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Unsatisfied with the inefficacy of reality’s justice, I took to creating ugly little men so that I might torture them in stages.

0. Late last Thursday afternoon I created Professor John Barnham. I was lying limp as a fish upon the sofa of my rented bedsit in Hackney when I gave luxurious birth to him. He came out in a flurry of notes which I shored against me. As I have written elsewhere, the writer who intends to provoke insensible sentiments in his audience ought himself to be cold at the hour of composition. I was cold when I gave Professor Barnham a cancerous sarcoma in his fibrous connective tissues. 

1. Barnham was a University professor of Comparative Literature at a university in the United Kingdom whose name I never got around to coming up with. I had, nevertheless, a vague idea that it was a former polytechnic; that it had undefined, wishy-washy liberal political leanings. Barnham was to be interested primarily in the French post-structuralists, but would speak little or only vaguely about them, confined as he was to his creator’s (my) knowledge of that school of thought. I thought perhaps of having him write a book on Western sexuality in such a way that would lightly suggest his own sexual perversions,[1] but the whole idea was so convoluted that I just ended up giving him a small, in situ cancer in his left thigh.

2. I imagine myself as a student in Barnham’s class. He is fond of unconventional teaching methods. On a cold, wet, autumn day, he takes us onto the grass field which surrounds the university, instructs us to remove our shoes, and then suggests that we climb the nearest tree. This, he says, has something to do with shedding our urbanity. His shoes remain on and at this point I make the cancer spread to local cells.

3. Some months later, he is assuring a female student that he is more interested in her “body” as it constitutes a physical tablet of race, class and culture as he folds up the first inch of her skirt. I see and hear all of this, I suppose, through the window of his office.

4. Not long after, I get wind of an annual dinner party which Barnham is throwing for those talented first year students who are to make up his “inner circle.” I am not invited, but show up to his home regardless, a bottle of Blue Nun in one hand and a Colt pistol hidden in my sports jacket. I imagine myself extremely tired. I am surprised to find that I am not greeted as a liberator by the nude figures I find within, but as an intruder. (Barnham, too, is naked. the tumor above his thigh is visible, the skin peeling.)

That was the full extent of my involvement with Barnham. He had succeeded in exciting my moral disgust, but I never managed to cancel him. As my indignation grew greater, the more powerful he grew in my imagination. At its greatest point his cancer simply shed itself. 

I dream after that I am in a department of the unnamed university, bound to a wheelchair. My body is sick and heavy. I imagine Barnham dancing naked with his dryads. In a few moments I am wheeled out to a crowd of many students and a microphone is thrust into my face. I am sick from the medication and immediately vomit onto it. The crowd cheers loudly, and the next morning The Daily Telegraph hails me as this generation’s foremost political provocateur.

William Guppy is an independent Charles Dickens Scholar from London. You can find his work on Twitter at @w_guppy.


[1] Think Alain de Botton.