Far in the recesses of the Transcendental Arrangement, beyond the hardest left and the most abrupt right, down a staircase of seventy-seven stairs was the little room where Darwing was. There he brooded, gazing out of a little window that looked out on endless night, watching the moon through all of its phases. He: the refutation of philosophers, the umbrage of all heresies, the presuppositionalist.
A knock sounded on the door of Darwing’s room. No other sound; and then the bolt was drawn back with a screech, the door swung in, light entered and before it leapt a shadow.
There he stood: the Janitor Angelicus. He had a robe and sandals. Around his middle was a belt and from it hung a set of keys. The belt, in turn, hung upon bright red suspenders, for it was three sizes too big for the Janitor Angelicus, Lumpenproletariat.
He was the son of a star in the constellation most commonly recognized as the sow and of a comet whose path was called by charitable heavenly bodies elliptical, and by the more candid, drunkenly erratic. Lumpenproletariat had made an aimless career also, finding his sinecure as the Janitor Angelicus, the custodian of the Transcendental Arrangement. He was also fond of haunting the passageways of universities since days of yore, although in more modern times he had found no need to take pains to conceal himself, being considered a freshman or tenured faculty by his appearance and eccentric habiliment.
Sometimes he would drift into conversation with some of the more sentient of the other haunters of the halls of academe, and was fond of refuting Marx.
“For value,” he would say, “Ought to be measured in more than labor.”
“I like Marx,” the unabashed freshman or the more forthcoming tenured member of the faculty would say. “Not that I’ve read much, but his ideas make a lot of sense. A very original thinker.”
“What of utility?” Lumpenproletariat would ask, and he would lift his eyebrows so gradually they seemed to move infinitely upward, invariably fascinating any interlocutor bold enough to make eye contact. “What of utility?”
Now he stood gazing into the room where he saw Darwing. Black feathers he saw, the onyx beak, and the eye like a small black hole, reflecting nothing and gathering up into itself all light. Even the janitor found it unsettling.
“Here birdie,” Lumpenproletariat called to the unresponsive raven. Alone it mediated, waiting for the moon, as if nothing could intrude upon its utter solitude.
The Janitor Angelicus entered into the room slowly, holding in his hand a folder from the edges of which appeared papers bearing a strong resemblance to newspaper clippings. He walked along the edge of the room, around the bird, toward a table that stood against the opposite wall. He put the folder down, all the while watching the great, black raven in the center of the room.
On the table was an open folder with newspaper clippings scattered about on the table. Lumpenproletariat began to gather the clippings, raking them together with his hand while his head remained turned, watching the motionless raven. Abruptly he became very still, his arm bent in the middle of herding some clippings back toward the open folder. Without turning his head he moved his eyes slightly in the direction of his hand. What followed was an indescribable attempt to move each eye in different directions, to keep one on the raven and simultaneously look at the table.
His head snapped back as he thought he glimpsed a flutter from the raven, but it was still. Lumpenproletariat looked down. Then back at the raven. Then he turned his head quickly toward the table. He managed to catch a glimpse of a nail driven through a clipping before hearing the cry of the bird. It had sprung from the floor and straight at the janitor, endeavoring to deliver a sharp peck at his head. For reasons Lumpenproletariat had never been able to discern, the raven was given to these surprise attacks. It seemed it wanted nothing more than to peck his head, and had managed to do so more than once.
Now they strove together: the huge black raven, beating its midnight wings, its eyes fantastically dull and without expression, its onyx beak flashing with malice and the robed janitor with madly jangling keys, thrusting the bird away with a thick folder, wielding the folder clumsily with two hands, fanning the air. The bird fell back with a derisive cry. The janitor, breathing heavily and leaning back against the table, stared at the bird before he squatted down to pick up the clippings on the floor. He thought a quiet walk in some one or another university would be welcome after this.
When the Janitor Angelicus would bring up the matter of utility in the halls of universities, the conversation might end if the other party snorted or rolled the eyes. But every once in a while, they answered as he hoped:
“Yes, I can’t deny there’s something to be said for utility.”
“And then there is supply and demand,” Lumpenproletariat would continue, “And intrinsic worth.” And here his eyebrows would descend all at once, whether his interlocutor was looking at him or not, and he would fix his gaze upon the freshman or tenured faculty member and ask: “Do you believe in intrinsic worth?”
“I suppose I do . . . I’m not sure.”
“Pearls are not valuable because men dive for them; men dive for pearls because they are valuable.” And here a note of triumph usually. “You see, there is some sort of intrinsic value. But it is mutable, no? For some will pay more when there are less, or less to go around, or more wanted. So we must separate, if you will permit, value from intrinsic worth. Value being in a man’s esteem, but worth being absolute.”
“How will you know the absolute worth?”
Lumpenproletariat would nod in silence for a while, as if considering. “You will know its worth when you find its place in a system which includes all things.”
“Nobody could know that!” Would be the wry rejoinder.
“Nobody save for God,” he would reply. “And what if God were to whisper to you the worth of the least pebble? What if he would whisper in your ear and tell you the absolute worth of the smallest rock?” And after a due pause he would lean forward and hiss at his interlocutor with great emphasis, “Then you would have a key to the absolute value of all things!”
At this his interlocutor, awed or baffled would usually stare, and then the Janitor Angelicus would whirl and fade into the shadows, and leave on the air the faint jingling of his keys.
The keys jingled now as Lumpenproletariat stood up. He went around to the side of the table so he could gather the clippings and still look at the raven askance, although there had never in his experience been a second attack. The scattered clippings from the old folder were gathered save for the one nailed down. The folder was closed, the one he had borne and used as his weapon was deposited in its place, and the Janitor Angelicus moved around the edge of the room.
He stopped halfway, right before the window, for he had noticed something else. A single black feather lay on the floor, within his reach. He deliberated: it was probably best to ignore it; and yet, a feather, a single feather! What would it be worth? He began to squat in order to reach the feather. As he lowered his body, the raven began to turn to face him. He stopped; it stopped. He continued; it continued. He was down all the way, and the bird faced him fully, the onyx beak reflecting the light coming in the door. Lumpenproletariat began to stretch out his right hand; the raven began to unfold its wings. Fascinated now, mesmerized by the strange actions of the bird, he continued to stretch out his hand till the bird’s wings were fully extended, the longest feathers brushing the floor. He lowered his fingers and as he felt the feather, the bird cawed, causing him to freeze. Then in one motion he grasped the feather and hurtled himself to the door, pulling it after him as he passed out.
The door slammed and after a few seconds the bolt squeaked home. Inside the room only the darkness, and the moonless night outside the window, and Darwing waiting for the moon.