Mediamatic Magazine Vol. 9#1 Arjen Mulder 1 Jan 1998

Hello, I must be going

These are the thoughts and reflections of Arjen Mulder, the successful media theoretician who, mirrored in William Burroughs' work, recognizes himself as a writer.

Not only the Burroughs who, as Paul Bowles once described it, picks up texts from the floor to publish them, almost haphazardly, one after another, but also the Burroughs who, in turn, made an example of Hassan i Sabbah, the Arabian scholar and writer.
Mulder reports on his own artistic development in seven brief fragments, analogously to Hassan i Sabbah's seven circles of reality. Mulder's Werdegang has to be seen against the background of the Amsterdam squatter scene in the 1980s. Those who have read Het Twintigste-Eeuwse Lichaam (The Twentieth Century Body), his book of essays on the body in this century, will have a better understanding of this article. Het Twintigste-Eeuwse Lichaam is compulsory reading matter, not only for lovers of literature, but also for all those who feel the strain of the fin de siècle. In this book, Mulder combines a strictly hierarchical, Darwinian, biochemical model (probably due to his scientific background, being as he is, a biologist) with a frivolous media theory which leads us into the world of the 21st century.


We live our human lives with now and then a few scattered moments which are significant and useful. The difference between an ordinary murderer and a secret agent is the latter's external principal. Someone other than himself grants him his licence to kill. And this applies to everything he does: stealing, listening in, seducing, providing information. Whenever it is part of a project other than your private existence or that of a friend or foe, within the circle of your life you are a servant of the secret. How will we get through the superfluous years, carrying our aging flesh from pillar to post? We will get by in the knowledge that you are my agent, not the porter, gardener, shopkeeper, carpenter, chemist or doctor you appear to be.'' On a two-year tour, the photographer, his European Leica always to hand, takes eighty-three photos which, as he discovers later, have recorded a different reality from that which is real in the small circle, the vehicle of his soul, in which he himself lives. The people and the places he has recorded on these photos, are part of a larger project than simply that of their most individual, and their most isolated, existence: Americans, that is what they are, the Americans. He steps out of his car, into freedom, and, turning around, photographs his wife and two children who are still sitting in the car. To make his life useful now and then, in a few scattered moments, a photographer must become the agent of an order whose instructions he can only carry out with his camera. In the ocean of time, between the decisive moments, he waits and remains alert. Then he strikes. And drives on.


We owe the model of secret agency to Hassan i Sabbah, the Old Man of the Mountain. After various political defeats, he took refuge in the Elburz Mountains, in the fortress of Alamout (the Eagle's Nest). He sent his trainee-Assassins into the world, after a night of smoking black hashish in his Garden as a foretaste of the paradise they would enter into if they lost their lives in the appropriate manner. Love, he did not preach hate, he showed them that love can be realized with the appropriate means. The trainees were given instructions: do not strike until you have received the signal. During the assault, on a caliph, grand vizier or sultan, you should be as visible as possible. A high degree of media consciousness had Hassan i Sabbah, in 1090.

Sometimes it can be over in a few minutes time. In other cases it could take many years. Sometimes nothing happens. That is sad, but there is always useful work to be done. When it does happen, they both know. You cannot fake it. Neither HiS, nor the new initiates could fake it. That is the mystery of it: where and when does the secret agent of the true belief receive his instructions? In the Garden? Is it there - at the moment when he learns how to love - that the initiate also learns whose shadow he will become for the rest of his life, whose death he will bring about? Or is the initiation the event itself, the murder? Is premeditated murder the first step in the hierarchy of truth, which Hassan i Sabbah had established in his mountain fortress and which comprised seven circles? Could you discover the truth and become worthy of this truth, only by killing another man? Was that the price? The possibility that you yourself would also be killed in the event is less powerful. By committing the actual murder they transcend their bodies and physical death. The agent kills his own death. Then follows the immortality which they have already tasted in the Garden. But the truth? We know what was revealed in the seventh circle. Nothing is true, everything is tolerated. That God never existed became clear at the moment of his death. Up until then, he had done reasonably well, he had managed to dominate a planet, to reorganize it. That the truth does not exist is not the most interesting aspect. You cannot fake the ultimate understanding, not even when nothing is true and even faking is permitted. Murder is the second step. Five more will follow before the truth does not need you any more, nor you it. What can possibly not be faked, not for yourself, not for Him? The mission. That is the truth of the first circle. The mission. Your mission. You there. You. Murder - your power over the lives of other people - is the second truth. Step three is yourself dying, in such a way that someone else notices. You die. Then you discover truth number four. The transitional steps up to seven have not been passed down to us, and probably could not have been, so personal are they, so much restricted to you and to no one else. Learning how to love is the first step in the right direction. Murder is the second. Dying the appropriate third. After that, you are immortal, on your way to your individual piece of eternity. Your life has a purpose. Go on living it. That is the logic of being a secret agent.


This is how you become a writer. One day, when you can no longer accept some teacher's routine injustice and make a fuss, you notice that you do not belong, not in their world. A world in which, as you will usually discover within a few hours or perhaps within weeks, all your fellow-students belong, and indeed, also your parents, brothers and sisters, and your neighbours. What are you doing here? What made you get off on this planet? Insularism? isolation? Indeed, it is murder rather than psychology. Others reject you and you in turn reject them, as you watch them in the school playground, in the reading room, in office corridors. Not because you dislike them, but because you are somewhere else. You sit at the window, and gaze outside. You can hear their voices around you, and in your head you hear those other voices. Voices which never seem to stop: a chestnut tree in full leaf begins to rustle and then, as long as you keep staring out of the window, the voices stay silent, inside and around you, and in this absence of words which are not yours and which others use to preserve themselves in you, no matter how lonely and isolated you had thought to make yourself, your mission is conveyed to you in the form of silence. From then on, you know where you are going, even though you are not yet a writer. Your oeuvre may already begin to grow steadily, but it could still take many years before you discover which of the old and new media contained in the language you should use or develop to seize your chance, and even then... One Sunday, you are staring at a road which vaguely reminds you of your childhood. The trees are there, a few more or less, but they are rustling. That is it. There was a bench where one evening, while reading poetry, you understood that this could also happen in your mother tongue, this miracle, not literary but literature. A swallow cut a line over and across the inky blue water; from the warmth of the cattle a bat came out of a hole and flew up into the sky. Silence again. Voicelessness. A human being, who had stepped out of the words. And even though in your book case you have collected the traces of your planet which you found in languages and eras, and even if you have been writing, trying, yourself: this is what these books are about, even if it has never been put on paper, anywhere, or been sung about. Your mission sounds for the second time. From then on you are a writer. You can cut and dye your hair. You can move to another town, resign from your job: social expression of your metamorphosis into something beyond the reach of desire or pretension. Literature is made by those who do not belong to the world, as an explanation to those who do not belong either, but who have not yet discovered what the world is about. It is not a matter of wishing, of being able to, or of doing. Nor a is it question of talent, stamina, support. If so, everyone could be a writer. Where the language falls silent, the mission resounds. When the language dies down once again, the signal sounds. You know what you have to do. You are present in the only universe in which you are able to be present, to which you can admit others, and in which you remain outside, here. Even if, in its turn, this universe of yours goes through, or avoids, a metamorphosis. The mission is not to endure this universe. Nor to enjoy your time here. If what you write only exists in a book, it is not real. Nothing to say. The word is mine.


The theme of the subjective organization. When I returned to the city I knew that this year it would not be necessary to make inquiries, to visit bars, to go and see friends and acquaintances - I still had friends in those days. They would telephone me. I resumed my quasi-studies. It was summer. The park was full of strangers. I spent those long evenings on a bench near the rosarium, either falling into despair or bursting with happiness. This was not me. This was an image of me trying to appear normal. So recognizable that you might not even see it or remember it if you happened to encounter it. This lasted for two or three weeks. It appeared that I had a girlfriend, I spent the night with her once or twice, one evening she came over to show me her new shoes. I sometimes wondered why I had a girlfriend at all, if any day now... and then it happened. Monday, half past seven in the Molly. A meeting, division of tasks, riot planning. A few days later I was sitting on a railway bridge over a motorway, smoking a hefty cigar while I was waiting for the police vans to turn up. We would then set fire to our smoke bombs and fling them down. But it was not to be. A change of plans. I biked to the scene of the disaster. I was too late, the battle had already started. I stood hand-in-hand with the frightened girl from next door whom I had discovered in the crowd of spectators, and watched how the riot police charged the building being evacuated; I got so angry that I left. Behind us, people were being arrested in the street, a spectacular sight. On the way home, my attention was drawn to some policemen lined-up on a street corner. What is happening here? Furniture came crashing down from the second floor into a skip, I was surrounded by crying occupants. No help in sight. Will there be more evacuations today? Somebody came running towards us. De Keyzer, they're going to clear De Keyzer. And that was the sign that, for so many months, we had been waiting for. All the other evacuations had been a diversion. This was it. We ran across the bridge to the building on the Keizersgracht. There, the heroes were already waiting for us. We tore up bricks from the pavement, built barricades. And I knew, tonight I would fight to the death. I walked along the canal, feeling out of place, blank faces, I was looking for my contact person. We were all facing death. I clambered over a heap of building material, grabbed a bike, and tore off to a squat further down the street. Can I use your phone? Hello? It's going to happen here. She answered: Another riot, what fun, will I see you later? Think so, yes. I biked back and climbed back behind the barricades. There was a discussion going on. A group had come to a compromise with the police, no more evacuations, we would remove the barricades ourselves. This group now accused the heroes of trying to lure us into fighting ourselves to pieces. And the heroes could not defend themselves. They had offered us the chance to give our lives. But their organization had failed. The signal had sounded in vain, too early. The mythology had collapsed. From that moment on, and I knew it when I was biking to my girl friend through the dusk, I was no longer an image of normality. This was me. No longer were we in the service of the anti-order, from that moment on we would be squatters, with all the accessories, routines, and daily worries that entailed. No matter how rough things would become later, with all the photos and TV coverage to show for it, there were no more heroes. When you accept that only this world exists, you become social, functional. The truth is that which denies that man is a social creature. I was forced to seek my death elsewhere. I read a lot. I still care.


The perfect secret agent. What does he believe in? What are his motives? The secret agent will never openly admit to his beliefs, and if the occasion arises, he will even flatly deny them, even though he will blindly act upon them when the situation requires it. Everything is allowed, so long as you do not get caught. Even being a double agent, or betraying your principal, your 'organization'. As long as he remains a secret agent, he will be free from the fetters of the law, a heretic in the true sense. An ecumenical Christian for one mission, an unrelenting nihilist, deliriant mystic or vacuous Buddhist for another. Religions, ideologies, they provide the means to use all those who do believe in reality for your own purposes. The secret agent only feels at ease with hypocritical theory, not with cynicism. He can venture into all manner of deep, philosophical or spiritual, waters, without the fear or hope of drowning, because his mission remains clear. He needs a stable meta-standpoint, room to take a step back, to be able to aim, to fire. He never travels without a ticket to the next universe. The secret agent does not hate anyone, he has no opponents. He needs to understand his field of action to be able to strike inconspicuously but effectively. Therefore, he must love everything he encounters - without suppressing the minor irritations and dislikes that make love authentic. People, objects, habits, curious customs, everything can count on his unobtrusive attention, respect, goodwill. Secret agents recognize each other in public areas, as infallibly as junkies can spot each other in the streets. What both categories have in common is their certainty that all others are unreal, that only they exist. The perfect secret agent is his only truth. The truth of his principals can be checked upon by various, independently operating, observers or monitoring machines. These are none of the secret agent's personal business. In order to perform as a medium for the (secret) messages of third parties, he must stay sovereign himself. His private project comprises more than the circle of ideological and military confrontations within which he earns his salary. Only the state of emergency is a safe haven.


Where exactly is nothing true and everything tolerated? I could only think of one place: the future. When it comes to the past, everything is true and nothing is allowed any more, in the sense of being fixed and unchangeable. Only misunderstandings and flagrant lies can be amended by those who are interested in history. The present is the location where those misunderstandings, etc., are born. Nothing is unclear about the future, it cannot be twisted, nothing can be covered up or eliminated. Where nothing is true, nothing is a lie. Where nothing has happened, is happening, everything is tolerated. Peter Lamborn Wilson's theory, that the truth of Hassan i Sabbah's seventh circle - which he calls `Qiyamat' - is that here man is reborn into the present, into presence, can only be a mistake, typical of a twentieth-century dweller who can see no further than his own nose. His claim that Qiyamat means that man is already free, whatever his brain may tell him, and no matter how many times he forgets can also be reduced to a specific circle of misunderstandings: that of the Americans with their penetrating pretension that freedom, and only freedom, is the basis of everything functioning properly, from market to mysticism. The foretaste of paradise, with a hash pipe in the back garden of your self, is not the same as paradise. One factor is missing. Let us not forget that, to be blessed with Hassan i Sabbah's Qiyamat, you have to commit a murder. If you live by the rule thou shall not kill, this truth is not for you. The question is not: who has to be killed, but when, when? So live as if you are prepared at any moment, should the signal come through, to drive a dagger into the heart of a fellow-man. Recognize yourself as a murderer. Recognize the moment when you commit murder. Live as if, at any moment, you could be caught, stoned, drawn and quartered, sawn in pieces, you, the killer of kings, before the eyes of someone else, for example, the person you killed. Recognize it when you die. Then, live as if you were dead already. Death is a form of sleeping, sleeping quietly, waiting for you, awaiting. Alertness. Then, recognize your resurrection. The door swings open. Not to a kind of present, not to a kind of freedom, not to some form of presence. No movement, and no standstill. No being, no becoming. You cross the threshold. Welcome. You are not entitled to anything, not even to the services of a lawyer, not even to life or death. From now on, you are on your own. They have deserted you. You have been fooled. Mercilessly.


The secret agent's way of thinking; by way of an epilogue. I found this quote from Anna Kavan: Only the others, the heroes, know how to give. Out of their great generosity they gave me the truth, paid me the compliment of not lying to me. Not one of them ever told me that life was worth living.

translation OLIVIER & WYLIE