Ultraglis

Stories

Ledger

Detail from View in a departure yard at C and NW RR Proviso yard at twilight, Chicago, Ill by Jack Delano

Geoffrey Ross: Mr. Archy, first I want to thank you for having me up to your, I have to say, pretty amazing office here on Wacker Drive.

Aaron Archy: My pleasure.

GR: You have quite a view.

AA: A lot of people don't realize how beautiful a city river can be, the way it runs between these skyscrapers like a river running along the bottom of a steep canyon. I know that's a pretty stale metaphor, but it's true. And the way, in Chicago at least, the river bridges, from up here, it's almost as if they're a series of bands or braces holding the whole city together.

GR: And yet aren't they all drawbridges?

AA: Exactly! And so it's an optical illusion, in a way: a contradiction. I love contradiction. It's probably the engine of civilization.

GR: Now, for our readers, I should explain that you and I met at a University of Illinois Alumni Association event, I think it was Wisconsin game weekend.

AA: [Nodding] It was Wisconsin game weekend.

GR: And we got to talking about how we were both from small farm towns, and how, growing up, we were surrounded by farms and, in both our cases, we actually even worked on farms as detasselers, and yet neither of us ever really understood the first thing about farming, or the food industry.

AA: Food is probably the most alienated mode of production in the West, and I think the fact that you and I both grew up surrounded by farms, and yet understood almost nothing about how food is actually produced, I think that's pretty scary evidence of this alienation—

GR: Sorry to interrupt, but I have to say, I'm surprised to hear you talk about food in terms of alienation—

AA: Hey, I graduated from U of I, same as you; I'm a good Marxist and a registered Democrat.

GR: Oh. Wow.

AA: You sound surprised.

GR: Well, and I don't mean to be confrontational—but you are also one of the wealthiest commodities traders in the country. How do you square that with Marxism?

AA: Oh, I don't think you really have to. I mean, what choice does any of us have? I vote Democrat; I give money to Democratic candidates. What more can I do? It's up to the state. I could give all my own personal wealth away, but that wouldn't achieve even a negligible redistribution of wealth. The state needs to make that happen, and I'm doing everything I can to get Democrats elected.

GR: So I take it you don't believe in personal salvation. You aren't a Christina?

AA: [Laughing] No, not exactly. I probably believe in personal damnation, but not salvation, no, and I'm not a Christian either. Isn't Christianity sort of incompatible with modernity? It's practically untenable. And by 'practically' I mean 'in practice', not 'almost'.

GR: Well, there's an interesting question, and I think we could have a whole interview stemming from it, so maybe we can put a bookmark there.

AA: Certainly. I didn't mean to—

GR: No, no, not at all. Nothing like that. I'm already remembering why I enjoyed meeting you so much last fall. You are very interesting.

AA: [Laughs.] Okay, well, anyway.

GR: So one of the things that interested me when we scheduled this interview was that you agreed to answer any questions—

AA: Well, agreed to try and answer—

GR: Right, on the perfectly reasonable condition that we might change your name and maybe some superficial details if you feel, after the interview, that your candor could be damaging to either you or others.

AA: That's right, and thank you by the way for acceding to those conditions.

GR: Oh, but on the contrary, I'm thanking you. I was surprised when I got that email, because, well, given the subject of the interview, commodities trading, I mean I thought this was going to be sort of like an interview-version of a field trip to the Board of Trade. So now [jokingly] I'm wondering what scandalous information you might be planning to reveal.

AA: [Laughs.] No, nothing at all like that. It's just that, I mean, so you said the subject of the interview is commodities trading, and to a certain extent that's true, but, I mean, the real subject of the interview is me, and I don't mean that in the sense that your readers want to read about my favorite foods or anything but like, or even in some egotistical sense, like everything is really about me. What I mean is that I am literally the subject of the interview.

GR: Well, I guess you are probably right. I hadn't really thought of it in those terms. But then I'm wondering if you aren't the object of the interview—

AA: Commodities trading is the object. I am the speaking subject, speaking about commodities trading for the benefit of your readers.

GR: Yes, well, I guess that is right. As I said, I hadn't really thought about it that way.

AA: And the subject can't help but speak about himself, ultimately. Or, no, I shouldn't put it that way: the subject can't help but reveal himself through his speech. He's always revealing himself. So even if I'm talking about, say, spot trading or explaining how margin works, I'm revealing myself, and I think an interview—well, I'm a big fan of reading interviews, and it always annoys me when there's this arbitrary boundary drawn around the, as you say, subject—you know they agree in advance that you can ask me about this, but you can't ask me about that. So when I read these interviews I'm always wondering what was cut, or what was forbidden, what parts of the conversation began to drift, or where might the conversation have drifted if it had been permitted to, and in a way I think those might have been the most interesting pieces.

GR: I definitely see what you mean. And a lot of the best information is given off the record.

AA: I hate the whole concept of background and off the record, and I do that all the time for Crain's and the other newspapers. The problem with interviews, as a genre, is that it assumes the interviewer knows what he wants to know. But what the interviewer wants to know changes and emerges through the process of, well, the interview. It's not unlike a police interrogation: the best policemen are always cognizant of this fact. If they aren't, then they start bending the interview, to make it fit their preconceptions, and not only can they can miss the most important pieces of information, but sometimes they bend the interview until it breaks.

GR: That's interesting, and I think I've actually made the mistake you describe, I think I've probably made it many times. The interviewer needs to be almost radically open to unknown and even unknowable possibilities.

AA: Exactly. And ultimately this all includes the reader's engagement with the published interview: what the reader wants to know changes as he reads the interview. What the reader wants to know is, in a way, produced by, or elicited by, the interview itself.

GR: Interesting.

AA: An interview is really like any other market in that regard: you can't make an intervention in the market without changing the market itself. So you might enter this interview with some set of expectations, and so have I, but those are going to change as I hear your questions and as you hear my answers, and my answers are going to change as I hear your questions, so we're both shaping the object of the interview even as we try to speak it, so to speak. [Laughs]

GR: Hmmm...

AA: I just mean to say that it's really complicated. I'm a big fan of interviews and I've read very few that really satisfied me, so even though I'm just a boring commodities trader, I thought, well, if this is my chance to be interviewed for a general interest publication, I better do it right: let the interviewer do what he needs to do so that if the reader is disappointed, it won't be because I didn't give you everything I have.

GR: [Laughs] Gosh, it already feels like this should be about ten different interviews—

AA: See, that's exactly what I mean!

GR: So, just to play along then, because I like your idea, wouldn't I also be the subject, or a subject, a speaking subject, of the interview, since I too am speaking and shaping.

AA: There you go; there's the problem: no, you are not. And I don't mean that to be insulting, but technically, in terms of the interview, you are not a speaking subject anymore than, say, if you were to interview my confidential secretary—

GR: The guy I met outside your office?

AA: Eric, yes, he's my confidential secretary. If you were to interview him about the firm, I would not consider him to be the subject. When he's working for me, and in a job like his he's always working for me, he can't speak about the firm without making me the subject. He's my agent. I act through him; he acts on my behalf. As far as his professional life goes—and as I said, that goes pretty far almost to totality—he represents me. He might do a good job or a bad job, but he subjectifies me; he is an extension of me.

GR: Wow!

AA: Wow what?

GR: Well, I mean, do you think he would see it that way?

AA: He does see it that way. I've explained it to him.

GR: And he's fine with that?

AA: Certainly. Why shouldn't he be? He's well compensated. And besides, what choice does he have?

GR: I guess he could quit.

AA: It's not a job one quits. He lacks the agency to quit. Even if he wanted to, he would find that he couldn't. He can only quit if I want him to quit, so that even then he is acting out my wishes.

GR: Oh.

AA: In fact, I probably have it far worse than Eric. There's a clarity to his position: he subjectifies me and me alone, whereas I am one in three; I am a divided subject, but not in the Freudian sense. Eric at least is one in one.

GR: I'm not sure I follow.

AA: He's my only confidential secretary, and I'm his only boss. He's fortunate. Even so, and maybe especially so, his position requires certain qualities one tends to associate with automata.

GR: Obedience?

AA: I guess you could use that word. One of the most valuable things I learned in college was that the whole idea of agency, of the autonomous human subject, of free will—none of it is true. It's all, like, an Enlightenment construct. A colossal misinterpretation. So I have been able to implement that insight through a fairly cutting edge human resources program. My employees are happier because they do not labor under the delusion that their work is meant to be fulfilling or personally meaningful. They are agents of my firm, the firm of which I myself am an agent. When we wish to act in a way that is contrary to the interests of the firm, we find that we can’t. I have employees who don’t even know they are my employees, and of course for income tax purposes they aren’t. But they are agents of the firm; they perform the work of the firm.

GR: So then, going back to what we were discussing earlier, wouldn't the firm be the subject of this interview?

AA: Yes, but I'm the highest ranking officer of the firm. Well, there are three of us, technically coequal, as I mentioned, but nobody higher. So the other two could be subjects of an interview, if you were to interview them, but since you're interviewing me and not them, I am the subject. [Laughs]

GR: Okay, so you're the subject. I think we're agreed on that. And what's more, you are a divided subject: one in three. Maybe a good place to start would be for you just to tell my readers who you are. Not your name or anything superficial like that, but who is Aaron Archy?

AA: I think, when it comes to knowing yourself, there's nothing but the superficial. At least that's how it is for me. All I know about myself are certain superficial, formal qualities and characteristics, and to be perfectly honest you could get most of that from my Facebook page if I had one. The real substance of who I am is what I feel. That's really all any of us has. It's all, for example, that Eric has: the only part of him that's entirely his own, and that's because feelings are not articulated. I mean, yes of course, your mind can interpret your feelings and put them into words, but the words only represent the feelings, and usually not very accurately. The words and thoughts are not actually the feeling itself. So Eric, he's free to feel whatever he feels, and I am also.

GR: Interesting. So then what do you feel?

AA: Well, obviously lots of things. I'm human, right? So, trying to put it into words...what is the dominant note in my feelings? Hmmm...what do I tend to feel most often? Well, I guess, to be perfectly honest, or as honest as I can be, or rather as precise as I can be, what I feel the most is rage. I'm filled with rage. Or maybe it's anger.

GR: Wow. Huh. Well...I'm surprised to hear you say that, actually.

AA: Hmmm...

GR: You don't seem like an angry person, and even as you said that you were, you sounded quite calm and reasonable.

AA: Anger acts differently upon each person.

GR: So, I mean, we aren't talking American Psycho level rage?

AA: [Laughs] No, but also, of course, American Psycho is a satire, and the author uses hyperbole, and the novel obviously isn't real. I'm real. Also, I don't kill people. But rage doesn't necessarily express itself in violence.

GR: I could see that. So, just to redirect a little, how would you say rage influences your work, or does it?

AA: Oh it most certainly does. Or it could be the other way around, though: my work allows me to act on my rage in a socially acceptable way.

GR: How so?

AA: I can completely screw people over, I mean really fuck them hard—sorry, am I allowed to say that?

GR: Certainly. Our readers are all adults.

AA: And the people I'm fucking over are complete and total bastards, just like me, so it doesn't really even matter and in fact I'm probably performing a social good.

GR: And yet, aren't you doing this, I mean don't your actions, because this is commodities trading, don't your actions have consequences in ordinary people's lives? Aren't you, for example, affecting the price of food?

AA: Theoretically, yes, but what most people don't understand about commodities trading is how completely theoretical it all is. It's so completely abstract, which is ironic really because underpinning it all is something so very concrete. And, as you point, out there's not much that's more concrete than food. But the commodities markets tend towards convergence, because of the futures trading. What we do actually helps to stabilize food prices.

GR: Interesting.

AA: And yet at least once a month I screw somebody over so royally—I've seen dozens of traders completely ruined, and I know I've been part of their ruin, because I know we were trading in the same contracts. Still they keep coming back, the traders, new traders I mean. I feel like Jason sewing the dragon's teeth, which I guess is a pretty good metaphor for a commodities trader to use.

GR: [Laughs] So you are unapologetic, and obviously very confident—

AA: Not confident at all. I mean, maybe I seem confident, but I'm a horribly insecure person. I can do what I do, and succeed at it, because I do it from the privacy of my office, and because I have agents working on my behalf. Like Eric out there. But the main thing nowadays is that I'm a screen trader. I don't have to face anyone; I don't have to deal with anyone, except theoretically. You know, when you trade at the Board, the clearing houses mediate everything, so again, it's all theoretical. At the same time, well, with the really high volume traders, it's a small world, so you know who's been fucked over, although sometimes it's entire firms.

GR: And you derive some sort of pleasure from that?

AA: I guess. Maybe. I try to. [Pauses] No, I don't think so. Not pleasure, anyway. More relief, or release, of my rage, but it's not pleasure. It's relief. Temporary, but, you know, if you're suffocating, even if you only believe that you are—and after all, what else is there besides belief?—if you're suffocating, you want a full breath of air so desperately, and you'll do anything to get it. Yawning, or trying to yawn, is common. And if you do get one full breath, it feels good, it's a relief, even if it's only temporary: the anxiety continues to crush you, and you continue to struggle for breath.

GR: So, let me get back to something you said a moment ago, which I think would interest our readers, because so many people, when they hear about commodities traders, they imagine these guys in the pits shouting their bids and making those hand signals—

AA: Open outcry, the traders and the runners—which is mostly dead, by the way.

GR: I think a lot of people don't realize that. I don't think I did. I mean, I guess now that you say it, it makes sense. I'm not sure if I had thought it through I would have guessed otherwise, but I don't think that's the picture most people have. A lot of people imagine what Ferris Bueller saw when he and Cameron and Sloane visited the Board of Trade...

AA: [Laughs] For me, screen trading is the only option. I can't work with people. I'm the kind of person who always thinks he knows more than everybody else in the room. I'm a complete and total bastard, I'm willing to admit. I mean, who ever really likes that person? But I always think I'm the smartest person in the room, and the reason I think so is not that I hold my own intelligence in especially high regard, but because I take such a dim view of everybody else's. I just don't get along with people, and I think most people, especially the rich pricks and cunts in this business, I think they're basically morons. So even though I don't think that I'm especially smart, I always end up thinking I'm smarter than everybody else. One of the main reasons I can say in good faith that I'm a Marxist is that I'd like to see all these fuckers completely ruined, even if it means my own ruin as well. So screen trading helps me keep that anger under control by isolating me from these fuckers.

GR: And yet screen trading sounds so cold, so impersonal.

AA: A lot of people say that, and some of the old timers, they have these great stories of their days in the pit, and I have to admit that there's an appealing romance to that. But the truth is, for me at least, it would be just terrible. I'm best here in my office, just me and the screen.

GR: Would you say that most of your peers feel the same?

AA: Oh, maybe. Probably, but probably for different reasons. In any case, what choice do they have now? But for me, I don't like people, and I don't like having to deal directly with them.

GR: That surprises me. When I met you, you seemed like a very popular guy.

AA: Could be. I actually don't have many friends. Most of the people you saw me with at that Alumni Association event are paid to be my friends. Also I was extremely drunk. I have to be. I'm practically agoraphobic. I can't attend parties sober. But I'm not actually agoraphobic, because I'm not afraid of crowds. Quite the contrary, I have an almost psychotic love of crowds. I'm a scopophiliac. For me, being in crowds is agony because I have trouble controlling myself. I can't not look at a pretty woman. Or else the discipline needed to keep from staring at her, well it's horrible. If it were socially acceptable to stare at pretty women, then I'd love crowds. But obviously it is not. Which is probably another reason I like screen trading, at least in a private office like this.

GR: Because you don't have to be around people?

AA: Yes, and also because I watch a lot of porn, so obviously I can do that from my computer, and in my private office.

GR: Pornography?

AA: Sure. I know that some people would probably be surprised by that, or at least surprised that I would admit it. But I told you that I want to give you the truth. And I'm by no means an aberration in this regard: everyday, more people visit porn sites than Amazon, Netflix, and Twitter combined. Did you know that?

GR: I think I heard something like that before.

AA: I'm only an aberration in my willingness to admit that I visit these porn sites.

GR: Any you'd care to name?

AA: Well, I'm pretty particular about what I like, and that's one of the great things about the Internet, the development of highly niche porn sectors. I don't like explicit. Well, no, that's not really correct. I like it explicit. I don't like pussy shots or asshole shots. I like the female form and face. I like to see them fully clothed at first, and I like slowish seductions. I like to see their faces while the man is eating their pussies, but I don't particularly want to see the pussy itself. I find the faces more appealing. I like to watch the woman as she gives into the pleasure which at first she might resist or even be indifferent to. That kind of porn is not the most popular, so it's harder to find. Usually the female characters in porn are just insatiable sex hungry sluts. But I like something a little more realistic, a little slower-going. Once the actors get into the actual intercourse, I really love missionary. I know that's so old fashioned, but to me it's the most satisfying to watch. But other positions can be good too. It all depends on execution: what the director and actress are able to achieve. I'm most interested in watching the visible manifestation of the changing chemistry in the woman's mind and body, as it all slides, slowly at first, and then faster and faster, towards orgasm.

GR: So, a scopophiliac is somebody who loves porn?

AA: No, not really. Or that's not all it is. It's somebody who suffers from the compulsive need to look, to watch anybody who could be the object of his sexual desire.

GR: Like voyeurism?

AA: Yes, but the looking and watching aren't necessarily about watching the sex act itself, though that is certainly part of it. I've paid women to kiss and fondle each other's breasts. So I guess that would be an example of voyeurism. But scopophilia is more about the potential for sex, the potential for sex to irrupt into everyday situations. Which is why I like just looking at pretty women. All kinds. I become entranced. Almost literally entranced. She can have all her clothes on. Of course the appeal is the possibility, the knowledge, that at some point she does not have her clothes on, that at some point she is fucking her boyfriend or me or maybe another woman. But yeah, it's about the potential for sex to happen. Like the potential of a futures contract to appreciate in value. But you see how it's all mostly theoretical. It's like futures trading in that regard.

GR: You mentioned that before, about futures trading being theoretical or abstract. I wonder if you'd be willing to say a little more about that.

AA: What a lot of people don't realize is that only a very small minority of futures traders are actually interested in the commodity they're trading. We're talking probably fewer than five percent of traders ever take delivery of the commodity they're hedging. The rest of us, many have never even seen the commodities we trade, and have no idea where it comes from or what happens to it. Aren't even interested. What they want is the futures contract, which slips and slides over the real commodity, and that's a lot like what scopophilia is: you desire the woman, and you want to contemplate her in many different ways, but you arrange your life such that you can never actually take possession of her: you look, but you don't touch. Your gaze slipping and sliding over her body, like the futures contracts slipping and sliding over the physical commodity. It's theoretical, in the realm of imagination.

GR: And you say that commodities trading is like that?

AA: Absolutely. There are so many misconceptions about futures trading. If people understood how totally abstract it is—that's one reason it's so hard to explain. For example, when you talk about margin, people automatically think you're talking about debt, because that's what margin means when you're talking about securities. But in futures, margin is almost the exact opposite of debt: margin is basically a downpayment. Sort of like earnest money. So it's not debt at all. It's what you pay to play, and even then it's only temporary, because you eventually get that money back: once you close out your positions, you get the margin back. So you pay, temporarily, this very small amount of money for the right to buy and sell contracts. Okay. But once you've paid that small amount of money, you are completely in the realm of the theoretical. You don't use actual money to buy and sell contracts. You see how this degree of abstraction gives even the small trader an extraordinary amount of leverage that would be almost inconceivable, and certainly very risky, in the securities markets?

GR: Hmmm. Yes, I think I understand. And you've been able to make a lot of money doing this.

AA: Yes, but it's complicated, and I've got two other, related, enterprises backing me up, so to speak, just as I back them up.

GR: Is this the three you were talking about earlier, when you said you were one in three?

AA: Yes. We have a subterminal on the XXXXXXXX river, just north of XXXXXX. My counterpart down there is a cash grain merchant who specializes in identity preserved grains, mostly corn. And he exports to our third partner, who is an importer in XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX. This person then sells to a factory down there that uses the corn in manufacturing high end products—I'm not really at liberty to say more about that.

GR: [Laughing] Looks like we hit one of those arbitrary boundaries you were complaining about!

AA: [Laughs] Guilty as charged.

GR: So your reputation as one of the most successful commodities traders—

AA: Yes, it's to a certain extent unearned. I'm part of a larger enterprise. Of course, the Alumni Association doesn't care about that. As long as I keep the donations coming. And I guess that's the point of philanthropic work, isn't it? To provide cover.

GR: Cover from what?

AA: The truth, I suppose.

GR: Do you think we're all, all people I mean, looking for cover from that?

AA: I think so. I don't think many of us are willing to acknowledge the extent to which it's about survival. The ego, when confronted with the truth about itself, completely implodes. Thus the need for civilization, I guess: veils and costumes and theater.

GR: You sound kind of melancholy.

AA: Oh, I was just thinking how trapped we are. I wonder if it's better to know. Like Eric and me. Eric, my confidential secretary: he knows he's trapped; and I know that I am trapped. Maybe it's better to believe in free will; maybe it makes life more tolerable.

GR: Are you talking about self-knowledge? Are you suggesting that belief in free will is a delusion?

AA: I don't know. Self-knowledge is, what? I guess it's the knowledge that every little thing was, is, about needs and desires. Sexual. My mind is like a ledger, just scarred with all these scribbles which, if you could look closely, you would see are actually a very orderly record of every debit and every credit, every desire denied and every one fulfilled, scraped onto my mind and I guess the ability to read that record, yeah, is self-knowledge, maybe.

GR: Mr. Archy, I want to thank you for your time. This has been a most interesting interview, and I hope our readers will enjoy it.

AA: You're most welcome, and thank you for the opportunity. Come back anytime.