Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Critical Surrealism in Nemesis The Warlock

We begin with an image of violence. The page is highly stylized, beautifully rendered, and embroidered with details. Although the image is mannered and exaggerated, there is a solidity to the drawing, a consequential materiality. There is a hardness to these lines, a severity which helps us to believe in the unrelenting cruelty of these villainous figures. In the corner is an illuminated text, grotesque in form, narrating a future perspective of a distant and dark history. We are shown a medieval future that has regressed into violence and dogma, into the worst that history has to offer: Intolerance, unthinking superstition, ignorance, brutality. However, I would like to suggest that the image also introduces an absorbed and reconfigured form of surrealism. It is given a new form within a space of mass culture. A powerful counternarrative within a branch of culture industry aimed at children. It is an uncanny reappearance of subversive and irrational forces that tap into a play of politicised aesthetics. The splash page that introduces Book 1 of Nemesis the Warlock, sets an intense tone that is to continue for the its entire run in the weekly anthology comic 2000AD over the course of the 1980s. 2000AD was a complicated site of escape for young readers. The future generally looked pretty bleak, but perhaps not much worse than the past or present. The origins of 2000AD are linked to the co-creator and writer of Nemesis the Warlock, Pat Mills. He was working in both an editorial and script writing role for the company IPC, who together with rival company D.C. Thomson, dominated the world of British comics in the 1970s. In 1976, prompted by the immanent release of a number of science fiction films, including Star Wars, Mills was instrumental in founding 2000AD and ensuring its initial survival at a time when the lifespan of a comic title was notoriously short. After abandoning his editorial role, he returned to the title as a writer, where he maintained a consistently adversarial and difficult relationship with paper’s management. While it is important to recognise that the commercial potential of science fiction, in the eyes of the publishers of the comic, was connected to the success of cinematic blockbusters, the terrain of science fiction that Mills and other creators responded to was one that had been transformed by the New Wave of British Science Fiction that had emerged from the pages of the magazine New Worlds in 1960s. This was an influence that I’d like to think was not limited to the textual content of the work that emerged from New Worlds, but that was also connected to emergent visual sensibilities.
In 1962, the traditional science fiction illustrations were dropped from the cover, opting instead for photographs of featured authors, and then in 1963 it lost cover images completely. 
Under Michael Moorcock, who became editor in 1964, not only was there a shift in the direction that the content took, towards the emerging experimental sensibilities of Aldiss Ballard and others. There was also a new graphic sensibility. By the turn of the 60s, this had further evolved into a form that was sensationalist, while retaining a critical edge that displayed borrowings from Pop and Surrealism.

What was happening to the covers on New Worlds also had a parallel in mainstream publishing. Earlier in the 1960s, under the art direction of Germano Facetti, Penguin introduced a new formula of reproducing a work of art on the cover of their Classics, Modern Classics, English Library and Science Fiction series. Upon his appointment as editor of the science fiction series in 1963, it was the suggestion of Brian Aldiss to use surrealist artists.

Here we see James Blish, A Case of Conscience, from 1953. Using a detail from The Eye of Silence (1943-44) by Max Ernst. The Dragon in the Sea, Frank Herbert, had Underwater Garden (1939) by Paul Klee. The Day it Rained Forever, a collection of Ray Bradbury short stories, with a detail from Garden Aeroplane Trap (1935) by Ernst.
Mission of Gravity, an work of ‘hard sf’, by Hal Clement, makes use of a detail from The Doubter (1937) by Yves Tanguy, and Olaf Stapledon’s Sirius, shows In the Land Called Precious Stone by Paul Klee.
The Penguin paperback edition of Ballard’s The Drowned World used Yves Tanguy’s Le Palais aux Rochers (The Palace of Windowed Rocks) (1942), the Crystal World Panther Edition of 1968 was given a cover by Ernst, a detail of The Eye of Silence (1944).
While the presence of Surrealism is explicitly alluded to by Ballard, and the presence of Surrealism in Ballard’s work has been explored in depth, notably by Jeanette Baxter, the Surrealist worlds of Aldiss have yet to be unpacked to the same extent. His short novel Earthworks (1965) , for example, is composed of an extraordinarily textured surrealist fabric. It begins with the image of a dead man floating across the sea, a spectre that is provided with a rational and materialist explanation, but that continues to haunt the protagonist as a series of neurotically produced visual ruptures in the surface of reality. The cadaver breaks up any remaining semblance of normativity that might sustain the psychic landscape, which is reflected in the breakdown of social and political order described in the near-future setting of the novel.  Aldiss is as much a builder of surrealist tainted worlds as Ballard, with perhaps an even greater sense of the visual, and a recognition of the need to make the correlations explicit. His recognition of the importance of aligning science fiction with Surrealism was more than  a cynical marketing strategy. It was an important part of manifesting the psychically and socially unstable terrain explored in science fiction.

The visual cultures of science fiction would continue to change. The use of Surrealist images in Britain gave way to a greater synthesis of elements in the generation of new imagery in line with pop-culture tendencies, with a convergence between book covers and album covers. 

The diffusion of surrealist tendencies was, of course, part of this broader set of trends. Covers such as this for Ballard’s The Wind from Nowhere, by Alan Aldridge, replaced appropriation with synthesis, modernist surrealism with a 60s graphic sensibility. We can see the emergence of new visual possibilities for science fiction.
In creating the universe of Nemesis the Warlock, Mills and O’Neill tapped into the current of Surrealism than ran through the emerging visual culture of science fiction.
Mills also tapped into a current of Surrealism in the pages of the French science fiction comic Metal Hurlant, He saw that audiences can be pushed into expecting more, and demanding more, from comics. First published in 1974, and co-founded by Moebius, Metal Hurlant was a space for experimenting with non linear narratives, while openly obsessed with eroticism, of various degrees of explicitness and weirdness.
It is clear that French comics, and Metal Hurlant in particular had an enormous influence on Mills, that ran parallel in his scripts with his translation of the dark and ambivalent tendencies of the New Wave of British Science Fiction. The roots of Nemesis the Warlock c an be found in the final episodes of the series Ro-Busters. These panels offered a starting point for the one off story Terror Tube. Mills and O’Neill were intrigued in particular by the possibility of creating different worlds, of the look, feel and setting of a story changing regularly. Implied here are forms of improvisation, of contrasting forms, of sensorial shocks. This took shape in the form of a new series for 2000AD called Comic Rock, which would tell stories supposedly connected in some form to popular songs. Mills and O’Neill provided the first of these, which was linked to The Jam’s Going Underground, which had been at number 1 a few months earlier. The Comic Rock idea, was for Mills, an opportunity to learn from Metal Hurlant directly. There is a deliberate leaning towards strangeness, towards pushing the boundaries of reader expectations and editorial instruction. 

The popularity of the world they created, and the mysterious, unseen character Nemesis, resulted in a two part-sequel, which was followed by the commissioning of a full series. The story focused on Earth in the distant future. This is a future that contains the outmoded, that appears disjointedly non-synchronous. The surface of the planet was a wasteland. Humanity had retreated within the Earth itself, carving out vast subterranean tunnels and caverns. Humanity had also regressed into a state of fear, prejudice, intolerance and superstition, while focusing their irrational fears upon the other, the impure and unclean. In short, the alien. 
The Earth, renamed Termight, was ruled by masked fanatics known as Terminators, under the leadership of Torquemada.  Nemesis led the resistance against this genocidal regime, which was dedicated to stamping out all alien life in the galaxy. 

Throughout Book 1, Mills and O’Neill test the boundaries of the episodic comic form. The structuring of narrative episodes in Book 1 is unconventional for its context in a British anthology comic in the early 80s. The first two episodes are concerned with the slaughter of innocent aliens, and the return of Torquemada, who was believed dead but now exists as a phantom, capable of possessing bodies. This is followed by a three issue narrative arc focusing on a small human community on a remote planet who discover Nemesis, injured and apparently helpless after he is shot down in his craft, the Blitzsphere. 
He is captured, offering no resistance, beaten, humiliated and hanged by the locals who hope to receive a reward. The story unfolds with mysterious and gruesome deaths befalling the villagers who captured Nemesis, playing out as an unsettling gothic western. 

The next issue offers another jolt, a convulsive shift in setting. We are in the tunnels of Termight,where we are introduced to Purity Brown, one of the rare female characters in 2000AD at the time. She and a bizarre looking human called Googly, are running for their lives, pursued by Terminators. They run down vertical surfaces, and cross the void that intersects two huge subterranean cities - Mausoleum and Necropolis. The two cities meet as opposing mirrored spires. Skyscrapers have evolved into stalactites, with little regard for gravity. These panels play with vertiginous and confusing spaces, inverting the everyday life of Termight.
Then we have an entire week’s storyline relating a meeting between Nemesis and his Great Uncle Baal, an old sorcerer who has been banished to a remote fringe world for his unethical experiments on humans. This is a realm of magic. Not the superstition of the Terminators, but genuine magic, dark, chaotic. 
After this, Book 1 follows a more conventional, action orientated path. As the popularity of each issue and story was measured by readers’ polls, it is likely that the focus on action that follows is due to editorial pressure. However, while it may be more conventional in the orientation towards violence and action, the rest of Book 1 is determined by an unusual temporality. Over 9 issues, the story focuses on the Feast of Zamarkand, the most important date in the ritualistic Termight calender, and the occasion for the ritual execution of their political prisoners. The executions of aliens and traitors are therefore of great symbolic importance, and their escape is of great importance to Nemesis due to its potential symbolic value. He hopes that news of a mass escape will rally neutral planets towards resistance against Termight’s murderous empire. But the setting of the Feast of Zamarkand also gives Mills and O’Neill license to develop the extreme and intoxicating strangeness of Termight.  As the ceremony begins, a panel shows a procession of terminators. It is a twisted vision of a Spanish Samanta Santa procession, of brotherhoods in their penitential robes and hoods. 
The Temple of Terminus is the most bizarre element in all of this, a nightmarish underworld. It is hellish. Architecture becomes figurative. Towering over the scene, emerging from flames and smoke, the spectre of Torquemada. Thanks to a spell cast by Nemesis, the flames of execution are transformed into a dimensional portal, allowing the prisoners to escape. 
The architecture, if we can call it that, seems increasingly visceral. Torquemada, inhabiting the bodies of recently dead terminators, also becomes more grotesque. 
Book 1 was shocking and innovative, turning the world of future humans into something hellish, casting humanity as demonic. It also established a solid connection with the theoretical readings of Surrealism offered by Hal Foster in Compulsive Beauty. The satyrical nature of the script, the visual doublings and shocks, the reveling in uncanniness, in distortion and excess, resonate with Fosters readings of Surrealism as compulsive and convulsive repetition, as destabilising, and in terms of unsettling desires. And at the end of Book 1, after Nemesis and the prisoners have escaped to a forbidden and forgotten subterranean level, we see another form of the outmoded and non-synchronous, identified as the ruins of Waterloo station, a relic from a long forgotten era. The relationship to Surrealism established by Mills and O’Neill can also be looked at through  Walter Benjamin’s 1929 essay, Surrealism: The Last Snapshot of the European Intelligentsia. In his text, he develops the term ‘profane illumination’. This is a perceptual transformation of the everyday into the uncanny and irrational. What is of particular interest here is the correlation to estrangement, to disorientation, defamiliarisation. In particular, profane illumination shares an affinity with Darko Suvin’s definition of science fiction as the literature of cognitive estrangement. 
The difference between Suvin’s Cognitive Estrangement and Benjamin’s Profane Illumination is one of the gap between criticism and action, between interpretation and agency. For Benjamin, this is in terms of a revolutionary potential within surrealism, but perhaps it can be usefully translated into political agency, into actually affecting change in the reader, and the reader affecting change in the world. And what we see play out in Book 1 is a politicized surrealism delivered to a mass audience of young readers.

Books 2 and 3 expand the universe and narrative possibilities of Nemesis the Warlock.
For book 2, drawing duties were taken over by Jesus Redondo. The intensity of O’Neill’s approach to drawing had led to deadline problems, whereas Redondo’s far more immediate style was produced at a rate that fitted the weekly schedule. O’Neill returned for Book 3, which is most notable for showing the world of the Warlocks, introducing in particular his baby son Thoth. 

And then came book 4, titled The Gothic Empire, which appeared to reinvent the visual and cognitive terrain of Nemesis of the Warlock. But the opening two issues are actually comprised of material that was originally created to be the first parts of Book 1. This was what Mills and O’Neill came up with when first exploring Nemesis as an ongoing series, through a free play of ideas between them, that they describe as jamming, but that might also be thought of as free association, as games of chance, a kind of narrative exquisite corpse of imagery and ideas and story fragments. 
But these early pages didn’t explain the universe of which they were a part, so they were put to one side until the story had caught up with them.
Although the Gothic Empire had been created by Mills and O’Neill, it was Bryan Talbot who really transformed these ideas into a narrative and carried Book 4 forward into new territory. These pages revel in a collapsed temporality.
The Gothic Empire focuses on an alien civilization who had been listening to Earth’s early radio broadcasts, which had radiated out into deep space. They recreate the British Empire in extreme detail, fixing their society upon a translated form of Victorian and Edwardian elements. Their own bodies are also transformed, as these aliens have the ability to modify their outward forms, to make themselves look almost human, to the extent that they consider themselves to be human. 
They are now at war with the Termight Empire, fighting for survival, never expecting that they would be considered alien and be attacked. The introduction of a these historical periods brings the future universe of Nemesis into a temporal intimacy with surrealism. 
We see the obsolescence of the Victorian. The bourgeois remnants of nineteenth century culture. 

There is a tension between old and new brought out by the members of The Hellfire Club, a secret society who intend to overthrow the old regime in favour of progress, fashion and reform, who base their ideas on broadcasts from Earth later in the C20.

Talbot’s imagery grows out of the worlds created by Grandville, a significant point of reference for Surrealists and for Walter Benjamin, 

He also pays homage to the proto science fiction of Albert Robida, while the use elaborate hatching and tone suggest something of an engraved feel.

The outmoded forms of illustration evoked are reminiscent of the collage narratives of Ernst, as are the qualities of uncanniness present in Talbot’s work on The Gothic Empire. Talbot continued working on Nemesis, producing some arresting imagery for Books 5 and 6, but book 7, which began in October 1987, introduced the work of John Hicklenton. He managed to follow O’Neill and Talbot with something unfamiliar, while somehow remaining consistent with what Mills had started at the beginning of the decade, with the unstable strangeness that lay at the core of these stories. 

Book 7, is set in 15th Century Spain. Thoth, the son of Nemesis, is travelling through time, killing all of the earlier incarnations of Torquemada, including Hitler, General Custer and Matthew Hopkins, the Witchfinder General. He has arrived in Spain to kill the original Thomas de Torquemada, the Grand Inquisitor. As a result of these assassinations, Torquemada, who now has a permanent body, has started to decay, to rot like a living corpse. The present is taken apart by removing pieces of history. Hicklenton offers another take on the outmoded and contamination. He gives us a glimpse of the past, contaminated by the evil of the future, which of course is just a mere reflection of extant religious authority and fanaticism.

He also imbues Nemesis himself with a genuine sense of strangeness and alterity. 
Hicklenton’s work on this period of Nemesis revitalised the strip while sustaining its core ideas. The narrative setting in the past also expands the non synchronous, the conflation of unstable temporalities that had been present in the strip from its early stages. 
The surrealist interest in the non-synchronous is addressed by Hal Foster through a reading of Ernst Bloch, and his work Heritage of Our Times. Foster cites Bloch’s discussion of the outmoded, and its contamination by fascist exploitation. The idea of a Now is an inconsistent now. There is no shared universal sense of Now. This is the essential factor of the nonsynchronous.

Bloch warns against an incomplete past being exploited by fascism. He interprets Fascism as praying on the fractioning of class, seducing with a mystique of participation and primitivism. It is an appeal to the archaic. Surrealism offers a counterforce to this, a reclaiming of the non-synchronous. In a parallel operation, Nemesis the Warlock does just this, using the nonsynchronous to destabilise the illusion of a constant and unchanging present. It also shows readers what is at stake, giving us the brutal exploitation and violence of the Termight Empire, itself embodying values uncomfortably familiar to readers. Non-synchronous temporality becomes a repository of possibilities, what is to be redeemed as well as what is to be avoided.  

Nemesis the Warlock is constructed as entertainment, but also as political education. 
We have explicit critiques of imperialism, of intolerance and racism, of religious fundamentalism and dogma. There is a resistance to authority, to normative forms, a celebration of revolutionary energy that is not just about intoxicating the audience, but is itself subtly transformative. And if we return to Walter Benjamin’s essay on Surrealism, he asks how can surrealist experiments be more than mere intoxication, how can they avoid becoming just mystical and reactionary, forms of play that idealise the irrational, taking away the potential for a politics within surrealism. 

To end, I’ll try to answer this question. Within the Surrealist currents that circulate through the pages of Nemesis the Warlock, there is a reconfiguring of the limitations addressed by Benjamin. Surrealism’s boundaries were far too limited for Benjamin. It was contained within the boundaries of an intelligentsia. The realm of comics, particularly a comic as popular as 2000AD was in the 1980s, is not so limited. It is a site of contemplative intoxication perhaps, but not limited to a narrow and bourgeois intelligentsia. It was mass culture for children and young adults. The potential force of political awakening at work was formative and direct, yet exhilarating in its shocking visual and narrative pleasures. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas By Ursula K. Le Guin

"The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas"
By Ursula K. Le Guin

With a clamour of bells that set the swallows soaring, the Festival of Summer came to the city Omelas, bright-towered by the sea. The rigging of the boats in harbour sparkled with flags. In the streets between houses with red roofs and painted walls, between old moss-grown gardens and under avenues of trees, past great parks and public buildings, processions moved. Some were decorous: old people in long stiff robes of mauve and grey, grave master workmen, quiet, merry women carrying their babies and chatting as they walked. In other streets the music beat faster, a shimmering of gong and tambourine, and the people went dancing, the procession was a dance. Children dodged in and out, their high calls rising like the swallows' crossing flights over the music and the singing. All the processions wound towards the north side of the city, where on the great water-meadow called the Green Fields boys and girls, naked in the bright air, with mud-stained feet and ankles and long, lithe arms, exercised their restive horses before the race. The horses wore no gear at all but a halter without bit. Their manes were braided with streamers of silver, gold, and green. They flared their nostrils and pranced and boasted to one another; they were vastly excited, the horse being the only animal who has adopted our ceremonies as his own. Far off to the north and west the mountains stood up half encircling Omelas on her bay. The air of morning was so clear that the snow still crowning the Eighteen Peaks burned with white-gold fire across the miles of sunlit air, under the dark blue of the sky. There was just enough wind to make the banners that marked the racecourse snap and flutter now and then. In the silence of the broad green meadows one could hear the music winding through the city streets, farther and nearer and ever approaching, a cheerful faint sweetness of the air that from time to time trembled and gathered together and broke out into the great joyous clanging of the bells. Joyous! How is one to tell about joy? How describe the citizens of Omelas? They were not simple folk, you see, though they were happy. But we do not say the words of cheer much any more. All smiles have become archaic. Given a description such as this one tends to make certain assumptions. Given a description such as this one tends to look next for the King, mounted on a splendid stallion and surrounded by his noble knights, or perhaps in a golden litter borne by great-muscled slaves. But there was no king. They did not use swords, or keep slaves. They were not barbarians. I do not know the rules and laws of their society, but I suspect that they were singularly few. As they did without monarchy and slavery, so they also got on without the stock exchange, the advertisement, the secret police, and the bomb. Yet I repeat that these were not simple folk, not dulcet shepherds, noble savages, bland utopians. They were not less complex than us. The trouble is that we have a bad habit, encouraged by pedants and sophisticates, of considering happiness as something rather stupid. Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting. This is the treason of the artist: a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain. If you can't lick 'em, join 'em. If it hurts, repeat it. But to praise despair is to condemn delight, to embrace violence is to lose hold of everything else. We have almost lost hold; we can no longer describe a happy man, nor make any celebration of joy. How can I tell you about the people of Omelas? They were not naive and happy children - though their children were, in fact, happy. They were mature, intelligent, passionate adults whose lives were not wretched. O miracle! But I wish I could describe it better. I wish I could convince you. Omelas sounds in my words like a city in a fairy tale, long ago and far away, once upon a time. Perhaps it would be best if you imagined it as your own fancy bids, assuming it will rise to the occasion, for certainly I cannot suit you all. For instance, how about technology? I think that there would be no cars or helicopters in and above the streets; this follows from the fact that the people of Omelas are happy people. Happiness is based on a just discrimination of what is necessary, what is neither necessary nor destructive, and what is destructive. In the middle category, however - that of the unnecessary but indestructive, that of comfort, luxury, exuberance, etc. - they could perfectly well have central heating, subway trains, washing machines, and all kinds of marvellous devices not yet invented here, floating light-sources, fuelless power, a cure for the common cold. Or they could have none of that: it doesn't matter. As you like it. I incline to think that people from towns up and down the coast have been coming in to Omelas during the last days before the Festival on very fast little trains and double-decked trams, and that the train station of Omelas is actually the handsomest building in town, though plainer than the magnificent Farmers' Market. But even granted trains, I fear that Omelas so far strikes some of you as goody-goody. Smiles, bells, parades, horses, bleh. If so, please add an orgy. If an orgy would help, don't hesitate. Let us not, however, have temples from which issue beautiful nude priests and priestesses already half in ecstasy and ready to copulate with any man or woman, lover or stranger, who desires union with the deep godhead of the blood, although that was my first idea. But really it would be better not to have any temples in Omelas - at least, not manned temples. Religion yes, clergy no. Surely the beautiful nudes can just wander about, offering themselves like divine souffl├ęs to the hunger of the needy and the rapture of the flesh. Let them join the processions. Let tambourines be struck above the copulations, and the glory of desire be proclaimed upon the gongs, and (a not unimportant point) let the offspring of these delightful rituals be beloved and looked after by all. One thing I know there is none of in Omelas is guilt. But what else should there be? I thought at first there were no drugs, but that is puritanical. For those who like it, the faint insistent sweetness of drooz may perfume the ways of the city, drooz which first brings a great lightness and brilliance to the mind and limbs, and then after some hours a dreamy languor, and wonderful visions at last of the very arcana and inmost secrets of the Universe, as well as exciting the pleasure of sex beyond all belief; and it is not habit-forming. For more modest tastes I think there ought to be beer. What else, what else belongs in the joyous city? The sense of victory, surely, the celebration of courage. But as we did without clergy, let us do without soldiers. The joy built upon successful slaughter is not the right kind of joy; it will not do; it is fearful and it is trivial. A boundless and generous contentment, a magnanimous triumph felt not against some outer enemy but in communion with the finest and fairest in the souls of all men everywhere and the splendour of the world's summer: this is what swells the hearts of the people of Omelas, and the victory they celebrate is that of life. I really don't think many of them need to take drooz. Most of the processions have reached the Green Fields by now. A marvellous smell of cooking goes forth from the red and blue tents of the provisioners. The faces of small children are amiably sticky; in the benign grey beard of a man a couple of crumbs of rich pastry are entangled. The youths and girls have mounted their horses and are beginning to group around the starting line of the course. An old woman, small, fat, and laughing, is passing out flowers from a basket, and tall young men wear her flowers in their shining hair. A child of nine or ten sits at the edge of the crowd, alone, playing on a wooden flute. People pause to listen, and they smile, but they do not speak to him, for he never ceases playing and never sees them, his dark eyes wholly rapt in the sweet, thin magic of the tune. He finishes, and slowly lowers his bands holding the wooden flute. As if that little private silence were the signal, all at once a trumpet sounds from the pavilion near the starting line: imperious, melancholy, piercing. The horses rear on their slender legs, and some of them neigh in answer. Sober-faced, the young riders stroke the horses' necks and soothe them, whispering, "Quiet, quiet, there my beauty, my hope . . . ." They begin to form in rank along the starting line. The crowds along the racecourse are like a field of grass and flowers in the wind. The Festival of Summer has begun. Do you believe? Do you accept the festival, the city, the joy? No? Then let me describe one more thing. In a basement under one of the beautiful public buildings of Omelas, or perhaps in the cellar of one of its spacious private homes, there is a room. It has one locked door, and no window. A little light seeps in dustily between cracks in the boards, second-hand from a cobwebbed window somewhere across the cellar. In one corner of the little room a couple of mops, with stiff, clotted, foul-smelling heads, stand near a rusty bucket. The floor is dirt, a little damp to the touch, as cellar dirt usually is. The room is about three paces long and two wide: a mere broom closet or disused tool room. In the room a child is sitting. It could be a boy or a girl. It looks about six, but actually is nearly ten. It is feeble-minded. Perhaps it was born defective, or perhaps it has become imbecile through fear, malnutrition, and neglect. It picks its nose and occasionally fumbles vaguely with its toes or genitals, as it sits hunched in the corner farthest from the bucket and the two mops. It is afraid of the mops. It finds them horrible. It shuts its eyes, but it knows the mops are still standing there; and the door is locked; and nobody will come. The door is always locked; and nobody ever comes, except that sometimes - the child has no understanding of time or interval - sometimes the door rattles terribly and opens, and a person, or several people, are there. One of them may come in and kick the child to make it stand up. The others never come close, but peer in at it with frightened, disgusted eyes. The food bowl and the water jug are hastily filled, the door is locked, the eyes disappear. The people at the door never say anything, but the child, who has not always lived in the tool room, and can remember sunlight and its mother's voice, sometimes speaks. "I will be good," it says. "Please let me out. I will be good!" They never answer. The child used to scream for help at night, and cry a good deal, but now it only makes a kind of whining, "eh-haa, eh-haa," and it speaks less and less often. It is so thin there are no calves to its legs; its belly protrudes; it lives on a half-bowl of corn meal and grease a day. It is naked. Its buttocks and thighs are a mass of festered sores, as it sits in its own excrement continually. They all know it is there, all the people of Omelas. Some of them have come to see it, others are content merely to know it is there. They all know that it has to be there. Some of them understand why, and some do not, but they all understand that their happiness, the beauty of their city, the tenderness of their friendships, the health of their children, the wisdom of their scholars, the skill of their makers, even the abundance of their harvest and the kindly weathers of their skies, depend wholly on this child's abominable misery. This is usually explained to children when they are between eight and twelve, whenever they seem capable of understanding; and most of those who come to see the child are young people, though often enough an adult comes, or comes back, to see the child. No matter how well the matter has been explained to them, these young spectators are always shocked and sickened at the sight. They feel disgust, which they had thought themselves superior to. They feel anger, outrage, impotence, despite all the explanations. They would like to do something for the child. But there is nothing they can do. If the child were brought up into the sunlight out of that vile place, if it were cleaned and fed and comforted, that would be a good thing, indeed; but if it were done, in that day and hour all the prosperity and beauty and delight of Omelas would wither and be destroyed. Those are the terms. To exchange all the goodness and grace of every life in Omelas for that single, small improvement: to throw away the happiness of thousands for the chance of the happiness of one: that would be to let guilt within the walls indeed. The terms are strict and absolute; there may not even be a kind word spoken to the child. Often the young people go home in tears, or in a tearless rage, when they have seen the child and faced this terrible paradox. They may brood over it for weeks or years. But as time goes on they begin to realize that even if the child could be released, it would not get much good of its freedom: a little vague pleasure of warmth and food, no doubt, but little more. It is too degraded and imbecile to know any real joy. It has been afraid too long ever to be free of fear. Its habits are too uncouth for it to respond to humane treatment. Indeed, after so long it would probably be wretched without walls about it to protect it, and darkness for its eyes, and its own excrement to sit in. Their tears at the bitter injustice dry when they begin to perceive the terrible justice of reality, and to accept it. Yet it is their tears and anger, the trying of their generosity and the acceptance of their helplessness, which are perhaps the true source of the splendour of their lives. Theirs is no vapid, irresponsible happiness. They know that they, like the child, are not free. They know compassion. It is the existence of the child, and their knowledge of its existence, that makes possible the nobility of their architecture, the poignancy of their music, the profundity of their science. It is because of the child that they are so gentle with children. They know that if the wretched one were not there snivelling in the dark, the other one, the flute-player, could make no joyful music as the young riders line up in their beauty for the race in the sunlight of the first morning of summer. Now do you believe in them? Are they not more credible? But there is one more thing to tell, and this is quite incredible. At times one of the adolescent girls or boys who go to see the child does not go home to weep or rage, does not, in fact, go home at all. Sometimes also a man or woman much older falls silent for a day or two, and then leaves home. These people go out into the street, and walk down the street alone. They keep walking, and walk straight out of the city of Omelas, through the beautiful gates. They keep walking across the farmlands of Omelas. Each one goes alone, youth or girl, man or woman. Night falls; the traveller must pass down village streets, between the houses with yellow-lit windows, and on out into the darkness of the fields. Each alone, they go west or north, towards the mountains. They go on. They leave Omelas, they walk ahead into the darkness, and they do not come back. The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible that it does not exist. But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.