The (coal) lumpen proletariat, a conversation


By Warwick McFadyen

A park bench, mid-morning. Friends Guildenstern and Rosencrantz discuss an energy crisis over a lump of coal. The climate soon becomes somewhat heated.

Rosencrantz: What are you holding in your lap?

Guildenstern: This, my friend, is a genuine lump of Australian-made coal.

Rosencrantz: And why are you holding a genuine lump of Australian-made coal? It looks dirty and heavy.

Guildenstern: Yes well my friend that is where you are wrong. This lump of coal is as clean as a freshly scrubbed baby. And light? Why it’s as light as a feather. It just looks dirty and heavy to you because you are ignorant of its many qualities.

Rosencrantz: (sighing) Do tell.

Guildenstern: First and foremost Rosencrantz, it keeps us warm. It may not look like it does, but trust me, without this little lump and its millions of brothers and sisters we would be freezing as if we lived in a cave like our ancient ancestors.  And it gives us power, such power.

Rosencrantz: How is it going to do that while we sit on this bench? That’s clearly absurd even by your loose definition of absurdity.

Guildenstern: That is where you are misguided.

Rosencrantz: Misguided! It’s a lump of rock. What are we supposed to do with it, rub it against our skins until we ignite? Until we spontaneously combust? That will keep us warm alright as we melt into a puddle. Then it won’t matter.

Guildenstern: Please Rosencrantz enough with your sarcasm. My lump, and yours too since we are in this thing called life together, is plainly a metaphor.

Rosencrantz: A metaphor?

Guildenstern: Yes of course. Did you really think a lump of compressed plant matter composed mainly of carbon sitting in my lap can do anything at all? I hold it for a purpose.

Rosencrantz: Yes?

Guildenstern: To show you, and the world and its passing parade, that my way of thinking is better than yours, that with this magnificent piece of anthracite I cradle is one of the building blocks of civilisation and civil society. And what’s more it shows that I am not a coalaphobic, as you appear to be. For shame.

Rosencrantz: A coalaphobic? Now I know you have fallen off the edge of reason.

Guildenstern: You can hardly deny it Rosencrantz. You make your judgments on its colour and its origins. For shame. Don’t be scared. Don’t be scared. It won’t hurt you!

Rosencrantz: Good grief. It’s a lump of coal! It’s insentient. It has no life.

Guildenstern: To you perhaps, but others see it differently. To us, it has taken on a life of its own, and it gives life what is more. Which takes me back to my metaphor that I was trying to explain to you before you rudely interrupted me.

Rosencrantz: Go on then if you must.

Guildenstern: I must because it is evident that you have no idea how wrong you are and how right I am. It really makes me wonder on what level your intelligence works. Tell me, what do you see when you see my lump of coal?

Rosencrantz: A lump of coal.

Guildenstern: No you don’t. Try again. Close your eyes.

Rosencrantz: How can I see with my eyes closed?

Guildenstern: It’s easy, myself and likeminded coal people do it all the time. Try again.

Rosencrantz: Very well.

Guildenstern:  Are they shut tight?

Rosencrantz: Yes.

Guildenstern: Light is not getting in?

Rosencrantz: No.

Guildenstern: So, what do you see?

Rosencrantz: I see a foolish man with a lump of coal.

Guildenstern: Let me explain. Again, the coal is a metaphor. To true believers, it is not a lump, it is a monarch. King Coal, lord of the realm of our senses and beliefs! We live by its ineluctable laws of economics. Don’t you see Rosencrantz, King Coal flows through our being, how we view the world, how we act, how we reconcile good and evil. It is the river of life. It does not pollute as so many others have you believe. We are not stupid. Would we deliberately sabotage life to maintain our sense of position, power and privilege? It’s offensive. And that is how it keeps us warm, by this knowledge glowing within.

Rosencrantz: Could it not be the sun rising overhead, too?

Guildenstern: Well, possibly if you must there might be a small degree of that. But could you imagine, an ideology based on the sun? What primitive madness would that be? And we are not primitives. Would people have elected primitives to govern their lives? Come now, a little sense.

Rosencrantz: No, you are right. You have your lump of coal to prove it.

Guildenstern: My lump of King Coal, my friend. Address it properly if you don’t mind.

Warwick McFadyen is a freelance writer and editor


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