Monday, August 10, 2009

Pierre Menard, author of Keifus Writes!

These days, it takes a true scholar to remember the work of one Pierre Menard (not the frontier politician, the other one). His legacy consists primarily of a few monographs published at the turn of last century, noted for their utter typicality and general existence within the academic circles of his own time, which to the wider world, not noted at all, even in the early 1900s. He did manage to achieve some passing fame, or notoriety perhaps, for generating a few original reproductions of a few paragraphs of Don Quixote, although most records of that have been unfortunately destroyed. I have frequently wondered about Menard the scholar in an abstract sense--I am sure I have referred to him before--and lately have considered that his legacy may be more significant than is commonly believed. Certainly he is no Cide Benengeli, but perhaps his painstaking transferal of cultural idiom went beyond the medieval Spanish that is normally considered his masterpiece.

Undertaking an anachronistic instrument of no small degree of futurity is a task with it's own set of challenges. The author must presuppose not only entirely new media (and the written forms appropriate to those media), but also a complete future history of war, civics, immigration patterns, communication, and all the other things that can inform a work fiction, memoir, criticism or commentary. By contrast, the task is significantly relieved by the fact that Keifus Writes! has little ambition for, and even less evidence of greatness or, even, any particular relevance. For Quixote , Menard called out in his letters as influential but sufficiently removed from his canon so as to allow premeditation. In the case of Keifus, additional difficulties arise in imagining any seriousness at all, divining the literary bona fides as they say, of a work that is so hopelessly amateur. Regarding Keifus' significance, one is tempted to quip about the legendary ingenuity of fools. (Timid and serous by nature, Menard was never known to pursue cliché or cheap humor, which is one point for the continued integrity of this blog, such as it is. But it must be kept in mind that any accurate transcription of Keifus Writes! would include a necessary element of low humor as well.) A prospective author of Keifus may further attempt a larger challenge, and write the blog through an entirely personal set of attitudes and histories, much as Pierre Menard did with the Quixote, which resulted in an impressive (or embarrassingly inaccurate, if you prefer the Beauchamps criticism) supra-textual nuance of the familiar words.

As for me, the first curious behavior was with Blogger's spell-check software. (That Menard might anticipate spell-checking, as well as the neologism-heavy verbiage of an M-list blog sounds impressive, but, I reiterate, nowhere near as impressive as creating an alternative presentimental mindset from which Keifus, and whatever he'd decide to write, including references to spell-checking, would emerge of necessity.) Several weeks ago, the program began identifying errors, but suggesting identical replacements. Now, I will frequently misspell words like "Massachusetts" (it has the opposite rule as all those English words), "receive" (except after c, dammit) and "manufacturible" (I am still not sure this is the correct way, frankly), as well as commit typographical errors with words like "radiation" ("radiaiton") in a maddening fashion that is clearly wrong in a way that is difficult to follow the lazy i (Menard was known to disparage puns as well), but lately, the computer has prompted me to replace the alleged error with the exact same word. And I have complied, every time.

Furthermore, anyone who knows me, or is familiar with "Keifus," realizes that I put a lot of myself into my blog. Not just for the boring anecdotes, or the vicarious naturalism, or the literature of the nerd that I so love. No, it's more: when I, for example, get worked up about the facile analysis of other commenters, it comes from what I see as an awakening of my worldview, that grew to include more situations than my own, while keeping some notions of fairness, pragmatism, and open-mindedness, at least when it's been convenient to. I like to think it's all been tempered by a well-cultivated tradition of distrusting true believers as well as a lot of deep, independent thought and observation, and even if I flatter myself with that interpretation, it doesn't matter. The point is that these observations, pointed and otherwise, the very language I use to describe them in fact, I have always considered to be in a fundamental sense a product of myself. Pierre Menard's upbringing did not include a modern science education that he would view as a vital tool in his personal crusade to entertainingly abuse of metaphors (Menard hated allegory, but by all accounts was entirely indifferent to the art of metaphor), nor did he suffer the scars of being rejected by Amy Johannsen in the seventh grade (a bachelor, he had a lifelong male roommate), and we can say with authority that he never watched Superfriends. When I create a post, it's with these accounts, as well as a thousand others, all deeply implicit, the product of a unique experience that lends Keifus Writes! my own shading, which simply can't be compromised. None of this mystical ghost-writing crap!

But more or less contemporaneously with the mystery of the spell checker, the blog has been going downhill. Or at least so it seems to me. Even I can notice that there have long been a few recurring themes and repetitive language patterns that I have always thought trivial, but perhaps those things make Keifus Writes! more predictable than similar publications. Maybe that's how Menard gets at it. When I type many of the same sort of text as awlways, it has a tendency lately to come out, well, wrong. The meaning of of the words skirls dismayingly away from my fingertips, so that even though the language is the same, all that I read on the screen is intellectual gibberish of the worst grade, with none of the wit or occasional clarity that I have come to associate with Keifus, nor even that had sounded clever as I recited it to myself moments before. Damn you Menard, why do you torture me like this! That's not what I meant to say at all!

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