April 04, 2005

He wrote a plan for a novel, about a culture whose writing system was not left-to-right nor right-to-left, nor top-to-bottom for that matter, but which was read from outside in, hopping from one side of the sentence to the other. Alternating. Like a spiral, but discontinuous. Like the words were points of a straight line intersecting with a spiral.

The word "sentence" disturbed him, and he tried to generalise it to a word that conveyed less of the linearity of known language.

It would upset computer parsers, he thought, as the binary parameter "direction" would be insufficient to encompass the scanning sequence inherent in this language.

Then he rejected "words" and "letters" and instead concentrated on defining a more fundamental symbol for the idea, before realising that he was incapable of distancing the already-existing fact of ideograms. This depressed him somewhat, as he had spent a good deal of effort on this portion of the plan, it having made him hungry, so thoughts of making a sandwich (with mustard) now distracted him from returning to his other ideas.

He wanted at least to think of a name for his hero before he went off to the kitchen.

But the word "hero" disturbed him. Why should he need a hero? Could he not just have a bunch of people experiencing different things from different points of view? Surely one could write a novel without deliberately centralising all the motivation on one character. What was a character but a construction of mustard, after all?

That's right: he had heard that before. A character was just a construction of text. So why shouldn't this construction, which was qualitatively no different from any other part of the text in a novel, always take on such tyrannical status? He would not put characters in his book, but just constructions of text. He imagined text as a river, in that it moved in one direction past your eye; but he did not see any reason to attribute to it any qualities beyond that of a river. It need not have internal borders that defined characters, dialogue, chapters, and ending, nor any elements we might traditionally see in a novel. It need not have internal references or names. Nothing stopped his text from naming things that it had not defined, using one name to reference multiple entities, nor using multiple names for the same entity. And then a thought struck him.

What if his book followed the spiralinear structure of his language? He could write it alternating words from the beginning to the ending, until they met in the middle. Or, he could start from the middle, that way avoiding the question of whether the right or left side would dominate as a starting point. Neither would dominate. Text could flow circularly from the center. He could even draw pictures out of this text, creating entities not from temporal structure, but from spatial structure, visible momentarily, experienced at a single point in time, like paintings, yet with access to a sequential experience, like music. Yes, yes that is what he would do. His book might even need a new type of binding to maintain all these ideas together, but that would only show the world how uncontainable his genius.

He had stopped writing on his plan for some minutes now, since this was all becoming so hard to express in written form. He drew a couple of spirals though.

Then he went down to make his sandwich. Apparently Seinfeld was on.

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