The Strait : Prologue

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(1934 - 1985)
Fredy Perlman (August 20, 1934 – July 26, 1985) was an American author, publisher, professor, and activist. His most popular work, the book Against His-Story, Against Leviathan!, details the rise of state domination with a retelling of history through the Hobbesian metaphor of the Leviathan. Though Perlman detested ideology and claimed that the only "-ist" he would respond to was "cellist," his work as an author and publisher has been influential on modern anarchist thought. (From :


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Early morning’s undone dream pulls me back to its activity, makes waking seem death, gives reality a fearful aura.

"It’s time for your surgery, Mr. Avis,” says Madge May the nurse. I’m here as object for treatment, there’s nothing to fear, nothing supernatural; diagnosis and remedy are determined by procedures accessible to all, and what is each of us but a product at a different stage of processing, transformed by labor into a more finished if not more perfect product ?

Orderlies Gabe Godfroy and Bill Wells prepare the bed on wheels, as Tom Williams the intern notes schedules and circumstances on his pad, while elsewhere the various specialists- bookkeepers, administrators, technicians, surgeons, nurses-are activated by the commander-in-chief, Dr. Cass, like an army, like meshing gears of clockwork, with an efficiency in stark contrast to my malfunctioning, inefficient bodily organs, defying death and disease with Organization and Confidence. Ifs impressive what they can do nowadays.

All I ever feared was failure to sell myself on the labor market, and this fear was dispelled by qualifications acquired in school, experience in teamwork gained in military service, and finally the benefits, good money and insurance earned in industry. My self-assurance grew with my confidence in the solidity of my environment, in its unbounded power to capture unprocessed raw matter (whether rock or tree or bodily organ, or a shy street kid like me, Robert Avis), define it with a fixed concept that holds under all conditions, reduce its inessential qualities to mathematical entities in order at last to transform it by technological processes into a product freed of its primal imperfections and shaped for insertion into the process that produced it.

Alongside my self-assurance grew a secret pride, not of a mere impressed spectator, but of an active participant who had mastered a machine anyone with drive can learn to handle, the pride of a product and agent ofthe machine determining destiny.

Procedural indications following the diagnosis of my abdominal discomfort strengthened my unshaken confidence in the organization that encompasses occupational hazards as part ofthe original intention, removes a diseased colon as easily as birdsnests and trees from the path of a highway, banishes death to the company of dragons in the museum of curios. Someone with drive doesn’t succumb to nature’s caprices.

My heart, weakened by the colon removal, was revived by an electric stimulator, a marketable replacement pump being unavailable as yet.

A clean and efficient mechanical filter is an improvement on the kidneys that followed my colon. As for my hair, driven out by radiation-of what use was it?

So when the neurosurgeon told me there was something on my brain and nothing could be done, I smiled right through him, piercing him with my confidence. I’ve never actually worked as a buyer for a firm, but with schooling and earning, I’ve been one all my life. When I pay good money, lots of it, and hear, "Thafs the best we can do,” I smile. "Come now, you can do better than that.”

I know people die, but people are poor, lack confidence, have no drive, and can’t operate the machine.

The fear that grips me in my half-waking state is new to me; long-repressed urges seem to be devouring my sense.

In response to surgeon’s assistant Bill Conner's cold explanation ofthe coming procedure, I grab the bedpost and curl my lip upward like one suddenly gone rabid, like a paranoid protester. I behave as if by waking I’d slip into a frightful dream, as if the long-familiar staff people were bent on doing me ill, as if they were jailers bent only on walling me in, as if they were teachers bent only on breaking my spirit, as if they were police agents bent on capturing me, as if they were demons bent on destroying me.

Guards McCloskey and Washington leer at me from the doorway. My eyes insanely return the leer and then go wildly wandering in search of fellow-feeling, kinship, solidarity, but find only the annoyed expressions of salaried employes. Nurse Ann Kanish smooths my pillow and urges me resume my sleep.

Is it shock, drugs, early morning weakness, or the obstruction on my brain that turn objective reality into a nightmare and flood my mind with specters, long-forgotten moments that played no part in my development, instants when time stood still? I felt only a twinge when I read about Ted Nasibu being killed by a car near the bridge; the article called him a printer (rememberer, preserver); I’d known him during the war as a thief. Yet now the twinge becomes a spasm, and I feel myself running alongside Ted and my cousin Tissie on the riverbank below the bridge toward Grandfather Avis dipping his fishline into the water of the strait, a fish skeleton, arrowhead and bundle neatly arranged on the concrete beside him.

Now we’re walking up the embankment with a bucketful of fish to the brick and shingle rowhouse of Brenda Avis nee Dupre, my and Tissie’s grandmother. I pretend to be listening to the old woman, but I’m savoring the smell of frying fish, glancing at the floorplan of a slaveship on the kitchen wall, fingering a copper pendant she hands me. "Get yourself ready, Robert,” she says, singling me out to accompany her to a gathering of dee pees in a house on the boulevard, where in a huge plain room I’m surrounded by chanting and gesticulating skeletons.

The chant cuts like a peeling knife through my identities as patient, technician, veteran, student, removing successive masks as so many layers of an onion, leaving no core, only a weak voice which, when it joins the chanters, causes the room’s plain walls to turn into barbed fence of Treblinka surrounded by endless stretches of cotton fuzz of Louisiana bordered by oak openings on Michigan’s lower peninsula.

Three songs, each with distinct melodies and rhythms, at first clash dissonantly, then companion each other in counterpoint, finally fuse in a harmony of sound that like a tidal wave upsets the dikes set up against this very flood, overwhelming the years of schooling, service and labor, lifting the singers beyond range of the obscene shouts of uniformed Virginians removing forest dwellers, of whiparmed overseers abusing field workers, of swastikad guards harassing the expropriated.

My urge to remain myself, to regain wakeful sanity, fights my desire to plunge yet further into dream’s or death’s illusory light, but my will is limp, all fixity is gone. I run from waking rather than from sleep, sensing myself not as responsible law-abiding Robert Avis, but as thief Nasibu before the fatal blow rushing from the bridge; as emaciated Treblinkan before the fatal roundup rushing to festivities in a tree-surrounded Polish village; as Grandfather Avis’s grandmother before the fatal kidnapping, moving ecstatically to drumbeats by the shore of a bluegreen lake in Westafrica; as Grandmother Brenda’s father Robert Dupre escaping from the anguish of a decomposing village to lean on a tree by the riverbank (perhaps on the very spot where Ted was killed), long before there was a bridge across the Strait.

A needle in my vein rouses me to leer at the whitefrocked figures writhing on white walls oftile, cement and plastic, but the smooth surfaces quickly change into familiar walls of apartments, locker rooms, barracks, schoolrooms, and then crease and shrivel, until I’m surrounded by walls of plain, cracked, poorly fitted wooden boards, while the figures are metamorphosed into a museum of period costumes, some in tuxedos dangling their watch chains, others in wool, at least one clad in animal skins and moccasins, all swearing like ruffians, but some with pistols in their waists.

I finger the pendant suspended from my neck, my free hand clasps a column which I experience as living tree and indispensable support, my eyes wander from face to face, pausing at the pimp responsible for my arrest, and resting at a blanket- wrapped old man who clutches a bundle; soon I’m beside him, entranced by his chant.…

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November 30, 1987 :
Prologue -- Publication.

April 26, 2020 13:58:14 :
Prologue -- Added to


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