I recall trembling with excitement that first day last February, as I ran down the icy sidewalk toward the General Secretary’s apartments. It’s hard to believe, this sudden turn of events. There I was, a few months ago, the author of a single monograph on the sources of Klopp’s doctoral dissertation on the concept of inertia. And now, here I am, the homeland's most renowned expert on Kloppism-Noginism, called by the GenSek himself to serve as his loyal tutor! After he was humiliated at the Security Council meeting when the ambassador from the United Provinces of C**** dropped that unscripted question about Klopp’s debt to Epicurus, the GenSek's councillors decided it was time for a crash-course in Kloppist-Noginist philosophy. As if that had anything to do with revolution and state-building!
You have to understand, the GenSek is a fine Kloppist-Noginist, but books just aren’t his forté: he was too busy making revolution back when others were preparing for their exams. His first exposure to Klopp was in prison, where he wound up in the aftermath of some low-level, hunger-driven chicken thievery. He never got his Klopp from a leather-bound volume in the collected works at the Philosophy Faculty. No, that was a luxury reserved to me, and others of my class. The GenSek got it from poverty, from life, from the dank prison air. Now it’s time for me to give him what I can from my world, so that I may thrive in his world. Because it is his world now.
At our first lesson we talked about Epicurus, and atoms: not the kind you can harness, so the scientists now say, to make apocalyptic weapons, but the kind that exist only as concepts, the kind that must be posited, some thought, so I tell the GenSek, in order to avoid logical pitfalls, such as, that bodies having dimension could be composed out of constituents lacking dimension. The GenSek interrupted, said that whatever only exists as a concept doesn’t exist at all, and so there’s no use talking about it. He said this with an intentional exaggeration of that folksy South-Eastern accent of his, and I couldn’t help find it endearing, even as it caused me to worry that he was really not catching on to the spirit of our lessons. I will have to try, I thought, to make it more relevant to the GenSek’s life and concerns.
At our next meeting the following week I told him to review Klopp’s 1857 manifesto, and to learn by heart the basic principles of Kloppist diacritics: that the basis of reality is body, which contains the principles of life and change; that the survival of the self does not depend on memory, and therefore each self is immortal simply in the constant permutations of body; and so on. There are four principles in all, the ‘Core Four’ we’re all supposed to know by heart, these days, by the end of primary school. What ten-year-old does not dream of being selected to recite the Core Four, green bandanna around his little neck, before a committee of local party functionaries, to display his perfect diction and to be crowned by a fully costumed Madame Elektrika, if he is lucky, with a wreath of yew leaves? The GenSek never went to primary school, and even if he had gone, that was before the revolution, and he would have heard nothing but stale old doctrine about the finiteness of the soul, the singular importance of what happens over the course of our mortal life, and the ultimate ground of all reality not in body, nor yet in matter or in spirit, but rather in various combinations of light and water. Reactionaries!
When we next meet he is beaming with self-contentment. He tells me he has mastered the Core Four. “See,” he says in an uncharacteristically playful tone, “it’s never too late to learn.” He recites them to me a couple of times, One through Four, and then announces that this will be enough as a lesson for today. I had intended to introduce some new material on Chesterville’s three laws of inertia, but the GenSek is in charge, of course. He asks me about my childhood. I tell him the truth. My political record is solid and I’ve got nothing to hide. I tell him all about my French nanny and my disciplinary problems when Mum sent me away to boarding school at Le Rosey: it was, I explain, my delinquency in that staid environment that helped me to convince the nomination commission at the university of M**** that, in spite of my privileged background and my bookish habits, I had my share of revolutionary spirit too. The GenSek was silent, reflective, and so I kept on talking. I told him of how I eventually earned my degree in philosophy in the provincial University of G**** way out east of the Y**** Mountains where it’s always frozen. I told him my first intellectual love was the work of Rabelais, in which I admired the unabashed celebration of freedom and excess, but that I matured quickly when I took my first course on diacritics under the renowned Academician Korff. The GenSek had never heard of Academician Korff. Enough for today, he said.
When I next see him I come prepared with an elaborate lesson on Nogin’s 1907 ‘Letter from the Corn Exchange’, but the GenSek has other ideas. “I will give a speech on philosophy,” he announces. “It will be a grand speech, with electronic amplification, and it will be recorded on the best spools. I will speak of the Core Four, and inertia, and atoms. All the men of the Academy will be in attendance, especially this Korff.” Korff died some years ago, I tell him. “Well then whoever replaced him,” the GenSek continues, “and it will be made known that philosophy is a great priority in the construction of our Kloppist-Noginist society, and there will be much applause.”
The lessons continue, officially. Once a week I go the GenSek’s apartments to tutor him in philosophy. But most often I just sit there drinking strong black tea straight from the saucer as he paces back and forth, regaling me with disjointed stories about the revolution, or about the growth of industry in the next five years, all peppered here and there with allusions to atoms, or Chesterville’s three laws, or Klopp’s four principles. One grey afternoon as I was sitting in the GenSek’s favourite divan, dipping a beignet in clotted cream, he paced back and forth and blurted out to me, suddenly: “You know I’ve done away with Korg, don’t you?” ‘Done away’, Mister Secretary? I squeaked. “That’s right. I disassembled the atoms that once constituted that grovelling traitor.”
I can’t complain, I tell myself. I’m still alive.
He really surprises me sometimes. Just this last week he interrupted some tale of derring-do, how he and his comrades dynamited the railroad tracks outside of T**** or some such thing, in order to tell me of his plan to establish, at the end of his upcoming speech, a ‘philosophy medal’, to be handed out annually by the GenSek himself, in honor of philosophical contributions to the glory of our great revolutionary Kloppist-Noginist homeland. And do you know who is going to be the first recipient of said medal? You guessed right.
But there’s still more work to be done, if this is not to be a total wash. For one thing, I must see to it that the audience knows when to applaud, and more importantly when to stop applauding. It would be a disaster if the academicians failed to detect a profound philosophical observation the GenSek had just made, especially if this is an observation he associates with the lessons he has had from me. I would therefore like very much to rehearse with him, but he is intent on lecturing me, now, about the boons of automated sheep-shearing.
I place a sugarcube between my front teeth and allow the black tea to filter right through it. I really should try to get through to him somehow. There is much more than my philosophy medal on the line. I crunch the cube between my teeth and I replace it with a new one.
Things could be worse, and they may get worse soon. But I’ve made it this far. I’m being fed sugarcubes by the Basilisk (as he’s called in the streets). Hah! ‘The philosopher is an ass’, as that example from my logic textbook had it, so long ago. But what can I do? There is so much that is beyond my power.