‘The Museum of Everything About You’ reads the sign above the door. I enter the building, small and unadorned. Deep in here lies a creative piece of work inspired by postmodern literary theory, perfect to hand in for my upcoming assignment. Inside, a bored receptionist stands to greet me from behind a desk.
‘I’m afraid, Mr Perez, that if you wish to enter tonight you will find the facilities severely lacking. Might you wish to visit at another time?’
‘I’m sorry but I must enter tonight, my assignment is due very soon and I know it is in the Creative Space.’
A sigh, ‘as always you can come in, but bear in mind it is very late, so the power to the doors is down. I do wish you would stop doing this, our staff are overworked as it is.’
‘I trust the Hallway is still running?’
‘Of course, but then you have to think, sir, staff enjoy working there, which is why they spend all their time in it, and why we installed the separate generator.’
‘Very well, I’ll take the portal at the end of the Hallway’.
The receptionist claps his hands, and slowly the wall behind him descends, until it completely disappears into the floor. I walk around the desk and through the wide corridor into the entrance hall.
The hall is always a shock. There is little grandeur here, but that is heavily made up for by confusion. The simple premise of the hall is that it contains doors to every single wing of the museum; wooden doors with metal handles. There are so many of them, positioned frame-to-frame and wasting none of the space, stacked not just next to one another but vertically too. The doors in the first row are the largest, steadily getting smaller until you reach the hatches on the ceiling. Each has a plaque on it, noting where it leads, and as I walk to the largest door I catch some of the names on my way: ‘Amusing Anecdotes’, ‘Unamusing Anecdotes’, ‘Things I Should Have Said To Win Arguments’, ‘OCD tendencies Pt. 14 Of 87’, ‘Everything I Currently Feel Guilty About’.
I reach my destination, the only door to be unlocked all hours of the day, but the workers still haven’t gotten around to fixing the handle, so like always I must barge it open with my shoulder. In the process of doing so its plaque falls to the floor; ‘The Hallway Of Procrastination’.
The floors here are scuffed from an influx of use since the start of university. As I walk I notice yet another light has gone out, owing an even darker feel than usual. The echo of my footsteps very quickly draws a chorus of movements far ahead, as workers have heard my presence and run away as a pretence to being busy.
As I walk down the Hallway I find the floor is strewn with books old and new, many of which I haven’t read yet. Perhaps I could pick up just one to keep for later? No. If I touch one I’ll never leave. Soon the Hallway presents another challenge as the walls give way to glass sheets either side of me. Behind these are people in brightly lit rooms doing things; such beautifully mundane things that it is all I can do to avert my eyes as I walk past instead of watch. Minutes later I pass a small side-passage, at the end of which I can see a snippet of a kitchen table, stocked with all of the appropriate ingredients to cook a delicious rump steak.
Further ahead I pass countless mobile phones, all of which beeping to indicate unread texts meant specifically for me. Perhaps one of them is that text I’m waiting for from my mother? Meanwhile there is no sign of an end, a marble abyss filled with fun things the irresponsible side of me would much rather be doing. This environment; usually so friendly, now so aggressive due to my decision to ignore it. As if on cue, the ground trembles. Quickly, I make a one-eighty degree turn and begin sprinting. Racing past the mobile phones I can hear several loud crashes and bangs as objects further up the Hallway are shattered to pieces, absorbed by this megalith. This destroyer of souls.
A quick glance over my shoulder, Facebook is coming, and Facebook is an angry ten foot boulder tonight. I can see the side-path to the kitchen ahead, but my potential assassin is too furious in its endeavour to keep me from finding my creative piece.
All of a sudden, a figure jumps into the main pathway and sprints past me. I continue running, and hear the collision just before I reach the side-path. This must have slowed the boulder enough, for I manage to nip out of the way just as Facebook rolls past. I can even hear its passing, the resounding hum of uninteresting statuses and nothing to do but read them. Before I have a chance to go out and check on the stranger, he appears in the kitchen almost completely unscathed but for a slight bruise on his forehead. I cannot help but notice how absolutely familiar he looks.
‘By my life or death, I can protect you. I will…’ He begins, moving towards me and kneeling on one leg at my feet, ‘You have my sword.’
‘Wait, isn’t that Aragorn’s line?’
‘You have my bow.’
‘Axe?’ He stands while I simply stare at him. ‘Look, it’s not my fault Boromir’s line isn’t very famous in that scene ok? If you can’t remember it what chance do I have?’
‘Fair. Erm, thank you for saving me.’ The only response that seems truly appropriate.
‘Sean’s the name, although I suppose you’d know that, being the writer an’ all’. Sean Bean produced his hand and gave what may have been intended as a grin but merely came out as a grimace.
‘I don’t quite understand, how did you survive that?’ I ask, shaking the hand.
‘The way I survive everything. One dramatic death after another. Thing is it’s not really me, is it? Just the characters.’ With that he produces a knife and stabs himself straight in the gut, ‘See?’ He does it again, ‘here, why don’t you try?’
‘SEAN! NO. I’m not going to stab you!’
He sighs and starts cleaning the knife in his clothes.
‘Come with me’ I blurt out. ‘I’ll probably need your help finding my piece, plus I don’t want you trying to kill yourself.’ He shows no argument and simply shrugs, giving me the knife.
Past the wreckage the two of us walk, with nothing left to distract us now that Facebook has been stopped. We reach the end of the passage, and with one hand on the doorknob I turn to my companion, ‘Ok, past this door we will find the portal, but there is always something else too. You should be ready.’ He nods in agreement, and we enter the room.
This room is an exact copy of my bedroom; dark, with a single bed to the left and a desk just beside it. ‘Hey babe’, a voice calls from seemingly nowhere, ‘how was your day?’
‘Ok… how are you?’
‘I’m ok, thanks’, as my eyes adjust to the darkness I can see that the voice is coming from the bed, underneath the covers. ‘I finished my Creative Vigilance piece today and I want a cuddle.’ My partner slides the covers down slightly, revealing that for the top half at least she is probably naked. With a sound that resembles no coherent words she thrusts her arms up in the air for this cuddle.
The words only just manage to come out, ‘I’m so sorry babe, I love you but mine’s not finished yet, so I can’t cuddle just now’.
‘But why?’ She replies, sitting up to reveal the truly magnificent pair of breasts her small frame boasts. Maybe one hug wouldn’t hurt…
‘Quickly!’ Sean Bean says, ‘stab me with the knife!’ Myself and my partner both simply stare at him. ‘I’m sure my death will ruin the mood. It’s the only way.’
‘Sean, seriously. I’m not going to kill you. You can’t solve everything by dying.’
‘Aw, come on…’
My partner has been silent all this time, but as I notice a sheet of paper on the desk she springs from the bed as naked as the day she was born.
I forget what I even came in for until the embrace is broken by Sean, who hands me the sheet of paper. ‘Take it! It’s Derrida’.
‘How…how do you know Derrida?’ I say, holding the paper up to read it. ‘Signified concept is never present in and of itself, in a sufficient presence that would refer only to itself.’
‘It must be his theory of Différance’, Sean says.
‘But you’ve never studied Derrida’, I reply.
‘I have if you decide it. Remember, you are the writer.’ My partner is angry, and pushes Sean from me, redoubling her efforts to caress me, coming dangerously close to the areas which would win this war of attrition. ‘Remember writer’ he says, ‘language has no true meaning of itself, and that a piece of writing is nothing but language. In short, there is no outside of the text’.
Whilst wondering where on Middle Earth Boromir may have read articles on Postmodern Deconstructionism I realise his plan. Moralistically, I cannot imagine my partner to be someone else, but I can change the context in which I identify specifically her as the signified. Ignoring the imminent disrobing of my person I begin with the bed. Which bed is it? My bed? Which holds so many memories in the Hall of Procrastination? No, this is now my parent’s bed. ‘Bed’, a noun which used to signify the bed in my room, merely because the meaning of the word was deferred until my mind established a link between it and my surroundings. Now, however, a different bed has been signified, because context was established by the inclusion of the possessive apostrophe on the noun ‘parent’. My mind seems to do the rest of the work subconsciously. My partner and I are now fully clothed, I imagine because my parent’s bed and nudity are two terms that my brain all but represses from conscious association. Soon this becomes my parent’s room, and my partner vanishes before my eyes. She has never been here before, given that her and my parents live in two different counties. No intertwining residential context or link has ever been established.
Now we are alone in my parent’s room, and the door seems to have changed. On it is another plaque, ‘The Creative Space’. A nod at Sean Bean, and we walk through.
Inside, the room appears as if I have just stepped into a clear sky on a starry night. With no apparent floor, we walk across thin air and look at darkness below littered with stars and astral beauty. Ahead, the space appears endless, broken only by one figure sat with their back to us. We step closer, surrounded by shooting stars and ancient suns on their last few thousand years of age.
We find the figure hunched over a sheet of paper with several more discarded about her, it is my partner again. Approaching her I glance over at one of the papers and find the title of her reading, ‘The Museum of Everything About You’. She must have found it before me. Leaning over her shoulder I begin to read what she is reading, and I can see myself leaning over her shoulder to read about myself leaning over her shoulder reading. I turn to kiss her but find no response. She does not look up. On closer inspection her eyes are glazed over, staring so intently at the work. As I try gently to remove the sheets of paper from her hand she clasps too tightly to let go.
‘I’ve been reading your piece, writer’, she states levelly, turning to face me. ‘I love the elements of Marxist propaganda in the text, it truly is a fascinating exploration of how one exploits themselves in the workplace.’ She takes a pen out and scribbles on the piece, and suddenly hundreds of copies of me appear, all carrying brooms or tools.
Copies of self clearly indicate the piece is an allegory for self-worth in a Capitalist workplace.
‘But there aren’t any Marxist elements in this piece’, I reply.
‘Yet I can see it myself. The receptionist looks like you, you are your own master and slave, overworked in your employment’. The copies of me begin absent-mindedly cleaning or fixing imaginary things in the air.
‘But you have it all wrong. The use of my own person is to reflect upon how the Museum is constructed as a metaphor for my own mind.’
‘Very interesting’, she replies, standing up to face me, ‘but I am the reader, and that is that. There can be no argument against my power to define texts, which is why you must now die. This piece is growing too defined. By giving this text an author we impose a limit on that text’.
The essential meaning of a work depends on the impressions of the reader, rather than the ‘passions’ or ‘tastes’ of the author.
My right hand moves independently towards the knife Sean gave to me. My fingers curl around the hilt of the blade and lift it from my pocket, high into the air. ‘You see, I rule the Creative Space, regardless of authorial intention’.
The knife comes down. In a flash my wrist is gripped by strong hands, and there Sean Bean stands, in between my heart and the knife. Despite his strength, he cannot stop it. It embeds in his chest and stays there, the victim sliding to the floor. I lean over him, he is struggling.
‘Finally…’ he mumbles. He is smiling. ‘I can finally die, truly. Not as a character, but as… myself.’ His eyes close. The smile remains on his lips, not a grimace, but an actual smile. He breaks into the barest of laughs, and Sean Bean’s life is over.
All this time the perpetrator has been staring, glassy-eyed. Her body falls to the floor and she is asleep.
From behind me I can hear footsteps. I leave Sean’s body and stand up to face them. Towards me strides a man in a grey suit, white hair combed over to one side. He is smoking a cigarette. ‘And so you see my power’ he remarks in a light French accent.
‘This is my story!’
The scene changes. We are in a busy restaurant. ‘You see’, I begin, ‘I’ve always found this to be the environment in which to address you.’
Barthes shrugs and clicks his fingers, prompting a copy of me – the waiter, to place two steak meals on the table. ‘Continue.’ He seems amused.
‘Now, supposing that as the writer I am the chef, and the physical book or paper, the one you read, is the waiter. You are the consumer, regardless.’ Barthes is digging into his steak, cutting up great slabs at a time and forcing them into his mouth. ‘The food on the plate resembles the ideas and the story I am telling, giving to you, if you will. These ideas start in their raw form, chosen, manipulated and put together by me, chef. The waiter then presents these ideas to you.’ He picks up the salt grinder and seasons the meal liberally. ‘Once here, you are free to eat the food any way you wish. You may garnish the food in any way you like, eat it in a certain order or seek particular flavours.’
‘I see’, he nods, taking a sip of wine before returning to the steak.
‘But… What you cannot do is sit there and tell me that this steak is chicken, merely because you are the consumer and you have decided so. You cannot say that, as a consumer, you have created the food, and leave no hint of appreciation of the chef’s work!’
‘Ah, but the food would not come to existence but for me.’ He licks his lips.
‘And you would not enter the restaurant without the promise of food, it is all a collaboration, in which both parties are as essential as the other. You see, Roland, it all comes down to respect. As a chef or writer I try to create product the consumer will enjoy, product they can have their own opinions about, and to that extent you shape my work from the start. But when I say this steak is poisoned, you cannot blindly deny any semblance of power I am entitled to as creator! You are dead, Barthes.’
It happened quickly enough, his eyes wide, face contorting into panic before collapsing into his plate. I politely hand my plate to the waiter.
With the death of Roland Barthes comes the birth of co-operation and respect.
By Joshua Perez-Del-Pulgar-Cole