Be attentive: Mr. Feaster is emerging from his bath. There he has spent some fifteen minutes soaking, the warm gray water high as his collar. He has been considering what the heat of his tub has done to his sperm, for he has read that such heat kills, penetrating even the soft protective sacking of the scrotum; and he has been pondering, consequently, the possibilities lost, the thousand or moreso lives unrealized, the risks untaken, sparks unstruck, the deaths for which he cannot be held accountable—not by the state, or even by the papacy.
We must be attentive because everything we now observe will pass: the water of his bath will disappear as easily as Mr. Feaster’s breath. It will untub with a sound too common to comment on. The ring which remains is silent. Planes’ at O’Hare aren’t heard either. The multitude is always moaning. They would bloat our bellies like soaked beans if we’d let them—crowd our thoughts—though unlike food and water, consciousness, itself, fills nothing up.
We must be attentive because Mr. Feaster’s not on camera; his moves have not been registered; the angles his elbows have assumed do not remain like played cards; and his thoughts…as for them, they do not fluster the air so much as an arm wave. Feaster cannot complain. Presently he will forget all this. What is most of his life, even to himself, but background noise?
Many millions of men exist for no purpose now, and to no effect whatever. Their presence shall not be missed; their passing neither mourned nor noted. We have more than we need even to support our economies. Perhaps snaps of their bodies—victims of flood, murder, earthquake, war, famine, suicide, disease—will occasionally appear on our screens, in our papers and magazines, where we shall see them clogging roads or rivers; and certainly centuries of nameless mortals have gone before us; the whole earth is simply a grave; yet we do not have to put them behind us as we each must our parents; they have never been a part of us, noticeably loved or harmed us; they have never been human; they have merely been foreigners, poor men, madmen, Persians, Protestants, huns—faceless hordes, census numbers—and it is only their corpses which still cause us any concern, since consciousness, as I’ve already observed, is nothing…no thing; because one gunny sack full of Polish teeth takes up more room in the world than all the agony of their extraction.
History, as it has been generally composed by our historians, has regarded the multitude, as Mr. Feaster does his freckles or his unspent sperm, with an occasional odd curiosity. The closing lines of Middlemarch:
…for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden …