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Un Magazine 10.2

A crowd of soccer players, a group of lawyers, a band of Malay Muslims

Nick Modrzewski

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19/33

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I recently applied for a job as a lawyer and met a new friend, The Ghost of Félix Guattari, The Famous French Philosopher and Psychotherapist Who’s Been Dead for Fourteen Years and is Currently Stuck in a Psychotherapeutic Purgatory. His apparition appeared to me as I attempted to fill out an Application for Employment Form, which was given to me by a friendly secretary.
The secretary hands me the form.

‘This should take about five minutes to fill out’, she says, before leaving me alone in a pale blue office, tucked away among the cubicles and meeting rooms of Jeremy Chua Law Group.

I’m sweating from my neck, forehead and underarms. This is happening for a number of reasons, including:

  1. I’m considering eating a mint that’s sitting in a bowl in front of me but I’m not sure if it will appear rude or presumptuous.

  2. The Application for Employment Form is asking me all sorts of personal questions, such as: ‘Why did you leave your last job?’ and ‘Please describe your annual income (before tax)?’, which seems invasive, although the word ‘Please’ shows good manners for an Application for Employment form.

  3. There is one particularly personal and complicated question that I am being asked to answer:

Religion: ___________________________________.

It stands there in the middle of the page, stark and followed by an arrogant colon, demanding and impatiently waiting for my response. Given my present situation, which, admittedly, the Application for Employment Form couldn’t possibly know, I need more space to write my answer. In three days’ time I am meant to attend a ceremony, held in my honour, where I will convert to the Islamic faith. This is not entirely my choice. See, I want to marry my girlfriend who is from a Muslim family. We love each other very much and her family insists that they cannot accept our marriage unless I convert. I find this request to be invasive, a little like this Application for Employment Form — because it seems wrong to force someone to believe something. However, after much deliberation I have come to the conclusion that it is easier for everyone if I just do it, if I sign on the dotted line and become a Muslim. When I say ‘easier for everyone’, this is not actually true. It is not easy for some members of my Welsh and Polish family. They are not religious. They think religion causes wars. They say things like: ‘Why do you need to change your identity?’, and ‘How will this affect your career?’, and ‘Sharia law does not respect women’s rights’, and ‘If Donald Trump wins the election you won’t be allowed into America’, and ‘Animals killed in the Halal way are bled to death from the neck’, and ‘You’d be disavowing your own culture’, and ‘The newspaper says that people are getting stoned to death in Saudi Arabia’, and ‘Do you actually believe in God?’

To answer just one of these questions: I do not necessarily believe in one God. I believe in being open to many possibilities. But does being ‘open’ mean changing my bodily composition? Because surely a belief seeps into the pores of our hands and nestles into the spot behind our kneecaps. A Muslim is not just a Muslim inside his or her head. A Muslim has Muslim-hands, Muslim-feet and Muslim-ears that are washed five times a day. A Muslim has a Muslim-liver. If I were to write ‘Muslim’ on this Application for Employment Form, I would be allowing this belief to stream through my entire body.

Now I am sweating a great deal of Australian and potentially Muslim sweat because I’ve already spent roughly nine minutes on a form that was meant to be completed in five minutes.

I take a mint from the bowl and shove it into my mouth and it is at this moment that I notice a grey shape hovering to the left of the table.

‘Hey,’ says a voice, ‘do you need some help?’

‘No, I’m fine,’ I say, without turning my head, so absorbed in my dilemma that I am oblivious to the fact that The Ghost of Félix Guattari has appeared next to me. My unexpected sense of calm seems to amuse him.

‘Are you used to seeing French Ghosts?’, he says.

‘No, I’m just in the middle of something.’

‘I can see that,’ he says, ‘I can see you’re confused about your molecular structure.’

‘Yeah, I don’t really have time to discuss molecular structure,’ I say, ‘I’m in the middle of writing an Application for Employment Form that was due eleven minutes ago and I’m simultaneously having a spiritual crisis.’

‘Yeah, yeah, and I’m currently in Psychotherapeutic Purgatory but you don’t see me complaining. In fact, I’ve taken the time to appear here before you to help you through your confusion.’

I put down my pen and turn to him. His skin is grey-scale, like in the photographs I’ve seen on the Internet where he’s posing with Gilles Deleuze. In his hand is a phantom cigarette.

‘Jesus,’ I say, ‘you really are the Ghost of Félix Guattari.’

He smiles and drags on his cigarette.

‘I am the Ghost of Félix Guattari,’ he says, ‘but I am also a team of unruly soccer players roaming haphazardly through the desert at night. In addition, I am a crowd of noses and a small pack of chins. I am a party of anuses and a group of cockroaches that have recently been exterminated.’

‘I’m Nick.’

‘I will not address you as Nick,’ he says, ‘and if you insist on using that title, then I must insist on calling you Nick The Fascist.’

‘Excuse me?’

‘Let me explain,’ he says, crossing his legs. ‘So you’re converting to Islam and you’re worried about what it will do to your body and what people will think of you?’

‘That’s right,’ I say, ‘sort of.’

‘Well,’ he says, ‘you, or the You I am talking to at this very micro second, is not the You that is Nick. There are an infinite number of bodies that make up your body. They form nomadic groups and rove through your cells. They are constantly moving and changing into new shapes and nothing you can do will slow down their manic pace. Your left elbow is a mass congregation of elbows. There’s also a group of ankles hanging out below your knees but they can easily transform into a pack of wolves. There is no single Nick. The name Nick is just the part of you that you have decided to show to the world, emphasising your rare Welsh stomach and refined Polish chin.’

‘I don’t really have time to discuss my chin.’

‘And yet at the helm of this seething mass of tribes and micro-societies is a pompous fascist. He sits on a tall chair atop your neck — like a tennis umpire — and he’s shouting at the world through a megaphone, claiming that he has the power to change this seething mass of nomads into one contained and unified Person called Nick. What an arrogant and unenlightened fascist! What a blind and cruel leader to deny the autonomy of so many millions, hell, billions, of molecules! Let me tell you — there is no castle built around your body that differentiates you so cleanly from the outside world. Yet the fascist is telling you that you are about to pass through a threshold, so to speak, where your internal borders will be breached by the March of a Million Muslims. And so the fascist asks: “Who is this new and unfamiliar crowd? How will it feel when they rampage through My body and pull apart My carefully put-together bits? What will their rituals, their practices, their beliefs, do to Me? Will they tear My existing body apart and construct a new one to show to the world? And your inner fascist is scared of what this new congregation will look like.”’

‘Yes! Because the way the world sees me is real, like this job application is real.’

‘We all belong to categories but we need to think beyond them. You, like all of us, are a unique composition of bits and pieces that cannot be reduced to one thing, even though some people may see you that way.’

‘So what should I write?’

‘Look, they’ve only given you this much
(_________________________________.) space. Don’t be so pedantic. Write ‘Crowd of soccer players’. It doesn’t matter. You’ll always be asked to put yourself in a box, like every time you go to a public toilet you walk through the door with a sign on it, like:

So stop complaining. You’ll never be able to perfectly grasp your own unique molecular composition. It’s constantly changing. What you actually believe is always contradictory and complicated. Even your father, the proud atheist — the other day I saw him walking down the street with a throng of Indonesian Muslims hanging from his underarms. They quickly turned into an intense heat rash, and then into a swarm of Polish farmers.’

‘You’re right!’ I cry, ‘I am a roving pack of rugby players, a school of mackerel sharks, a dance-troupe of Saudi Arabian Princes!’

‘Yes, sort of’ says the Ghost of Félix Guattari. ‘Anyway, I need to go now. I’ve got an appointment with a group of gymnasts who are considering a sex change.’

His translucent body fades away.

‘Wait!’ I say, ‘I can feel a battalion of ants rising up my throat!’

‘Yeah, just stick with it,’ he says, his voice disappearing, until I’m alone again in this pale blue office with the form glaring at me, like:

Religion: ___________________________________.

So I march through the office door and over to the secretary’s desk. There is a seething horde of secretaries waiting for me.

‘Excuse me,’ I say, handing over my form, ‘I am attempting to grapple with multiple collections of crowds occupying my person and I would appreciate it if you could show some understanding for my situation and provide me with another three hundred Application for Employment forms so that I can account for the different religions, languages, and cultures living inside me. Also, please ensure that the forms are written in English, Welsh, Polish, Italian, Malay, Arabic, Indonesian and Chinese. Thank you. Alternatively, perhaps you would like to amend the existing Application for Employment Form to look something like this:

Religion: ___________________________________.
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‘I just feel it would be a little more inclusive of my molecular structure and the continually multiplying differences that I hope to embrace.’

The secretaries stare at me.

I wonder if they know I ate a mint and whether they think I’m rude for doing so.

Nick Modrzewski is an artist and legal intern currently living in Singapore.