Monday, 3 April 2017

Mr Incunabula

In the gloom of an Edwardian house in a leafy middle-class suburb a pair of spectacled eyes with gimlet black pupils peer from the whey complexion of a face. It is like a splash in the darkness which it would be easy to overlook were merely a cursory look given. The body supporting the face is hardly visible at all and one has the impression, given by these pale vestiges, of a floating and merely intellectual presence which shrinks into the shadows and then re-emerges.

This disembodied person is Mr Incunabula and he is prey to a very strange compulsion. He will encounter, whether online, in the press or on television a social, cultural or political phenomenon and it will play on his mind. This occurs only when he senses, at a very instinctual level, that something is discordant in what has been presented for his consideration. Whenever this occurs he is incapable of leaving the matter alone and will worry at it mentally in all his waking moments. Like a jeweler holding a diamond up to the light he will turn and turn in his fingers the idea which he has encountered trying to locate the flaw. He will worry at it ceaselessly with the fingers of his mind, unable to satisfy himself as to why he is so dissatisfied in the knowledge that, if, at an intuitive level, he was unhappy, his happiness will not be fulfilled until he has found the solution. In addition to this he knows that his intuitive sense of dissatisfaction always signifies that, however limpingly and tardily, his reason will always, sooner or later catch him up if he just continues to study the problem for long enough. What happens is that, as he turns the stone in his hands like a revolving planet there comes a moment when the same point in a revolution is reached as has been reached countless times before but, this time, the surface of the planet seems slightly changed in the most minute way. Minute but sufficient for him to show him a new perspective and know that he has unlocked the problem. At this moment he sees the old thing anew and the planet is seen right around in 360 degrees and encompassed by his whole mind for the first time. The moment this happens the three dimensional depths and, most importantly, the limits of the argument in question are known and the problem gives up its secrets.

How does he know this has happened? The answer is simple – at this moment the words needed to express the unlocking and clinching ideas with which he has been invaded flood in upon him. It would be a fine philosophical conundrum to say whether the ideas precede the words or the words the ideas. As far he is concerned the two are simultaneous and the question is pointless. Also, as far as he is concerned, this is evidence of the way in which humans think. If he doesn’t have the right words he hasn’t solved the problem and if he has cracked the cipher then the words to express the fact cannot be absent.

I spoke earlier of the strange compulsion under which Mr Incunabula works. This includes, certainly, the impossibility of his mind not being ignited and exercised in the way already described by matters in the outside world (even though he seldom leaves his dwelling). However, as the solutions arrived at engender irresistibly the words required to express them the much more important compulsion he feels is that of writing down his conclusions and, thus, recording them. He reads much excellent literature, much of it by no means of his own time, which means that however contemporary he might wish to be in the expression of his ideas he cannot help but draw on the range, much wider than that at the disposal of many of his contemporary authors, with which his reading furnishes him. The result of this is that he has, over time, compiled a large number of well-written pieces addressing, and often severing, many of the Gordian knots of his time. This being said it also has to be said that, having achieved parturition from his ideas, he lays his offspring to rest, just as though he is freed from the weariness of bearing a child, on a blog. He has a few acquaintances and has, at times, informed them of the presence of his blog and his progeny but few have ever gone beyond the point of the most cursory of glances at his work and, when they have, it has been out of politeness.

Mr Incunabula is aware of this and, it has to be said, does not mind in the least. He knows that the written word is, by its very nature, for reading but, for him, the important thing and the justification for what he does is the business of articulating his problem-solving thoughts in words and placing them like wet, newly issued butterflies on branches where they can dry their wings. What happens thereafter is of little concern to him. What would have been impossible to him not to collaborate in would have been the process of hatching and pupation that led to the finished butterfly.

Thus a hidden, a strange and abstracted, intelligence operates in a quiet street with an unstoppable momentum set in motion by a mere observation or an idea. Because its mechanism has moving parts it cannot but process the reality which surrounds it once it comes into contact with it.

And thus it was when he listened to a woman on the radio attacking a man who had been foolish enough to give an opinion upon one form or another of sexual oppression which had been practiced on some women of her acquaintance. The woman in question rounded on her interlocutor asking him how he dared to venture such an opinion from his position as a male to whom such experience must be utterly alien and who, therefore was just as utterly excluded from the right to give any kind of opinion on the matter. On the surface of it there was a kind of logic in this but, at a profound level Mr Incunabula immediately recognized the intimations and signs of his intelligence stirring. He sensed but could in no way express the fact that, at some level, what the woman said was unjustified. For some days he toyed with the idea trying out differing perspectives on it; firstly zooming in mentally and then panning out as far as he could go in the hope of finally seeing around it. And one day the obdurate and rounded flintstone he was studying from all angles fell open under his unremitting gaze revealing a crystal formation inside it. And he wrote:

“To exclude a male homo sapiens from the right to pronounce upon the experience, good or otherwise, of a female homo sapiens is to overlook one very important, and not to say obvious, thing – that is that, although they are of different genders (something ordained by the fact that the Almighty or, if you prefer, the Replicators of Evolution in their wisdom made us subject to sexual reproduction) they, in fact, belong to the same race of homo sapiens. This means that it is by no means impossible for a male to have an intimate knowledge, understanding and, indeed, sympathy with a female of his race (and vice versa). Furthermore, it could be asserted that, for the very reason that a female is his likely chosen mate in most cases, he will be singularly inclined and have every reason to love and wish to know her in greater and greater intimacy, this process being one of life’s joys and consolations. To say that a man is unqualified, by his very masculinity, to comment on a bad thing which has happened to some women, albeit if those bad things were perpetrated by wicked men, is to assume that all men deserve to be lumped together with the wicked men and, therefore, excluded from the affairs of their own race. This sets men and women at enmity and is to cast a hopeless complexion on the mere possibility of the happy conduct of those same affairs. Sometimes the obvious is the hardest thing to see and the most easily obscured by fashionable cant.”

Having relieved himself of this opinion, just as a sitting judge might do, but in the silence of the writing room, he consigned it to his blog, his task complete, with complete equanimity and indifference regarding its fate. He knew that his blog, in spite of its existence in a public and virtual world, would be seldom, if ever, consulted or accessed. The important thing for him was the existence of his written opinion as a simulacrum of his mind or a finished curio in the world of objects, not whether it would be read. Having delivered himself of it he sank back into the shadows of his house, a mind apparently inert but always lit.

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