The Leaden Man

I’m the leaden homunculus labouring away in the lead mines, it occurs to me then. This is my fantasy. I’m labouring away mining for lead only I’m made of lead too. Heavy, heavy lead.  The heaviest possible lead. I’m swinging my pick-axe and it’s made of lead too. It’s so heavy that I can hardly lift it above my head. I can hardly lift it at all. There’s nothing wearier than being a leaden homunculus mining for lead at the bottom of the lead mines, it occurs to me. With no prospect of a break, with no possibility of respite. Working conditions are terrible down here, I think to myself. The very worst any working conditions could ever be.


Lifting the pick-axe up above my head takes so much out of me. It’s a gruelling ordeal every time. The axe is as heavy as I am, and that’s saying something. And when I actually lift it up in the air it becomes a hundred times heavier still because it obeys the dark laws of Tartarus, which are the laws of the underworld. To wield such an axe is a murderous ordeal, as I think I have already said. My arms – even though they are as thick as the branches of a great oak – are deadly tired. Even breathing down here is hard. Even breathing is an ordeal. This is no ordinary air after all – this is the air of the underworld. This is air no normal man could hope to breathe.


I am the leaden man, I think. I am the leaden homunculus. My words are lead, my thoughts are lead. I am a subterranean man. I am labouring away under a mountain of grey granite and my labours never end. I am mining away in the depths of the earth and the deeper I go the crueller the laws get. I am tunnelling into darkness. I am tunnelling deeper and deeper into a world of unbearable torment – the torment of the leaden homunculus. There are no light hearts down here; there is no lightness of any kind. Gravity has become all-powerful. Gravity is the dark master we all serve. Even to breathe is an ordeal because the air is so much denser than ordinary air. For a normal person breathing down here would be impossible, like breathing solid iron.


There are many of us down labouring away ceaselessly here under the mountain. A small army of leaden men labour in the dark all around me – we never meet each other but I can hear the muffled groans as my fellow anthroparians raise their leaden pick-axes up above their gnarled and furrowed heads, and then the deep heavy earth-shaking thud as it is brought down again. That’s all you can hear down here – groan and thud, groan and thud, groan and thud, as we labour throughout the night. It’s always night here, as you might imagine. The dawn never comes. There’s no dawn here under the mountain – the skies are made of granite.


Our pick-axes aren’t made of ordinary lead, of course. Ordinary lead is soft – ordinary lead is as soft as butter and it would never serve for this purpose. Our tools are made of the philosophical lead, as are we. Philosophical lead is the densest and most intractable of materials – it is made out of pure ignorance. What could be heavier than ignorance? What could be more obtuse? It is the Prime Material – it is the malefic darkness which no man will recognize in himself. It is a substance that no one will recognize in themselves, so repugnant is it. It is the realm of the super-dense for which matter itself is only a poor metaphor.  We work away ceaselessly in this subterranean realm and no one knows of our labours. No one hears our groans…



Art: Marlene Dumas: Mamma Roma, 2012.




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