What became of them, the Essex Postgraduates?, W. and I wonder. What, of the would-be thinkers touched by the heavenly fire? Oh, not the ones who found jobs - not the state philosophers and state political theorists, but the other, the wild philosophers and wild political theorists - the thinkers driven out, and who drove themselves out.
What happened to them, those known thereafter only by the stray signals they sent back? What, as they loosened themselves from old bonds, old friendships, and contact with them became intermittent?
Some disappeared completely. Where did they go?, we wonder. Did they change their names? Did they go underground? Did they travel to the four corners of the earth in search of obscurity? Is that what they've found, in the mountains of Yaktusk: obscurity? Did they manage to disappear in the ice deserts of Antarctica? Did they lose themselves in the rebuilt Shanghai or in the Favelas of Rio de Janerio? Did they hole up in the Aleutian islands to write a magnum opus?
Did they wander like Japanese poets through the stone forests of Yunnan, leaving traces of their passage with fragments of as yet unwritten philosophical masterpieces? Did they take to the steppes to think and write in secret, getting ready for their magnificent return? Did their heads seem to explode as they lay beneath shooting stars on Goa beaches bombed out on ketamine? Did the pain seem to radiate out of them like light as they volunteered to be crucified in Pampanga?
Some devoted themselves to politics, we're sure of that, to militancy, joining the Zapististas, signing up with the Naxalites. Some joined the last of Maoists in Nepal, others to fight alongside Hamas in Palestine. Still others became partisans, became insurgents, became warriors of the scrubland, sleepers on the plains, ever on the move, ever watchful. Some deserted to head further into the wilderness, further into obscurity. Some were known only as missing persons, their relatives searching for them in third world jungles, their friends leaving tributes on Facebook pages.
Some became ill, mentally ill, we're sure of that. They wanted derangement, to derange themselves. They wanted insanity, seeking it by every means: by drugs, to be sure, but also by almost ascetic rigour. We must become what we are, they said to themselves. Each one of us is his own illness, they said to themselves. And so they sought to intensify their illness, to drive it deeper, and then to enter wholly into it as into a secret fissure.
Some sought solitude, silence, wanting not to express themselves, but to have nothing to say. Some gave up thought for art, for anti-art, making sculptures in the wild, sculptures out of the wilderness, for no one to see. Some wrote great poems, then burned them, watching the pages crispen and catch fire. Some wrote great philosophical treatises and threw the pages into the wind.
Some sought to lay waste their lives, to throw them away. Some sought to sacrifice themselves to nothing in particular, wanting only to squander what had been given to them. Some drank themselves into oblivion. Some smoked themselves into vacancy. Some bombed out of their brains on hallucigens.
Some wanted to become just like anyone else; no: more like anyone else than anyone, as anonymous as possible, as buried in ordinary life as possible, taking the most mundane of jobs, leading the most mundane of lives.
Some, in our minds, sought to think without thinking, to write without writing. What matters is to live this 'without', they said, very mysteriously. What matters is to live outside thought, outside writing, they said, and we had no idea what they meant.
Some gave in to bouts of despair, throwing themselves into rivers and oceans. Some gassed themselves in bedsits, some launched themselves through open sixth floor windows. Some reddened the snow with chunks of bloody brain and skull. Some broke their kunckles punching walls. Some pissed themselves in gutters, and shat themselves in holding cells. Some cut open their bellies and let their guts spill out.
Some took upon themselves all the miseries of the world; some believed themselves responsible for them all, the miseries of the world. Some cut their throats because of that responsibility for those miseries. Some drove sword blades into their chest because of what they hadn't done to prevent those miseries.
Some sought to side with the proletariat, earning no more than the proletariat, gleaning fruit and vegetables from market stalls, clothes discarded in warehouse bins. Some sought to live alongside the proletariat, and the lumpenproletariat, the thieves and vagabonds. Some lived among the subproletariat, the homeless, refugees who had escaped deportation.
Some half-drank themselves to death to live with the alcoholics. Some destroyed the bridge of their nose sniffing solvents, sniffing turps, to live among the solvent-sniffers and the turps-sniffers.
Some became recluses, shutting themselves up inside; some took hikkikomori, living with their parents but not seeing them, living on food left outside their door. Some took holy vows and disappeared into monasteries. Some became self-flagellants and self-scourgers. Some joined cults; some started them. Some preached on the street about the end of the world. Some tried to bring about the end of the world, to bring the end closer.
Some sold themselves as mercenaries, some as prostitutes. Some joined the FBI, others the Israeli army. Some sided with the rats and the cockroaches, and dreamt of being eaten alive by rats and cockroaches. Some wanted to be devoured from the inside out, and longed for biting termites to crawl into their nostrils, to crawl into their ears. Some came to side with viral life, with bacteria and protozoa and dreamt of a world without humans, without vertebrates, without any kind of higher life.
Some, tormented by thought, and the demands of thought, sought to destroy their very capacity to think. Some sought to slice off their own thinking heads, some placed a bit to their skull and began to drill. Some drove pencils through their nostrils into their brain. Some shot themselves through one eye, and then another. Some asked - begged - for lobotomy. Some for their brains to be scooped out of their skull. Some to be left perpetually asleep, aging quietly. Some to be forced into an induced coma; some to be battered into a state of imbecility.
And did some of them know joys, too? Did some discover what it meant to live?