A character in Alain Robbe-Grillet’s beautiful short novel Djinn who may or may not be sometimes the author or Simon Lecoeur or nobody at all come to that from time to time, has perhaps been enrolled, or enrolled himself, in some kind of Kafkaesque non-situation only half-explained because of the need for the utmost secrecy.
On page 68, after things have unwound a bit (only to wind up again) he, she, or it finds itself blindfolded in a room where they might have been before. or not, as the case may be, listening to a peculiar disembodiment.
The faceless voice is in the process of explaining to us our roles and our future functions. But she does not divulge them entirely – she gives us only their broad outlines. She elaborates more on the goals to be pursued than on the methods: it is because of a concern for efficiency that she prefers, she says again, to divulge to us, for the moment, only that which is strictly necessary.
I have not followed well, as I said, the beginning of her exposé. But it seems to me however that I have grasped the essentials: what I am now hearing allows me in any case to assume that I did, for I can find in it no major obscurities (except those intentionally worked in there by the speaker).
We have then, she informs us, been enlisted, the others and I, in an international movement of struggle against machinism. The classified ad that led me (after a brief exchange of letters with a post-office box) to meet Djinn in the abandoned workshop, had already led me to assume it as much. But I had not fully fathomed the consequences of the slogan being used:
For a life more free and rid of the imperialism of machines…
In fact, the organization’s ideology is rather simple, simplistic even, or so it seems: “The time has come to free ourselves from machines, for they, and nothing else, oppress us. Men believe that machines work for them. While, on the contrary, they henceforth work for machines. More.and more, machines command us, and we obey them… Machinism, above all, is responsible for the division of work into tiny fragments devoid of all meaning. The automated tool demands the performance from each worker of a single gesture, he must repeat from morning to night, all his life long. Fragmentation is evident then in manual work. But it is also becoming the rule in any other branch of human activity. This is, in all cases, the long-term product of our work (manufactured goods, service, or intellectual study) escapes us entirely. The worker never knows either the form of the whole, or its ultimate use, except in a theoretical and purely abstract way. No responsibility accrues to him, no pride, can he reap from it. He is nothing but an infinitesimally small link in the immense chain of production, bringing only a modification of detail to a spare part, to an isolated cog, that has no significance in itself.
“No one, in any domain, any longer produces anything complete. And man’s conscience and awareness have been shattered. But mark my word: it is our alienation by the machine that has brought forth capitalism and Soviet bureaucracy, and not the contrary. It is the atomization of the entire universe that has begotten the atomic bomb.
“Yet, at the beginning of this century, the ruling class, the only one to be spared, still kept decision-making power. Henceforth, the machine that thinks – that is to say, the computer – has taken these away as well. We are no longer anything more than slaves, working toward our own destruction, in the service – and for the greater glory – of the Almighty God of the Mechanical.”
On the subject of the means for raising the consciousness of the masses, Djinn is more discreet and less explicit. She speaks of ‘peaceful terrorism’ and ‘dramatic’ actions staged by us in the midst of the crowd,, in the subway, in city squares, in offices and in factories…
And yet, something disturbs me about these fine words: it is the fate meant for us, we, the agents of the program’s execution: our role is in total contradiction to the goals that it proposes. Up to now, at least, this program has hardly been applied to us. We, on the contrary, have been manipulated, without any regard for our free will. And now still, it has been admitted that only partial knowledge of the whole is permitted us. They want to raise our consciousness, but they start out by preventing us from seeing. Finally, to top it all off, it’s a machine that talks to us, persuading us, directing us…
Once again, I am filled with mistrust. I sense some unknown, obscure danger floating over this trumped-up meeting. This roomful of phony blind men is a trap, in which I have allowed myself to be caught. Through the narrow slit, which I have carefully maintained under the right edge of my cumbersome glasses, I glance at my closest neighbor, a tall blond guy who wears a white leather windbreaker, rather chic, open over a bright blue pullover…
One chimes wholeheartedly with the philosophical drift of this sufficiently to be appalled when it’s pointed out that it’s a machine addressing blind machines.
And so we are wrapped in once again to the misty topography of no place at all or every place under the sun.
It happens rather often this way, that we believe in things that are quite false: it is enough that some fragment of a memory, come from elsewhere, enters into some coherent pattern open to it, or else that we unconsciously fuse two disparate halves, or still that we reverse the order of the elements in some causal system, to fashion in our minds chimerical objects, having, for us all the appearances of reality…
And we feel rather deliciously as though everything in being so close begins to drift away from our grasp.
She had a slight foreign accent, British perhaps, unless these were the melodious tones of sirens and fairies. Her smile had become imperceptibly more pronounced with these words: it seemed she was speaking from elsewhere, from very far away in time, that she was standing in a sort of future world, in the midst of which everything would already have been accomplished…
streets beyond this
a claw in a window box