Once upon a time, I did some online quiz that purported to tell you what famous writer you sound like. I got David Foster Wallace. He was certainly talented (and apparently not the best person), although I haven't read more than a few essays. I did once come across a quote of his, however, which has stuck with me:
How can I have all this inside me and to you it's just words?
The Writer's Lament.
It goes without saying that not all writing is equal, of course. I spend most of my days doing writing of a very neoliberal sort, and then trying desperately to shrug it off in order to write things that I can be happy with. Hopefully I'll be successful at this one of these days.
Independent of content, I also have a love of the written word from an aesthetic standpoint. I especially like things that are old or confusing. For the latter, this can be anything relatively experimental or whatever (*House of Leaves* is one of my favorites), or truly cryptic. I've been listening to Alzabo Soup, a podcast devoted (mostly) to the works of Gene Wolfe, especially *The Book of the New Sun*.¹
This work is part of the relatively obscure "dying Earth" genre. It's usually described as science fantasy, although it's hard to tell what's magic and what's super-advanced technology. The book takes places so far in the future that the sun has gone red and dim, and human society looks both recognizable and entirely different. The book is absolutely chock full of obscure references and is a story being told by a highly unreliable narrator. For all that, it makes for a good story even if you don't give it an incredibly close read.
I also just got my copy of the Voynich Manuscript. It's a book, named for the early 20th century bookseller who purchased it. The vellum itself has been dated to the beginning of the 1400s, and the ink is consistent with this. I haven't discussed the content, you may realize, because no one knows what its content actually is. Don't get me wrong: it has writing. But it's in its own alphabet, and no one has any clue what it says. There are illustrations that suggest it's related to alchemy or medicine, but here too it's not fully clear. Even with modern methods, the work has defied decryption. Frequency analysis suggests it's a natural language rather than random jibberish, and while theories (of wildly varying rigor) abound,² that's as far as anyone's been able to get. Some people think it's a hoax, but this too hasn't been proven.
Beyond the simple mystery, the appeal for me is that the work's unintelligibility means that you have to take the whole thing, writing and imagery and history, as one gestalten *thing*. It's the same reason I like (and own a copy of) *Codex Seraphinianus*, even though we know where that one came from.³ Sometimes the idea of words is enough.
³ As the name suggests, it was created by an Italian artist named Luigi Serafini in the last 1970s. More at Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Codex_Seraphinianus
House of Leaves, no kidding... 😉
Do you find that your reading changes the voice you write in at work? I was reading (and abandoned) Mansfield Park the other night, and I found myself constructing rather overly elaborate sentences in an email the next day.
Haha ... it definitely can, for sure. I only try to resist too much, since I've got to find creativity at work somehow!
Hey, I am going to check out The Book of the New Sun sometime, as it sounds interesting. But the Voynich Manuscript was not so much decoded but found to be consistent with it being that of a illustrative guide for female hygiene (at the time). I remember the article going viral on Twitter in 2017, and then all the big news sites claimed the VM had been "decoded". Still cryptic in many ways, though.
I enjoyed this post. Hope you're good :)
I remember the Voynich theory you're talking about. But after all the claims of it being decoded, they had to back off because it turns out that the theory didn't actually hold up. Dude claimed that the Voynich was written in a highly abbreviation-heavy form of Latin, but it was debunked almost immediately by Medievalists and cryptographers. Meanwhile, the claim that it's some kind of manual on women's health was nothing new.
I enjoyed this post. Hope you're good :)
Thanks very much. I still never know what people will actually enjoy reading =)