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838 words by Stanley Lieber


I'm cleaning out the King's cupboards when I run across some old detritus that he had thought it would be a good idea to bring along with him to the station.


According to legend he wrote this paper for a grade school assignment. As I recall it triggered unrest amongst the faculty. In the absence of advanced philosophical technology, papers written by school children wielded the capacity to disrupt classroom activities.

    The popular image of Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart is inaccurate to the point of ridiculousness. However, this does not prevent a multiplicity of interpretations emerging to surround his work. Ludwigvon Köchel, in the mid- 19th century, even lent a naming convention to Mozart's individual pieces of music that has since been absorbed into the text of the published scores, sans any indication that Herr Mozart did not provide these titles himself. Beneath these layers of false attribution is a man (J. C. W. T. M.) whose own prodigious correspondence is often the last resource consulted when it comes to constructing a model of his personality (to say nothing of his intentions). Thus, the common vision of the silly-voiced, man-child, idiot savant dominates the commentary upon his work even to this day.

    As is traditional when it comes to cultural icons, figures such as Mozart are invoked almost as articles of language, employed as symbols which render any deeper investigation into the concepts under discussion a trifling diversion, an unnecessary digression at best. But when one appears to be referencing a rich study of the available facts, what one is too often doing, instead, is invoking the surface texture of a few wisps of popular memory (most often grossly misconstrued; but constituting shared culture nonetheless). It is shamefully dishonest to put this over as learned discourse.

    But. Is this lamentable transgression so far removed from the process of creating words, themselves? I beseech the reader to consider the fact that language is merely a collection of consensual, codified misunderstandings.

    I will now shift contexts and refer the reader to the decades-long correspondence between the Americans Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. It is unlikely that anyone whose books the reader is likely to have read will have ever seen fit to mention these gentlemen. (A more thorough essayist might point out that the letters themselves are far too specific to be useful in forming valid interpretations compatible with modern political theory -- so perhaps the oversight is warranted -- but I am told that my writing lacks thoroughness; so who am I to argue with authority?) Sadly, the same is true for the great majority of pundits who insist upon obscuring the very clearly defined Federalist/Anti-Federalist arguments laid out in similar documents that are by now more than three centuries old. To wit: these sloppy -- one is tempted to say criminally negligent -- mistakes of diction are frequently not mistakes at all. This is not even to mention the vast field of religious scholarship, which dons its own willfully fogged-over spectacles in order to better scrawl out its own blind declarations. It is deemed sufficient to reference the icons of culture by name but it is often counterproductive to make clearly understood precisely what it is that one is referring to. Of course, not allmanglings of the language are intentionally, or equally, deceptive.

    There is an interplay here between the minute accuracy that is sought after and the broad symbolism that is most easily digested. I admit that I have yet to satisfactorily demonstrate any such mechanism of communication between the two disparate levels of focus. Even an isolated case eludes me. For example, I can pursue either goal with exceeding stamina and skill; but I am resigned to my failure in striking an appropriate balance between them as a whole. There is, as of yet, no happy synthesis. No congenial association between the two paths. The dividing line betwixt particle and wave refuses to materialize, and I cannot bring myself to mark it down, quite arbitrarily, as it would have to be, on my own. Redoubled focus dissolves into a muddle.

    As I survey my surroundings, simultaneously drawing upon the vast store of my memories, comparing like with like, I come to the sudden realization that others are burdened with this self-same deficiency.

    But of course they are!

    More and more I come to see the inherent political power of dictionaries. It occurs to me to adjust my ambitions accordingly.

I fold the leaf and replace it within its compartment. We are way beyond these sorts of observations by now, Thomas. Today I would mark this paper with a C-, at best. But you wrote for your time. Some inaccuracies and the overall sparseness of detail may be forgiven. I confirm the historical grade (A-) by thumbprint and wave away the hovering screen.

A faint white light illuminates the port hole of the King's quarters and I make my way over to investigate the disturbance.


To be continued...


photo by heavyheavy





1OCT1993 | INDEX