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The Last Channel

My thumb presses down independently of any act of will: moment by moment, but at irregular intervals, I feel the need to push, to press, to set off an impulse sudden as a bullet; if this is what they meant when they granted me partial insanity, they were right. But they are wrong if they imagine there was no plan, no clearly thought-out intention behind what I did. Only now, in the padded and enamelled calm of this small hospital room, can I deny the incongruous behaviour I had to hear attributed to me at the trial, as much by the defence as the prosecution. With this report which I hope to send to the appeal court magistrates, though my defence lawyers are absolutely determined to prevent me, I intend to re-establish the truth, the only truth, my own, if anyone is capable of understanding it.

The doctors are in the dark too, groping about, but at least they were positive about my desire to write something down and gave me this typewriter and this ream of paper: they think this development indicates an improvement due to my being shut up in a room without a television and they attribute the disappearance of the spasm that used to contract my hand to my being deprived of the small object I was holding when I was arrested and that I managed (the convulsions I threatened every time they grabbed it from me were not simulated) to keep with me throughout my detention, interrogation and trial. (How, if not by demonstrating that the corpus delicti had become a part of my corpus, could I have explained what I had done and -- though I didn't manage to convince them -- why I had done it?)

The first mistake they made in their diagnosis was to suppose that my attention span is so short that I cannot follow a coherent succession of images for more than a few minutes, that my mind can only capture fragments of stories and arguments without a beginning or an end, in short that the connecting thread that holds the fabric of the world together had snapped in my head. It's not true, and the proof they brought forward to support their thesis -- the way I sit motionless in front of the TV for hours and hours without following a programme, obliged as I am by a compulsive tic to switch from one channel to another -- can perfectly well be used to demonstrate the contrary. I am convinced that there is a sense in the happenings of this world, that a coherent story, explicable in all its series of cause and effect, is going on somewhere at this very moment, and is not beyond our capacity to verify, and that this story contains the key for judging and understanding everything else. It is this conviction that keeps me nailed to my chair staring at the video with glazed eyes while the frenetic clicks of the remote control conjure up and dismiss interviews with ministers, lovers' embraces, deodorant ads, rock concerts, people arrested hiding their faces, space rocket launches, Wild West gunfights, dancers' pirouettes, boxing matches, quiz shows, Samurai duels. If I don't stop to watch any of these programmes it's because they're not the programme I'm looking for, I know it exists, and I'm sure it's not one of these, and that they only transmit these programmes to deceive and discourage people like myself who are convinced that it's the other programme that matters. That's why I keep switching from one channel to another: not because my mind is no longer capable of even the very brief concentration required to follow a film or a dialogue or a horse race. On the contrary: my attention is already entirely projected towards something I absolutely must not miss, something unique that is happening at this very moment while my screen is still cluttered with superfluous and interchangeable images, something that must already have begun so of course I've missed the beginning and if I don't hurry up I risk losing the end as well. My finger leaps across the keys of the remote control discarding husks of empty appearance like the superimposed peelings of a multicoloured onion.

Meanwhile the real programme is out there in the ether on a frequency I don't know, perhaps it will be lost in space without my being able to intercept it: there is an unknown station transmitting a story that has to do with me, my story, the only story that can explain to me who I am, where I come from and where I'm going. Right now the only relationship I can establish with my story is a negative relationship: that of rejecting other stories, discarding all the deceitful images they offer me. This pushing of buttons is the bridge I am building towards that other bridge that fans out into the void and that my harpoons still haven't been able to hook: two incomplete bridges of electromagnetic impulses that fail to meet and are lost in the dustclouds of a fragmented world.

It was when I realized this that I stopped waving the remote control at the screen and started pointing it out of the window, at the city, its lights, its neon signs, the façades of the skyscrapers, the roof spires, the scaffolding of the cranes with their long iron beaks, the clouds. Then I went out in the streets with the remote control hidden under the flap of my coat, pointing it like a weapon. At the trial they said I hated the city, that I wanted to make it disappear, that I was driven by a destructive impulse. It's not true. I love, I have always loved our city, its two rivers, the occasional small squares transformed by their trees into oases of shade, the harrowing wail of its ambulance sirens, the wind that rakes the Avenues, the crumpled newspapers that flit just above ground like tired hens. I know that our city could be the happiest in the world, I know that it is the happiest, not here on the wavelength where I find myself, but on another frequency, it's there the city I've lived in all my life finally becomes my habitat. That's the channel I was trying to tune into when I pointed the remote control at the sparkling windows of the jewellers', at the stately façades of the banks, at the awnings and rotating doors of the big hotels: prompting my gestures was the desire to save all stories in one story that would be mine too: not the threatening and obsessive malice I have been accused of.

They were all in the dark, lost: police, magistrates, psychiatric experts, lawyers, journalists. 'Conditioned by the compulsive need to keep changing channel, a TV addict goes crazy and tries to change the world with his remote control': that was the outline that served with only very few variations to define my case. But the psychological tests always ruled out the idea that I had a vocation for destruction; even my response to programmes presently transmitted is not far off average levels of acceptance. Maybe by changing channel I wasn't trying to disrupt all the other channels but looking for something that any programme could communicate if only it were not corroded within by the worm that perverts everything that surrounds my existence.

So they thought up another theory, capable of bringing me back to my right mind again, they say; or rather, they claim that I convinced myself of this theory on my own and that this constituted the unconscious brake that stopped me committing the criminal acts they thought me ready to commit. This is the theory according to which for all my changing channels the programme is always the same or might as well be; whether they're transmitting a film or news or ads there is only one message whatever the station since everything and everybody are part of the one system; and likewise outside the screen, the system invades everything leaving space only for apparent changes; so that whether I go wild with my remote control or whether I keep my hands in my pocket makes no difference, because I'll never be able to get out of the system. I don't know whether those who put forward these ideas believe in them or whether they only say them in an attempt to draw me into the discussion; in any event they never had any hold on me because they cannot shake my conviction as to the essence of things. As I see it what counts in the world are not likenesses but differences: differences that may be big or then again small, or minute, perhaps even imperceptible, but what matters is precisely to tease them out and compare them. I know myself that in going from channel to channel you get the impression that it's all the same old story; and likewise I know that life is governed by necessities that prevent it from varying more than a certain amount: but it is in that small difference that the secret lies, the spark that sets in motion the machine of consequences, as a result of which the differences become considerable, large, huge, even infinite. I look at the things around me, all awry, and I think how the tiniest trifle would have been enough -- a mistake not made at a certain moment, a yes instead of a no -- to have generated entirely different consequences, albeit leaving the general shape of circumstances intact. Things so simple and natural that I was always expecting them to reveal themselves at any moment: thinking this and pressing the buttons on the remote control was one and the same thing.

With Volumnia I thought I'd finally hit on the right channel. Indeed in the early days of our relationship, I gave the remote control a rest. I liked everything about her, the tobacco-coloured chignon hairstyle, the almost contralto voice, the knickerbockers and pointed boots, our shared passion for bulldogs and cactuses. Equally congenial, I felt, were her parents, the places where they had invested in real estate and where we spent invigorating vacations, and the insurance company in which Volumnia's father had promised me a creative job with profit-sharing after we were married. All doubts, objections, and conjectures that did not converge in the desired direction I sought to banish from my mind, but when I saw how they kept coming back more and more insistently, I began to wonder whether the small cracks, the misunderstandings, the embarrassments that had so far seemed no more than momentary and marginal eclipses might not be interpreted as ill omens for our future prospects, that is that our happiness might contain within it that sense of contrivance and tedium you find in a bad TV serial. Yet I never lost my conviction that Volumnia and I were made for each other: perhaps on another channel a couple identical to ourselves but to whom destiny had granted just slightly different gifts were about to embark on a life a hundred times more attractive than ours . . .

It was in this spirit that I lifted my arm that morning, gripped the remote control and pointed it towards the corbeille of white camellias, towards Volumnia's mother's bonnet with its little blue bunches of grapes, the pearl on the father's plastron cravat, the priest's stole, the bride's silver-embroidered veil . . . This gesture, just when the whole congregation was expecting my 'yes', was misunderstood: most of all by Volumnia who saw it as a rejection, an irreparable offence. But all I meant to say was that there, on that other channel, mine and Volumnia's story was unfolding far away from the jubilant sounds of the organ and the flashlights of the photographers, yet had many things about it that made it more consonant with my truth and hers . . .

Perhaps on that channel beyond all channels we didn't break up. Volumnia goes on loving me there, while here, in the world I live in I haven't been able to get her to understand my motives: she doesn't want to see me any more. I never recovered from that violent break; it was then I began the life described in the papers as that of a maniac of no fixed abode, wandering through the city armed with his incongruous gadget . . . And yet my reasoning was clear as never before: I had realized that I must begin to work from the top down: if things were going wrong on all channels, there must be a last channel unlike the others where the leaders, perhaps not so different from these here, but with some small variation in character, in mentality, in matters of conscience, were able to stop the cracks that open in the foundations, the reciprocal distrust, the degeneration of human relationships . . .

But the police had had their eye on me for some time. When I shoved my way through the people crowding round to see the Heads of State getting out of their cars for the summit, then sneaked into the building through the French windows amidst a swarm of security men, I didn't even manage to lift my arm and point the remote control before they were all on top of me dragging me away, despite my protests that I didn't intend to stop the ceremony, only wanted to see what they were showing on the other channel, for curiosity's sake, just for a few seconds.