End of the World: Instant Karma by Mark Swartz

from Instant Karma

Saturday 5 November 1994

Guy Fawkes Day, a good starting point for the journal of an anarchist. “A desperate disease requires a dangerous remedy,” Fawkes said.(1)

Robert Cecil, the first Earl of Salisbury, who executed Fawkes and seven others January 30-31, 1606, for conspiring to blow up Parliament, said, “The greater the offences are, the more hydden they lie.”(2) But if an offense, public, private, historic, contemporary, is so great then it can withstand any amount of attention. If a hidden one can stay hidden, then it couldn’t be that great. A man who has cancer in his body undiagnosed throughout his life until a truck runs him over, wasn’t a cancer victim.

Sunday 6 November

Bluefin tuna “carry particles of magnetite in their brains that allow them to navigate using the earth’s magnetic field.”(3) I am sure that other creatures, such as elephants, have evolved analogous navigational tools, magnetic or otherwise. Such apparatus varies widely in human subjects. My own deficiency in this regard leaves me as disabled as a deaf-mute or a hemophiliac—perhaps more so, since it’s ignored by the same medical establishment that funds research into chronic fatigue syndrome and sudden infant death syndrome. I have no faith in syndromes, not excluding the big one.

My biochemical disorientation was a family joke. My parents would tell friends that if I didn’t come back from a restaurant bathroom after a reasonable amount of time, they would know they could find me hovering between the kitchen and the broom closet. Entering a building through one door and exiting through another, I’ve never known which way to turn to get where 1 was going; and since I never think of myself as getting lost until it’s too late to recall where exactly I went wrong, directional instinct betrays me even further, and every landmark easily reverses itself. Once I set out in one direction, no matter how tar along I get, even if everything looks right, I feel unsure of my decision.

The sense of being lost quickly mutates into a self-hatred that has no parallel in any other phase of my existence. The names I call myself, the abuse 1 dish—if 1 weren’t so upset, I’d laugh at myself grunting, “Hurray for the God-damned idiot’. Hray!.”(4) My disorientation increases with complexity of architecture, which is why M. C. Escher is a redundancy for me. Buildings with exits and entrances on different floors stymie me, as do elevators that open in front and back. Urban planners spend seven years in graduate school studying how others have ignored my condition in the past and devising new ways to perplex me in the future. They meet in city hall to dream up highway ramps aiming in contradictory loops, one-ways, and divided highways, and diagonal streets—especially diagonal streets, which require a grasp of eight compass directions at once.

If not for the existence of the Israeli army, made up of Jews who presumably have the same genetic history as I do but zip across unmarked skies and deserts without having to think about it, I would be certain that the condition is racial. (5)

Monday 7 November

Eve Jablom: a thing of beauty and a joy for none.

Tuesday 8 November

Election Day Do anarchists vote? They vote for everybody. And they stand outside polling places wearing Brooks Brothers suits and paper bags with holes cut out for the eyes, distributing leaflets with handwritten copies of poems and quotations by Gertrude Stein, Emma Goldman, and Hugo Ball. Anarchists sing patriotic songs off-key and pay compliments to ladies with hats and children with glandular abnormalities. They spew meaningless statistics and warn voters not to eat the donuts that the polling officials are offering. Upon hearing election results on the radio, anarchists laugh themselves hoarse.

1 Dictionary of National Biography.

2 Quoted in Mark Nicholls, Investigating Gunpowder Plot (Manchester; Manchester University Press, 1991), p. ix.

3 John Seabrook, “Death of a Giant,” Harper’s (June 1994): p. 53.

4 Stephen Dedalus, in Joyce’s Ulysses, ridicules himself with these words when he recalls the days of “reading two pages apiece of seven books every night” (New York: Random House, 1934), p. 41.

5 Jews “aren’t made for geographies but for histories” (Grace Paley, Collected Stories [New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1994]).

Instant Karma is a novel in the form of a diary written by an overzealous reader who daily browses the stacks of the Chicago Public Library in search of connections between obscure volumes, scrupulously footnoting his research, which seems to argue for the conspiracy of terrorism and art. Soon he begins to prepare his magnum opus-blowing up the library that he loves.

Alternating between sweeping pronouncements on art and society, and self-mocking accounts of the day’s humiliations, the diarist distills a sizable card catalogue of disparate books to fuel the destructive madness in his heart.

Mark Swartz is a writer from Chicago now living in Brooklyn. He works for the Museum of Modern Art as a copywriter and editor.

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