Fullalove’s inner-city hovel had become ridiculous. The hallway was stacked with books, piled one on top of another, as if bookcases had never been invented. And having negotiated access, it was to find every room similarly stuffed with books, some on shelves, but most in cardboard boxes or stacked against the walls. The hovel had always been stuffed with conspiracy theories, Cold War espionage narratives, analyses of imperialist adventures and Islamic resistance, histories of the secret services of the world and so on. Now, from what Plant could see as he squeezed past the open boxes, the holdings had expanded to include political philosophy, pornography and manuals of sexual deviance. Or maybe the varieties of sexual experience. Plant was unclear in his mind whether deviance was a superseded category in official pluralism, or had been reinstated.
‘This is ridiculous,’ Plant complained, standing in the hallway, peering into the allegedly spare room. No other word for it. Not one he could think of, anyway.
‘No it’s not.’
‘It’s madness. It’s an obsession.’
‘No, man, it’s a goldmine. Look at it.’
Plant looked at it.
‘Anyway, what’s wrong with obsession? Without it where would the great collections come from? Books, art, antiquities, shrunken heads, you name it.’
Plant declined to name any more of it.
‘It’s worse than ever,’ he said.
‘No it’s not. It’s better. A quantum leap. I had a vision.’
‘Don’t tell me.’
But Fullalove told him. ‘The book is mightier than the sword.’
‘Sounds reassuring. Go on.’
‘I’m going to start buying books.’
‘You already have. The place is full of them.’
‘They’re merely personal, pretty much,’ Fullalove said. ‘But now I’m getting into them commercially.’
‘Where are you going to put them?’
‘Rent a self-storage space eventually.’
‘When you can no longer move in this place.’
‘Could be any day soon.’
‘It could,’ Fullalove agreed, with evident satisfaction.
‘Go on. Tell me. What books are you going to buy?’
‘Old books. Second-hand books. All the dodgy stuff. Politics. Pornography. Art books, too, maybe. Because the time is coming when they’re going to say books are obsolete. Like photographic film. And vinyl. Everything’s going to be digitised. And maybe it will be but probably not. But the point is, once things are digitised they can be monitored. Like your phone calls and internet searches and emails and library borrowings and travel card. All recorded. And the data all retrievable.’
‘Uh-huh,’ Plant grunted. ‘Go on.’
Though Fullalove needed no encouragement. ‘So, mate, who’s going to borrow a library copy or order an e-book of Capital or The Story of O or The Protocols of the Elders of Zion or Socialism Utopian and Scientific or Fanny Hill or Mein Kampf? You want to read those books, but you don’t want to leave any record. Olympia Press stuff, the Kama Sutra, Confessions of an English Opium Eater, Junky… You don’t want to lose your job, open yourself up to blackmail, get yourself on a watch list for life.’
‘There’s going to be a market for all this stuff. The ever-expanding list of the politically incorrect. Huckleberry Finn, The Nigger of the Narcissus, The Gollywog’s Cakewalk. CDs as well as books. For people who would prefer not to be dependent on having their music streamed from some malign internet source.’
‘It would have to be, so much money involved. Anyway, just to stick with books for the time being, think of it. Left wing, right wing, classic sex and drugs, books you don’t want someone being able to tell your wife or your husband or your boss or your local copper that you’ve been reading. It’s all recorded, library borrowings, e-books, internet searches and downloads. The information is going to be used. It already is. Recruitment agencies, head hunters for executive jobs, they trawl through all that information like they trawl through social media.
‘So I’m collecting books. Traditional, secure, old-fashioned books in hard copies. Kraft-Ebbing and Kinsey and The Happy Hooker and Lolita and Beautiful Losers and The Gingerman. All the stuff they used to ban, and all the stuff that poured out when they stopped banning books. The important thing is not to make any value judgements about it. The stuff doesn’t have to be any good. I mean, you don’t have to feel you ought to read it. Just figure out the way society is being pushed and work out what is going to be deemed unacceptable.’
‘You’re saying all this stuff is going to be banned again? Like they used to ban Lady Chatterley’s Lover and …’
‘No, not banned, man. No, everything’s going to be available. But on the internet, so it’s all monitored. It’s entrapment. They want to have something over you. Like registering that you read subversive or dirty or misogynistic books. No, man, it’s all available on the internet. E-books from your local library or your home computer. But it’ll be phased out in hard copies. They won’t be reprinting it.
‘The reason there won’t be any censorship of the internet is because its prime function is surveillance. Surveillance and entrapment. The security services and the police need all the evil shit and child pornography and snuff movies and jihadist sites and neo-Nazi sites and lists of intelligence agents and instructions on how to make a bomb and WikiLeaks. They need all that freely available on the internet so that they can monitor who’s into it. So they can nab them and turn them into informers. Or jail them. Or eliminate them.’
‘Whatever. What they do isn’t the point. The point is they want it all out there uncensored so they can run surveillance. Better than having it go underground. To their way of thinking. So when all those sad old libertarians bang on about keeping the internet free from government interference and regulation and censorship, what they’re really doing is facilitating the surveillance and entrapment systems of the secret state.
‘What I’m going to be catering for is people who won’t want anyone knowing what they’ve been reading. Especially paranoia and conspiracy stuff. Real paranoiacs aren’t going to use the internet or e-books.
‘All that leftist stuff publishers pumped out in the sixties and seventies. Desperate to make a killing from the student radical market. Amazing what you can still pick up. Jack Lindsay’s Turner, Christopher Hill’s Winstanley, William Morris, Jack London. So I figure, get it while I can. Before some other fucker gets the idea.
‘The surveillance society, it’s like prohibition. Creates an opportunity. Think how much the Kennedys made from prohibition. People don’t believe it’s going to happen. But it’s already happening. So the cluey entrepreneur of the future will take this on board and make a killing.’
‘And that’s you?’
‘And these are metaphors, are they? Mixed as they are. You’re not planning on actually killing anyone. You’re not taking up arms against the surveillance society?’
‘I’m embracing it,’ Fullalove said, with a positive enthusiasm Plant had never seen him show before. ‘No point complaining like a liberal wanker about what’s not allowed. The answer is, get out there and supply it. That way you’re fighting the system and making a fortune.’
‘Like drug dealing,’ Plant said.
‘Got it,’ Fullalove agreed. ‘A cash sales only, second-hand book business. Think of all the stuff the feminists denounced. D.H. Lawrence, Henry Miller, Norman Mailer. Think of those right-wingers you don’t want people to know you want to read—Céline, Knut Hamsun, Henry Williamson. Think of the left-wingers, Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Philby’s My Silent War. Think of all the Islamic stuff.’
‘Fair enough,’ Plant said.
‘Doesn’t matter whether it’s fair or unfair. It’s a market. Which is currently unprovided for. Plain brown paper bag trade. Anything people mightn’t want people knowing they’re reading.’
‘That’s a wide field.’
‘You bet it is. I can see money. You won’t be able to get most of this stuff except online. Libraries have already purged it or put it in storage. We used to have the greatest scholarly library in the country just down the road. In the entire hemisphere. Knocked spots off most of the university libraries in Britain or the States. It was unique. It had open access to the stacks. You can’t get that in any of the state libraries let alone the Bodleian or the British Library. You could get in there and browse around and discover books you didn’t know existed. Looking along the shelves and turning up something you’d never heard of or seen a reference to. Stuff that had been effectively suppressed. You could read it there, make your notes, and nobody would ever know. But you can’t do that now. That’s all ended. They’ve shifted half a million books off campus and used tax payers’ money to pay some private storage facility. They shifted anything that hadn’t been borrowed in the last five years. Why five years? If you’re doing any original research you’d be wanting to use material no-one had looked at for 20 years, maybe 100 years. And it’s not just this place. Worldwide they’re purging libraries of books not borrowed in the last five years. And if that isn’t a conspiracy, what is?’
‘Why are they doing it?’
‘It’s all about controlling access. Restricting it and monitoring it. You can’t just walk in and look up a book or journal. They take the journals off the shelves, claiming they’re all archived digitally, which means you have to log in. Same as ordering a book from deposit, you have to log in, order it a day or so in advance. You’ve got to know what you want before you look for it. Which isn’t my idea of research. And everything you ever look up or order is recorded. So think about the implications of that. Academic freedom, forget it.
‘So all the stuff you don’t want anyone to know you’re reading, you can’t use a library for. You can’t go and buy it, the shops won’t stock it any more.’
‘But you will.’
‘You bet. Cash sales only. No records kept.’
‘Except by you.’
‘No way. I’m not going to keep records and get caught up in some witch hunt when they’re out to nail some poor bugger. Best to know nothing.’
It was like the old days when the world was wide, happily stoned in the early morning sunlight, visions of an amazing future, projects, schemes, fantasies, all glistening in the sun and dancing along the tops of the cars parked in the street. So what if it was just one of myriad unrealised dreams, yet another iridescent bubble destined to burst. One day one dream would survive and be fulfilled. Maybe. You had to believe it.
‘Smart thinking,’ Plant said.
‘Got to be ahead of the game.’
‘And no-one else has thought of this?’
‘Dunno. Not that I’ve heard.’
‘What about the security services?’
‘What about them?’
‘They must have a contingency plan.’
‘To stop people like you. Like installing a surveillance camera across the road from your shop.’
‘Warehouse. Monitor everyone who calls by.’
‘Or even better,’ Plant said, fired with enthusiasm, ‘they might set up in competition.’
‘Oh yeah? And why would they do that?’
‘To buy up all the dodgy books and incinerate them. They’ve probably already started. You’d better build up your stock while it’s still available.’
‘No worries,’ said Fullalove. ‘Be cool if they did. That’ll just create scarcity. So I can charge more, can’t I? So I’m stockpiling while the stuff’s still around. This stuff’s going to appreciate in value like you wouldn’t believe.’
‘Fuck the internet,’ Fullalove said. ‘I refuse the internet. Why give it oxygen?’
‘Well, that’s one way of coming to terms with it.’
‘I’m not coming to any terms with it. It’s the child of evil. Suckled by spooks. All that Bletchley Park stuff we’re always being fed. Crosswords and code-breakers. It’s got to be bullshit. Why do you think Bletchley Park was kept secret until 1974? To protect the fact that they were developing computers to crack German military codes in the 1940s? A quarter of a century after the war ended? No, mate. Forget code-breaking. It was a race to establish the surveillance society. Once they’d developed computers they realised everything could be stored and accessed digitally, a total data-retrieval system. So once they’d got email and the internet and e-books up and running, they were on the way to total surveillance. Credit cards, mobile phones, traffic cameras, police records, health records, bank records, everything digitised and effortlessly accessible to the security services for ever after. And people fell for it.
‘Amazing how many seemingly smart people don’t use a stand alone computer to write sensitive stuff on. To write any stuff. Longhand, mate. The only way to go. Can’t be electronically accessed. Can’t be read if you develop your own illegible script.’
‘That’s why your handwriting’s so dreadful?’
‘Why don’t you write in code?’
‘What makes you think I don’t?’
‘Like Samuel Pepys.’
‘Or the Dead Sea scrolls.’
Plant looked at Fullalove in puzzlement. Was it a top of the head remark, a casual analogy, lacking precision? Or had Fullalove finally flipped, delusions of divinity, scriptural pretensions? But Fullalove came back to earth. Bearing no tablets of stone, but verbal instructions.
‘The answer is not to write at all,’ he said. ‘Remember the Chinese proverb.’
‘What the mouth emits is wind; the pen leaves traces.’
‘To which, of course, the wise add the Irish proverb.’
‘Whatever you say, say nothing.’
‘This is your vision of the way to live now?’
Fullalove nodded, wordlessly.
‘But given all that,’ Plant said, ‘emails recorded, internet usage logged, location traced by phones, traffic cameras, CCTV in shops and streets, public transport usage recorded, credit card purchases recorded, health records…’
‘And the rest…’
‘Given all that, how can it all be processed? How many people would have to be employed to monitor all that data and analyse it?’
‘Yeah, that old objection,’ Fullalove said, dismissing it. ‘Irrelevant. It’s the Benthamite principle. The panopticon—the prison in which one warder can see into every cell. Like the jail they built at Port Arthur. Of course he can’t see into everyone’s cell simultaneously. Or she. So sometimes he or she’s not going to be watching you. Most of the time, maybe. But you don’t know when they are watching you, do you? The surveillance structure is in place but you never know when it’s running live. You’re under constant threat. Perpetual fear. That’s why they keep having all those leaks. High profile. Year after year. Manning, Assange, Snowden.’
‘To remind us that the NSA and CIA and GCHQ and Pine Gap are monitoring all phone and internet traffic. You might think they’d want to keep that secret. But in fact they want us to know. They want us to be fearful that we’re under constant surveillance and we never know when someone’s monitoring us in real time, or checking back through our credit card purchases, phone calls, library borrowings… And that’s the point, of course. All this digitised data they can trawl back through if they decide to take an unnatural liking to you. All recorded and easily searched. That’s the quantum leap on the panopticon. The possibility of real-time total surveillance has now become the very real possibility of unlimited retrospective surveillance. And they need you to know that. They need to frighten people off, otherwise they’d be swamped having to deal with all the people who get themselves entrapped. They need that climate of fear. More effective than repression. Fear keeps people fearful, paralysed. Repression might provoke resistance.’
Avoiding the internet, Fullalove took his news from newspapers. He alternated buying newspapers with buying a coffee and reading the papers in a café. A coffee cost a bit more than a newspaper, but not a lot. And most cafés that provided newspapers offered two or three different ones, so if he looked at more than one he was financially ahead. The downside was that sometimes other cheapskates were hogging the available copies. He could wait, buy another coffee. Or give up and buy the papers and go back home, this the least economical way of doing it. In Fullalove’s situation, whatever that was, but not noticeably prosperous, these were significant considerations.
It would have been cheaper and easier to have had the papers delivered. Sign up for six months and save considerably on the cover price. But such economic incentives had their own price. Like registering your name and address. And then you were on record, which it was his life’s work to refuse. So each day, or at least most days, Fullalove would pick up a newspaper or two on his morning walk for milk and bread and rolling papers. Rye bread preferably, allegedly good for paranoia. For inducing it.
Fullalove the flâneur, strolling the streets amid the obese and the emaciated, the tattooed and body-pierced, lumbering pedestrians and helmeted cyclists, phones clamped to their ears or held out before them as they walked down the pavements, breathing in the heady brew of exhaust particles and carbon emissions from the vehicle-packed street, nitrogen fumes from diesels, tobacco fumes from the smokers excluded from pubs and restaurants, all part of the urban parade.
His strategy was to use different newsagencies at different times so as to reveal no regular pattern and to avoid being a familiar figure. Inevitably the newsagents came to recognise him. And over the years the newsagencies became more scarce as people other than Fullalove stopped buying the papers or bought them at the supermarket. Which Fullalove did too when he occasionally shopped for his meagre requirements. The rest of the time he picked up the news from free-to-air television, which as far as he knew contained no built-in system monitoring hisviewing habits. But he mistrusted cable and satellite television as much as he mistrusted the internet.
‘What does it matter?’ Plant asked. ‘What does it matter who knows what you read or watch?’
‘No idea,’ Fullalove conceded. ‘But it’s hardly likely to be to my advantage. So …’
‘So it’s a matter of principle.’
‘What principle’s that?
‘Fair enough,’ Plant agreed. ‘Though there again, has it ever struck you that your paranoia about web surveillance has totally incapacitated you? You refuse to use it so you are no longer able to access information. Knowledge is power. Your paranoia has disempowered you.’
‘Sure. Like paranoia disempowered the left. Be safe, suspect everyone. That’s how the system destroys collective endeavour. It’s a powerful tool in the wrong hands. Can’t deny it.’
‘So you’re happy with that?’
‘It’s not a matter of being happy or being unhappy, it’s just a law of nature.’
Plant’s objection to the internet and computer technology was that the system was fraught with time-wasting malfunctions, upgrades that left your printer no longer functioning, no longer compatible, built-in obsolescence of the most blatant and shameless sort, far greater than the automobile industry had ever achieved.
‘Oh, that,’ Fullalove said dismissively, ‘of course. It’s just another late-capitalist business, why would it be any different from the way the media or the oil companies or the supermarket chains or anybody else does things? It’s just business. Of course it’s objectively corrupt and a rip off. Why wouldn’t it be? It’s just institutional practice.’
Apart from its anti-surveillance and monitor-thwarting functions, Fullalove’s morning walk for the newspapers also provided exercise. Sound mind in sound body, as he put it, somewhat bizarrely given what the health police would make of the nature of his mind and body.
‘You know, sometimes I go for a walk in the old cemetery. I look at all those gravestones and think. You want to come along?’
‘Not especially,’ Plant said. Strolling around cemeteries was not high on his list of preferred activities.
‘Pick up some bread and milk and stuff. We’re out of them.’
As far as Plant could see they were out of pretty well everything. He groaned agreement. At least it provided an escape from the cramped chaos of the house, barking his shins on the boxes of books everywhere.
The old cemetery was only a block or so away from the main street. Fullalove provided the guided tour.
‘You see, what all these gravestones are saying, or trying to say, is, this life did not pass unrecorded. Here is a gravestone to prove it, complete with inscription. Name, date, occupation even. Now that’s very nineteenth century. The fear that you made no mark. That you failed to be noticed. That your life was unimportant, that you achieved nothing.’
‘I guess so.’
‘But today it’s the reverse situation. Today the problem is avoiding having your life recorded. Every fucking move is monitored. All you can do is try and do nothing that attracts attention. Say nothing in emails. Keep off social media. Avoid mobile phones. Don’t use a credit card. Don’t…’
‘I get it,’ Plant said, trying to curtail the overfamiliar catalogue.
‘Apart from that, it’s a nice, quiet spot. So far as one can see remarkably free from CCTV and the rest of it.’
‘I imagine so.’
‘Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, and waste its sweetness on the desert air,’ Fullalove intoned. ‘That used to be a lament. Now ’tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.’