To Lurk

www.theunstitute.org

I’m acutely aware of people who lurk, you know, like when you’re walking at night through a housing estate or something, and it’s all deserted and silent, and you see a man, or a group of teenage boys, ‘lurking’. You don’t often say that women ‘lurk’, do you? Or middle-class people? Or the scene itself with all its horrid objects; you don’t say that it ‘lurks’, do you? It’s funny, language. But this lurking – for I can conceive of no other term – I feel it more and more, and it makes me, well, I wouldn’t say paranoid exactly, because that’s not entirely accurate, but it puts me perpetually on-the-lookout; like an animal or something. I feel like an animal, an herbivore in the green grasses. In a wrong situation – an uncanny situation – every little sound signifies lurking…and it appals me. I even started changing the routes I walk home by so as to avoid the possibility of this ‘lurking’ sensation, you know, like not taking the proverbial short-cut, not walking down alleyways or past the 24-hour shop after midnight, not cutting-through estates and the like. It’s with satisfaction that I can say I’ve developed a comprehensive, continually evolving map in my head that I follow so as to avoid scenes which invite the ‘lurking’ feeling. I don’t even need to know the place at all – just a very sharp feeling will suddenly cause a diversion and make me walk past the road I wanted to walk down, and then I end up walking much further than I intended just to satisfy myself that I’m doing everything I can to avoid the possibility of being caught unawares in ambush.

Now, this has all been going on for quite some time and has somewhat come to dominate my life. I work until late during the week so I am used to coming home in darkness, but the length of time it takes me to get home has increased ten-fold since my sensitivity to this feeling grew more acute. When I got home from work Tuesday last I was laying in bed, thinking, you know, about things, (I should say that I’ve become insomniac in the last month,) and so I finally decided to ask myself “What or who lurks?” I mean, the first thing to do when one suffers an anxiety of this kind is to nail exactly what it is causing it, but I couldn’t really think of a decent answer offhand like that, and so I mulled it over all the next day. I mean, it’s easy to say that someone is lurking – I do it all the time – but do I ever say that I am lurking? Is it me who causes someone to lurk because I say to myself; “Who’s that lurking over there?” I mean, if I just said to myself “Who’s that standing over there?” then nobody would be lurking, would they? This verb is misleading, for a person does not ‘lurk’ per-se. Somebody seems to be lurking – and that is something more subtle.

I was a bit fascinated by this idea – you know – that lurking is not something you can do, but is something you see someone else appear to be doing, so as an experiment, I started going out after work, (you know, when I’m usually laying in bed thinking about lurking,) in order to lurk myself. It was quite easy to work out where to lurk; I just went to all those places I’d sought to avoid according to the map worked-out in my head. In fact, I started seeing those locations – those alleys and street-corners as a kind of furtive territory that before I had made every effort to skirt around. So I would go and ‘place myself’ in a given scene. (‘Being-placed’ seems to be fundamental to a good lurk.) When I found a Lurk-Conducive Location, I then conjured up an image of what I was anxiously anticipating all those times and proceeded to place myself, like an object, in that scene. Now, what I experienced was not at all what I had anticipated. By ‘lurking’ myself, it seemed to me that I had become an object waiting to be seen, like I was existing only for the look of somebody else – somebody else on-the-lookout, so to speak. I heard footsteps approach – stilettos on the paving-stones. I was right under a streetlamp at the exit of an alleyway leading alongside a churchyard. I felt very conscious of what I was doing, of ‘lurking’, until this other person appeared. It was a young woman, walking slightly hurriedly whilst looking at her mobile telephone. I tried not to stare at her face, but looked instead out of the corner of my eye. It wasn’t until she looked up and saw me at the mouth of the passageway that I noticed what I can only describe as a strange ‘hardness’ about myself, an ‘objectness’– or so I shall call it for expediency’s sake – as though I had ceased to exist for myself and now existed solely for her. When she noticed me, lurking, (and I can only presume that she thought this word to herself,) at that very instant I became aware of something unusual. It felt like this woman, who until that moment had been existing all for-herself, preoccupied and private, suddenly ceased to exist for-herself when she noticed me; I had become an objection to her way of being, demanding she now exist for-another. We had become terms in an equation. I noticed how her gait changed slightly; her strides became confident in such a way as to appear confident, as though she were walking in such a way for me. Of course she had considered turning back – that was evident in a slight hesitation about her walk which registered in the sound of her stilettos – but that would have been almost to demand some kind of reaction from me, a signal to act that formless and terrible act which lurking signifies so tantalisingly. (Perhaps I would have been helpless but to react?) So she continued toward me as I continued to avoid her gaze, and both of us pretended that nothing was the matter. There was a moment of absolute tension as she approached the mouth of the passage, and it seemed – not in my own thoughts, (for I had none,) but in the sort of general mood experienced by the disembodied spectator, that such an extreme degree of expectancy was levied against the whole scenario in order to generate some kind of fatalistic performance. I was being-obliged, perhaps by the anticipations of this approaching being-on-the-lookout, or perhaps due to some tacit convention of narrative of which we were both undeniably aware, to perform in this scene something we had fearfully performed in our fantasies many, many times before. (Would it be cruel to leave this tacit desire unsatisfied?) The woman walked with purposeful slowness past my bulk, out into the open sea of the main street where a car with comforting tail-lights stopped nearby as if to remind normality to return again, to say it was okay to exist in-and-for-oneself once more. That horrible object, glimpsed so often, had once again dwindled away into foolish vanity. She would walk away, I would remain, and the excruciating, bursting feelings which made these thirty seconds or less seem so full of dread significance would slip senselessly into oblivion and be worth nothing. It was then I saw what was to be feared.

Since then, I have been lurking around all night every night, trying to return to ‘objectness’. Being-placed seems to suit me rather well; I have become relaxed and cheerful. I have noticed that my presence seems to have diverted the bulk of traffic that habitually passes through the avenues I tend to lurk about in and I can see now how I can begin to carve out further territories for myself through this practise of lurking. I must however be careful not to be seen too frequently or I might become familiar. To become familiar means to lose something vital about the verb. I have no great desire to be familiar.

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