Scholars generally agree that the Encyclopaedia is Truth, insofar as Truth exists, which it doesn’t. Nevertheless, existence, which teeters on the precipice of subjective experience, is anchored by encyclopaedic reference. The Encyclopaedia, therefore, justifies itself with a recursive entry. And it should not be surprising that this article’s subject is responsible for its origination. Fuckballs. Post-colonial cadaver sex. See, we can write anything, since no one else cares to define us for us.
The exact origins of this article are a matter of some debate, the most popular (and most contentious) theory aligning its inception with Mani’s hospitalization on the early morning of July 3, 2004—one year, three months, fourteen days, ten hours, and twenty-six minutes after the beginning of the Iraq War, in which Mickey Montauk would learn to shut the fuck up . . . while Halifax Corderoy deconstructed in the bricked and hobbling streets of Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Precursors of the Encyclopaedists
The Encyclopaedists couldn’t exist without Pliny the Fucking Elder, who set out, by himself, to record no less than the entirety of ancient knowledge:
"It is, indeed, no easy task to give novelty to what is old, and authority to what is new; brightness to what is become tarnished, and light to what is obscure; to render what is slighted acceptable, and what is doubtful worthy of our confidence; to give to all a natural manner, and to each its peculiar nature."
—Translation by John Bostock, 1855
Pliny wrote the Naturalis Historiae in less than ten years before dying in the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D., which is a pretty badass way to die.
Centuries of encyclopaedists emulated his model, until Denis Diderot, chief editor of the French Encylcopédie, ushered in the multi-contributor format in the 1750s. Motherfucker knew you’d never cram all knowledge into one large work, but he thought an index of connections and interrelations might just fit. Problem was, Diderot’s Encyclopédie was also intended to make men “more virtuous and happy,” meaning it was French Enlightenment propaganda bullshit, with dozens of articles talking up Reason and trashing on monarchy.
The Encyclopaedia Britannica removed this component, striving for comprehensiveness and objectivity. And for nearly 250 years Britannica was the gold standard of racism, sexism, factual inaccuracies, and bourgeois-bias. The eleventh edition takes the cake, where one can’t read a page without stumbling on phrases like “Mentally, the negro is inferior to the white.”
Then came Wikipedia. You know all about Wikipedia, so there’s no point in describing its origins. Suffice it to say Wikipedia soon outstripped Britannica in comprehensiveness and in its attempt at objectivity (establishing ground rules for neutral point of view, verifiability, and no original research), and yet its credibility was (and is) consistently attacked.
This brings us to the Encyclopaedists, Corderoy and Montauk, who, by authoring their own article, have inaugurated a new era of referential comprehensiveness and impeachable credibility, though some would say this sets a dangerous precedent.
Motivations of the Enyclopaedists
Haven't you ever had thoughts that you thought nobody else ever thought before? And when you die, those thoughts will be lost. Even, perhaps, when you stop thinking those thoughts, they are lost already. You see the edifices of knowledge crumbling about you, you trudge through the pluralistic and subjective rubble of civilization—how are you two idiots going to survive? You are tempted to be plural, to capitulate to the world’s diffusion, but the answer is to embrace all that is particular to you, without tripping and falling into your own mind.
Ice is cold and can make the back of your neck cold when surreptitiously dropped down your shirt by your idiotic friend. It can make your ass cold when your ass has had a catastrophic meeting with the metal of an old industrial railroad track. Ice, when cubed and small enough, can be pocketed in the cheek and used to augment the pleasure of fellatio. This use of ice makes up for every death by avalanche or iceberg.
The slipperiness of ice is also to be appreciated. A boy of fifteen, learning to drive, may find himself in the car with his father, on a cold December evening, spinning donuts in the icy parking lot of the elementary school he hasn’t seen in ten years, under the amber cones of the streetlights, swerving, strafing, whimsical with two thousand pounds of steel.
Icicles, more than anything else, justify the continued existence of ice. There was a photo of a girl from before anyone knew her, embracing an icicle as large as she was, built down from the roof of a house in Newton, Massachusetts. It was a picture of the rare confluence of extreme cold and unfathomable warmth. It was taped to the back of her notebook to remind her where she’d come from. To see it once was to sear this frozen moment in the mind.
Most goods can be purchased new or pre-owned (often, “used”). Some are better used. The wood on a much-played cello changes over time in sympathy with the vibrations of its strings. Used woodwinds will channel a different person’s breath—guitar strings are restrung for left- or right-handed players, and most importantly, a whole new music will be produced. If a classical bassist sells his bass to a jazz bassist, then to the perspective of the bass, though its f-holes are placed as they always were, its life is radically different.
Books generally deteriorate over time, but certain well-made books become imbued with a kind of grace or charm over long use. This is especially true of Bibles and prayer books, and well-thumbed copies of the Aeneid and the Metamorphoses. Lesser books, dog-eared and grease-stained, may never be read again. This would have been depressing only a few years ago, before the difference between hardware and files had become internalized. We may protect and defend the nude photos that Ashley let us take of her months ago, but we will trash our old computer without a second thought after our new one is up and running. We will give up our flesh but not our souls. One evening in hazy futurity, we’ll have a great bonfire of books, though their immolation will symbolize not the destruction of information but its immortality. Through death, we shall destroy death. See Singularity, 1 Corinthians 15.
Things that don't exist
There are more things that don’t exist than things that exist. Nothing doesn’t exist, but everything, by definition, does. Nonexistence is not a problem. Existence is.
Some things can’t exist: round squares, the last digit of pi, time-travel (to undo something foolish; to skip past the unpleasant but necessary, to repeat what seemed unique and indescribably joyous).
Some things don’t exist but seem like they do: time (the future, the past), free will, numbers (e.g. 19 years old, 103 degrees).
Some things used to exist but now don’t: OK Soda, Eskimos, happiness, dinosaurs (meteor?), illusionment, cupcakes (eaten), adolescence, the self that typed “adolescence,” the self that typed “self that typed ‘adolescence.’ ”
Some places are non-existent: Alderaan (as if millions of voices, etc.), Rhode Island (never been), Gotham, Yoknapatawpha, Uqbar, Tlön (where the people speak a language that lacks nouns—hlör u fang axaxaxas mlö: upward behind the onstreaming it mooned), home, square 1, America (so vast).
There are many words that don’t exist: agreeance, brang, funfetti, guestimate, irregardless, libary, lol, love, nother, omg, orientate, sorry, thanx, unpaid, wtf.
And there are plenty of people who don’t exist: Baron Münchausen, Don Quixote, Gavin Kovite, Halifax Corderoy, Mani Saheli, Mickey Montauk, Schrödinger, Sylvie/Selena, Christopher Robinson, Sir Baltimore Gosshawk Wakefield III.
You cannot wish yourself into nonexistence, for you affirm your reality by the act of wishing. Cogito Ergo Nihil: Descartes walks into a bar. The bartender says, “Would you like a drink?” Descartes says, “I think not,” then disappears.
Generally, the definition of “war” is achieved when several factors are met:
- There must be a violent conflict.
- The conflict must be between two or more states or organized armed groups. Although the belligerents need not wear uniforms, they must have some level of organization, command, and common purpose.
- War is necessarily finite—chronic unrest and violence do not equal a war.
War can be distinguished from disorganized, nihilistic violence, which may result from individual manifestations of a wider social pathology. The occupation of Iraq by the U.S.-led coalition seems to be a hybrid of these two kinds of violent conflict (the nihilistic and the organized), as a military expeditionary force is used and all of the appropriate wartime medals are offered to troops, and yet the enemy is not a state or an armed group or even, arguably, a nebulous network of armed groups, but possibly more of a social malaise exacerbated by the appearance of small armed factions, some domestic, as in the Mahdi Army, some international, as in Al-Qaeda.
It is thus not clear to what extent the Occupation of Iraq is an armed conflict under the Geneva Conventions, because it is neither an International Armed Conflict nor, arguably, a Non-International Armed Conflict given the participation of Transnational Terrorist Groups. Which makes its status as a “war” doubtful.
The word “war” is sometimes used to describe a concerted effort on the part of an organized group to destroy an inchoate thing or idea, such as the “war on drugs,” the “war on poverty,” the “war on rape culture,” the “war on terror,” the “war on apostrophe misuse,” etc. “This is war,” another example of the word’s mission creep into wider meaning, which one day might be wide enough to be all-encompassing: the war of all on all. The war of who can say less. The war of drifting apart.
Betrayal (or backstabbing) is the violation of a trust that produces, in the victim, a signature constellation of moral and psychological mind-breaking, earth-warping, fuck-everything rage! And confusion. Something in the victim’s understanding of the world breaks: the value of truth, the importance of respect, etc. A return to sanity requires that the victim redefine one or more of these terms: respect is when you lie to your best friend for six months, truth is one flavor out of many worthy options.
Men reinterpret past villainies. When he was a boy, in third grade, he played with sticks at recess, hacking leaves, having sword fights. His stick was called “Slicer.” His friend’s was called “Shoulder Blade.” They’d hide the sticks in birch trees so they’d blend in with the living limbs, then retrieve them the next recess. One day he arrived early, found his friend’s stick, and broke it in half for no reason but to experience cruelty and to flood himself with guilt.
Here is a list of famous traitors: Guy Fawkes (tried to shove gun powder up the asses of the English aristocracy), Benedict Arnold (tried to hand over West Point to the British in exchange for a plate of eggs, specially prepared), Jane Fonda (“Hanoi Jane” had sexy-time with North Vietnamese anti-aircraft guns), the Rosenbergs (Julius and Ethel, got their rocks off by giving atomic secrets to the Soviets), Marcus Junius Brutus (shanked his patron, pal, and king, Julius Caesar; erased his own map two years later), Judas Iscariot (for thirty pieces of silver, he kissed big JC into crucifixion, then he hanged himself).
Of all these traitors, Judas is the purest. He even gave us the word “traitor”: from the Latin tradere, to hand over. He is also the most complex. Borges suggests that God came to earth not as Jesus but as Judas, to take on the ultimate sin in order to save humanity. It is tempting, as a traitor, to see oneself as a savior. But the traitors have nothing to trust, nothing to prove to themselves that they are saviors. Perhaps this is why so many of them suck exhaust.
From re + manere, to leave behind. The word itself assumes the personality went somewhere.
If a person survives an explosion that causes loss of limbs, the amputated flesh is considered medical waste rather than human remains. Medical waste, however important it was in life to its surviving host, does not rate funeral treatment or other ceremony; it is disposed of as a biohazard along with used medical equipment such as bloodied gauze and hypodermic needles.
Victims of punitive amputation, especially manual amputation, have been known to carry around the amputated piece (typically only the cleaned skeletal remains, after decomposition has taken its course). In these cases, the carried body part is properly classified as neither remains nor waste (in etymological terms) but, rather, as a human relic.
If one person vows to eat his friend’s brain after his death—to gain his power—then human remains will be converted into human waste.
The first-person plural
The head is a hotel, complete with a resident manager, a crew of bellhops, a suite owned by a wealthy investment banker, another by a rap mogul, a rotating cast of wide-eyed visitors from flyover states, teen couples blowing their wads on saccharine one-year anniversaries, addicts, escorts, and people under assumed names, hiding from the authorities or hiding from themselves. Sometimes there are conventions. Sometimes, during a fire drill, only the manager remains inside. During an actual fire, everyone exits the head, gathers in the parking lot, fretting over what they left inside.
We are accustomed to thinking that the central question, How can I be happy?, is a difficult one because of that complicated word, happy, but the true Gordian Knot is that slippery pronoun, I. The first person, which is already plural, can form yet further pluralities.
There is the theoretical we. There is the former we. The we that needs to talk. The we that doesn’t speak because it doesn’t need to. The we that holds these truths to be self-evident. The we that is few and happy. The we that by its existence excludes and annihilates a prior we. (One molecular bond breaks so another can form, leaving a lone atom adrift.) It is a strange truth of the human world that four or more is many, and such wes composed of many can persist in time as individuals assimilate and separate, that two is a we that is fragile and fragile and fragile until one day it is unbreakable, but three, three is a seemingly impossible we, an unstable compound not found in nature, synthesized in the laboratory
Scientists are still debating the function of sleep (wound healing, the solidification and organization of memories?) because for centuries they have ignored the fact that sleep is awesome for its nullity, for its voiding of the stress of constant sensory input.
And dreams, however real they seem, are not sensory input. For you might feel totally at ease while dreaming of, for example, riding through the desert in a Humvee, weighed down by body armor, iPod ear buds snaking up into your helmet, playing some haunting aria you feel culturally guilty for not being able to identify. Your buddy sitting behind you puts you in a headlock and you start elbowing him in the ribs, playfully but with force, and then the Humvee is flying through the air, spinning and you and your buddy both point your M4s, you’re holding M4s now, through the small windows and begin firing your infinite clips at the fiery, rotating world.
Death is often confused with sleep (“to die, to sleep”) though even an endless sleep is not death. In sleep, the void surrounds you. In death, you are the void. And endless sleep would be a form of bliss, moving in and out of REM for eternity, with that unwanted waking waiting patiently at infinity. John Keats, a man well acquainted with death, writes:
"Can death be sleep, when life is but a dream,
And scenes of bliss pass as a phantom by?
The transient pleasures as a vision seem,
And yet we think the greatest pain’s to die."
To Keats, the greater pain is not death but waking. There is no apathy involved in this equation. There is only inevitability and the praise of unreality.
Imagine yourself in a cold, dark vein of crude oil beneath a layer of ocean floor. You are a volume of methane gas and you live in darkness until the vein is lanced, then the crude swims up lengths of riveted steel pipe, ever upward, filling enormous cauldrons, and you swim with it to final escape from the earth’s bowels, there above you, the coffee can–sized aperture at the top of the well tower through which you can actually see the outside air and flecks of cloud and beyond—on a moonless night in the Norwegian Sea, straight through the atmosphere, itself gas, like you—into the star fields, the light-art of distances beyond distance. Those are your cousins out there, burning away. Fuel beyond imagining.
What appear from a distance to be the glowing embers of the birth of the universe are, up close, the nth order of magnitude of fire—a hellish heat of a scale only vaguely imagined by earthly fire-wielders. The rage of a star being newly born into the race of a trillion suns. You can almost feel it, racing up through the depths, through steel, the pressure from the swells of crude below you so great the transition from undersea pipe to surface pipe is imperceptible, the night sky and star fields newly visible to you as the crude is sucked into its holding tanks, your celestial family all beckoning you with their own plumes of self-immolation while you race upward through the scaffolded pipe, the aperture becoming a window, the smell of the night sky present, the suggestion of the dark outline of a sea bird at the edge of a flock floating across the window, the pilot light merely a foreground detail to the vast oiled landscape until you touch it and then, poof.
1. ^ “The Encyclopaedists of Capitol Hill.” www.thestranger.com/apr04/encyclopaedists.htm
2. ^ “C. PLINII NATVRALIS HISTORIAE PRAEFATIO.” www.thelatinlibrary.com/pliny.nhpr.html
3. ^ “Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on ‘War.’ ” http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/war/
4. ^ “Project Gutenberg Bible, King James, Book 42: Luke.” http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/etext05/bib4210h.htm
5. ^ “Dreams & Sleep—National Sleep Foundation.” htttp://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/dream-and-sleep