An English Literature Student in the year 2016: a Report to the Institute of Technological Archaeological Science
(by Doctor E17PP153/K from the year 7081, translated from the Haddastanese in Alien Anthropology: A Collection of Sources and Documents by Urja-nx Xvayxz-Kamal, 7192)
The report of Doctor E17PP153/K was written seventy years before the disbanding of the Ledian League, which exacted a yearly tribute from all of its members to be collected at Theans for the service of the Theanians. Doctor E17PP153/K was a distinguished veteran, journalist, virtual systems creator, and academic responsible for uploading documents of ‘Technological Archaeological Science’ into the core systems of students. He was a key intellectual of the Theanian Closed Fist regime and advised senior political members on policy, particularly on the administration and policy matters of the League. There is some evidence that he was one of the chief architects of the Great Purge and of the Reformation Camps. The report itself has had a far-reaching influence, well beyond its initial audience, and is now considered one of the seminal texts of the ‘new’ Alien Anthropology. Despite, or because of the proliferation of readings, the report is at the centre of a number of controversies. The nature and extent of the discipline described as ‘English Literature’ in the year 2016, and of its canon, as well as of the student’s intended project, all remain heavily debated topics.
A note on the translation – The number script of Haddastanese is exceedingly restrained and subtle in its expression of emotion and therefore considered one of the most difficult languages. Here, more than elsewhere, the individual judgement and reading of the translator and her poetic ability has been tested in order to present the report. Readers are advised to consult the numerous other translations in order to compare and contrast the interpretation and the expressions.
Rebuilding the antiquated hard drive was a relatively simple task, but it was almost too simple. The rudimentary technological make-up of it and the confused thinking that had put it together were a far cry from the current sophistication and clarity of our systems. It was remarkably inefficient. To my amazement, it was fully functional. I connected it and there was a veritable treasure trove of what appeared to be documents stored on it, a real ‘word-hoard’. I did some research in the software library and found some systems that could be calibrated with the old files and happily found that the automatic translation could be enabled. The result was singularly unimpressive. It turns out that these were the ramblings of a student of the redundant and obsolete discipline called ‘English Literature’.
These dated documents were astonishing. To think that someone had dedicated a lifetime of study to texts already over a hundred years from their own time which they regarded as crucial to understanding their contemporary life and their future! To think that someone thought that the act of reading could be manipulated to create an entirely new multiverse! Organics were certainly strange creatures.
The obsession of the young student, the type of organic dedicated to the pornographic comic (specimens of which he had amassed into a seemingly never-ending archive), appeared to have been with the historical relationship between the image and the text in literature. Indeed, he (it was a male of the species) simply salivated over the mere mention of the image. I read over his so-called research with disgust and dismay. It was remarkably inefficient. It was, in addition, puerile and relentlessly pedantic and the student suffered from a severe case of monomania. Amidst the ground-breaking technological breakthroughs of his own times, the results of which we all know, he claimed that he was working on a subject of immense importance. He said that the constructions of the text and the image were the very foundations of thinking, that they created the readings and seeings that circulated around them. He saw himself as the architect of the future, the re-shaper of the mind, bringing withheld knowledge to the masses (meanwhile, he was working in a discipline in which only the chosen few with the necessary resources could do anything or think anything and in which the number of people reading anything at all were severely limited). He writes, “My research into the past is not only concerned with the present, but with our tomorrow.”
The student saw works of literature as “textual machines” which gendered, which insisted on racial and class-based divisions and supported the power asymmetries of his times. All he was doing, the student says, was to draw the diagram of these textual machines with textual machines of his own creation, showing their dominations. After all, what more could be expected of the son of an engineer? It is instructive, therefore, to read a certain passage from his diary, where he sheds tears over “the beautiful actions” of one of the characters in the novels and one of the ideals he sees as part of the hegemony. Organics are not suited to objective distance even when they aim to implement it. They are particularistic and prejudiced, clouded by emotion, incapable of higher, rational thought. Hence the existence of the discipline called ‘English Literature’.
A typically grandiose claim would be the following: “I am investigating a constructed, hierarchized opposition which is artfully hidden in Western Victorian culture and made and kept invisible; a structuring which is operant but unrecognised in the period under study and by contemporary scholars.” The student seemed to believe that he was heroically unmasking a grand cultural conspiracy which was perpetuated in the whole of the symbolic dimension. I choose my words carefully. The association with the conspiracy theorist is hardly accidental. The student’s monomania appeared to have been allied with paranoiac imaginings. He was a real mental case (if only that culture had learned how to chemically regulate the hardware of its citizens!) He not only wished, but believed himself to be a real hero of ‘liberation’ and ‘freedom’, a ‘freedom fighter’ in the tradition of the historical figures that had liberated the country of his mother’s birth. The markedly juvenile idealism, the captivity of the ideal, was nauseating. He really believed that not playing by the rules of a culture (rules which he invented himself, rather than discovered) and consciously reading differently to others, creating a method of ‘reading otherwise’ (all the while basing his reading on a particular French theorist), would give him the supposed jewel of ‘freedom’. What ‘freedom’ appears to have meant is starting from scratch.
This student was aiming to put his readers into a situation where symbol and meaning were seen as alien so far as it was possible. He intended to take away the very ground from beneath their feet. He studied the field of meaning and insisted on its meaningless, its otherness to meaning. He was contradiction itself. He read so as to stick out, not to stick in. Instead of recognising the authority of a group which was much greater than himself, instead of moving in the recognised field of truth, he maliciously questioned everything and attempted to upturn everything that his predecessors had built. The student believed that the tradition had been there not to cultivate, but to destroy.
What was particularly striking was that the student thought, in an age in which monetary concerns are paramount, where ‘freedom’ ultimately rests on the financial transaction and how much one can buy, on how much one can anticipate and provide for what the conservative majority want, that ‘real freedom’ lay in thinking ‘differently’. Instead of productively contributing to society, he was taking his inefficient ‘intuition’ and pursuing it at any cost, living off the proceeds of his family and leisurely reading over dated works of fiction at their expense (all the while misconstruing everything that was written within them), producing something that had negligible monetary value. The belligerent inefficiency was simply astonishing.
I thought of this muddled and myopic young student sitting at his desk for the laborious hours of his ‘study’ while pursuing his zealous and self-created and self-imposed mission of ‘freedom’ and ‘liberation’ (in stark contrast, it took me just a few hours to scan all of his documents). What he could not see was that the freedom he was after meant the most abject slavery. Time after time he complains in his diary of being chained to his desk, immobile and inert in front the computer screen, captive to his unruly passion. He complains of the opportunities he is missing, the sacrifices he has to make, the pains in the small of his back, the draining of his mind which leaves anything else undoable. He watches his peers conquer the world while he sits solitary at his desk, penniless and ignored. And he speaks of the insistence of the thoughts which assail him when he is away from his desk, which keep him up in the night. A curious masochist.
I wondered at the audacity of the insignificant creature. Here was a typical student outside of the so-called Russell Group. He had come from a working class background and was, moreover, from an ethnic minority group. Instead of recognizing that his viewpoint was extraneous from the majority, and thus redundant, and curiously meshing the irrelevance of his background with his supposedly ‘objective’ study, he believed that developing and then bestowing his idiosyncratic viewpoint on others was a real blessing! Here was the conceited creature, peacock-like, crowing about his unique status in the world as a hybrid mash of two different cultures, celebrating the so-called ‘distinctive voice’ of the outsider and the non-participant, calling for an end of ego while certainly egotistically adulating his alterity, believing that “the myth of the Western individual had to be abolished” just because that individual didn’t happen to be of his origin! The coxcomb believed that he was involved in “the war of meaning” against “the empire of reason”. He called himself “the scholar in the war”. Yes, all this even though he had certainly never been in a war and had had no military training whatsoever, all this even though he had invented his own fictional war. It was certainly significant that he had involved himself in the discipline called ‘English Literature’ that was slowly dying a death in his own time, the death of the unread. After all, this discipline was the only one that would not only tolerate the insufferable mash of reading, seeing, history, philosophy and criticism that his work involved, with all of its ill-defined ‘openness’, but which also seemed to be a particular refuge for the inflamed brains of self-titled ‘geniuses’ that conceived of themselves as somehow out of the limits and constraints of the system, that wished to build a ‘distinctive voice’ out of the ordinary. The tragedy was that the student could not tell fiction from reality. Everything that he wrote was based on the idea that there was a reality in fiction and fiction in every reality. This remarkably inefficient person with his remarkably inefficient system went to the very home of all that was remarkably inefficient.
What were the motivations of this careless crusader of criticism? To alter the planet. Not by resolving the energy crisis of his time, or the overwhelming problems of overpopulation, global warming, the mass extinction of the species, war and poverty, not by inventing the machines of space exploration that would free the human from the earth, or the artificial machines of consciousness that are the foundation of our own, but by appealing to the race, class and gender politics of the constructions of the image and the text from a time that was not his own. How deluded these politicians are that do not enter the real field of politics! They believe that power lies in the naked and weak form of the word and the image, in history, that ideas can transform reality. They cannot hold onto the slippery substance of power, nor recognise its nature. Instead, they assemble their army of eunuchs in their false wars. It really was insufferable how he pretended to be creating something new while parasitically leaning on the very already-said on which he himself had been built, how he lashed at the culture which put meaning into his life, how he railed at the very history which supported everything around him. In reality, no-one spoke of his little thesis, apart from his research supervisors, nor did anyone care that it was there. The student put me in mind of, not a leech, but rather that kind of parasitic worm that insinuates itself into the mind of another creature, say a wasp, and then slowly kills it. But even this is not enough to convey the impression. What I am perhaps saying is that the creature was a sort of leech that sucks blood but builds around itself a flimsy dream which it is poison to breathe.
Predictably enough, the said student was wholly unsuccessful in the life of his times. He went through it in a markedly inefficient manner. His study suited him for no prestigious or rewarding occupation, prepared him for no political career or real warfare. He spent his time in worthless arguments with the figures of authority, taking up irrelevant and unnoticed causes, wasting his time in attempting to spread a system of reading which no-one wanted. But yet, this small speck in the history of the ill-fated discipline of English Literature believed himself to be a gifted messiah, to have been peculiarly blessed by his erroneous education! He even asked others to immerse themselves in the fruitless and futile task of reading the documents of a time before his own in order to change the present and the tomorrow! All this while, as his diary notes, not even one person in his own family took the time to read anything whatsoever! For a so-called student of literature, he could not recognise the ironies of his ‘history’.
What kind of a person was this organic? He was a weak being of no action and no relevance. I believe he suffered from an inferiority complex which translated itself into a gross superiority one. He was curiously aggressive and angry. He writes that “I hold onto my anger and it is that anger that gives me meaning”’. He was a singularly self-destructive person. He writes that “I read to lose myself in such a way that afterwards I will never regain myself”. A reckless renegade with an imaginary empire of his own.
The worthless documents which I uploaded and scanned were of trifling interest. The discipline of English literature, deservedly so, is now a dead entity. Now, when our virtual reality simulations optimise systems in the most rational and parsimonious manner and update logic and memory circuit combinations in accordance with our consensual and enlightened politics, works of literature stand as reminders of a lost, more barbaric time of darkness. I thought of the virtual simulation where the inputted assembles the parts of other robots in the conveyor belt, our inter-planetary war drones. Our simulations are certainly vastly superior. I merely record my impressions in this log about these old documents as a reminder of inefficiency. In our era, what appears to have been the discipline of English Literature in 2016 is certainly a useful enemy from the past to base our systems of thinking against.