Fashion a boat of blazing rubies out of what’s left of the sky after the sun explodes.
Erase the dictionary, one word per day.
Concerning this Task I was recently asked: “with which words to start, with which end?” Helpful as ever, I now reply.
Why not begin by launching an attack on the words you most loathe? My first blow would probably fall on those coined by philosophers, which, I imagine, it would afford me deep satisfaction to strike down, since they are usually as offensive to the intellect as they are to the ear.
Having made short work of those monstrous creations of misguided genius, I would then proceed to turn the avenging sword of my eraser on the new words–or should I say non-words–which the internet revolution has vomited up before our astonished good taste in such enormous quantities. You know the ones I mean: they are too commonly used, and too repellent, to escape notice. They are the words which have corrupted our vocabularies, defiled our everyday speech, infested and enfeebled our already neglectful and enervated minds, in short, they are the words which have led us phrase-mangling moderns into a sort of linguistic wasteland located at the antipodes of the eloquence which our classical predecessors esteemed, trained to perfect, practised on all significant occasions, and, through a rigorous and carefully designed pedagogical method, made a concerted effort to preserve and transmit to the future, with what success you can now see.
At this juncture you will perhaps interrupt me to ask whether these words I have just proscribed and marked out for destruction are actually included in today’s standard dictionaries. Exactly how much of this philosophical flimflam and internet gobbledygook has been allowed to pollute the pages of these books which, rightly or wrongly, we regard as authoritative guides and consult as unquestioningly as abject slaves? I confess I don’t know, because I haven’t looked; and because I am too afraid to find out, I must remain ignorant.
Nevertheless if after numerous clandestine conferences an agreement was reached by our most esteemed committees of word collection to countenance these violent twistings and savage maulings of the language we use it points to a conspiracy to commit lexical crime and therefore I propose that banishing these words from the pages which their mere presence maims is tantamount to ensuring that justice is served.
Of course this constitutes no more than an initial phase: countless words exist which are ripe for erasure; I’ve barely scratched the surface of verbal felony. But don’t follow my loathing or even allow it to influence you. Follow your own, wherever it may lead. Has it ever steered you wrong?
(No sooner have I expressed these ideas than scruples arise, doubts creep in . . . Doesn’t the misbegotten have its own beauty, more striking and exhilarating, perhaps, than that in whose direction we are domineeringly thrust by the so-called classical ideal? Are not the grotesque creatures in which nature abounds in many ways the most charming, the most captivating? Are there not spontaneous abortions more perfect than any masterpiece?
Perhaps we should not erase the dictionary after all. Maybe, in fact, we should study to admire the most unmellifluous words it contains, intentionally cultivate and propagate them, discover their secret allure . . . I sense that a new Task is trying to be born!)
Build a bridge of water across a river of fire three thousand miles long to reach the seventy-nine lightning bolts buried in the snow like phosphorescent branches fallen from the tree of life lying on the ground before the gates of paradise.
Risen from a tumultuous sea of nervous excitement formed by precipitation fallen from a cloud of defiled virtue and launched into boundless space by an incandescent idea of selfless love ungraspable by language, glide toward the center of a smoke-bisected parallelogram consisting of two perfectly congruent groups of golden orioles facing in opposite directions whose small bodies inhabited by heavenly spirits have been stamped upon the pale blue skin of the sky by the invisible hand of God.
Friends, readers, fellow conspirators; critics keen to judge and judges quick to condemn; supporters and disciples who celebrate me, undeservingly, as the unforeseen reillumination of a flame long ago snuffed out; enemies, implacable and unresting, whom my numberless acts of criminal wrongdoing have accumulated over countless lifetimes; birds of the air, beasts of the field, fishes of the sea, insects of the soil; angels of heaven and devils of hell; ghosts and spirits pervading all worlds, beneficent and malign alike; gods and goddesses who, stupefied by the comforts of the higher realm you presently occupy, improvidently forget your fortunes are subject to reversal; beings unknown, creatures unnamed, and deities unacknowledged: I greet and salute you all without discrimination at the beginning of this new year, extending my warmest regards and sincerest best wishes on this third day of the first month of 2012 when the moon is in its waxing phase, the celestial influences or diamones awakened from dormancy by the Quadrantid meteor shower moving my passive hand, stationary just moments before, and prompting me to write these mysterious but true words which you are reading now, words which, before they are written, and before they reach you, enter my mind as if transferred through an unknown conduit from another dimension.
I can barely distinguish myself from the air here. It is as if my body had become as light as the element which surrounds it. When caressingly drugged by so mild a breeze, does a man even exist as a conscious being? And how, when bathed in an atmosphere so stultifyingly pacific as this, can he experience the harrowing truth of his own individuation? There is no creature in nature so unnatural as man, but in the metaphysically astigmatic state to which he is reduced by a climate of so balmy a quality, what hope is there he will apprehend what a monster he is? I admit my puzzlement–my uncertainty on this point. But if uncertainty has come, it is a sign we should depart–and so, without further ado, I pack my bags and prepare to quit this unendurable paradise.
You, I have noticed, are at the height of your discontent when your level of comfort is highest. What is most pleasant is what offends you most. Destiny has been kind enough to drop us off in the sort of place men of a more poetic age called “blessed,” a place where others dream to come, and you can do nothing but complain about how good it is . . . But—though I know I should continue on this topic of how singularly unsuited you are to happiness, it has just occurred to me that from these combined observations of mine regarding your character a complete philosophy could arise (one which would illuminate so much!), and since it is too soon for this philosophy, since I know the world is not ready for its arrival and may never be ready, I forbid myself to go on.
Lesser men, I am sure, would bristle at such biting remarks, but you have the misfortune to be in the company of one whom they roll right off of, leaving him unfazed . . . Without going so far as to withhold my admiration for the act of vivisection you have performed on me, I nevertheless confess I am far more interested in this philosophy you refer to but have seen fit to suppress. You won’t let it arise, you say—but I say: let it arise! What virtuous purpose has procrastination ever served? Do not prove yourself one of those malignant sorcerers who gives us an ephemeral glance at some longed for object only so that he may perversely delight in the crestfallen look on our faces when, with a wave of his magic wand, he makes it disappear.
To be continued . . .
Ancient Rome, Animals, Belles Lettres, Biology, Coffinfish, Death, Deep Sea, Dragonfish, Earth, Empedocles, Essays, Fangtooth, Genghis Kahn, Geology, Gibbon, history, Latin, Life, Literature, Maasai, Madness, Man, Mount Etna, Nature, Philosophers, Philosophy, Pliny the Elder, Romans, Suicide, Truth, Viperfish, Volcanoes, Writing
The part of the earth in which life is the most intensely concentrated is its core. Centrifugally tracked, life shrinks and diminishes, becomes progressively more diluted and adulterated, until, at last, its peripheral and secondary forms, which flourish on the earth’s surface, appear. The weaver ant. The marble-headed whip snake. The white rhinoceros. And, most conspicuous of all, that mysterious phantom of markedly bizarre habits: man. These phantasmagorical surface-forms are deficient in the fiery intensity of being which is life’s fundamental attribute. Shadows of life is what they are. But man, who has the monopoly on biological discourse, and who measures life by his own lack of it, is unfazed by this inconvenient truth. These surface-forms especially, and himself particularly, he privileges as living.