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Muhammad A. Al Mahdi

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The following short prose is one of my more experimental writings.



There is oppressive semi-darkness.

The wards beat their gongs.

Our breath ceases and, after an instant that signifies eternity, resumes, rearranged into a uniform pattern.

We rise from our narrow confines to be lead through the city in a procession, clad in blue robes and accompanied by the unceasing regular, elaborately arranged sound patterns of the gongs.

As we are marched through the crowded streets of the city at rush hour, the public averts its eye and those upon whom our presence is imposed shut their lids tightly so as to be able to say afterwards that they haven’t known.

Tonelessly, we march along in adherence to a pre-ordained rhythm, movement being imposed upon us. Our garments of blue silk rest in an outcry of perfect silence, utterly still. There isn’t a flow in them ever nor any motion nor a crease.

The city’s streets are endless.

The gongs beat and people are incessantly busy, incessantly ignorant of the blue column in their midst, which forms a part of their world’s outlines like the stones in the plaster of their streets or the bricks of which their houses are built. And not only are their houses built of those bricks and the plaster of their streets of those stones, but they a r e their houses and their streets and the contours, limits and outlines of their world.

We are declared mad. This is why we are here. This is why eyes must be closed. The recognition of madness is the ultimate threat to the established measures of sanity, to the houses and the streets and the plasters and stones and to the system and the world they constitute. This is, of course, why the gongs must be beaten: they replace our brains.

Mad we have been found, and madness is what we see on the surface of the darkness that replaces our mirrors, which, in the interest of our own safety, have been confiscated first thing when we got here.

Mad we are named, and as mad we regard ourselves.

The gongs beaten by the wards in replacement of the impulses of our deplorable brains -as incessant as our one-time thoughts used to be- have convinced us of the allegation’s truth.

We are guilty, and our guilt is madness.

It absolves us, at the same time, of every responsibility for this guilt and mercifully alters our state to that of machines ruled by gongs.

A man, down in the asylum, sat in front of a black board. His hands were white with chalk. This is how he spent his nights, for his particular brand of madness is one that singles him out from the rest.

He was allowed, by special decree, to pass his nights in this fashion, and the compulsion of sleep has been lifted from him. This happened because he was a bad sleeper, whose feverish insomnia had constituted a source of permanent disturbance contaminating the colony of the mad; a danger to inner security, personal safety of the inmates and indeed to the mental equilibrium established by the gongs.

Danger then was what he came to be called.

Danger must be isolated.

Danger must be banned.

Danger, banned, must be controlled.

Danger must never be underestimated.

There are no C.C.T.V.’s in this world, as witnessed by the eyes of the insane, but any amount of gongs.

“The gong meant to compel our subjects to sleep does not send him to sleep.”, the ward in charge reported to his superior, “Therefore the gong meant to rouse them from sleep does not rouse him.”

“Our policy, ward, is to isolate danger.”, his superior responded, “Danger therefore must be removed.”

“But removal from the column may result in his isolation from the established pattern of their impulses, Lord Superior. What if it were to effect, in this manner, a strengthening of the very impulses we mean to eliminate?”

“Our policy, ward, remains to isolate danger.”, his superior pointed out sternly, “And it is policies that regulate our decisions. Policies therefore must be followed for decisions to be validated. Isolation, in this language of ours, then means isolation, and danger means danger indeed.”

As it was in the stories of old, so it is here, and so it shall be forever where orders from superiors are concerned: to hear is to obey.

There, again, sat the man in front of his black board, placed under closed surveillance, of which he was thought to be unaware on account of his madness, and writing formulas on it with white chalk.

The formulas were numbers, and those were abstractions of words.

Feverishly, in his madness, he wrote and crossed out; endless the trail of his thoughts.

A gong imposed the impulse to eat, and he ate.

Another gong, thereafter, called the inmates to their daily march through the city, and he marched through the city with them.

Endless were the streets, and intently averted was every eye. Every man and every woman in town could have sworn they saw nothing.

Afterwards, at night, he was returned into isolation; again, then, he sat in front of his black board.

There, his scribbled numbers substituting for words became a language that made it possible to say the unspeakable by making the unthinkable plain -and it began to be understood-- by the wards.

The structures of command are complex and unfathomable. The hierarchy they produce is therefore an infinite one, and its expressions are the wards.

There is superior upon superior, and each inferior has beneath him one that ranks lower. Every decision is thus a word travelling through spaces immeasurable, and the farther it gets detached from its original impetus, the more remote its effect becomes from its cause, the more irrevocable it becomes. It is, in its final stages, an iron law which is regarded as a cornerstone in the causal edifice of civilisation.

So the devil is driven out by the Lord of the Flies and each new medicine is worse than the sickness that preceded it. Punished by the human condition, human nature unresistingly succumbs to this process, which it perceives as its inherent identity. Thus it is that apes began to walk on two legs so as to leave their two forelegs vacant so they would be able to carry out orders. And it is, incidentally, if a personal comment it permitted, a pain to see those creatures, in the attempt to cheat themselves out of their animal nature, fall deeper and deeper into the pit of the inhuman, hence the superhuman and the syphilitic, and from there straight into the pigsty.

The worst disorder, however, is created when two coordinated orders overlap and reach the ears of their receptors independently of each other. Thus, and thus only, could it happen that the madman was allowed to retain, in isolation from his fellowmen, the sanity of a night without gongs and the codified language in which its increasingly petrified self-awareness was expressing itself -petrified, of course, because it gradually began to dawn upon the poor creature that in his scribblings on the black board there lay something that actually made sense.

When the wards had reported this to their superiors and those to the superiors on top of them, it was too late.

When thereupon, however, it was brought to the attention of the next higher instances, these seemed not to be surprised. Instead, they inquired about the formulas he wrote out and whether the system thus established was progressing.

“What system would that be?”, asked the lower-ranking instances.

“You are blind to realities.”, the higher instances responded with an incredulous smile, “Don’t you see what is being achieved? But of course”, they then went on to remind themselves, “you can’t see it, for ignorance is what you’ve been chosen for.”

“Ignorance”, the thus-addressed confirm with pride, “is our service to the system.”

In the asylum, meanwhile, in front of his black board, a mad man worked out the world formula. It consisted of three figures which, added up with one another, express a cardinal value that is at the same time the highest and the smallest of all numbers, being the one element in which all other elements are contained and that thus forms the root of all elements, which makes it, simultaneously, the root meaning of all words, for the universe is zero contained in zero, to which all mass, energy and matter add up and from which all matter, energy and mass derive.

A sigh of relief passed through the man as he wrote it down and when, upon the coining of this formula, his black board and chalk were immediately confiscated while he himself was stripped of his status of isolation with immediate effect, he knew at once: he wasn’t a madman at all.

“I never was”, he cried out in heuristic awakening, “nor shall I ever resign myself to madness again hereafter.”

“None of us could have achieved this by himself.”, say those in power, “He alone had the gift of this vision, and by putting him with the blue column and setting him up in front of a black board in the state of total isolation, it has been drawn out of him and appropriated by us. In fact, the entire blue column owes its existence to this purpose. Yet is his formula useless in our hands, for it negates what we are. And no living creature shall ever cancel out its own existence by itself; thus we shall not cancel out ours by applying to it his formula, for we have chosen to be not objects of a universal impersonal will but subjects to our own. This man, therefore, is dangerous and danger must be isolated, and this is achieved by integrating him into the patterns of the column, which owes its existence to the achievement of his isolation from it, so in the absence of their awareness of danger and in the absence of danger’s awareness of them, danger be ignored. To those who do not differ, difference is unknown. Mind then is conquered and thought taken over by impulse. And impulse, finally, is ruled by the gongs. Hence, to keep him barred from the awareness of his thought is the crucial thing to do, so his thought itself be kept from the awareness of alternatives, thereby being barred from the awareness of itself and its nature. This is the law by which that which is established is empowered to remain as it is.”

The individual, thus, was isolated from itself in the masses and supervision was increased, security stepped up.

So I said, one fine day, as the air was resounding with gongs: “O my brothers in madness, none of us is as bad as the stigma imposed upon him. Let us therefore look beyond it for a minute: If freedom were to be within reach, would you not grasp it?”

“O, freedom”, they sighed looking up at me from numb eyes, “freedom…”

It was not given to them to finish a sentence. Who can blame them, though?


“I have a formula”, I averred, “that explains it all. It says that the world is zero contained in zero, and this realisation opens up possibilities previously un-thought of. It reveals that our being is existence and non-existence and our existence being and non-being, which renders the scope of their moment and its realities infinite, while at the same time it forces us to realise the arbitrariness of condition, of the ways in which it becomes manifest and therewith of the world’s perception of itself.

And us -we- thus awakened to the awareness of our finiteness-- who could hold us back???? Where is the chain that can repress a mind that has become aware of itself?!?

Let us shake off our robes and shed our stigma, ignore the tyranny of the gongs, the close circuit cameras, which we are supposed to be unaware of, and all this bogus prison of madness and go away.” Indeed, I said this with a full stop rather than with an exclamation mark, for it was in this form that it dawned upon me: a clear-cut, straightforward, indubitable statement (Aye, and grammatical excellence, to the expert, shall at all times remain the strongest argument to disprove madness or the allegation thereof, for it is a sane mind, and a sane mind alone, that can muster the sophistication it takes to defeat the yoke by the yoke -similia similibus, as the general practitioner calls it-.)

“Away”, they repeated with wistfully dumb voices, “away…the gongs…away…the gongs…the gongs…the gongs…away..,”

Enflamed, I ran from one to the next, slapping their faces with full force in order to rouse them. They smiled happily.

“Gong”, I began to chant in imitation of the gongs, “Away…GONG…we shall go…GONG GONG…GONG…GONG…away…to freedom…GONG GONG GONG …to freedom…GONG…GONG…GONG…Tomorrow when they march us through the city, as they use…GONG GONG…to do, we shall take…GONG GONG…the other turn…and gone…GONG GONG…are we.”

In dull happiness, they nodded their heads:

“To hear is to obey.

To freedom


To freedom


To freedom


And thus it happened that the following day, as the blue column, to the sound of the gongs, was marched through the city at rush hour, conditioned by a new kind of gong -my voice, employed in the absence of any other means of beating sense into them-, the blue column turned the other way round and marched off; under the leadership of the man who possessed the world formula -and humility compels me to state that, in this case, it was me- in their own direction.

The wards couldn’t do a thing. Realising this for he first time, they stood open-mouthed.

All eyes were averted and there wasn’t such a one in the street, male or female, old or young, as couldn’t have sworn that he hasn’t seen a thing.

And those who firmly shut their eyes -who can blame them?- maintain that they didn’t know what was going on.

For us, however, the moment had come now to ceremoniously shed our blue robes.


First button


Second button” and so on, I shouted. And then, finally, the accursed shreds were off.

We proceeded to burn them, not giving a damn whether we had anything to dress, and in the absence of anywhere better to go, we made straight for the sea.

Armed with the world formula, I had no thought to spare for the elements. When the water began to get in our way, I addressed it thus:


And, lo! The waters parted, making the way free for us. We walked right through them.

At the next sea, in order to demonstrate the redundancy of gongs in the lives of a free nation, I merely said: “Part!”, and the same thing happened.

“Have you seen it, my people?!”, I cried, “Have you seen the redundancy of the things to which you were so slavishly devoted? Where there is a brain, there is no need of substituting it with a gong. Thoughts are like birds. They come and go by themselves. Where there is thought, there is a way out of the madness. Where there is a way out, there is always a man who will go it. And in this case, humility compels me to state it is me. See how the waters part for us!”

So speaking, I marched on, followed by the column which to awaken to freedom and nationhood I had put into my head, and in this manner we crossed the seven seas.

At the sixth, I initiated the parting of the waves by a mere movement of my hand. At the seventh, I merely walked on and the waves parted by themselves.

Since the law of things does not permit a regress from the greater miracles back to the smaller ones, the technique of imitating the gongs of our previous life had been abandoned and outlawed as of the time of the crossing of the second sea, and any recourse to it was impossible. This, however, proved a serious obstacle to the emerging nation’s instincts of self-preservation, for though they found no difficulty in following their leader through the parting waves of the ocean, they were unable to eat without their impulses having been activated by the gong, and so starvation began to take its toll among them.

When the first victims succumbed to the lethal effects of lacking nourishment, there arose an outcry among the people.

“We are dying!”, they cried, “Have mercy, o first among equals, and beat the gong so we can eat!”

Enraged, I shouted back at them: “Go and eat then, o sons of dogs, for there are fish in the sea and there is manna from heaven! Grab it with your hands and open your mouths to consume it, what ails you!? Eat, I say to you, eat!”

“The gong!”, they demanded.

“If hunger kills you, o sons of my mother”, I entreated them, “can’t you find it in you to master opening your mouths and eat of your own accord?!”

“The gong.”, came their urgent, subdued, menacing wail, and I could not help noticing that there was an increasingly threatening quality to it.

“The gong to eat, the gong to sleep, the comfort and the warmth of our blue garments, the beneficent eyes of the wards and the safety of close circuit surveillance-- you have deprived us of them all!”, they shouted. “What is the use of crossing seas on the way to the zeroness of your universe consisting of these damned fish and this accursed manna we cannot eat in the absence of the gong to make us!? We’re conditioned by it, and you’re killing us by taking it away from us. In so doing, you shed our blood and walk over our dead bodies. Lead us back to the gongs or we shall all die here! O you blood-thirsty dictator, you who are the ruin of us, where is the freedom thou hast promised us and what is the use of it? Have mercy upon a nation of fools! Lead us back to the gongs! To the gongs!”

And what should I do?

Either I destroyed my life work in order to preserve their lives or I’d let them die for its sake, which would yet result in its destruction, as there would be no one alive to carry it on. If there had been one, one only, to show some sense, one only to follow the dictates of nature without having to be called to it by the command of a gong; had there been one among them who had been able to develop a conscience without requiring for it the imposition of close circuit surveillance and whose sanity were not the product of a straight-jacket, my decision should have been a different one, and I should have gladly sacrificed them all.

What, o what have you made us into, and how shall you ever account for this before the heavenly tribunal? Before the tribunal of history and human sanity, which one day, one day perhaps shall dare again to lift its head-- and judge you mercilessly.

Down in the asylum, a madman sat in front of a black board, scribbling fragments of formulas and hitting his head against the wall.

On his forehead there was a huge, dark-red smouldering wound and the inmates of the madhouse were madder than ever.

The blue column increased in numbers by the day.

“Danger isolates itself.”, comment the higher instances, indicating thereby to the lower ones that they have always been in control.

Accompanied by omnipotent gongs, we are marched through the streets of the city.

The universe is zero contained in zero, and our suffering, immortalised by the untiring eyes of close circuit surveillance cameras, is meaningless. It goes entirely unnoticed.

All eyes are averted, and the lids of those upon whom our presence is imposed are firmly shut. There is oppressive semi-darkness, and they could have sworn they saw nothing.

And the gongs, in replacement of sun and moon, make night and day.

Breathe in

Breathe out












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Reviewed by S H 3/12/2009
I love your work.
Reviewed by Regis Auffray 3/11/2009
Immaginative, dark and to me, possibly prophetic or going back to another time or another dimension. Well done, my friend. Love and peace to you,


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