The Great Chaining
Du contrat social
République française, 1792
The asylum was as pitiful as any other festering across Europe in the Enlightenment—their grandiose minds were to blame for their suffering. There was no longer any indulgence left for the make-believe—holy books had been scripted by ravings of the insane and now History had had enough.
A certain hermetically-demented Frenchman and longtime resident who’d forgotten any reason for why he laid on butchers’ tile chained to a wall—smellier than Camembert, half-asleep in cold urine, distracted by fractal ropes of time and color that bent to his vision and effervescent whispers gurgling from the void—heard his jailers grasping for him.
They'd the entertainment of pitting the mad against one another, predicting how violence or fear would behave; whether it would hiss or shrink, claw or yowl.
They yanked him up and put a hood over his head, dragging him by the ankles through the medieval mortared halls. He smelt pig fat on their lips, as they cackled nonsense between themselves: the working class were in vogue, ready-as-ever for their chance at arrogance.
“Soon as Louis' head meets his basket, I expect half the court will go mad.”
“Which means we may get a chance at their women, much better than any of these shrieking hags given us now.”
“Ah, but under our connoisseurship, they'll surely learn the meaning of shrieking!”
Beneath the hum, Ambrose heard words that were not his own begin to froth—surging through his blood and gasping for air, until bellowing forth:
“I belong to an inferior race throughout eternity!”
“He’s babbling again. Should we or his opponent hit him for it?”
“I just let them spit it out, it's like bad poetry.”
“I wait for God with gluttony!”
“Doesn’t sound like this blasphemer believes either. Maybe that’s what does it to them.”
“You’re saying you believe?”
“It’s hard not to, even if it’s getting to be passé.”
“Yes, life’s hard enough without God.”
“Life’s the joke each of us keeps on playing!”
“Ha! This one is a joker—where the hell is he from anyways?”
“His rags look like once fine thread—most likely not a vagrant.”
“Probably a philosophe that took his studies too far.”
“That’d be amusing. Tell us something philosophe! Preach us from our stupidity.”
Ambrose wished he’d tinnitus, the ringing black noise would be a relief over the hallucination of words—which he’d dealt in before they’d banned his works and punctured his head through its mystic holes, the ax of Christianity left sticking halfway in his neck.
The guards dropped Ambrose and ripped off the remains of his shirt—their whips dug into his flesh eight times.
“Speak! Tell us your fantasies madman. Do you wish you were Christ? Have you met Charlemagne one dark night?”
“I think I’m in Hell, therefore I am!”
“Ha. Well that proves he's a philosophe.”
“I feel a bit sorry for him. It must be quite lonely being a learned man.”
“That's what he gets, trying to be better than the rest. There's no room for any more philosophes in our new Republic!”
A memory sunk in Ambrose, lithe and loosened, but not entirely there. He’d a play where the leading role, a solipsist, had declared—
But the guard kicked him back down before he could remember. He began babbling what incantations he could recall from his preferred grimoires that it might provide a means to escape.
“I think we may be wrong. It's possible he was never intelligent to begin with. Shall we take him to his destiny?”
“Yes, I’m getting hungry and who knows how long this is going to take.”
“Not very long if he keeps preaching.”
They led him to the ring: a high-walled cement square with one entrance. The corral was packed with the looniest and loneliest, several savage and naked, many wrapping their limbs as tight as they could around their bodies to recoil into a uterine world, the others spreading their arms to the sky awaiting a wild Walpurgis to wipe reality clean.
The guards that surrounded the edges held onto their weapons with one hand, passing gold with the other; jeering they’d each win big.
Ambrose put his head to his knees rather than watch the naked pummel—flanked into terror, tearing at their peers, not knowing how far the guards would want their victories taken. The first man’s skull burst open leaking his spoiled brains to cheers on the left, Ambrose’s guards groaning at their loss.
Ambrose was thrown up next, against the winning man. The man speared forward slamming Ambrose into the wall, his kidneys compressing and vomit rising in his throat. The man was peeled off and Ambrose urged on by his guards' whips.
“Kill the idiot! Are you not a man of passion?”
He felt no pain now, seasons of confusion began to recede and unravel. “I've tried to invent new flowers, new stars, new flesh, new tongues.”
“Please God! Stop the fucking poetry!”
“I thought I'd acquired supernatural powers, but now I must bury my imagination and my memories.” He walked into the snarling face of his fellow abused and kissed him on the cheek.
At this sign of peace the furious one bit into Ambrose’s neck and Ambrose softly thanked him as he collapsed—
then saw himself standing up to full height—a feat not of years for the lashes and starving—his bones creaking but with a snapping vigor, his muscles loosening—a lift—there is a space
between the monstrosity of dreams
and the shame of day
where all doors have been opened
where all horizons are clear
There will be nothing left to do
I have died, and it is entirely marvelous! I left the body with a musket boom and have ascended in rainbow light to the sublime height of space, the planet beneath now but a tiny jewel. The urge to say my theories were correct has faded with the absence of life's cruel masters.
There have been demons I said hello to and angels that were rude; stars that spoke candidly of a great manifold of secrets we will never fully comprehend and colossal anti-stars that attempted to devour me—but none of them can touch me unless I will it so. There is nothing closer to pure liberty!
Unveiled, I am a web; I am an oversoul of eminent brilliance. I am Ambrose Gaston, I am Denis Baudard, and I am Mathilde Esmond, and they are me. We are poètes, littérateurs, philosophes, comédiens, and bohémiens of a thousand lives.
And though we may not all be Infinitists at this simultaneous moment, I know in our heart of hearts we all stand against the philistines! And one life soon, soul by soul, we shall fight for the past, present, and future.
In the After,