Monday, May 11, 2009

Repetition Roulette

It started as a memo, just another anonymous sheet of white shuffled haphazardly across the political palms. No one foresaw its catalytic potential. Neither were there fleeting images of turmoil, nor discoloured memories of a dreamt controversy, for precognition lived elsewhere. The social reconfiguration born from its words remained entirely unknown. Eventually ignorance began to fade, unstoppable sentences of import coming to the fore. A new mentality infiltrated the present; now the memo cut gazes in two, spitefully begrudging a past rife with insolence. It was hailed as genius, the work of a visionary mind. In less than a fortnight, it was elevated from valueless office debris to the blueprint for a grand plan, schema for an unavoidable step towards utopia.

The obstacles were many. Six months passed, during which time vigorous preparatory steps were untaken, sleepless nights were washed away by the headache of practicalities, orders from above lashed tender heads, fragile pates whipped upon with tyrannous demands, speedy implementation the omnipresent priority.

Yet, dissent remained visible. Some saw an infringement of their rights, an evil divestment of their civic worth orchestrated on a massive scale. Others were puzzled at the government’s lack of justification, merely requesting elaboration. Bellowed remarks could be heard all around London, usually shouted by beards denouncing a dismantling of freedoms, inveighing against what they saw as surrender to the clutches of automatism. Questions wafted skyward from all quarters. Uneasy faces stared inert at their copies of the Metro, eyes becoming more and more indifferent to the ubiquitous silence. The concept of asking assumed new heights of nonsense as the torrent of questions failed to cease. After a while, Whitehall said No more. A gigantic billboard was constructed, erected high on granite arches, piercing the blotched-grey sky, on which were printed the words ‘No Questions’.

One still saw the querulous faces on the Jubilee Line – frenzied minds figuring out the best words for their queries. Sore disappointment was the sole offering upon their arrival.

Then the day came. Eager ministers watched as theory morphed into practice, as the epic outcome of six months’ arduous planning and preparation assumed a form. Unmarked vans arrived at the libraries almost in unison, a stuttering of ignitions the signal of their presence. The men, attired in civil service garb, dragged the large discs from the back of the vans, lifting them into the buildings. Inside the libraries they were positioned in central spaces. The discs, about six feet in diameter, were large wheels amounted on steel spindles, able to be rotated with ease. Markings segmented the circles, dividing them into different colours. Straps hung loose on the face of each disc, stuck on at places within the perimeter.

Queues formed almost immediately, their conformity enforced by the threatened viciousness of the law. The injunction to submit met with little resistance. And so the first person was strapped to the wheel, set in motion, hastily allocated the specifics of their day, and then turned away, the next in line ambling forward – thus heralding the new society of repetition.

The problem – a conspicuous wound in the fabric of society, the deepest of structural faults – was given great emphasis in the original memo. It diagnosed a world of too much variation; it described an existence replete with too many options. Choice and decision were identified as actions of iniquity. Baleful standards of societal thrust had taken control, giving rise to a multitude of outcomes, an endless revolt against banality, individual ends perpetually diversifying. A menace was hoisted into view, said to be the bane of society, and the government agreed: variety was to be no more.

Fragments of ideas were embedded in the text – unformed gestures toward a solution. But a feasible answer remained to be devised. Government employees set off on long journeys of meditative struggle, delving into chasms of difficult debate, immersed in frenetic brainstorming orgies and interdepartmental back-and-forth. Chins were worn down in fits of scratching; divorce numbers rose. At last a solution was assembled: men and women would have their day decided by the turn of a giant roulette wheel.

Naturally making people do only one single thing all the time would be cruel. Variation may indeed be immorality by another name, but to purge the earth of it entirely, that would be futile and stupid. As a consequence, the wheel was built to retain the chance of leisure, the possibility of a time free from the rank of employee. But that time would be closely regulated, and limited, by government decree.

Buildings of civic importance would be needed to store the wheels. Schools were considered too rowdy; hospitals too busy. Libraries were chosen, their recurring community presence and peaceful ambience supplying all the necessary reasons. One minister also saw a great poetic appropriateness to the choice of libraries. Shelves upon shelves, rows upon rows, books filling every corner – libraries are exemplars of repetition. Pages aligned in series, the same words written, the same conclusions reached, a cycle whose tail never enters the light. Subjects that secrete the same, an endless parade of the already touched upon. Three hundred books about Flaubert, ninety shelves on Antiquity, twelve paperbacks about a scene that was cut from The Shining. On and on, a tunnel of zero finish. Such was the opinion of one uninformed minister.

Every adult in the country was assigned a local library, a place to report to at the stroke of daybreak. Each morning the queues would start, quickly extending in length, sprawling forth like tentacles composed of tired faces, penetrating car parks and playgrounds alike. Awaiting their turn, those towards the front of the queue would see others spun on the wheel, spun into a proletarian routine. Another man to work, another woman to work, shades of the alternative rarely seen. Spinning would continue, edging ever closer to noontide, each revolution the father of the next.

It was some minor minister, perhaps he who rambled nonsensically over the state of libraries, who had the smart idea of strapping citizens to the wheel. Make it interactive, make them think they can influence the outcome, give it the ring of destiny, the frivolity of fate – as he argued. But mostly it just made people nauseous.