7. A nation of maids and farmhands electing its chieftains

The bulk of the people of any nation is distinguished by a sort of uniformity, one type that is the majority muscle and bone. If you looked at the supporting tissue, Harry's nation was a nation of maids and farmhands. Once upon a time the armies of farmhands had spread horror and destruction on the European mainland, these ravages still served as an unrivalled source of national pride and self-esteem. In modern time the human material was converted in more modern ways; the maids were sent to Hollywood, where their firm flesh was appreciated at its full value, while farmhands were recruited for new armies in the sports arenas. In due time the emigrants returned as millionaires to the fatherland, where they invested in shirts and shorts; from the size in collars they could still be recognised.
This didn't mean that the nation lacked authority. Without discipline and maids' jobs the national building would have collapsed like a house of cards long ago. Reflecting this there were two historical schools, one praising the deeds of maids and farmhands, one maintaining that history was the history of kings, or at least of authority. This arrangement in turn formed the basis for a choice: you chose maids and farmhands, or you chose authority. When it came to it you chose authority in the first case as well, but with a detour over maids and farmhands. This detour was Harry's reason to be: he was the authority of maids and farmhands, their chosen authority.
(In practice it was a bit more complicated: you chose right, centre or left. If you chose right, you got right, centre and left, if you chose left, you got left, centre and right, if you chose centre, you got centre, left and right. Those were the conditions, and everyone was well aware of them. But the system wasn't balanced; if you chose left you got more right than you got left when you chose right, there was some interest outside the act of election, holding a thumb on the scales. Voters agreed with this, too, perceiving such a state of things as natural. When it came to it man was asymmetrical; left-hearted and right-handed by nature).

The building wasn't a church, the setting wasn't that of church, the thought was improper in more than one way. Still some sort of ceremonious gathering was going on, and an uninformed onlooker might have taken Harry Jönsson for a parish vicar where he stood, bowing to the right, nodding to the left, having a word with each one who passed. He knew the herd, his own herd and the alien herds. The old ewes, the black sheep, the outsiders. He knew the borderlines, knew affiliations, knew the meaning of messages. Not that it was unconditionally necessary, for everything worth knowing was written and stored outside his brain; if his memory failed he could always look up in some other index. It was not necessary for him to know, but still he did. That was one advantage of playing at home.
He stood where he stood, he was who he was. He concealed nothing. If he impressed those around him it was because of his true being, or at least quite likely because of a rare harmony between his own guiding program and the ongoings around him.
The mid-partist wet his fingers each time detaching three voting papers and handing them to passers-by. The wall was hot, sweat stood over his red face, trickling along his throat and wetting the edge of his collar. It was a natural thing for Harry Jönsson first to notice this sign of political weakness; he was closest to the mid-partist, had some familiarity with his kind. One step further away stood the left partist man, and the rightwing man, who was a woman, and the in-between-middle-and-rightwing-man, which was the momentary appellation of the liberals. At the other side of the walk the extreme left partist man and well ahead of him the parties from outer space, those who had blinded themselves to the choice between farmhands and authority. In Harry's world picture they were aliens, monsters lying in wait for innocent and unsuspecting prey, a threat to the stability of the system. With interested assistance from opinion poll institutes they could devour ten per cent of the voters in a flash - sniff, snatch, snuffed! - and there were dark months, feeble times when the twenty per cent limit seemed within their reach.
The spatial arrangement was for practical reasons, it facilitated for voters in making for their target in advance. And they obviously did; they shunted and headed for their stations like trains on rail.
Was there one single voter, making his choice here and now, departing from material offered in the election campaign? He found this hard to believe; political attitudes at the basic level of the nation were not impressionable. They could be mobilised with varying success, no more. You even had to reckon with the possibility that Science in some near future might pounce on the gene, that determined political affiliation, afterwards the election event could be reduced to a simple blood-test. (Pending that, you had to play the game by the rules). At any rate he himself had chosen long ago, or been chosen. Maybe both events occurred simultaneously: you chose and you were chosen because you were choosing, for some reason.
Behind him stood the Party.
And because neither the mid-partist nor the between-middle-and-rightwing-partist nor the rightwing man, who was a woman, could think of their parties as the Party, the day filled him with a particularly elevated feeling. (Otherwise there was no reason for him to pride himself; all established groups were facing defeat, if opinion polls could be trusted). He wanted to erase all borders, all difference, clasp those around him to his bosom, bring them under one roof and establish a new spirit of community, far mor comprehensive than the old one. And he succeeded in mediating this feeling, this almost intoxicated impression, to the extent that single walkers and couples, already shunted for their chosen rail, suddenly veered and headed in his direction in order to fetch their trident: municipality, county, parliament (for immigrants automatically two, they were not of age, still not perfect citizens). Afterwards they returned to the main track. He knew that they were not going to make use of his leaflets, but at any rate he had extorted a concession from them, made them receive the wafer without actually swallowing it.
He was heavy where he stood, he knew his gravitation. Its extreme limits had never been tested, but he knew that it was a real power, attracting thoughts, feelings, hope as well; making them rotate in closed orbit around one uniting centre. In this form politics became some sort of a celestial mechanics. In spite of this he wasn't so independent as not to value the confirmation offered here by eighty per cent of the municipality's inhabitants: that there were common affairs, if still differing opinions as to the way they should be handled. For his own part this confirmation was as important as the outcome of the election, without it the all-deciding feeling of gravity would be lost, the system would lose its connecting hub, everything and everybody would disappear in chaotic orbits in space.

The municipal office was built from brickstone, with two flats above ground. It rested on a subterranean basement level, that could serve as shelter if necessary, but usually functioned as storerooms and garage. With torrential rain the copper roof leaked at the southwest corner, but the contractor hade recognised his duty to do something about the defects, repairs wouldn't burden the budget. Taken as a whole it was a stable, well-maintained building, one that was likely to last for a thousand years.
Adjoining it at the south side were welfare centre and library, and at the other side of the square another building, carrying the same architect's hallmark, housed farmacy and systembolag.
Diagonally acrosss the street the undertaker, his Succr.
Coolness when afternoon shadows began to extend themselves.
Here the citizen was bound to show up from childhood until he was carried away. This was The Centre, maybe the centre of the world.
It was his centre. In the square, litterbins were dressed with black plastic bags, flower beds tended and covered with bark chips, the living space of weeds reduced. At the bus stop buses arrived and departed according to the timetable. A cat, if stalking by, carried a collar, was filled out, had an ear-mark. He was pledged to this ORDER, more than to anything else. It was a permanent, tangible fruit of the Party's persevering work in the vineyard, offering daily evidence of the wholesome duties of politics. The ultimate reason for elections taking place every fourth year was this order, and it applied to everybody, irrespective of origin or affiliation; you didn't vote for chieftains or points at issue, you cast your vote in favour of this established Order, this ancien regime - preferably with a few improving retouches.
He had been relieved at the voting site, had strolled aimlessly through empty corridors, visited his workroom and left again, headed for the entrance but turned in front of the automatic gates - he couldn't bear them - and finally gone downstairs to the basement, which had several exits. Down there he was attacked by anguish, worse than he had ever felt in his life. He walked in darkness, hadn't turned on the light, when he suddenly halted and listened. The hair on his neck stood on end, his pulse was throbbing; some sense perceiving the presence of a threat somewhere out in the darkness. This was most unexpected: he was at home in the basement and had never experienced any uncanny feeling in its catacombs.
Afterwards he didn't know how long he had stood there, eyes wide open till they filled with tears from the raw, chilly draught. At that point he noted the red knob of the switch. He took two steps to the side and knocked at it with the knuckles of his left hand. The strip light gleamed up, flickered, burned with an even blaze.
There was nobody except himself in the lighted space.
On the wall somebody had written, with ceremonial swerves to the capitals: Keep Sweden Swedish.
Then it was the emptiness that frightened, or an emptiness within the emptiness.
He had to go back to his office and change his shirt.
What else should he do? Scrawl a sentence of his own on the opposite wall? (Root Out All Madcaps). Or attack the wall with a compressed air drill? No, the verbal excesses, the outbursts of violence were reserved for the other side. There were alternatives excluded, prohibited, and the frontier, the zone of struggle ran inside man. He would resist by keeping quiet, not noticing.
The haphazard route before he reached the basement puzzled him. There was contingency that was purpose, hidden order, such was his firm conviction. Now it had taken him by the hand and led him to... It was known that horses could come to a halt on forest roads and refuse to take another step where rutting elks had passed and spread an invisible barrier of scents in the surroundings, but how was his own experience to be explained, what could he assume on his own part? Did his feeling correspond with something outside himself, or did it only exist on the inside? Was it a counterpart to Jenny's feeling in the train?
This was a thing that should be shared, he had to tell somebody.

Outside the office stood a bust of Per Albin. Harry stroked his fingers across the pedestal, felt calm and hopeful at once. A great task would continue. He said it out aloud: You will keep your nose this time, too. A peasant nose, not exactly classical in stature - but had classical form saved faces when the Barbarians stormed the temples? No, Caesar's nose almost called for desecration. And he knew of a Conservative prime minister of the past, that man should have had his trunk amputated! But Per Albin would keep his snub nose after the election as well, there would be no house-cleaning on the second floor this time either. Snub noses survived iconoclasms, at least he hoped so. (He tried to recall the face of philosophical authority; had he ever seen a noseless Socrates?)
In addition the municipal councillor could comfort himself with the thought, that iconoclasm never had been highly ranked in the national consciousness, the particular zeal needed in order to deliberately denose somebody had always been regarded as a little unsavoury. True, in a distant past missionizing monks had cut irminsuls down, and some Asagods might have lost their faces, but those were wicked deeds by outsiders and resented by most in hindsight. More worrying was the keen eye of the right-wing for certain snub noses, but luckily the bourgeois camp had shown some zeal in these purges - and the nation's sound judgement had lashed out. There was a moral to this: you might even sacrifice a few noses, like lizard tails - as long as you kept a level head and regained the initiative. He himself would never hesitate, confronted with the choice.
He went down to the basement, passed the subterranean garage a second time without turning on the light, opened the gate and stepped outside into the summer-hot, almost close afternoon.
All the way he continued his line of thought: Politics had its small prophets, and its great prophets, its small noses and its great ones. They were not ranked and valued once and for ever, not like Isaiah and Obadiah; the importance and the description of political prophets changed with the situation and depended on who was presiding or running the pen. In the Youth Federation he had felt like the inhabitant of a summing prophet's hive: radicals and rabulists, trotskyists and fabians, women and men in a paradisic mixture. Next the trotskyists were expelled with great hullabaloo, it happened once every seventh year, and a generation of young men and women lost their political innocence. At the following levels radicals and rabulists dropped off, the women became more and more like the men, finally the only thing that remained was the narrow well-adjustedness, that always had carried government in the nation.
At the Party school he heard of W. for the first time, W. was held in great esteem where teaching and thinking reigned. M. had called attention to himself at the same time. Maybe these two were just temple servants, not evangelists knowing how to speak language, but still they were prominent figures, proto-prophets as it were. The closer you came to the Chancellery of the capital, the more esteemed were economists from Chicago, technocrats, internationalists, pragmatists in all camps. Here was another world, with other values, other prophets, many of them false, precipitately exposed, finally losing their noses. The problem of how to handle these situations, how to harmonise, strike the right note, might be solved if you had a keen sense of smell for the prophets momentarily lending their voices to authority.
There was another solution to the same problem. If you traced a prophet, who made strings vibrate within the muscle and bone of the nation, its maids and farmhands, (and at the same time somehow exerted some pacifying or paralysing power on other social classes, how this was achieved he never quite understood), you might ignore the dictate of political fashions with a clear conscience. It was like sitting with a winning hand in a card-game; you nodded in recognition of the cards on the table, they were good enough, but your own hand would sweep the board in the end, under all circumstances. Such was his relationship to Per Albin. Per Albin was respected and venerated wherever you went, but it was lip service, he wasn't actually understood, and things got worse the closer you came to the capital. The objection went: B. Who was B.? Some figure from antediluvial time. The objection went: D. Who was D.? D. had made himself impossible. These objectors had not understood Per Albin, but he, Harry Jönsson, had. He had realised that there was a level, high above calculations and purposes, where politics was reduced to a gesture, a tone of voice, that included the underlying levels. This by no means made the task easier; if you had no feeling for the topsoil growing this tone of voice, there was little chance of reproducing it. The major task could be formulated: to incarnate Per Albin. If you could pull that off, you sat with trumps in the political game. He knew how to do it; he could incarnate the Nose No. 1
The iron struggle for a better life, the struggle of maids and farmhands. The short glimpses of possibility, response, advance. The dazzling pictures, the misleading masquerade of existence. Everyday life, the stubborn trot, that seemed to be rid of all perspective. The tremendous inertia of society, its counteraction, its sudden motion, where motion was unexpected or unintended. All this, and more than that, was contained as hope, insight and resignation in Per Albin's voice. A reconciling and timely message, in some way superior to and dissolving the divisions and ambiguities of everyday life.
He was the greatest of prophets. It wasn't even about words coming true, it was just about a tone of voice. In an era where prophets were exchanged, and where this exchange already seemed to be finalised and canonised, it was a good thing to have recourse to Per Albin. Even the political opponents lowered their voices and bared their heads when he came up.
At that stage in his line of thought the tremendous possibility wormed itself into his mind: that there might be a reason to knock Per Albin's nose off. Was it at all correct and responsible to try to depict the face of this man; could justice be rendered to this tremendous, comprehensive voice with a static portrait, a petrified bust? Should he return and do it himself, before anybody else did? Some other time maybe, not on Election Day.

Two hours remained till the first forecasts would be presented. In the last election there had been an embarrassing tendency to mistake polls and forecasts for the true outcome, and everything went to suggest that the wind blew that way; in a near future elections would be restricted to significant samples. It was too expensive to have the whole population vote, cheaper to single out an average, electing on behalf of all by means of mobile telephones and palm computers. That way there would be less disturbance to leisure time as well; no need to move football matches and popular TV shows, and voting could be taken in one's stride.
When confronted with a forecast for the first time, Harry had felt as if being presented with a certified pulse of the future. He had looked up to the numbers with devout reverence, as if they were some sort of sacrament - yes, since he wasn't a religious man more than that: as if they were absolute knowledge of something that still hadn't happened. The slide triggered when he realised that they represented past time, a mood that had existed (and maybe was overcome by now), shattered his respect for statistics, and in some way for science at large. After that there was only politics to resort to, its mix of tendency knowledge, anticipation and doing. Imbedded in a stuffing of absolute incompetence, naturally.
Now, had he the power, he would outlaw polls and forecasts, or at least have them removed from the centre of public life. What if Per Albin had ordered opinion polls on the military preparedness of the nation? He did nothing of the sort, he stood up, raised his voice and next all opinion on military preparedness of the nation was of little interest. (As far as he knew the nation had been defenceless).
Most painful were the memories from the catastrophic election ten years ago, that particular evening when he sat in front of the monitor watching numeral combinations, that should have read "42.6" or "39.1" but instead appeared as "32.6" and "29.1". The Party had been warned by polls of its own, still he had had a lasting shock on that occasion. He himself had escaped by the skin of his teeth, in the municipality the Party had had two and a half per cent above national average and ruled the whole term of office with support from two political independents.
The hardness of numbers on that occasion, their absolute sincerity and inflexibility. At the margins of the monitor the picture had flickered and caused wrong visions, that sent new shock-waves into the battered nervous system.
You should be made of the right stuff, or it was well-advised to guard one's nose against polls and prognoses.

'Here comes municipal councillor Harry Jönsson, we take the opportunity to ask him: Will weather affect the mobilization of your voters?'
'If it does it will be in a positive way. We feel that the wind is behind us.'
'Isn't there a risk that people will stay on in the woods and fields and won't bother about voting?'
'There's been a rush for the last few hours. As far as my party is concerned I can say: We won't be brought down by poor attendance.'
'And how about the other parties?'
'You have to ask them, I'm not in charge there.'
Peremptorily, a bit negatively, with dry geniality at the bottom. If he could choose his position, he would stand to look down at the journalist, from that position answers came by themselves. Who took an interest in having these questions put and answered? Most of the time he set aside for media during the election campaign had been devoted to nonsense of this kind. Average human intelligence saw through the assumptions of the exchange at once: journalism didn't lie awake at nights worrying about attendance, and politics took weather as it came. Still the municipal councillor didn't answer: 'This is a boring language game, and I don't give a damn about it. In the future no more such questions, please.' (With ultimate implication: let's pass over both weather and politics in silence, neither can be influenced). But no one gave vent to such an opinion, for some reason. You emphasised your commitment to the team game, received the pass the way it was delivered, and sent it on in the same spirit. Everything else was unthinkable when speaking in front of a camera, the whole world watching. The new plague was called exposure by ad-men, the parasite crew that had proven itself indispensable even at the municipal level. When Harry got a chance he exposed Per Albin, let him loom large and deliver an opening cross pass, in this way he felt as if he escaped fairly unscathed from a trade that he had left to others, given the choice.
The party premises smelled like an ancient boxing hall: beer, tobacco smoke and unrolled sleeves. (Smoke belonged to the election night, it symbolised the election locomotive). In the backyard someone fired a rocket, people gathered in the windows, shouting with joy and clapping hands when the piece exploded in a shower of red sparks against the twilight. There was no other reason for exhilaration, the initial forecast still kept everybody on the racks.
A pizza baker pushed his way through the crowd with a pile of white cartons held high above the heads. He unloaded his burden on the longtable and clapped his hands: 'Marinara! Siciliana! Calzone! It's on the firm tonight, but remember Santa Lucia when the party is over!'
The uppermost lid sailed through the air, as an invitation. Within Harry Jönsson's head bells rang: tax authorities, trouble with the union, bad marks from the public health inspector. He grabbed an ombudsman by the arm, hissed in his ear: 'That man mustn't leave the house before someone has seen the bill! See to it that there is some sort of invoice!'
The immigrants were a nuisance with their tendency to try to introduce palm-greasing, nepotism, the camorra itself by underhand methods. If you made a few abstractions from reality, outgrowths like these were unknown to Harry's upright society, and it was a question of not allowing them by a backdoor. The reason why foreigners had to be put in quarantine before being admitted into the warmth undoubtedly lay here; they had to be taught what was right and what was wrong, how the grindstone should be turned. They might keep their kerchiefs, slaughter according to the Koran could be allowed, and why not some kosher cooking (they already had a healthy attitude to minced pork, so to speak), but palm-greasing and nepotism should be handed over at the Customs, it was as easy as that.
On a day like this it was tempting to let go and lose one's grip; therefore it was much more important that he be on his guard. The day he was losing his grip would be the very day he would abandon politics. He wanted to be held responsible for his actions in every single second, wanted to be sure that he would survive all scrutiny of his liabilities without marks in the margin. The papers should be kept in order, maids and farmhands had no mercy with their chieftains when they felt that the bookkeeping was slipping.
He stopped in front of a computer monitor, showing the first results from local constituencies. Something about them disturbed him, but he couldn't make out the reason. This was partly due to his way of reading; in books he saw the whole page as a picture and caught one word here, one word there. When others had finished reading three lines he himself had grasped the contents of the page, but he couldn't quote one complete sentence. Now his reading was curbed by the fact that constituencies were named only by letters, he pounded the keyboard in order to have true names emerge.
A graph drawn from the same figures would have been spiny like a dragon's back. It didn't feel right, the traffic no longer went by the golden mean of the normal distribution, with the Party safely sitting in state on the hump itself. After a while he saw through the pattern: densely built-up areas with industry and municipal service had taken to the arms of the Party or the rightwing, while the outskirts and rural areas had turned their backs and voted for everything else available. He could discern tendencies to refusal, break-up in the polls, the standard pattern had outgrowths relative to the ancient duality. He had a second glance at the display; was there something that evaded him? Turning to the neighbouring constituencies he found the tendency even stronger there, the Party had receded everywhere and a motley pallet of parties from outer space had gained. The county capital was lost, for the third time in two decades; it no longer knew where it belonged.
Nowhere landslide losses, but neither any cause for exultation, except here, in his territory. On his home ground it would be business as before, the bow could be drawn for another four years, even if margins were narrower than he himself had believed only a few hours ago. At the national level the Party had lost ten mandates, that would bring repercussions at the municipal level as well.
Hands were held out towards him, there was a short assault. 'Congrats, Harry! How does it feel now?'
'We should have won the match yesterday, and everything would have been perfect.'
'Two and a half per cent above national average. What do you say about that?'
'It's the Harry effect,' someone replied in his stead.
'No, no,' he objected. 'It's the work of an efficient team engine.'
'Why pay for opinion polls when it ends up like this?'
'It's worthless,' he replied with conviction. 'The money spent on opinion polls is wasted. And there is some cheating, I can bet on that; in the last second the rightwing always produces opinion polls favouring itself.'
In fact no opinion poll had anticipated the transfer of votes to the outer space parties. For obvious reasons, through their ephemerality they escaped all too detailed assessment. They were like pop music groups, fleeting, non-permanent, could change their crew or dissolve altogether overnight. He produced new figures, looked further and further north, as he went on the original tendency decreased, finally turning into its opposite. The whole thing was a regional illness, an epidemic where his own municipality stood out like a defended bastion, an enclave left behind. But all around him the voters were beginning to falter, they no longer knew where they belonged. As a chieftain he understood the meaning of it: that the order was threatened. Worst of all: it was as if some physical change had come into force by the same time, the very physics of opinion-making was going through some sort of transformation.

Ruth was waiting at the entrance, she had brought his overcoat, held it folded over one arm. He hurried to her and gently pressed her shoulders between his palms.
'Two and a half per cent above average. I can keep the job for another term.'
'As usual.' She smiled at him with sparkling eyes, looked out over his shoulder. 'Who is Jenny dancing with?'
'Is she here?' His sister had not been among the callers. He turned around, looked in the same direction. 'Nobody I know of, must be some new member. I can find out.'
'Well, well,' she soothed him. 'I'm not that curious. I just saw that she was soaring on little clouds, and I wondered who could bring that about.'
He turned again. 'Can you describe to me how you see such a thing? Objectively.'
'No. It's not possible in an objective way.'
He peered at his twin sister a second time, attempting to extend his subject in her direction. In vain, finally he sighed, took his overcoat and followed Ruth into the warm night. 'An immigrant, that's why I didn't recognise him. I should have realized, it must be someone who hasn't been warned off her.'
'But Harry!'
'Am I not right? She has a tongue like a razor-blade immersed in acid, all the men I know are making detours in order to avoid her.'
'That need not speak to her disadvantage.'
He chose not to answer this.

32 kB, published 19.6.04, corrected 8.7.04, 27.11.08.

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