Thursday, February 21, 2008

Attention Alice!

"The palace of power is a labyrinth of interconnecting rooms", Max once said to his sleepy child. She imagined it into being, walked towards it, half-dreaming half-awake. "It's windowless" Max said, "and there is no visible door. Your first task is to find out how to get in. When you've solved that riddle, when you come as a supplicant into the first anteroom of power, you will find in it a man with the head of a jackal, who will try to chase you out again. If you stay he will try to gobble you up. If you can trick your way past him, you will enter a second room, guarded this time by a man with the head of a rabid dog, and in the room after that you'll face a man with the head of a hungry bear, and so on. In the last room but one there's a man with the head of a fox. This man will not try to keep you away from the last room, in which the man of true power sits. Rather, he will try to convince you that you are already in that room and that he himself is that man."

"If you succeed in seeing through the fox man's tricks, and if you get past him, you will find yourself in the room of power. The room of power is unimpressive and in it the man of power faces you across an empty desk. He looks small, insignificant, fearful; for now that you have penetrated his defenses he must give you your heart's desire. That's the rule. But on the way out the fox man, the bear man, the dog man and the jackal man are no longer there. Instead, the rooms are full of half-human flying monsters, winged men with the heads of birds, eagle-men and vulture-men, men-gannets and hawk-men. They swoop down and rip at your treasure. Each of them claws back a little piece of it. How much of it will you manage to bring out of the house of power? You beat at them, you shield the treasure with your body. They rake at your back with gleaming blue-white claws. And when you've made it and are outside again, squinting painfully in the bright light and clutching your poor, torn remnant, you must persuade the skeptical crowd - the envious, impotent crowd! - that you have returned with everything you wanted. If you don't, you'll be marked as a failure forever."

"Such is the nature of power" he told her as slipped towards sleep, "and these are the questions it asks. The man who chooses to enter its halls does well to escape with his life. The answer to the question of power, by the way" he added as an afterthought, "is this: do not enter as a supplicant. Come with meat and a sword. Give the first guardian the meat he craves, for he is always hungry, and cut off his head while he eats: pof! Then offer the severed head to the guardian in the next room, and when he begins to devour it, behead him too. Baf! Et ainsi de suite. When the man of power agrees to grant your demands, however, you must not cut off his head. Be sure you don't. The decapitation of rulers is an extreme measure, hardly ever required, never recommended. Make sure, instead, that you ask not only for what you want but for a sack of meat as well. With the fresh meat supply you will lure the bird-men to their doom. Off with their heads! Snick-snack! Chop-chop until you're free. Freedom is not a tea party, India. Freedom is a war."