‘Labour is external to the worker, i.e. it does not belong to his essential being; that in his work, therefore, he does not affirm himself but denies himself, does not feel content but unhappy, does not develop freely his physical and mental energy but mortifies his body and ruins his mind. The worker therefore only feels himself outside his work, and in his work feels outside himself. He is at home when he is not working, and when he is working he is not at home. His labour is therefore not voluntary but coerced; it is forced labour. It is therefore not the satisfaction of a need; it is merely a means to satisfy needs external to it. Its alien character emerges clearly in the fact that as soon as no physical or other compulsion exists, labour is shunned like the plague. External labour, labour in which man alienates himself, is a labour of self-sacrifice, of mortification.’— Karl Marx, The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844
Observing the Progress of Time
Maximilian Sacheverell Hollingsworth wondered if he could dictate the entire course of his life on a single day. After some deliberation, a process lasting the length of a Wednesday morning, he concluded that it was possible. Suddenly, with no prior warning, it seemed to him a matter of some urgency to plan all of the details of his adulthood whilst he was still a young man. Brimming with optimism, he hoped that it was simply necessary to decide what he most wanted to do and in which order. Immediately he set to work upon the drafting of a plan.
At noon he sat inside a public house in Bloomsbury. This was a place populated only by solitary male drinkers, isolated men wearing ruffled coats and smoking pipes emitting circles of smoke that hovered and drifted in an unfurling cloud above their heads. Grey sunlight dissolved into the dingy huddles of shadows thrown from the battered furnishings. In studied silence the barmaid washed empty glasses and placed them in long neat rows along the dark mahogany shelves. Maximilian sat at the left end of the bar, beside the thick length of rope that dangled from the mouth of the silent brass bell, drinking a succession of pints of bitter ale, his gaze directed out towards the street in the hope of discovering fresh inspirations. With the progress of his imbibing he felt the slowness of the afternoon unwinding down the length of his spine.
No matter that his plan had to exclude innumerable torments and banalities, that it could not possibly survive for years on end without mutations and excisions, that in many of its details it was probably lacking in all realism, all that was significant was the fact of forming a definitive set of strategies, a declaration of intention based upon his genuine desires, distillations of urges that he had possessed since he was a child. In all the foolishness and idealism of youth, he forged a series of eternal vows.
Disappearing from everyone without leaving a single clue to his whereabouts, he would dedicate himself to the completion of many different projects, living out a life crowded with impossible undertakings and miraculous pursuits, although this would be a fact that no one would be privy to until after the occasion of his death. He would investigate arcane branches of knowledge, leave an infinite trail of footsteps across neglected streets and alleyways, consecrate secret temples to the gods of wisdom and delirium, become an unseen philanthropist to thousands of different people.
Ordinary ambitions did not interest him. He possessed no desire to excel within a regular field, to build any sort of successful career. Instead he would perform acts of a kind that had barely been encountered before, challenging the boundaries of what it was possible to do within the span of a lifetime. His projects would mostly exist within the realms of artistic production, but would refuse to obey the terms of any artistic establishment or school. Fashioning his work entirely in the forms that happened to interest him, he would be primarily concerned with encountering types of primal experience rather than with perfecting formal aesthetic statements. All would be done in secret and no one else would be permitted to see his work until he had died. Only then would he reveal the extent of his labours to those who were prepared to listen.
Having broken all contact with his family and their aristocratic background, Maximilian had found himself working for forty hours each week inside a printing works in Dagenham. His time there was dominated by a series of awful mindless repetitions, cycles of tedium that had almost succeeded in destroying him. Already he had been there for nearly two years and he was finding it difficult to see quite how he would escape. Entering the workplace each morning felt like being repeatedly punched in the face. Headaches would soon settle in for the duration of the day. Exhaustion clung to his limbs, became engrained, a part of the mechanics of his body motions. To shake off this situation would take a genuinely colossal effort, yet somehow he still dared hope that his circumstances might change entirely.
The little education that he had received was due to his own extensive appetite for the reading of books. His attempts to build an intellect within the confines of his room became the great hidden secret which he shielded from his work colleagues. Passing his days at the printing works largely in silence, on the few occasions he was required to speak he would imitate a working class accent with whichever monosyllables seemed necessary. He became a cipher to his colleagues, and no one had any idea that when he returned home he was engaged in the furious processes of study. Towers of books, perennially in danger of collapsing, reached up towards his ceiling. Every night he would read for hours on end, often until he could no longer adequately focus his eyes upon the words which lay before him.
On that fateful Wednesday in Bloomsbury, time he had stolen for himself by feigning sickness, all of his energies were poured into the completion of his plan. In the space of three hours he weighed up the relative importance of each of his ambitions, estimating how long he would need to devote to them. He then placed them into a timetable that ran to exactly fifty years, with each individual year taken fully into account. Some of the plans were grand schemes that would take up very large stretches of time, whilst others were minor, insignificant actions that might be performed within the space of a few minutes. As soon as the words had been declared upon the page, rendered elegantly in black ink with his fountain pen, it seemed inevitable that they spoke of the truth and would one day come into full existence. Even before he had finished writing them the plans began to possess a definitive hold on him, a mysterious authority that few other forces could lay claim to.
He imagined the span of his entire life. How would it feel to wake up each year and discover that he was older? To observe his features in the mirror and watch time slowly gnawing away at them? Recently, as a consequence of thoughts like these, he had found himself obsessed with the details of the present day, its conventions of form, observable in the contemporary appearance of newspapers and advertisements and bus tickets. How long would it take for fashions to change? Which course would they take? Would he notice when they did?
In one sense the idea of discovering the details of the future caused him great excitement. Every year ahead would possess its own peculiar character, both for him individually, as well as on a much wider scale. He hoped that he would prove to be capable of noticing differences as time moved onwards. A part of him was frightened of remaining fixed to his current mental co-ordinates, of never growing outwards with the shifts of history that everyone else accepted. He was determined to never fall into any sort of complacency.
Looking up from the pages of his notebook, he fully registered the details of his surroundings for the first time in more than an hour. Many of the old men were still present, emptying their glasses of drink as slowly as they could manage. Despondently, the barmaid leafed through a newspaper. Maximilian smiled to himself. Whilst the world remained locked in perpetual stasis, he had shifted the course of his life in a permanent way. His plan was completed. Soon the bar would be closed for the duration of the afternoon.
Emerging back out on to the street, he came upon a burst of pigeons breaking into flight. Strolling across Bedford Square he spied into the well-polished windows, encountering scenes in which men wearing suits presided, framed within black brickwork and cream-white arches, they were figures moving with the authority of learning and money, enclosed by definitive partitions of black railings, their offices looking out on to a giant oval-shaped park that could only be entered by key holders.
Visitors spilt out from the great doors of the British Museum, thronging the courtyard with footsteps and murmuring voices, before walking away down Great Russell Street towards many separate destinies. A few streets away the beacon of Senate House appeared to him, the bulk of its body rising towards the skies with malevolent grandeur. Wandering amongst the university buildings, he gazed upon the rooms in which he imagined extraordinary conversations taking place, occasions which could leave an indelible imprint upon those who had been present there. Sensing the scale of the mass of rooms surrounding him, he considered the silences of the libraries, the academic offices holding bookcases and dishevelled piles of papers, the scientific laboratories and hospital wards and the residencies of eminent families. He wanted to be a part of this manic activity.
Nearby, a pullulating cloud of wood smoke emerged from the back garden of a house, drifting over the brick walls, winding itself into the grey air hanging over the stretches of lawns and pavements, seeping into Maximilian’s nostrils, a scent which was destined to stay with him for the duration of his days.
A Short Essay Written by the Protagonist
1. The conditions are now in place for Capitalism to flourish once more. Inevitably it will do so, escalating further and further, until we finally face collapse.
2. The task now for anyone with any sensitivity and intellect should be to oppose this state of affairs in any way that they can.
3. The consequence of a society that places money at the centre of itself is that forms of mental and physical slavery come to dominate human life.
4. Certain forms of expenditure are undoubtedly for the public good. Nevertheless, all that is moral in such cases is the intention that lies behind a given act of spending and the performance of that act. Sums of money cannot become moral in and of themselves.
5. Finally money is impossible to define. It appears in such a vast range of contexts, being utilised for so many different reasons, that any objective explanation of its ultimate character becomes elusive to those who seek it.
6. The vast majority of ways in which money circulates have enormously destructive consequences. Human relationships inevitably suffer as a result, becoming insipid, superficial, mechanical reductions of what is possible. Tenderness is rarely achieved on the scale it could be because individuals are trapped within the structures of employment. In the current system most human beings have little knowledge of the full spectrum of the emotional and intellectual vocabulary which the species is capable of achieving.
7. Paradoxically, the only way for anyone to overcome the punishing effects of a world dominated by money is for them to acquire a large amount of money for themselves. Otherwise different forms of poverty and slavery will ensue.
8. Money, considered from one perspective, can be seen as an enormous collection of numbers, somewhat arbitrarily selected by fate.
9. The usual ways in which money circulates are routinely accepted by society as the normal state of affairs. In such an absence of reason certain acts usually condemned as immoral can potentially become moral if performed for the right reasons. Certain forms of larceny and fraud fall into this category.
10. Any free-thinking individual must do everything within their power to escape the obscene working conditions that prevail in the free-market system. Such behaviour is equivalent to fleeing your nation once it has descended into war.
11. Certain acts of labour are necessary and society must acknowledge those who perform them. But it is not clear that money is the best way in which to do this.
12. When money becomes the sole objective of any action a certain degree of idiocy will always arise.
13. Money takes on one of its worst characters when it enters the realms of mass production. In that context it poisons all that it touches.
14. Every advertisement could be replaced with a work of art.
15. The state requires that an individual be in possession of a certain amount of the money that it has created and controlled the distribution of. The only moral argument for such an arrangement is that this proves an individual has contributed a certain amount of labour to society. However, there are no limits placed upon those who have obtained their money in a legal way without performing any acts of labour at all.
16. If Members of Parliament wish to order millions of people to ‘participate in the national economy’ then it is surely only fair that they should themselves contribute a certain number of hours of labour to the ‘necessary’ factories, offices and kitchens that they have forced into existence.
17. There is no good reason for governments to not introduce the concept of a ‘maximum wage’ into law, with the parallel dictum of a ‘minimum wage’ existing at a level not far underneath. This would, obviously, create societies of relative material equality in which both excessive wealth and poverty would rapidly decrease.
18. The horror of menial work as currently practised should not be underestimated. To spend forty hours a week or more engaged in unceasing cycles of mindless repetition, as most human beings do, is a destructive form of existence for anyone to have to endure.
19. In a more just and sane society it would be compulsory to partake in forms of whichever necessary menial work existed, distributing the quotas of such work fairly, whilst simultaneously providing the opportunity for educational and creative pursuits for everyone.
20. Throughout its history money has possessed a close relationship with greed, anxiety, intolerance, selfishness, anger and mistrust. This state of affairs should be worked upon, not simply accepted as a necessary consequence of an economic system that cannot function in any other way.
21. Money is the great patterning and organising force within the world. It creates the forms of the narratives that most of us live within, dictating the ways in which bodies move and speak and think, whilst excluding an infinity of possible subjects and stances. We should attempt to challenge and overthrow these narratives.
I Promise to Pay the Bearer
Entering the printing works in Dagenham each morning was an experience that Maximilian soon found to be loathsome. The proprietor of the business, one Mr. Bradley, was a corpulent white-haired man who was often engaged in the act of wiping sweat away from his forehead with a handkerchief. Most working days would see him sat in his little office, fiddling around with figures in his notebook, or doing as little as he possibly could. Occasionally he would emerge from hiding in order to attend to his workers, frequently shouting abuse at them with a booming, guttural voice which challenged the roar and whir of the machinery that they were all dominated by.
In the evenings Maximilian would shuffle back to his room, his clothes and hands covered with ink, his limbs aching from the day’s boredoms and exertions, his mind exhausted and spent. When in this state he was barely capable of any intellectual activity at all. Slumping on his bed, dejected, he would vacantly stare upwards at the ceiling, following the elaborate maze of cracks which was gradually forming there. He would light a cigarette and attempt to summon energies which would not usually arise.
After spending a couple of months teaching himself how to pick locks, Maximilian began to break into the printing works in the middle of the night. During these occasions he was extremely busy working on a private project: an attempt to learn the art of counterfeiting. He believed that this was his only hope for obtaining any sort of freedom. In all he spent just over a year breaking into the works, strictly between the hours of 2 and 4 a.m. on week day evenings only, hours when he was certain to never encounter anyone, but which were nevertheless wracked with paranoia and adrenaline. Arriving in the building once more, later in the mornings, he would fight through waves of exhaustion, pretending that he was alert and attentive even though this was quite definitely not the case.
Once he felt assured of his abilities as a counterfeiter, he began to produce an enormous quantity of currency which he began to store inside a number of boxes underneath his bed. Once these had accumulated to the extent that he could afford to buy his own printing press and property in which to operate it, he would turn his back on the premises of Mr. Bradley. However, it seemed to take a preternaturally long time for that point to be reached. Many hours of boredom and toil ensued, breaking his spirit quite relentlessly, until it seemed as if each day he lived was spent sleepwalking, and there would never be any end to his ordeal.
It was during this period that Maximilian was to first drift into a state of complete solitude. Wary of his supplies of money being discovered, he no longer allowed anyone to enter his room. Feeling a general contempt for the direction that society was taking, he turned his back on the very few friends that he had, eventually refusing all meetings, until he was entirely alone. After only a few months he could no longer contemplate any other way of living.
Finally, in March 1953, he believed that he had printed enough banknotes to resign from Bradley and Co. That spring Maximilian made many preparations for his future. Visiting a tailor in Marylebone, he bought himself his first suit of any genuine quality. Attired thus he began to scour properties all over the East End, paying particular attention to the factor of privacy. Settling upon a warehouse overlooking Hackney Marshes, he soon installed the equipment which he required and began his lifelong task of printing a relentless stream of illegitimate banknotes.
By paying great attention to every last detail of design, as well as constantly keeping abreast of every change enacted upon U. K. currency, Maximilian produced replicas that were so exact, so perfect in every element of their reproduction, that only the most attentive and experienced of cashiers would notice that the slip of paper being passed between one hand and another was not in fact the authentic work of The Bank of England. Not a single business was ever put into any trouble by his actions. For forty-seven years he was entirely successful in using his notes without the slightest problem arising.
When spending the notes he took many elaborate precautions, not wanting to risk the destruction of the life that he was building for himself. He would always wear a pair of leather gloves when handling the notes. Maintaining an inflated secrecy at all times, he was careful to only wear drab, plain clothes, and to always assume an expression of bland contentment. His manner and appearance were so ordinary that it was almost impossible to remember him afterwards.
As a rule he would never make a purchase in the same shop within the space of ten years. This required an enormous amount of travelling from one part of the city to another, an activity which he pursued doggedly on a regular basis for a number of decades, often passing through the hundreds of forgotten London suburbs, an itinerary which included Wanstead, Ilford, Barking, Bexley, Farnborough, Sidcup, Teddingon, Hayes, Ruislip, Stanmore, Enfield, Wanstead…
He only printed notes of a low denomination because these aroused fewer suspicions. When spent they would generate a great deal of legitimate small change which he would discreetly collect in his briefcase and then take back to the many crates of money that lay in his warehouse at Hackney Marshes. If he wished to make a major purchase he would always draw upon his pile of legitimate notes, most of which found their way over time into one of a number of bank accounts that he kept, each with only relatively small sums inside them.
Maximilian often marvelled at the fact that the majority of people pay very little attention to the money that passes through their hands. In the end it was this fact which ensured that he was never caught over the years. Few people bother to hold a banknote up to the light and actually observe just what it is they are holding. This seemed more and more remarkable to him over time. How could so many people manage to be blind to the forms that these slips of paper took?
Frequently, he found himself admiring the complexity of British banknote designs, particularly those which had arrived after the onset of decimalisation in 1971, an event which had caused him to work extremely hard for a number of months in order to produce new, suitable replicas. Only rarely did anyone consider the fact that on the banknotes created after this date The Queen mysteriously manages to maintain her youth; that when her eyes are stared into they reveal a series of spirals which make her look like a victim of hypnosis; that detailed illustrations of historical figures are depicted with a variety of colours, dots and lines; that the paper is thick and waxy, printed on a special cotton weave that is rarely encountered in any other context in British life; that each banknote has a separate number, a thin strip of silver, a watermark, a shining hologram; that on each side of each banknote a variety of different typefaces are employed- sometimes only for the duration of a single word; that on each banknote is printed the phrase ‘I Promise to Pay the Bearer’—an entirely outdated reference to the origins of paper money…
Maximilian thought about all of this frequently. He came to the conclusion that to even notice these details was an act which begins to challenge the moral authority of the banknote. By thinking in this way an individual moves towards the idea that banknotes could exist in a different form, that they did not have to appear in the world at all. This is not a line of thinking that most people want to pursue for very long. Perhaps because thinking in this way can lead towards confusion and anger, to feelings of alienation from all of the many other people who are willing to accept the role of the banknote within their lives. Maximilian thought that most people were anxious to protect themselves from the pain that can be caused by pursuing the many avenues of convoluted thought which are present in the world. Instead, he felt, most people instinctively taught themselves to ask as few questions as possible, in the hope that this would bring as much lightness and prosperity as they were capable of attaining.
He never had any moral qualms about his behaviour as a counterfeiter. Maximilian thought that it was absolutely necessary to challenge the moral authority of the money system. In his opinion such a system had to be held responsible for many instances of suffering, exclusion, degradation, ignorance, vanity, ugliness, violence and poverty. In his own oblique way, by behaving as a criminal, he felt that he was staging a protest against this state of affairs.
Every time that he spent one of his banknotes he bought a newspaper. Over time he gathered them together on the second floor of his warehouse, arranging them in bundles and rows, carefully labelling the dates and keeping the tabloids separate from the broadsheets. The newspapers provided an index to his life. Sometimes he liked to walk from one end of the collection to the other, beginning in 1952 and ending in 1998. As he progressed, the colour of the paper gradually shifted from brown to yellow to white, with hundreds of barely discernible shades of each colour forming a spectrum of decaying paper. The typefaces, layout and size of the words shifted with the whims of fashion. Photographs gradually took up more space, then became clearer, were eventually printed in colour. Society itself travelled from one era to another and then to another. Entire years and decades raced by in a matter of footsteps. The span of his entire adult life was documented here and the memories that the newspapers provoked were different each time that he ventured up to the second floor.
To enter the newspaper room he had to pass through a narrow trapdoor, his head peeping into the long cone of light thrown from the only window. Wavering atoms of dust would rise in drifting circles, waver softly in the gaseous brown air, settle on to forgotten objects. He spent many hours here alone, idling. Hours when he would trace a finger over surfaces, following patterns and shapes found in the skin of the floors and walls. The smell of ancient paper mingled with the dust and rotting carpets. The room was lit by a single bare light bulb precariously dangling from a thin length of wire. In odd moments of inspiration he had scrawled flurries of words in pencil on to the dirty beige walls. These were sometimes quotations from the news stories he had read, their dates and page numbers written at the bottom and circled. On other occasions he wrote hurried passages and fragments inspired by literary works.
His collection of newspapers became a resource that he would consult with regard to a multitude of purposes. If he wanted to generate ideas, objects or phrases at random he would choose a particular date and then open the relevant newspaper to see what it contained. When, on a given evening, he wished to remember a certain year, he would go upstairs and linger in the attic. He found that it was the incidental details which provoked his interest and most frequently stirred memories. The choice of certain words, a particular font, the cut of a dress, these could all bring back the entire look and feel of a particular year or period, evoking the often unconscious textures and attitudes not always easy to detect at the time.
Never taking any clippings, he found that he preferred the beauty of a complete and untarnished newspaper. He cherished the illusion of being able to open a newspaper ‘as if it were the day itself’. This constituted one of his principal and favourite methods of time travel. When he worked especially hard at it, he was wholly capable of convincing himself that he was actually living in a year from the past. It was simply a case of playing some music recorded in the year, looking over some old photographs and reading the relevant newspaper. And there it was, the year existed once more. If he then spent the rest of the day indoors and busied himself with a task that could conceivably have occurred in 1956, then for all intents and purposes he had successfully transported himself to 1956. Once more he would find himself living through its many pleasures and disappointments.
Surveying the many stacks of paper, Maximilian would often grin with sly contentment. His activities in this particular building had led towards an infinity of other events, stretching far beyond the boundaries of the present moment, reaching into the vast recesses of time. From here he had begun to construct his own invisible world, a place that was teeming with incidents. All that he had known after a certain age had found its origins in this location.
Details of Some Principal Coordinates
Parliament Hill, NW3
On five occasions that summer Maximilian ventured here at night, bringing a deckchair with him, in which he would sit for some hours, gazing down upon the city spread eagled below, forming a series of irreverent Morse code messages with a heavy torch.
17 Bisham Gardens, N6
Where through the front window Maximilian had once seen an enormously obese man, wearing a pink bow tie and white braces, being given a singing lesson by a teacher possessing a stern countenance, who was seemingly fond of jabbing his fingers into the air and making many excited remarks in Italian.
Putney Library, SW15
One of Maximilian’s principal haunts at this time, where he would often peruse through a standard guide to astronomy of the period, a volume which he had not been able to locate in any other venue and which contained particularly beautiful illustrations of comets.
133 Amhurst Road, E8
Location of a public house which Maximilian always entered when following a route that he frequently walked that year (a walk that was planned to every last detail, which was circular in shape, and which he only traversed on Saturday afternoons, the day and time for which it had been expressly intended.)
Brompton Cemetery, SW10
The place in which Maximilian had decided he would most like to be buried. This was due to the cemetery’s centrality, relative modesty and the beauty it offered the visitor when approached at dusk in winter.
314 Grove Green Road, E11
A junk shop possessing window displays that Maximilian was often drawn towards because of their absolute lack of order and decorum, of any sense of composition whatsoever. Certain fascinating objects remained in perpetual window repertory, and of these Maximilian became particularly fixated upon a wooden figurine of a Japanese dancer, dressed in a navy blue kimono, with one foot lifted, frozen in air, and the left hand clutching a pink chrysanthemum.
12 Caversham Road, NW5
Maximilian saw the head of one of the residents of this property briefly emerge from a window, an image perceived through a telescope after an extensive series of rovings through doorways, drainpipes, steeples and chimneys.
The Oval, SE11
Maximilian enjoyed spending the entire day here during cricket matches, being preoccupied with anything other than sport. He would sunbathe, watch the roseate faces of the many gathered spectators, eat packets of nuts, and read novels, but only rarely would he pay any attention to the vicissitudes of the cricketers parading in the foreground. As far as he was concerned their presence was required to provide an ambience which would pervade his other, more pressing activities.
96 South Ealing Road, W5
A tailor’s shop which was home to a mannequin whom Maximilian felt bore a startling facial resemblance to him. He liked to come and visit this individual, almost a perfected version of himself physically speaking, and compare his own sartorial choices and general demeanour with that of his double.
6 Isabella Street, SE1
Final destination of a paper aeroplane bearing a handwritten message whose trajectory commenced within the immediate proximity of an adjacent address, and which, in the event, was encountered by no one other than Maximilian himself, who was engaged in a preliminary attempt at paper aeroplane making and throwing, and was in fact disappointed by the results of his efforts.
16 Blackhorse Lane, E17
Site of a café where Maximilian would occasionally dine, amongst clattering chairs, steam risings, stained mirrors, tables which each held a single occupant. He would gape at the void of his reflection, sitting through many dead idle hours.
8 Ballast Quay, SE10
Approximate source of an extended chain of thoughts arising from the glimpsing of a turtle-shaped ocarina, which Maximilian had seen displayed in the front window of this property.
43 Roman Road, E2
Premises to which Maximilian would travel especially in order to communicate with a pair of blue-throated macaws, creatures with whom he felt he had begun to develop some sense of affinity.
83 Blomfield Road, W2
Address to which Maximilian sent a mysterious chain of correspondence to an unseen recipient bearing the alias of ‘Jonah Plinkerton’, someone who claimed to have once become involved in the manufacturing of fondue sets. After a prolonged dialogue about 18th century fountain design, their letters eventually turned to detailed considerations of the representation of snails throughout the history of painting.
Camberwell Baths, SE5
On the 19th of November that year a phial of green ink was opened in the swimming pool here, transforming the colour of the water, an act performed purely for reasons of aesthetic contemplation. Afterwards, a large compensatory cash donation was sent to the council anonymously, with an accompanying letter apologising and explaining the perpetrator’s actions on that day, but the stances and terminologies employed in the text were one’s which the relevant authorities could not comprehend.