On the train late at night. The colour is washed out of everyone, the colour of their lives; the sparkling life of their souls is flat. Everyone is grey, lifeless, dead skin deadliness. The man in the seat on the opposite side of the aisle is slumped forward with this head squashed up against the hard blue plastic of the seat in front. The man behind him is fighting this time of November 2021 with an absorption in a hand held machine with a hand held game. There are empires being destroyed, space ships travelling faster than the speed of light, weapons launched at the touch of a button that can destroy cities, continents, whole worlds.
He is falling in and out of sleep, trying to escape the day, trying to stop the barbed comments of the manager getting under his skin, trying to find his place again as a person somewhere. He gets off the train at Ashford International.
Everywhere is international. Even the smallest village. And the international relations of production touch even the smallest, nondescript place. Without anyone realising. Suddenly everything changes.
The lights on the train are too harsh. But the people who decide the brightness, the so-called experts who decide the volume and frequency of the endless announcements and the never ending price rises and the way the staff must be trained in customer care; why, they never travel on these late night trains. What would they know? Everything they ever learn is in PowerPoint presentations and spreadsheets. Anything they might have known about life was extracted long ago.
The suits are crumpled, scuffed shoes, nothing fits properly. Everyone is out of time, out of time with their own lives.
In an office. A conversation. We are sitting in the space where we cannot be detected, hiding in plain sight, engaged in a hidden transcript. Here we are, for this brief time, we exist as real people, ourselves, instead of ciphers for some other message, a corporate message, a message which isn’t ours. Here for a brief time in this exploitation, within this alienation we talk.
But first we eat mince pies and discuss the flavours. My friend eats slowly and deliberately.
‘There’s a taste in here I don’t quite get’.
I look at him carefully, curious as to what this taste might be.
It takes an age, but an age within this corporate culture which has no real time that can be measured by clocks and watches. It is a different sense of time and space; because for a brief moment we escape the timesheet and piece work and measurement and time and motion in the mechanical and money sense.
I explain. That the real problem is with rights and democracy. Once we engage in wage labour, we lose rights, we lose democratic rights, we lose the right to really say what we feel about the relation of production we are now within. It can be expressed in the hidden transcript, but it cannot be expressed publicly.
‘This is a form of tyranny’, my friend says. ‘Foucault talks about power. It’s all about power’.
‘Power is a very good way to describe it’, I reply
I am looking out of the window at the mass accumulations of capital, the huge mass of concrete, steel and glass. The money wealth of the companies involved in this, the money wealth of the developers and speculators and landowners, the corruption of democratic government, the corruption of people’s souls.
In passing, it is almost in passing, a discussion about Italy, Primo Levi and The Periodic Table. A Sunday afternoon long ago, when Primo Levi returns to the flat in Torino where he lived. And from there into the Holocaust, and from that hell, back to the flat. We discuss the Italian Resistance and Ada Gobetti and her remarkable book A Partisan Diary. She describes how her son Paolo is involved in the assassination of an informer. He returns. Subdued, nervous.
‘I looked into his eyes’, she writes, ‘ to see that there was no hate there’.
A flirtation by my desk. It’s funny and afterwards there is a slow afterglow that lingers. It doesn’t mean anything to anyone but it adds a certain note to the day. It’s gone, it cannot be captured but its air-like character is not without effect.
There was a conversation about the shipping company Maersk.
‘Still family owned’.
We can see the long trains pass by the window. This leads to a discussion about Babette’s Feast.
Unskilled, low skilled, unorganised, highly educated. What exactly is this category of ‘the working class’, so easily bandied around so difficult it seems for some to understand.
Later I am trying to take photographs to illustrate this corporate power.
‘Can I ask you why you are taking photographs?
A woman is standing in front of me. She has long blonde hair and a brown coat and black leather shoes. She is smiling-ish.
‘I’m writing a small piece about corporate culture. About how from the outside these offices seem empty, devoid of people, just facades of concrete and glass, but inside…people are building empires, crying in the toilets, discussing the power of capital, talking about Foucault’.
‘Here’s my card’. I make an offer. It is an indication of being official. I decide that I will be an official representative of the revolutionary wing of the proletariat. There are others. We just need to find each other. But this idea of being an official representative of the revolutionary wing of the proletariat is a good one.
She takes it, smiling and almost laughing.
‘It’s just I’m the building manager and you know we do watch out for people taking photographs and things. You just don’t know nowadays’.
And then she says:
‘I will add that I’m not someone who is crying in the toilets’.
I’m sure she isn’t it, but I also get the sense that she knows what I’m talking about in terms of corporate culture. Perhaps she could have been disbelieved, in the sense that she could disbelieve me that I was going to write about all this. Except she then walked up to an entrance heavily patrolled by thick set security guards who let her walk through. A mysterious door opened, a block of light momentarily spilled out on to the dark city street. She disappeared inside. The door closed. The light was gone.