus newspaper, I waited for a letter, a postcard, a word or a mere sign. I was ready to fly out of here as abruptly as Alec had left the university on the day of our expulsion. But no word came. Even Lem didn't return. When I finally did see Lem again several years later, his account of what happened to him was so unrelated to the letters I had written that I barely listened to what he told me: I was convinced it had nothing to do with me. Poor Lem.
Soon after Alec and I were expelled I started my novel again, for the second and last time. How well I understand why Jasna reads long novels whenever she's excluded from the activity of those around her: to live all the possible lives she knows she'll never have a chance to live. I suppose I wrote for similar reasons. Unlike Jasna, I didn't wander through worlds others had created; I wandered through my own, and while wandering I changed it here and there to make it more like the world I would have wanted it to be. I spent almost every day working on it, alone in my room at the co-op. I saw the Omissions people only one day every two weeks and at no other time, since the activity that drew us together on that single day, the preparation of the paper, was the very activity that separated us the rest of the time. I saw Alec on weekends; during the week the job he'd gotten used up all his energy and he simply ate, slept and went back to work. I was glad to be left alone in my room. I was close enough to the people and experiences I was writing about to continue to be stimulated by them, while at the same time I was able to look at them from a distance, the distance which my exclusion had created between us.
My second novel wasn't a love story but the story of two projects. Ron was replaced by the group of people with whom I bad shared the experience on the newspaper staff, the people who had excluded me from Omissions. I contrasted this project and these people with my experience at the carton factory eight years earlier. I described the first group as a genuine community, one which could not have excluded me, and I tried to explore the reasons for my exclusion from Omissions, reasons which I didn't locate in Thurston's vote-counting but in the character of the participants. Since I was using my experience with you as a model, I obviously glorified the people I had known in the carton plant as well as the project I had shared with them. Jasna's account of who those people really were and what they've become since then is not really relevant to the way I described them. The characters in my novel were products of my own imagination. In a sense my characters were all different facets of my own self. Through them I contrasted the pettiness of those around me with a picture of what I would have wanted those people to be. Through those characters I tried to say that the world around me was not the only possible world and certainly not the best of all possible worlds. I never accepted Daman's philosophy according to which all that happens is explainable afterwards as all that was “objectively possible.” Now I understand why Daman hadn't said a word when Rhea, Minnie and I had been excluded from Omissions. With all its revolutionary language, Daman's philosophy is merely another version of the submissiveness to fate which you attributed to Mirna's mother. By describing characters who in some ways resembled you and Vera and Marc, I was trying to depict a possible community. I wasn't trying to describe a community that had actually existed precisely because I didn't submit to the flawed community that existed as the only “objectively possible” community.
Unfortunately my second novel never became more complete than my first. I was forced to abandon it abruptly and I've never returned to it. I re-read it before writing you about my experiences on the newspaper staff, and I have to admit that some of the events I've just described come directly out of that manuscript. I apologize for that, but I can no longer remember the sequence of the actual events.
My project was cut short by an incident which I do remember, and very vividly. It happened several weeks after Lem left with the letters I wrote to all of you. Minnie and I were distributing copies of the newest issue of Omissions across the street from the administration building. The students who came out of the fraternity houses lined up for copies. Minnie and I were delighted. We thought there had been a revolution in the fraternity houses. On all previous occasions, only an occasional student had been willing to accept a copy; others had either insulted us or had avoided walking near us. Since we were surrounded by people reaching for copies, we couldn't see what was happening. Suddenly we heard the siren of a police car. The students around us moved some distance away and we saw that copies of Omissions were scattered all over the street and sidewalk, over the lawn of the administration building, on the hoods and in the door handles of cars. Minnie and I just stood there, holding bundles of copies of the publication that was scattered like fallen leaves all over the landscape. The police grabbed us and pushed us into their car. The whole thing had obviously been pre-arranged, probably by the university administration, since the events which followed were clearly parts of a scheme that had been well worked out ahead of time. Those fraternity boys were always such “good” students; it's too bad that a word like “scab” doesn't exist for them. At the police station we were asked our names. The police called someone in the university, gave our names and learned that I was no longer a student. We were given a long lecture, which was directed only at me, about “littering and defacing public and private property.” We were told that if we ever “littered” the street again we would have to appear before a judge and be subject to a jail sentence. This obviously meant that we could be jailed for trying to distribute Omissions again.
Minnie was called into the university president's office and reprimanded, but she wasn't suspended from school. What happened to me was much worse.
The co-op where I lived was governed by a “board” which consisted of four students who were elected by all the occupants. Two days after the “littering” incident the university administration sent the co-op board a threatening note which said that “university approved housing is intended exclusively for the use of students and not for the general public. The university cannot grant recognition to facilities which are run like hotels or other public accommodations.” In other words, if I wasn't evicted from the co-op, the co-op would lose “university recognition.” I still haven't learned what “university recognition” is. I think that without it the co-op would not have been placed on a list of “university approved” student housing facilities. But no one was in the co-op because it was “university approved”; we were there because it was cheap.
The co-op board called for a meeting of all the occupants. No one had ever been evicted from the co-op before. Numerous students went to school one semester and worked one semester, so that I wasn't the only non-student living there. But as soon as the board members started speaking I knew that the whole business revolved around me. One of the board members said that the loss of university recognition would do irreparable damage to the co-op, and two others said that it would do irreparable damage to the careers of all the students in the co-op. The three board members who spoke (the fourth didn't say anything) were law students. This was not a coincidence. Law students were normally the only people who ran for board posts; no one else wanted to be a board member. The law students listed the fact that they'd been on the “board of directors of the university co-operative dormitory” on their list of accomplishments; they were politicians. I had heard that when the co-op was first organized it had been a center for radical students, but this had ceased to be the case long before I had come there. These board members apparently thought that my presence there was going to revive that long-lost reputation of the co-op. In that case they would no longer be able to list the co-op among their accomplishments. It's in this sense that my presence there was harmful to their careers.
There was a very brief discussion. Only two students expressed opposition to the university's threatening note. The others just sat and said nothing. I looked desperately toward Rhea; she would be the next one whose presence would be harmful to the lawyers' careers. But she avoided my glance and said nothing.
It all happened so fast that I couldn't put my thoughts together. Someone called for the vote. I started to say, “But you can't —” I couldn't say any more. I gagged and started sobbing. They voted. Two students voted against my eviction, about a third of the students abstained and all the rest, including Rhea, raised their hands in favor of evicting me.
That was Rhea's revenge for the fact that Alec had abandoned her as well as her organization, and probably also for the fact that she had been excluded from what was in a way her creation, the off-campus paper. With that vote she was also getting even with herself for having admired this “perfect proletarian” so much when we first met. Perhaps in some strange way she was also acting as the instrument of Debbie Matthews' revenge against George Alberts, although Rhea couldn't have known about my connection to Alberts. I understood how Debbie must have felt when she was fired, and particularly when she learned the role her former friend had played in the firing.
After that horrid vote I started to bawl. Everyone left the room. Not one person stayed with me, even to console me. I felt like a leper.
I dragged myself to my room and cried myself to sleep exactly the way I had done when I'd been excluded from Omissions. When I woke up in the morning I started crying again. How terribly cruel it is to evict someone. I looked helplessly at my familiar room, at my unfinished manuscript, at my stack of newspapers. I had nowhere to go and I wasn't able to go anywhere else even if I had wanted to. I had no money. I'd had a tuition scholarship during my three and a half years in school and my room and board at the co-op had been free. Luisa had given me money when I had started college but I had always returned it because I really hadn't needed it. The little I'd kept when Luisa insisted was in a savings account, and I hadn't spent any of it. But all my savings couldn't have paid for a single week's rent and food.
I didn't have much to pack except manuscripts, notebooks, newspapers and books. I hadn't bought clothes since high school and some of them were so old I stuck them into the garbage instead of packing them.
I went to the bus station and stuck all my belongings inside a locker. I wandered around the ugly station and walked aimlessly amidst the crowds on the downtown streets. I was like a person who had just arrived in the city, a person who didn't know what she would do here, whom she'd meet, what she'd become.
I went to a drug store and sipped a cup of coffee. It was only then that I started to think about what I would do next. But I couldn't think about it coherently. Images kept flying through my mind: images of the disappointing funeral procession, of Alec telling us why we had been excluded from Omissions, of Rhea's hand raised in favor of my eviction.
The most obvious thing would have been to go to Luisa. But I couldn't stand the thought of doing that. I knew I'd spend all my time sitting in my room staring at the walls the way I'd done before I started high school. In that room I wouldn't be able to continue my novel about the university newspaper, and I certainly wouldn't pull out the manuscript of my first novel. And the thought of breaking down and bawling in front of Luisa frightened me. It would create a relationship that hadn't existed between us for as long as I could remember: I would become a helpless and dependent child and she'd become my protective mother. I didn't know if she was able to play that role, but if she did play it, I knew I'd hate her afterwards because I'd be terribly humiliated to have to assert my independence again.
I could have gone to Alec. He had already asked me to move in with him. But in the state I was in, that would have been even worse than returning to Luisa. Helpless and completely lost, I would automatically have become his “burden” and his “responsibility.” I could imagine him saying, “Just go ahead and cry on my shoulder, Sophie; everything's going to be all right.” Soon I'd be his wife, and then his “old lady.” By then any kind of separation would be extremely painful if not altogether impossible. I decided not even to contact Alec until I had solved my living problems.
Of course I could have thought of going to work like any “normal” person, but I had never worked before and the mere thought of looking for a job made me feel like vomitting. Is this revulsion a trait I share with the people Jasna described, or does it have something to do with the nature of “work” in this society?
Lem would have been delighted to put me up, and I could easily have dispelled any expectations he might have had, but Lem was by then in your part of the world. And I didn't want to seek help from any of the others on the Omissions staff. My exclusion from the paper was far too similar to my eviction from the co-op.
While I was considering and rejecting all these alternatives, the solution was already in the back of my mind. I would turn to Sabina. At that moment it seemed that she was the only person in the world I could turn to. She wouldn't ask any questions. She wouldn't become my protectress. I could come and go as I pleased and when I pleased. And I knew she wouldn't turn me away.
I had no idea where Sabina was. I hadn't seen her for two years, since the night she had come to the co-op to tell me Ron had been killed. I didn't even know how to start looking for her. I had a hunch and it turned out to be right. I suspected that she was still together with Ron's friends, or even that she was directly in contact with Debbie Matthews, since that was probably how she had learned of Ron's death. I also remembered that Sabina had once stayed at Debbie's house.
Debbie Matthews suddenly became very important to me. I hadn't ever gone to see her when she'd been fired from high school and I particularly regretted not having gone to her when I'd learned about Ron's death. I became so convinced that Debbie would know where Sabina was that I returned to the bus station and took my things back out of the locker.
It was still morning when I rang the bell at the Matthews house, hugging all my possessions. Debbie opened the door. We had seen each other at Ron's trial but she didn't recognize me. She asked what I wanted. She was drunk. I told her I was Lem Icel's friend and Sabina Nachalo's sister, that I had once gone with Ron, and that I was desperately trying to find Sabina.
“You're the other Alberts girl!” she exclaimed, but she asked me in anyway.
As soon as I was in the living room I became hysterical. I shouted that I wasn't George Alberts' girl, that Alberts had never been either my friend or my father, that I hated him as much as she did. I told her I hated Alberts more than ever at that very moment because Debbie's own friends Lem Icel and Rhea Morphen had done to me exactly what Alberts had done to her. I bawled. I acted out the very scene I hadn't wanted to perform for Luisa. I told her about Lem's role in my exclusion from Omissions and about Rhea's role in my eviction from the co-op. I told her Sabina was the last person I had left in the world and that I had no idea what would happen to me if I didn't find her.
Debbie poured me a drink and said almost exactly what I would have expected Alec to say if I'd gone to him. “Take it easy, kid. Everything is going to be all right. There's no reason to have a fit; that won't help any.”
She left the room to wash and put on a dress. She looked almost sober when she returned. “Come on,“she said; “their garage is right down the street. I've never gone there before. Now's as good a time as any.”
When we left her house she carried most of my packages. I must have been the one who looked drunk.
By the time we reached the garage I might as well have been in a foreign land where I knew neither the language nor the customs. I had cried so much that day that a film of tears had formed in my eyes and everything looked distorted. I was like a person walking in her sleep or under hypnosis. Nothing would have surprised me. I had stopped responding to what was happening around me.
One of the mechanics ran up to Debbie and asked, “Is something wrong?”
Debbie answered, “Not with me. This girl says she's Sabina's sister. She needs a place to stay.”
“So you're Sophie!” the mechanic said. “Ron never stopped talking about you. I remember seeing you at his trial.”
I remembered seeing him too. He was Jose. Pointing to the other two mechanics he said, “That's Vic Turam over there and this is Ted Nasibu.”
“I remember Ted,” I said, trying to smile. “He's the car thief Ron told me about.”
Jose looked embarrassed by my comment. Apparently “Debbie didn't know what kind of garage it was. I wanted to apologize but just then a little girl ran up to us. She must have been six years old. Jose told Debbie and me, “This is Ron's kid.”
Debbie embraced the little girl and said, “She sure doesn't look like him.”
It was Tina. I hadn't seen her since she'd been a bundle on the couch in George Alberts' house.
Tina ran into the house and a few minutes later returned with Sabina. As soon as I saw Sabina I ran to her and threw my arms around her. I hadn't been so glad to see anyone since the night, four years earlier, when Sabina had thrown pebbles at my window, the night when she and Ron had come to tell me about Ron's experiences in reform school. I held on to Sabina and let all the rest of my tears run down to her shoulder. “I've been excluded from everything,” I sobbed; “I'm a complete outsider.”
Sabina loosened herself from my embrace. I saw that there were tears in her eyes. She put her arm around me and helped me to the apartment behind the garage. After letting me down on a kitchen chair she went back to the garage to ask Debbie if she wanted to join us for coffee. Debbie apparently didn't want to be entertained by both “Alberts girls” because Sabina came back alone. She gave me a wet towel so I could wipe the streams of tears off my face. Then she gave me a cup of strong black coffee and a bowl of thick so up. I felt much better, though I was still as disoriented as a tourist in an exotic land.
A young woman — or rather a girl: she couldn't have been over fourteen — burst into the kitchen from another room, rushed to the stove and poured herself coffee. Her hands trembled and she had dark rings around her eyes.
Sabina said, `Tissie, this is Sophia. She's going to stay with us.”
Tissie turned to me and said, “So you're the college sister!” and she abruptly left the room with her cup of coffee.
I asked Sabina if Tissie was sick and Sabina said, very matter-of-factly, “She's a heroin addict.” I had never seen a heroin addict before.
Sabina told me there was an extra bed in her room as well as in Tina's room and suggested I stay in Tina's room because Sabina slept during odd hours. I asked Sabina if she took part in the car thefts.
“Not any more,” she said. “It's mainly Ted who does that. Tina helps fix the cars up. She's getting quite good at it. Vic specializes in heroin. He sells it to the rich at a bar run by a friend of his and to the poor right in the garage.”
Tissie came back into the room and poured herself another cup of coffee.
“Tissie and I work in the bar,” Sabina continued.
Tissie turned to Sabina and said, “You ought to bring your sister along and show her what we do.”
Sabina snapped at Tissie, “Sophia can do whatever the hell she wants, and I'm not taking her anywhere.”
When Tissie left again I asked what kind of work they did.
“It's like everything else we do here, Sophia,” Sabina answered. “It's easier than many other things, it pays better than most, there's no drudgery, sometimes there's a lot of adventure, and we can work whenever we please.”
I didn't ask Sabina if she and Tissie were waitresses. I said, “I don't mind, you know. I came to ask for help. I haven't come to judge you.”
“Don't you worry about me,” she said. “Why don't you go get some sleep. You look just like a heroin addict.”
Sabina was right. I was exhausted. I fell asleep as soon as I lay down. When I woke up Tina was already asleep. I went to the kitchen to find something to eat. It was past midnight. Tissie was sitting at the kitchen table sipping her coffee.
“You sleep all day, sis?” she asked. “So did I. I'm getting a late start. Want to come along?”
“To the bar?” I asked, looking around nervously. “Where's Sabina?”
“She must have left two or three hours ago,” Tissie said. “She'll never take you there. She told me. Want to come?”
“I don't have a dress,” I said. I was afraid. But I was also curious. All day long I had felt like a tourist but I had been too upset and too tired to absorb my new surroundings. After having slept I felt refreshed and wanted to see more,
“You can wear one of Sabina's dresses. She's got dozens and we trade all the time. She'll never miss it,” Tissie said.
I can't say that I was intrigued by the prospect, because that word suggests a much more active state than the one I was in. I was half-way in a stupor. I think at that moment I would have let anyone take me anywhere. I wanted to see whatever there was to be seen, to take part in everything those around me did.
As we left the garage, Tissie told me, “Don't you ever let them know I took you there, neither Sabina nor Jose nor Ted. They'll give me hell.”
“Won't Sabina see me there?” I asked.
Tissie said, “She'll be gone by now. I'm telling you, she'll never know unless you tell her.”
The only bar I had ever been to before was a bar near campus where Alec had taken me. Students drank beer there, sitting on plastic-covered seats watching television. The bar I entered with Tissie looked like my idea of a nightclub. There were chandeliers, live musicians and a singer, plush chairs and professional waiters. I had never seen anything so luxurious.
Tissie placed me on a stool at one end of the bar. “But what am I supposed to do?” I asked her.
“It'll all come to you, sis,” she said patronizingly, and walked off to talk to someone.
I must have gone into a trance. When I came out of it I found myself inside a chauffeur-driven car. Next to me sat a large, middle-aged man who must have been a city politician or a corporation executive. Absolute chaos swept through my mind. I started to shake with fear. The chauffeur, the man next to me, the noise, the neon signs, the car lights all terrified me. I felt my heart pounding in my stomach and I wanted to vomit.
The man must have noticed my agitation. “Something wrong with you?” he asked.
I don't think I've ever thought so quickly in a crisis. “Yes,” I said. “I forgot my tranquilizer pills. I've got to stop at a drug-store.”
He had the driver pull over by a drugstore. But then he said, “I need cigarettes anyway. I'll get your pills. What kind are they?”
“Oh. I have a prescription for them,” I said as calmly as I could, “and I'm the only one who can use it. I'll get your cigarettes.”
He started reaching for his wallet but I jumped out of the car before he had a chance to give me the cigarette money. I immediately wished I'd asked what brand he smoked, or had at least waited for the money. I was afraid he'd come running after me.
I tried to walk nonchalantly to the drugstore entrance, but as soon as I was inside I ran to the white-frocked man behind the counter. He was alone. I started shaking him by the shoulders. “Someone's after me,” I stammered. “Please, where's your back door?”
The poor druggist looked as frightened as he might have looked if someone were holding him up. I suppose he was glad that I wasn't asking for his money. He rushed to the back door, frantically undid several bolts and removed an iron bar. Holding on to the bar, he opened the door and peeked out to see if anyone was in the alley. I suppose he thought I might be luring him into an ambush. Satisfied that there was no one there, he opened the door. I bolted through it without thanking him.
I ran through alleys and along deserted streets like a hunted animal. I wanted to run to the university co-op, to my familiar surroundings. But that was no longer my world. I ran to the garage and pounded hysterically on the door. Jose let me in. He and Ted were still working.
“God damn it!” Jose murmured. “Did Tissie already take you there? Or was it Sabina?”
I suddenly felt terribly ashamed. I had betrayed my new hostesses. “Please don't mention this to Sabina or Tissie! Nothing at all happened,” I said. “I got scared and ran away.”
Jose and Ted both laughed. Then Ted said, “Good for you, kid.”
Jose said, “Look, Sabina should have told you this: no one around here expects you to do any work. Ron's girl is our guest, do you understand that?”
I was hurt and humiliated by Jose's statement. I was to be a guest, a permanent visitor. I was an outsider again, only a few hours after my arrival. But I just couldn't make myself do the things that would have made me a part of that community. Those things may have been part of Ron's world but they had not been the part I had sought when I had gone walking and riding with him. I couldn't turn myself into a professional prostitute. Why? Is it really because of what you and Jasna say in your letter? Is it really because my activities in the carton plant spoiled me, turned me into a traitor against my class and taught me to seek my role above my class? I didn't think so that night when I ran back to the garage, and I still don't think so. I didn't think that fay leaving the university I had abandoned the opportunists and rejoined the working class. Nor did I think that it was opportunistic to refuse to engage in Tissie's and Sabina's activity. For you it's so clear and obvious where the opportunism lies. For me it's not nearly as obvious. My activities on the newspaper staff didn't give me money or fame and they didn't secure my future rise in any bureaucratic hierarchy, whereas Sabina's activity would have given me money, probably a car of my own, as well as a certain type of adventure. It's not that I consider Sabina an opportunist. She's always wanted to immerse herself in everything, to try everything out, to live every possible adventure. She never drew any lines, she never established any limits. I always did. Yet even though I was the one who drew the lines, she was ultimately more principled because the lines I drew were arbitrary. I dreaded selling my mind, time and energy yet eventually I did sell these parts of myself; I nevertheless convinced myself that selling my body was worse and I drew the line there because that's where the ruling morality draws it. The activities I had left were the activities I wanted. To me those activities had something to do with what was happening in Magarna; they were the kinds of projects I tried to describe in my novel and in the letters I wrote to all of you. It was for the sake of such projects and such a community that I rejected the world to which Tissie introduced me.
After my experience at the carton plant I was never able to find anything that resembled the kind of project I had sought and when something like it was born with Omissions, I was excluded. What I sought is unfolding around you right now and your letters tell me that everything I stand for is alien to that activity. All right. Maybe that's what I've become and maybe that's what I've always been. But I want you to know that from the bottom of my heart I hope you and your friends are now creating the community I sought in every environment down to the underworld, the community I tried to invent in my novel because I never found it in my life.
- My love to Jasna, Mirna, Yara and you,
|Cartas de Insurgentes|
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