Life Among The Savages, Part 6.
At this point in the narrative, while I am incapacitated by unconsciousness, it is perhaps beneficial for me to turn to certain factual matters that may be of interest to my readers. Omissions here maybe too strong a word; certainly I judge it to be too strong; but I must admit that elements of the story of my journey have been deficient, especially particular taxonomical elements which, were they to be properly recounted and displayed, would seem quite normal, unexceptional, even banal. Only in their absence are these elements of any concern or even notice, for it is their absence that is peculiar, not the substance of them. After all, this is an account of daring feats and exotic places. Mere facts, of the kind seen everyday in all persons’ lives and summarily ignored, cause no one to stand up or cry out. And in fact, surrounded by the familiar elements and aspects of the everyday, we do not seek out verification of these mundanities, but celebrate them with silence, with ignorance in fact, for even these rarely-noticed atoms of our daily routine are part of the weft of the blanket of comfort which soothes us when surprises appear in our lives, just as the infant, when it takes to suck at its mother’s breast, is stilled by the act, though consuming the same milk as yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that.
Qualified thusly, I am still the scribe of this tale, my own tale of far-off lands and exciting occurrence (both fortunate and misfortunate), and to be true to the details of those events is necessary, even imperative from an ethical standpoint, to ensure the verity of my own story, my conduct within that story, and to maintain the accuracy a scientifical and ethnographic document such as mine must possess, as no true learning can arise from misinformation, and misinformation is most often caused by incompleteness, not malice or calculated effort. I am the sole author of this document, so the sole responsibility for the veracity of said document rests on my shoulders alone, and its failures (should it have any) are my failures also. In that spirit then, no details, however inconsequential, trivial, or uninteresting they might be, shall be expunged from this record or un-inked by my pen.
Though I always intend to provide the fullest possible account of my journey and the adventures and misadventures therein, the style of this narrative does not always allow for the effortless incorporation of every datum. Certain aspects of the voyage needs must be included, but included when their addition to the narrative will not imbue unintended gravitas on a situation where gravitas is unwelcome (or even misplaced), nor detract from the seriousness of an episode where that seriousness is required and apt, nor weigh it down with unnecessary asides. The careful arrangement of these enriching iotas fulfills the scientist’s demands for a complete and rigorous document while not sacrificing the lay reader’s desire for action and intrigue, resulting in an exposition both edifying and entertaining, and thereby maximizing potential sales.
The more observant readers among you may already have noticed the detail or details which thus far have consistently avoided my record. I speak, of course, of that societal commonplace dating back to the very inception of any culture of man: the word or combination of words by which people, places and objects are identified and discussed, the referent, the appellation, the label, the simple name. A small and vital thing, to be sure, for everything has a name and is in need of a name, so that it might be spoken of, or spoken to, or spoken at. And yet is it not a riddle that the use of a name is inversely proportional to the level of one’s own intimacy with the person or item to whom that name is applied? Is it not mysterious that names are most often employed between strangers in formal transaction, while amongst one’s circle of confidants and kin, those most familiar with each others’ names scarcely exchange them? I think it is, and hope someday to have the means to support an exhaustive study of how people use names, how the use of names might differ between the various levels of society (and also in foreign lands), and the relationship between the composition of one’s name, and the composition of one’s self, the qualities both physical and mental that constitute the persons that make up humanity entire.
Obviously I place no small value on names, and as those same observant readers will notice, I have liberally “spiced” my account with the names of the principal actors that are the engines of its plot. And I have made no distinction between the classes of the persons who owned the names, nor of the uniqueness or commonality of those names. All names are equal, for all names contribute to this story, and as such all names will be included with preferential treatment afforded regardless of station. I would not go so far as to adopt the radical idea that “all names are created equal”, but I do believe there is an inherent merit in any honorific. Lofty though it may sound for something as mean as the simple name, each designation is a vital component in the grand hierarchy that provides an order to the universe, and I intend to portray names both great and small with all the respect they are due.
My interest in nomenclature, and the attendant esteem in which I hold titles of all description, is likely patrilineal in issue. My father, a barrister of ample means and some renown, possessed a rigorous, even obsessive interest in names, their history, application, and the relationship between one’s epithet and one’s characteristics, both in temperament and even physiology. When my father had occasion to take my brother and I on holiday to the countryside, he engaged us in recitation of the Latin names of every creature and plant our eyes beheld. A misspoken identification would earn swift reproach from my father’s walking stick. In the more urbane environs encircling our home, he began to compile a detailed taxonomy of the denizens of our city, based in cultural rather than biological differentiation, providing unique categories for every stratum of the bustling society and the subgroups therein. My father filled journal after journal with notes on the subject, potential avenues for future research, and solutions for the growing affliction he called appelloplexia. As we grew older and more able to comprehend his theories on the subject, he would invite my brother and myself into his study, where he would lecture us on hygienic naming, or as he also called it, “epithetical sanitation”.
“One’s name,” Father would intone, leaning against the mantle and speaking to a wall perpendicular to my brother and I, “can be many things. A stepping stool. A crutch. A truncheon. A comfortable chair. A SWORD!” And here, my father would suddenly yell and point at us, to make sure we were still attentive to his words. It was a common rhetorical tactic of his, but it remained effective for as long as his lectures persisted. His outbursts invariably ended as abruptly as they began, and he returned to his original stance. “A placard. A glittering diadem. And of course, a diagnostic tool. It is this final ROLE!” — he pointed again, my brother and I still listened, he once again addressed the wall — “that concerns us most for after we have diagnosed a person’s debilitating name, we can apply a corrective epithet, enhancing the sufferer’s life, and the health of society at large.”
It was my father’s belief that an improperly applied name could cause actual physical harm to a person, stunting his growth or unsettling his mind, and that most human failings arose from poor naming. “To advance society, then, we must set the bone and splint the limb, as it were,” he said, ” and that begins by identifying those unfortunates who now labor under names that ill befit them.” Thereafter began numerous field trips where my brother and I, under the strict guidance of my father, would venture out into the city streets and seek out our special quarry. Sometimes my father would have discovered any individual whose name was incorrect, through use of municipal records to which he had access, and we would locate and confront this man (only on one occasion did my father attempt to correct a woman’s name, and the act very nearly resulted in a duel, with pistols) and ask him to adopt a therapeutic name, a conjoining of the man’s original name and the more fitting “true” name my father had ascertained. My father constructed the therapeutic names, again based on his own research into the connexion between alphabetic sounds and the human body and psyche. No two therapeutic names were alike, but they all shared two qualities: all the names were very long, and all the names were virtually unpronounceable. Needless to say, these new names were not particularly popular, and more often the objects of my father’s assistance relented so they might bid my father good day, but even I, as youthful and idealistic boy, could tell no man would in actuality cast aside his birth name and exchange it for a monstrosity like Wn’ahhhhhleghghbennickickson-territonninanananana, especially as the name was only temporary.
My father’s experiments with naming did not stop at the threshold of our home, though I did not learn the extent of his dedication to the study and application of names until my eighteenth birthday, when he called me into his study alone.
“Son,” he said, again gazing at the far wall, “you have grown into a man, much to my surprise, and though I might not have expected such behavior out of you, and in fact wagered somewhat heavily against it, I must acknowledge your ability to thrive, even as I curse the fifty guineas I now owe Doctor Parsons.”
“You have raised me quite well, Father,” I said.
“Credit where credit is due, boy. You were a weed I could not uproot or extinguish. Your tenacity may be hereditary, but the employment of that heritage is all your own.”
I beamed at my father’s uncharacteristic praise.
“If I had known that both you and your brother would be so robust… well, I would not have been so brazen with my financial speculation. No matter. I called you here today to speak with you on a matter close to my heart and mind, and I’m sure quite familiar to yours. You remember my interest in names?”
“Oh Father, how could I forget?” I exclaimed.
“Yes. Well. I have been engaged in one experiment that may be more significant than all the others, and I felt that now was the time to advise you of it, for it concerns you most directly.”
“But Father, how do you mean?”
“Be quiet and I’ll tell you. As you know, you and your brother entered this world separated by mere moments, mere ticks of the clock, and I knew I had been presented with a unique scientific opportunity. Two individuals, blank of mind and physically identical — you were my chance to see my theories of appellation proven. On your brother I bestowed my own name, with all the history and association that storied epithet contains. And, within a reasonable amount of time, I named you as well.”
“Yes! After your beloved great uncle!” I interjected.
“No. That would not have tested the principles of my theory. Instead, I consulted my analyses and found a name that I thought would be most opposed to those elements of character that I knew you were likely to possess. I would see if the power of the name alone could sway and deform you, bring bends to your character that your brother, bearing a fitting name, would not suffer. Naturally I could not inform you, as the knowledge of the namely burden you bore might affect your growth.”
I must admit, I was crestfallen in the wake of my father’s announcement. “It does not seem very paternal to act in such a manner toward your son, giving him a deficient name.”
“Potentially deficient,” Father said, “and no, it was not the act of a good father. But it was the act of an excellent scientist. And I have paid the price for my wayward paternalism: fifty guineas, to be precise. More important, my boy, is that you have grown to what amounts to manhood unscathed, despite your name. You are your own man. My loss as a scientist — and a gambler — is offset by my gain of a healthy son.”
Overcome with emotion, I leaped up and embraced my father.
Father continued: “Metaphorically offset, of course, not literally offset. That is another matter. Understand that I have told only you this secret. Your brother must not know, for fear of spoiling the experiment. And know too that your experiment continues as well, so heed this warning. Now you realize the burden you have carried all your life: the burden of an ill-chosen name. You have not succumbed to it, but you have lived thus far in blissful ignorance. Now you must continue with full cognizance of your dread appellation.”
I looked my father in the eyes and said “I understand.”
Taxonomy, then, was central to my formative years, even though I was oblivious to it, and after learning the truth from my father, its significance persisted and even increased, for though I do not share my father’s monomaniacal focus or questionable methods, I never discount the importance, the weight, or the gravity of names. So it is no accidental oversight that prevented me from including certain names in the earlier pages of the narrative, nor is it folly or ignorance that allows me to continue that error any longer. Only the demands of the story, and a thrilling story, required me to delay the revelation of certain details, and if such conditions occur in the remainder of this account, I hope my readers will sympathize and trust my judgment in meting out the information in increments that best suit their needs. But enough with digressions and rationales; one item on that list of mysteries can be dispelled without delay, and I am certain it is the item that is now foremost in the minds of you, my readers: the name of Captain Stagg’s ship was the Holy Diver.