Tuesday, August 16, 2022

On encyclopedic urges

Four quotes:

"I see. You desire a catalog of all imaginary creatures from the dawn of time until the present day. From the ancient Greeks with their Minotaur to the Norsemen's All-Father." Dr. Flowers smiled, cherishing the absurdity of the request. "From the Fair Folk to the leprechauns. From the mermaids of the deep to the vampires of Serbia — "
— T. Baggins. Soulless. 2013.

“In the realm of language, the opposite of a monster is a catalogue.”
— Del Samatar and Sofia Samatar. Monster Portraits. Brookline, Mass.: Rose Metal Press, 2018.

“Encyclopedias provide factual information, but they, like all texts, are authored, constructed so that subjects become captured. Things can be held under a magnifying glass one entry at a time, forever. Does that permanence give them a sort of truth that they are still existing? How, I wonder, does a writer account for the ways time is written into entries? Surely, definitions shift. Things change, and therefore so do meanings—but on the page, the words are impervious to adaptation, to learning. Maybe I can gain something from that sort of cataloguing now. After all, it was those books I went to so often back then, when I wanted to understand something.”
— Kristin Keane. An Encyclopedia of Bending Time. Baltimore: Barrelhouse, 2022. p. 33.

"We as a culture have been content to analyze melancholy and intellectualize depression since we had the words for either, and likely even before this walls were strewn with highbrow marks about some hunter’s lost prey. Not being above that, there is doubtless some desire to utilize academic means or the analytical part of me to understand why my brain seems to want to set itself on fire. However, knowing mere analysis will only lead to further analysis, some dimension had to present itself to disrupt that tendency. Thus, much of the work here has been rewritten, and unwritten in an atypical approach to nonfiction. I don’t think that I believe in nonfiction. Language is as subjective and impossible as depression itself, so I have not attempted to reach anything like objective truth. I've sought a means of transmission, and what remains of it in reception seems beyond my grasp. I have warped old journals and papers and rewritten them because that is depression to me, that is anxiety and addiction and the only true means I’ve found of escape is through, as the old poem goes. So through the documents, the feelings, the intellectualizing and not, the anger, the sorrow, the misery, the piss, the blood, the wasted days and weeks and months and lives in seas of ugly rotting sentiment, or sediment, the only means that seemed to make any sense was total inclusion, and abjection in turn."
— Grant Maierhofer. Peripatet. Inside the Castle, 2019. pp. 295 – 296 of PDF

If these ideas interest you, you may want to know that I wrote a biography of a man with encyclopedia-writing tendencies. The book is Ten Past Noon: Focus and Fate at Forty.

Welsh dragon illustration

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