Excerpt: The Emperor’s New Clothes

L returned to London late in 1972, as Dr Louis Zander, Ph.D. George
Loewinger drove him to Calais in the Mercedes, and they crossed on
the ferry to Dover on November 25th. The sea was rough, and L was
“horribly sick”, as he wrote shortly afterwards* to his mother, who
was accompanying her sister on a concert tour of the United States at
the time. The letter conveys other information about L’s thoughts and
feelings well worth our notice:
As you know, I hate flying, so took the ferry, but could
not have been more horribly sick than I was. And to make
matters worse, I found myself in the midst of such a crowd as
would have nauseated me even had the sea been calm. They
rise before my mind’s eye even now, against my will, and
the image turns my stomach. They were English of course,
all too English. Where do such people get the money to go
abroad? The sweaty fat pasty woman in the cheap flashy
clothes. She smelt of unwashed private parts. The puking
baby. Sharp-faced knowing little boys. A female child in
crinkly gold-lustre stockings and stained, cracked silver shoes
under an anorak and an uneven woollen skirt of the cheapest
quality. I think its hem had fallen half down. Another with
a livid birthmark on her cheek, her yellow pigtails tied with
what looked like brassiere straps. The men with clinking
dentures, patent leather shoes and lurid neckties. Their best
clothes no doubt! The gum-chewing pustular adolescents.
Loud grating voices and distorting accents – comprehensive
school at best. A tarty girl dressed in trousers that hung from
her hips exposed a yellow belly, and an elderly man poked
her in the exposed navel, upon which she screamed invective,
and her amorphous mum pelted the old lecher with a hail
of glottal (glo’al) stops. They all had plastic bags full of
disgusting food. That tasteless sort of white sliced bread that
only Anglo-Saxons would tolerate. Tins of some sort of meat
like cat-food. Apples sweating beneath stretched tarpaulins
of polythene. The kiddies smeared ice-cream, snot, chocolate
and dirty sweat from their palms on the vinyl seats (shampoo
blue) and the formica tables (denture pink). They called each
other “love” and “darlin”. They made no statement that
was not turned into a question: “It was this, wasn’[t] it?”,
“I don’[t] know, do I?”, “He got a win on the pools, din’[t]
he?”. There was no first-class accommodation on the ferry.
So I hired a cabin where I could lie down. But the sheets
were not clean and there was a used towel on the bathroom
floor. Fortunately Loewinger had brought a towel for me.
The experience has taught me never to cross the channel
that way again.
No reply from Lady Zander has come to light, and so we do not
know whether she expressed sympathy with her son for his suffering of
this ordeal. The want of evidence as to her views on whether travelling
on the same ferry as hoi polloi were the same as his, has allowed some
neo-Marxist biographers and historians to explain this letter – or rather
to explain it away, as they find it necessary to do – with the assertion
that L was trying to please his mother by pretending to share her values.
This seems implausible. No consideration of her judgments inhibited his
expression of the ideas which he was soon to publish to the world.
While L had been in Vienna, his father had sold the old house
in Hampstead about which L was to record his recollections in his
memoirs. The new house was even larger than the old. It stood on the
edge of the Heath. There Dr Zander, now aged twenty-six, installed
himself. He turned the top floor into a flat with its own front-door at
the top of a flight of wide stone steps which he had built on at the side.
He kept himself busy at his desk, writing.
He told his family that he was writing a play, and that they would
be able to see it in a West End theatre “within two years”.* He finished
it in the summer of 1973, and offered it to a number of producers and
agents, but it was rejected by all of them. L fulminated against their
stupidity, maintaining that what they had against it was that it was
violent; but if we look at the plays that were being staged at that time
we find reason to doubt this. There were productions in which babies
were (illusorily) stoned to death in their prams; and the performing of
rape and mutilation (again, as yet, illusory) was commonplace.
He also failed to find an English publisher for a revised version of his
dissertation on von Hofmannsthal, which he translated into English.
His sister Sophie has said* that “the hurt of those failures went very
deep. He wanted so much to be recognized as a great dramatist and poet
and thinker, and he couldn’t bear to be judged and found wanting by
people he despised as his inferiors. It’s not that he said so, but I’m sure
of it. I think he made up his mind then to get his own back on everyone
who had turned him down. I know that when he had his ‘purge of the
intellectuals’ in 1988, at least one of the producers who had rejected
his work then lost his life – and that was why. Or so I believe, though
I know the reason he gave was that they were all ‘standing in the way
of history’.”
However, L’s thoughts were soon to reach the public in printed
form. Within two years of his appointment as Lecturer in Aesthetics at
the Slade School of Art in 1973, the NLPP (New Left People’s Press)
published THE THIRST FOR REALITY, a collection of L’s critical
essays on certain novelists, poets, playwrights, and a fellow critic* – a
Structuralist, devoutly Freudian as well as Marxian. Structuralism*
had been strongly condemned by another academic* as “a terminology
in search of a theory”*. But it gained the qualified approval of L, for
which he received in return the qualified approbation of structuralists at
Cambridge, Berkeley and Strasbourg. The burden of the collection was
that destruction, “and that means violent destruction”, of “bourgeois
structures” in art was the only proper business of the critic and the artist
“in our time”.
In the introduction to THE THIRST FOR REALITY he is most
explicit. (The lack of capital letters is faithfully reproduced.)
it is imperative that we open our minds to the idea of murder
as art. the world is the gallery of such art. the young left-wing
terrorists of our time are the most inspired artists of our
time, and if we choose, as we may, to reconfine art in practice
back in our galleries and theatres, what happens will not be
faked, but happen in reality: murder, torture, surgery, coitus.
in our time our need is for destruction. we are bursting with
a desire for it. therefore we must have it, and we shall have
it. destruction is the only theatre worth staging, and the
destruction of the living, of animals and of people, is the only
truly therapeutic − because truly cathartic, truly revealing,
truly transforming − spectacle, to counter the spectacle
of brutality by the political, religious, academic, military,
commercial, family pigs, to reveal how great a lie liberalism
really is: brutality alone will cure brutality. only ours will
be overt, a holy ritual in which we shall sacrifice our own
appalled sensitivity in order to identify ourselves finally with
the wretched of the earth, and shock the capitalist employerlandlord-
extortionist torturers into a perception of reality to
which at present they deliberately blind themselves.

L in the Beginning, cont.

It was not as Philip Zaccharov that the Royal Navy’s chandler
attended the investiture. Shortly before the publication of his honour, he
effected two changes in his personal state. He converted to Anglicanism,
along with his wife Miriam and only child Nicholas, and he changed
his name. He told his wife that Zander was the name of an old friend
of his, a writer on politics, whom he admired. Articles by writers of
that name are to be found in political journals of the 1920s, 1930s and
1940s, but there is no record yet found of Philip Zaccharov having been
acquainted with any of them either in Vienna or London. It has been
suggested* that Philip Zaccharov himself might have been one of the
Zanders, perhaps using the name when he wished to express views in
the Vienna journals which he thought it inadvisable to publish under
his own name as head of a government-patronized business.
So it was as Sir Philip Zander that the senior partner of The East
West Shipping Company launched the ill-fated luxury liner, the Rose of
Lancaster, in 1920. It sank off the coast of Newfoundland in the spring
of 1921. Passengers and crew were all saved, but it is said that the event
turned Sir Philip grey “overnight”.
It was in 1922 that the name of his company was changed to Flook
Zander. In 1925 the Flook Zander Merchant Bank opened its doors for
business in the City of London. Sir Nicholas succeeded to his father’s
title, fortune, estates and responsibilities in 1934, the year in which he
became engaged to the Honourable Amadea Montfort. The shipping
firm, and to a lesser degree the bank, had gone down, understandably,
during the depression; but, more perhaps because general economic
conditions improved than because of any special gifts Sir Nicholas
himself possessed, they began to pick up again after 1936, and by 1939
were flourishing as never before.

Even the enormously high taxation introduced by Attlee’s Labour
government after the Second World War, and later in the 1960s the
galloping inflation, did not significantly reduce the magnificent style
of living the Zanders enjoyed and could afford. Once the years of
austerity (1940-1951) were over – austerity which to some extent affected
even such families as theirs – Louis lived a life of luxury, and, whatever
levelling there may have been for most of the population, of privilege
too. Under the guidance of the best tutors his father could find and
induce away from less lucrative posts, he attained high marks in the
public examinations.
In 1965 he entered Trinity College, Cambridge. He emerged with
a double first in Philosophy, and proceeded to Vienna, where he was
awarded his doctorate in 1972. He returned to London and took up an
appointment at the Slade School of Art, London University, as Lecturer
in Aesthetics, in 1973.
Within four years, and after publication of only two books,
WORLDNESS AND HUMANDOM (which appeared in Vienna as
WELTHEIT UND MENSCHTUM), and what was to prove his most
important and enduring work, -NESS, he had acquired a reputation as
a Marxist theoretician of a stature little below that of Herbert Marcuse.
And his literary reputation grew with each book. One highly esteemed
contemporary critic, writing admiringly of L’s “plastic prose”, declared
him to be “as fine a writer as can be found in the glittering history of
English literary genius”.*
From 1975 onwards he did not use his full name except on legal
documents. Even at the university he was known as L − Professor L
when he was appointed to the chair of Theoretical Aesthetics in 1978,
at the early age of thirty-one. His colleagues and all associates called
him L. A reporter on a Sunday newspaper, interviewing him when he
became consultant editor of the NEW WORKER in 1978,* asked him
why he preferred to be known by the initial only, even in private life, and
he replied: “A thinker is always a cipher to others” − on which cryptic
reply, the interviewer reported, he “refused to elaborate”.
In the political events of 1979-1987, leading up to and including
the Declaration of the People’s Republic, L took an increasingly
important part, though remaining behind the scenes. His teaching
and writing had so strong an effect that he had become an influence
on real politics before he intended to, or “even imagined it possible”,
as he said.* “My words became deeds, and then I became a doer.”
Once he had become a doer, he shaped rather than merely affected
the course of history. Kenneth Hamstead, the Prime Minister in the
cabinet which “suspended” constitutional government on the 12th
November, 1987, invited L to join the Council of Ministers which took
total power into their own hands. L was one of only three members of
the junta who had not been elected to Parliament in the first instance by
constitutional democratic procedure. Then began that final part of L’s
life as the thirteenth member of “The Terrible Twelve”. Of this period
little need be said in this introduction, except to record that within
the first month of L’s accession to power, the bookshops, newsstands,
public libraries, private bookshelves, schools, academies and government
offices were well stocked with the works of L in editions of all kinds,
from leather-bound to paperback. All his published works were reissued,
and several volumes of hitherto unpublished essays, criticism, lectures
and fragments appeared. Only the two plays and the poetry he had
written before going to Trinity remained unpublished. There was also in
1987 a spate of books on his works: academic theses, political exegeses,
philosophical examinations, students’ handbooks, unabashed eulogies,
collected essays and lectures, volumes of correspondence about and
with “the Master” – as he was already called – and several biographies
which, though acknowledging his birth “in London” in 1946, seemed
anxious to promote the view that his significant life began at the Slade
in 1973.

 

 

L in the beginning

Louis Philip Zander was born on 1st June, 1946. In all the official
biographies published during his lifetime the place of his birth is given
as London, but in fact his birth certificate [plate 2] was issued in Cape
Town, South Africa. His father, Sir Nicholas Zander, and his mother
Amadea (née Montfort) had emigrated to South Africa in 1939 after the
outbreak of the Second World War. It was the intention of Sir Nicholas
to remain there, and he opened a branch of the Flook Zander Shipping
Company in Adderley Street, Cape Town in February 1940. A year
later he opened a branch of the Flook Zander Merchant Bank in the
same imposing building. But in 1947 the Zanders decided to return to
England because, as Amadea wrote to her sister Claudia, “Nicky has
come to the conclusion that the right education for the children is not
to be had here, and although the importation of tutors might solve the
problem, it may be better in the post-war world, for the boys at least,
to attend a school and learn to get along with people from other walks
of life.”
It was certainly very early to be making plans for Louis’s education,
but he had two older brothers, Abelard, then aged eight, who was to
emigrate to the United States before the revolution, transplanting the
family business to Boston; and Marius, six, who was sadly to die of
a virus disease of the brain before he was old enough to follow his
brother to Eton. Lady Zander grieved deeply for her loss. Her fear that
her youngest son might catch some infection kept Louis out of school
after all, and he was educated in the family house at Hampstead and
in the country on the family’s beautiful Hampshire estate then called
“Wispers” (later turned into “Clinic 5”, the prison-hospital of gruesome
memory).
As a child, Louis admired his brother Abelard, but had little contact
with him after the older boy went off to Eton to start on that education
and adaptation to the commonalty which Sir Nicholas considered to be
of great importance. He kept a closer but quarrelsome companionship
with Marius, who, we learn from the DIARIES, returned often to
haunt his mind, and affected his adult views on children and early
death. Closest of all to Louis – though it would be wrong to think of
his ever having had a very close and durable relationship with anyone
even in early childhood – was his sister Sophie. He continued to seek her
company more than anyone else’s in the family right into adulthood,
and tried unsuccessfully to dissuade her from following Abelard to
America.
Sir Nicholas Zander was of Jewish descent. He liked to tell his
children that the family descended in a direct line from the Maccabees,
the royal heroes of Jewish history. Sir Nicholas’s father’s name had been
Zaccharov. The family had been established as merchants in Vilna,
capital city of the old state of Lithuania, for some generations, but
had come to England via Austria, where Sir Nicholas’s grandfather
had started the new family business by becoming a shipping agent for
a group of Hungarian companies, with considerable backing from a
number of well-established banks through family connections. The
move to London had been made before the First World War. In 1919
Philip Zaccharov was created a baronet by King George V for “services
to His Majesty’s Armed Forces during the war”. He had been chandler
to the fleet from 1915 to the Armistice and beyond, and as his son
Nicholas wrote to his fiancée, the Honourable Amadea Montfort, in
1934: “His enemies accuse him of war-profiteering. Yet there is evidence
for anyone who looks for it that this accusation is not only unjustified,
it is the opposite of the truth. He has written off large sums owed to
him by the government. His love of this country, amply attested by all
who knew him, made him happy to serve it as best he could, and to
my personal knowledge the day he persuaded his partner Flook to write
off the debt was a day of celebration. To call such a man, who throws
a party for his friends and employees when he loses some millions of
pounds, a ‘profiteer’ is plainly unjust, as I am sure you will agree. So the
next time your Aunt the Dowager Countess brings up this slander
(ingenuously I am sure for she cannot have any wish to ruin your
happiness by making you uneasy about the quality of the family you
are to marry into), I hope you will repeat to her what I have now told
you.” We may conjecture from this that Zaccharov’s generosity to the
British government was what earned him his title. But we cannot assert
that he was motivated by desire for honours. Enough for us to notice
that the reward was plainly deserved, and to add that if it was looked
for, it was reasonably looked for.

Revolution and dystopia

He put this grotesque idea of his into practice when he became
Commissar for Education and Culture in the Hungarian Soviet
Republic, which lasted, under its leader Béla Kun, from March until
August 1919. It has been said of him that he “advocated a strategy of
terror, to isolate every individual by a reign of terror, causing panic and
distrust; arousing self-accusations of guilt by administering random
punishment. …The steam roller of terror and random victimization
aims to pulverize individualities into a quaking mass that seeks security
through submission to totalitarian command.”
Like others who tried to establish Communist republics in the
midst of the political chaos of Europe at the end of the First World
War – Béla Kun himself, Rosa Luxembourg in Berlin, Kurt Eisner in
Bavaria – Lukács was Jewish by descent. He and all of them, following
Karl Marx, repudiated their Jewishness. But Lukács wrote about politics
in religious mystical terms. If the Party puts you to death it needed
to be loved for doing it. It is the same concept as that of the Catholic
Inquisitor when he expected the heretic to love the stake as the flames
cleansed his soul by torturing his body to death. “Death for the sake
of the Utopian Community makes the loss of life worthy.” Faith in the
Utopian Community – aka the Communist Party – “replaces the need
for individual immortality”.

With all this in mind, I developed my fantasy of revolution and
dystopia. Mrs Thatcher is voted out, the Left comes in. Strikes, riots,
street fighting, deadly clashes with the police who find themselves
unable to cope with the continual onslaughts, cause Labour leaders
to take extraordinary powers to deal with the emergency. The Royal
family seeks refuge in Scotland. Twelve members of the Cabinet form
themselves into a Council of Ministers to govern by edict. But they
are soft and fearful men and women. They know that bad things will
happen, and they don’t want to be held responsible for them. So they
invite a charismatic celebrity, recognized by millions of young rebels as a
revolutionary leader, to join them, and into his hands they put absolute
power. The man’s name is Louis Zander, commonly known as “L”. He is
a writer, an aesthete, an avant-garde theatre director, a Marxist theorist.
He has revelled in the Performance Art of Vienna. He has a taste for
blood and death. He has written plays. He knows how to direct a cast.
People obey him. Of Jewish extraction, he is fiercely anti-Jewish. His
family is exceedingly wealthy. His banker father was ennobled. He has
no scruples whatsoever about dealing mercilessly with those who do
not obey his orders. He has minions to carry out his will. He also coopts
the private militia of his political arch-rival the neo-Nazi leader,
Edmund Foxe, who agrees to work with L because he sees such an
alliance as an opportunity to seize power himself. The Red Republic
of England is established in late 1987. It lasts for five seasons, coming
to an end in early 1989 after L has chosen to die (what he conceives to
be) a martyr’s death.
It is a novel in the form of a history. As a history it had to have taken
place in the past, so the fictional historian, Bernard Gill, writes it in
the early 2020s. He depends on documents such as diaries, memoirs,
letters, newspaper reports, and the recollections of people interviewed.
He conjectures about certain mysteries and comes up with dramatic
theories to solve them. Calmly he relates tumultuous events, transcribes
descriptions of horrors, records how quickly and completely L reduces
a population of tens of millions to wretched self-abasing misery.
Though he restrains any inclination to display personal revulsion at L’s
viciousness, he sees and demonstrates the full extent of it, and shows
how L’s ultimate purpose is to make the innocent feel guilty. They must
blame themselves for his suffering, which must seem to be enduredfor their sake. In this – though the Communist Republic falls – L to adeplorable extent succeeds.
L continues to be adulated after his death. Some will not even
believe that he is dead. And indeed he is not. Lukács, Stalin, Mao, Che
Guevara, L – they live on by inspiring others to think and feel and act
and aspire and acquire power and abuse it as they did. As the book is
being re-launched in 2012, I see the political trend of Russia in 1917, of
Hungary in 1919, of England in the mid 1980s (a catastrophe averted in
fact), arising now in Europe again – and, for the first time, in the United
States. In Greece, France, Italy, Spain, the rioters are out in the streets
demanding that the state look after their every need. In America, Barack
Obama is trying to give powers of life and death to an ever-mightier
federal government under his direction.
May the story of L be a warning to all those who would trade in
their freedom for a mirage of security under a paternalistic state led by
a charismatic would-be dictator.

Why a socialist regime cannot allow dissent

Why Socialism cannot allow dissent, and leads to dictatorship … and apropos L’s appointment of Foxe as head of his political police: –

“A Socialist State once thoroughly completed in all its details and its aspects … could not afford to suffer opposition. . .  Socialism is, in its essence, an attack … upon the right of the ordinary man or woman to breathe freely without having a harsh, clumsy, tyrannical hand clapped across their mouths and nostrils… No Socialist system can be established without a political police.  Many of those who are advocating Socialism or voting Socialist today will be horrified at this idea.  That is because they are short-sighted, that is because they do not see where their theories are leading them. No Socialist Government conducting the entire life and industry of the country could afford to allow free, sharp, and violently worded expressions of public discontent. They would have to fall back on some form of Gestapo, no doubt very humanely directed in the first instance.  And this would nip opinion in the bud; it would stop criticism as it reared its head, and it would gather all the power to the supreme party and the party leader.” – Winston Churchill

 

Philosophy behind ‘L’

Jean-Paul Sartre, perhaps the most adulated of all the twentiethcentury
philosophers in the French pandemonium, believed
that the supreme and most necessary task for a human being was
to “live authentically”. He preached that to avoid “the sin of living
inauthentically”, one should do what is forbidden because it is forbidden.
Transgress, he counseled, for transgression is a way to “transcendence”. In
other words, do evil to save yourself from boredom. He proclaimed that
the poet Charles Baudelaire’s soul was “an exquisite blossom” because
he “desired Evil for Evil’s sake”. [3]
Georg Lukács, the Hungarian theatre director and writer on literature
and aesthetics, interested me the most. He was the son of a wealthy
banker who had been raised to the nobility. He grew up in great luxury,
but was preoccupied with his own metaphysical misery. He explored his
emotions, his “self”, as an indecipherable mystery, from which he sought
distraction in aesthetic excitement. He understood the good to be what
was natural, because nature was innocent; and innocence was wild,
and wild innocent nature was cruel; so cruelty was good. His erotic
relationships and marriages brought him no relief, being complicated by
his idea that the consummation of love was suicide. When he embraced
Communism it was in the hope that the Party would rescue him from
himself by forcibly putting an end to his contemplative existence. He
equated Revolution with Apocalypse. Beyond it lay a new condition
of being in which everyone would be disburdened of his individuality
and dissolved in an homogenized collective. This at last would finally
provide meaning to life. In the passionate pursuit of this end, there
was no crime, no act of violence, no cruelty – be it torture, terrorism,
murder – that was not justified, was not positively good.
But he held that only the man who understood profoundly and
completely that murder is absolutely wrong could commit the murder
that would be supremely good; the entirely – and tragically – moral
murder. Such a one is the terrorist. He is a heroic martyr because when
he murders for the Communist Party, he does so with awesome courage,
knowing full well that he himself must thereby suffer. There is no
greater love than to lay down the life of a fellow man. [4]
He put this grotesque idea of his into practice when he became
Commissar for Education and Culture in the Hungarian Soviet
Republic, which lasted, under its leader Béla Kun, from March until
August 1919. It has been said of him that he “advocated a strategy of
terror, to isolate every individual by a reign of terror, causing panic and
distrust; arousing self-accusations of guilt by administering random
punishment. …The steam roller of terror and random victimization
aims to pulverize individualities into a quaking mass that seeks security
through submission to totalitarian command.” [5]
Like others who tried to establish Communist republics in the
midst of the political chaos of Europe at the end of the First World
War – Béla Kun himself, Rosa Luxembourg in Berlin, Kurt Eisner in
Bavaria – Lukács was Jewish by descent. He and all of them, following
Karl Marx, repudiated their Jewishness. But Lukács wrote about politics
in religious mystical terms. If the Party puts you to death it needed
to be loved for doing it. It is the same concept as that of the Catholic
Inquisitor when he expected the heretic to love the stake as the flames
cleansed his soul by torturing his body to death. “Death for the sake
of the Utopian Community makes the loss of life worthy.” Faith in the
Utopian Community – aka the Communist Party – “replaces the need
for individual immortality”.
With all this in mind, I developed my fantasy of revolution and
dystopia. Mrs Thatcher is voted out, the Left comes in. Strikes, riots,
street fighting, deadly clashes with the police who find themselves
unable to cope with the continual onslaughts, cause Labour leaders
to take extraordinary powers to deal with the emergency. The Royal
family seeks refuge in Scotland. Twelve members of the Cabinet form
themselves into a Council of Ministers to govern by edict. But they
are soft and fearful men and women. They know that bad things will
happen, and they don’t want to be held responsible for them. So they
invite a charismatic celebrity, recognized by millions of young rebels as a
revolutionary leader, to join them, and into his hands they put absolute
power. The man’s name is Louis Zander, commonly known as “L”. He is
a writer, an aesthete, an avant-garde theatre director, a Marxist theorist.
He has revelled in the Performance Art of Vienna. He has a taste for
blood and death. He has written plays. He knows how to direct a cast.
People obey him. Of Jewish extraction, he is fiercely anti-Jewish. His
family is exceedingly wealthy. His banker father was ennobled. He has
no scruples whatsoever about dealing mercilessly with those who do
not obey his orders. He has minions to carry out his will. He also coopts
the private militia of his political arch-rival the neo-Nazi leader,
Edmund Foxe, who agrees to work with L because he sees such an
alliance as an opportunity to seize power himself. The Red Republic
of England is established in late 1987. It lasts for five seasons, coming
to an end in early 1989 after L has chosen to die (what he conceives to
be) a martyr’s death.

“Imagine the UK without Thatcher”

This review of L: A Novel History by Daniel Greenfield was published on May 2, 2013, at Front Page

With the recent death of Margaret Thatcher, one novel takes a look at a UK without Thatcher. L: A Novel History by Jillian Becker, the author of, Hitler’s Children: The Story of the Baader-Meinhof Terrorist Gang, is a modern 1984 taking place in an England fallen to the left. A country where the atrocities and horrors perpetrated in the east found their way to the west.

 

1984 showed us tyranny from the perspective of an ordinary man coping with the tyranny of an omnipresent Big Brother, while L takes us into the mind of Big Brother.

Becker’s L is a child of the modern left, attracted to the violent spectacle of revolution, feeding on blood and pain, gorging on the emotional spillage of the disgruntled, perpetrating riots, terrorist attacks and finally the mass starvation of the United Kingdom.

 

1984 takes place in the fragments of a lost history, but L develops its history out of the recent past. L doesn’t emerge out of a vacuum. He is the child of privilege, the student of leftist academics and the tyrant who rises out of the class warfare struggles of the burgeoning welfare state.

 

L abandons his name, going by a single letter, dabbling in dehumanizing Marxist theory while developing a cult of followers, the L-ites, who become the core of a movement that takes over the United Kingdom. L: A Novel History is as much about L, piecing together his inner thoughts from diary entries and newspaper articles, as it is about the milieu of the period and the more moderate figures on the left who hand over power to him and allow him to perpetrate his acts of terror.

 

As Becker notes in her introduction, there are historical precedents for L, for his associates and the fascist opposition that eventually allies with him. What she has done is transpose the history of various Communist atrocities from Russia and Eastern Europe into an England on the wavering end of the Cold War.

 

As a fictional history, L: A Novel History assembles painstakingly an entire alternate history in a metafictional narrative composed of newspaper articles, diary entries and historical speculation that combines the perspectives of L, his followers, the L-ites, his opponents, both genuine and disingenuous, and the people of England who react with bewilderment and then horror as the stores are emptied, the food vanishes and they are put through a brutal and degrading process meant to break their spirit.

L’s great obsession is the cultivation of empathy. Like most sociopaths, he is incapable of genuinely empathizing with others, but has a narcissistic obsession with the experience of emotion as spectacle.

 

Embodying the privileged empathy of the left, L promises to raise up the people, but instead degrades them, robbing them of their dignity, their humanity and finally their lives, in order to force them to identify with the sufferings of the less well off.

 

L is Big Brother given form, substance and motive. His resentments and narcissism represent all too well the modern left. Obsessed with image, L is driven to be a cult figure and succeeds in achieving true cult status at the expense of millions for his grand experiment in enforced empathy.

 

The UK has a long literary tradition of dystopias which imagine a descent into fascism, even as in real life it has continued a descent into Socialism. Jillian Becker’s L: A Novel History challenges that fictional narrative with a meta-fictional narrative that warns of what might have been and what may yet be.