The smell of the future 1

Here is an extract from Jillian Becker’s book L: A Novel History. (Find out more about it through the link in the margin. Click on the image of the book cover.)



On the 3rd June, 1979, at about 6 o’clock in the evening, members of the Theatre of Life, arriving for an audition, pushed open the doors of the dark auditorium and saw a hooded figure standing in a spotlight on the otherwise bare stage. He stood as still as a dummy. They thought at first it must be L, “because he was dressed in the sort of overalls that L usually wore in the theatre, a kind of tailored boilersuit made of blue suede.” The hood was of black cloth, like a hangman’s, with a pair of eyeholes. The would-be performers, some thirty of them, took their seats silently, and when they were all settled, the man spoke. It was not L’s voice.

In a loud, harsh, unvaried tone, he repeated what L had often said about life and art being indistinguishable. He said that violence was “the goal, the climax, of all action”, and that it was “right at this time for the compelling violence of the most significant action to spill over from the stage into the world.”

The light then spread over the whole stage. Another man was standing near the back, dressed in a policeman’s uniform. All round them, on the boards, armaments were laid out, in neat order: rifles, pistols, machine-guns, grenades, “looking very like the real things”. There was also a heap of wooden staves, iron bars, rocks, broken railings, pickaxes and spades. The hooded man took up an iron bar, lifted it with both hands above his head, whirled about and rushed towards the other man, swinging the bar down and forwards with the utmost speed and strength into his face. The watchers gasped, some screamed, some rose from their seats, as the man fell. But he fell straight backwards, with a soft plop, like a bundle of laundry being dropped. He was a dummy.

The hooded man took up a large cardboard box, came down from the stage and handed out knitted balaclava helmets. The lights came up over the auditorium and there was L, sitting on an aisle seat towards the back, “dressed in a dark suit, looking very Savile Row elegant, and watching without saying a word”.

“Put them on!” the hooded man commanded.

The knitted helmets were old, grubby and stained, and smelt of unwashed human bodies, underarms, feet and worse.

“Breathe in deeply,” they were ordered when they were all hooded, sitting in their rows (“like so many gagging turtles,” as one of them said).

“Again! Again!”

They breathed in the stink of the dirty wool.

“That,” the hooded man said, loudly and harshly, “is the smell of the armed proletarian struggle. It is the smell of the future. It is the smell of your dedication to that future. You will learn to love it.”

Which of them, they were asked, had any experience of or training in wrestling, self-defence, armed combat, or marksmanship, and those who claimed to have either or both were asked to remain. The rest were told that classes were to be organized in “fighting techniques”, and they were advised to attend, as there was to be a season of plays in which they would need such arts. They would also learn “to understand the liberating emotions which accompany the response of violence against the oppression of air-conditioned boredom”. Upon which, “a sigh went through the group, like the sigh of release from tension when something promised and yet almost given up has at last been delivered,” as one of the would-be actresses there that day has recalled. “I felt as if I suddenly knew what I had been waiting for and expecting, why I had been coming here.”

Posted under Britain, Collectivism, communism, Miscellaneous, revolution, Socialism, United Kingdom by Jillian Becker on Sunday, November 25, 2012

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