Brokerage

Heart of Darkness: into the jungle

An unusual visitor and a striking letter

The other day, Eris Roberts, a real estate agent, contacted my desk here at Inman in what can only be described as a frenzied, even delirious, voice.

She was speaking about her broker, Franklin Needler, in terms and tone that betrayed no less than religious zeal.

“You do not understand,” she said, when I asked if we could meet him. “We have no way to contact him. We only know that he is on a river in Guatemala.”

Asked to elaborate, Roberts, now calmer, told me that the last time anyone saw him was late in the evening about a year ago.

“He was more agitated than usual that night,” she continued. “One of the agents, working late in the office, making phone calls and trying to drum up new business, was accosted by him.

“Needler flew into a rage and swept everything off the agent’s desk. He then pulled the agent up out of his seat and kissed him repeatedly on the lips. He told him that he loved him — then vanished into the night.

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“About a month later, we received a letter informing us that he was on the Rio Escondido doing research. Then, a few weeks ago, the next letter arrived.

“It did not tell his exact location, but that is not important. What is important is not what precisely he says, but rather what he conveys to us.” The emphasis on “conveys” was drawn out, as if it possessed some profound meaning.

“You have to understand, this man is a god, or someone sent to us by a god.”

She went on about his “effusions and excesses, the risk, the nonsense and absurdity of what he imparts to us.” She said this in a tone of profound admiration.

“He leaves us with nothing, nothing to think, nothing to say, nothing specifically to do.” She said that as though it were the most precious gift of all.

Roberts has agreed to provide Inman with copies of her broker’s letters as they arrive. Each will, she told me, contain the essential “spiritual exercise” that the agents are instructed to practice in his absence.

At the top of the first page of the undated, handwritten, two-page letter are the words, underlined, “Boredom: Threshold to Freedom,” and then it begins:

Real estate agents! Fallen angels!

Greetings from jungles of Guatemala! Existence obtrudes itself with exceptional clarity as one nears the source of the Rio Escondido! And especially as one distances himself from the digital opium lulling and blighting the fallen world I so hastily fled last year! Pozzo, my guide, will post my messages from the nearest villages.

There is still much to be accomplished, whole universes to be discovered, as I move blissfully away from all your shoptalk, all your “lead generating” and sales “troubleshooting,” and all the other mumbo-jumbo you know I loathe to hear. I will quiet those lips of yours soon enough. Listen! Ah yes! As we speak, entire chapters of our policy manual are being reformulated in this sweltering darkness. Here I feel truth, I can taste it — swollen, humid, writhing.

Yet our principle of principles stands firm – that business flourishes and sales multiply once the Region is opened, which can never happen before an intense transgression, a shattering breakthrough is carried out. As I have taught you, this gives rise, if you follow the Method, to the complete overturning of the ordinary.

Only now am I realizing how deeply we have fallen, how thoroughgoing our immersion in the ordinary. How distant the intensities and the extraordinary have become!

We must first painstakingly reduce the familiar world to the zero degree.

Then, once everything is doubted with the harshest skepticism, once everything is reduced to the pure meaningless image of itself, we can begin to build our business — and our new life.

It is of absolute importance that we possess no opinion, neither of ourselves nor of others, neither of things nor of non-things. It is paramount we know nothing other than: I am — It is. And yet we know this with stupendous certitude, with the most gut-wrenching conviction.

How can we accomplish this? Today I provide a first preparatory sketch. Later, I will deepen what we learn today, as Pozzo and I advance into the darkness.

Listen! We must learn to reap the infinite fruits of boredom!

No longer is boredom something undesirable we purge from ourselves by the myriad distractions and amusements of today’s digital, quantified world.

No longer will we think of boredom as weakness before the uninteresting, as what is easily and wirelessly snuffed out by the spectacle of high-definition.

Instead, we will exploit this experience, we shall pursue boredom to its inner core. This is not dissimilar to the way we probe our customers and discover their hidden wants and desires. Only now it is the agents’ self-concealment, their obscured dishonesties, that will be exposed. The benefits, the production of income, unparalleled!

We must listen very closely to what is being whispered to us during this exercise, what clue is being offered by this singular and very peculiar phenomenon. The task required of you is to strip yourself bare, to defamiliarize everything, so that you can sense the delicate nuances that become available, at first obscurely, by way of this transformative experience. We will be building in ourselves an ontological disposition, so concentrate on my every word:

I am bored & I shall remain bored. I will push my boredom to the limit. I will sit, I will pace back & forth in my loneliest loneliness, until the primordial rises & clutches me by the throat. I continue like this for hours, not knowing which way to turn or what to do with myself. I pace, I sit back down, I stand back up. I occupy myself with Nothing. Then— it is impossible to tell how much time has elapsed — suddenly, surprisingly, as if from nowhere, the satori happens & everything is shattered: the anxiety of finding myself Here amid things, the feeling of being thrown uncannily into the world from God knows where, the realization that I am naked & empty, that I am a glaring superimposition on the earth without any recourse other than who I am & what I make of myself. I am broken down, crushed into dust, scattered to the winds. I am pure Incapacity, extreme weakness, an overt embarrassment. The Fact of being-there simpliciter has seized me, has taken complete control over me. Only out of this originary listlessness can I discover existence in its unspeakable brutality, only then can I see for the first time that I am a thrown emptiness, a stark freedom in the midst of beings. The horror! The horror!

Here, my fellow agents, my brothers and sisters, is the place where, paradoxically, the possibility of joy, of ecstasy, of the rapture of life has its inception, its genuine source. Once you have discovered it, once you have reduced your soul to its root facticity and the Region opens up, once the blissful tranquility of this has been won, you will be able to deal with clients with alarming honesty, with brilliant understanding, with an insight, almost genius, that will show you precisely what to do.

Then the sales and listings will begin to mount, then the clients and the customers will start gathering around you as though you were offering them gifts from another world …

As the verdant jungle thickens, the hidden river spines up gradual, impenetrable slopes. Pozzo possesses my complete trust and faith. We rarely speak. He mans the boat and machete as I draw more infinitely into myself.

We have formed a strong, unique bond, he and I, as the dark of the surrounding forest creeps and clasps everywhere, as the trickle of water opens vista after vista. I will send word from our next encampment.

For now, continue practicing the spiritual exercise — with passion, always passion! You need to be readied for the next step into the wilderness.

Servus,

Needler