You could make a booking at Menacce (pronounced Menace) but the wait was long. It could be half a year before you found your table and sat down and beautiful dead things were wheeled over so that you could pick them up with your hands and put them in your mouth where they would explode. There were things that had come through the Gates from Naze; from Otoshk, from Nurkena and Nabilis, and then glossy things from this world, from everywhere: Atoll-Vida, Lorano, Lessing, Owens, Tularo, Anumcerrada, Ancient, Ivicara, Lakes Greater and Inferior, the long slopes of Gander, fumaroles of Klynod and its crushing black depths, nurseries of Neumangel and its famed mossbeds in the glaciers, loping plains of Habarinoye – things sometimes bred in luxuries nature had left undreamt of, sometimes merely found or foraged, all not harvested but chosen and then killed so quickly they never knew it happened even if they could have understood the brute fact of death, only knew it coming like a waver of darkness shuttling suddenly across, and then the bodies were borne immolate over great expanses by plane or watership or by mutilations performed to space/time to the twitching kitchens where hunger and craftsmanship pouncily waited, tableware gaped—
Sal had arrived early. He had not made a booking. Six days ago he had spoken to QC and then he had spoken to Mira, apologising, and she had let him have a table. Normally Menacce did not take too kindly to people arriving before their allotted time but when Sal had walked in they had let him had a table and there had not been a word of complaint. Sal knew how people reacted to him and he took advantage of it without malice. It was a fact and he would not be inconvenienced by it. He apologised again and people only smiled at him. But he did not feel sorry because there was nothing to feel sorry about. He thought that now was a good time for him to enjoy himself.
He sat and waited and thought. Earlier today he had had his first supervision with Crane. Crane was vast but his being was sleek. Whenever anyone spoke he would turn to look at them and his look was always one of concern. The eyes did not move but the face moved and it always seemed to be saying I love you more than you understand and you break my heart. The first supervision had been a simple affair. They’d arrived, four of them, having read chapters 1, 2, and 4 of Ethical Method and Borsau’s introduction to Normativity and Desire, and carrying the surprisingly thin Index of Moral Intuitions, a pamphlet that had begun as a half-joke circulated by the grads at the Ethics Faculty but then expanded –rapidly at first, and then very slowly as classificatory debates sprung into being – to become a document of hotly contested significance, these days trailing a long appendix of the relevant regressions run.
Crane had sat and started to speak. There are eleven reasons, he said, to believe that my theory is wrong. They listened and he spoke for some time. He did not move when he spoke. He stared at them and the hole in his face opened and out through the flesh air was pressed – out squirted sounds. Then Crane had asked them to defend his theory. Why am I wrong? Why am I wrong? Then Crane in response to everything said had proceeded to accuse everyone who spoke of uttering incoherences. Explain, Crane would say, looking concerned, solicitous. Go on, he would say. Is this what you mean, he would say. If not this, then this, surely? Surely you cannot mean either for no value accrues from your description of each? And if you mean neither surely you are saying nothing at all or uttering something the meaning of which refutes itself? It had gone on like this for some time, this tethered falling into a starless mouth, bright bony confusions the only hard points to claw at. Someone had asked, tentatively, what exactly they were supposed to do, and Crane had looked at that someone and suggested that they all consider if he was not himself merely uttering incoherences. I am wrong, he said. Remember that. Sal spoke. Sal said Crane had been using the word “claim” to mean one of four different things, and the resultant bait-and-switching was the root of the conceptual confusions upon which Crane’s claims had been trading. Sal had not spoken before that point. If he spoke first no-one would speak after him and he knew that there were few people who would think of being pressed between the Leviathan and the author of On Liberty as an enjoyable experience.
In any case Crane had said simply, “Yes,”, sounding perhaps disappointed, perhaps because he had expected more, and perhaps less, and then he had asked everyone if there were any questions on the given reading and after he had answered or dismissed them it had ended.
Then someone had asked about Hyrum Kasakadei.
“Hyrum?” Crane said, his entire body seeming to vibrate.
“Should we read him?”
“He writes well,” Crane said. “You should read him.” His eyes were black bores.
“I was referring to extreme quietism –”
“Should you read Devorare?”
“On the Silence of Certain Questions?” It was the same book.
“Yes. I was thinking it might be—”
“I have not read it.”
Hyrum Kasakadei was a name and that name was held by a person who had become belittled into myth. The myth was there because Hyrum Kasakadei had produced a piece of work, which work was a single object, only a single object, prior, indivisible, uninterruptable, uninterpretable, rolling outside aethers of abstraction, shining no light and taking none either, merely being, undefended, unaltered, unqualified, untaught, all of a throe, all of a certain misery, all of a certain resignation that must be worked for, all of a violence of thought so great it must drop out underneath to a new space where great truths are cauterised –
What had happened? There was a story and it was a true story. Hyrum Kasakadei had come to Way-on-Hill 52 years earlier. He was a small thing and he did not speak in supervisions. He did his work well. Uncannily well in some respects. He did not say anything brilliant. He had no new insights. He created nothing and destroyed nothing. Crane’s termly reports said nothing extraordinary about Hyrum. But those who studied with Hyrum knew he had an ability and it was one of organisation. The uncanny thing in his work was its clarity. He could say things again and when he said them again they were tight knots of understanding. Whatever Hyrum read he understood and whatever of Hyrum’s the other students read they understood immediately. It was a magic. In two lines Hyrum would catch objects that chapters could not outline, without simplification, without any penumbra that was not itself expressed and drawn tight. In supervisions Crane would hand back the ragged remains of essays and he would say, you might want to learn to write like Hyrum, and he would look at Hyrum and say, you might want to learn to write.
What had Crane written about Hryum in those termly reports? Hyrum’s mind is a bleak and gray place. Nothing much seems to move in it. Everything there appears to have already found its place and everything appears to have already died exactly there in the place it was first put. He has skill at the preservation and the presentation of ideas. If Hyrum finds one fertile place in his mind he will be a great thinker.
At the end of the ethics course Hyrum took the Great Examination (called, inevitably and outrageously, the Grexam by students who in desperation sought to defang the idea of the exam with only a new name) and achieved what was then the highest global score recorded in the ethics course. He had then applied for a position in the faculty and expressed a preference to be placed in Summerlock, a college that had neither a reputation or history of excellence in moral philosophy, although it had in Pires Gebarre produced one great philosopher of science. The faculty requested at least one reference and a body of work of representative quality before it appointed him as lecturer. So Hyrum stayed at Way-on-Hill and started writing. Thus began his Early Period. What changed? Nothing changed. Most people called him an ordinary language philosopher but he wrote on many things. There was a pattern. A groundbreaking article would emerge, something new and wild and fiery or something setting the parameters for a new logic or language, and Hyrum would write an article neither agreeing nor disagreeing with the first, but suggesting a new expression, a reformulation, the elimination of an unnecessary or confusing term, pointing out a relation, offering a summary, an article making things clear: Comment on Paraconsistent Expression; Comment on P-adic Rules; Comment on Modal Egalitarianism; Comment on the Necessity of Necessity; Comment on Noneism; Comment on Lowesian Logic; Comment on New Utility. There was a pattern. The second major article in any new field or on any new theory was almost always Hyrum’s. Reading lists began with: Read X’s article, or, alternatively, the article by Hyrum Kasakadei. And Kasakadei’s was the article everyone read, because in it things were clear, these were the ones you went to, these were the foundational articles, and in them lines of attack and defence were made naked nearly to the edge of sight even if Hyrum only stood at the gate, saying, see—
Some people had expressed alarm at this. There was no interpretative neutrality, they said, but Hyrum Kasakadei appeared to have found it. There must have been lies, things must have dropped out, things must have changed, there must have been a wind moving things thus and thus, something must have come through and gone out, something must have passed by, but very quietly, clad in openness and the wraith of pure rigour, something must have been lost. But these people were rarely listened to and they felt themselves struggling to speak of something that was not quite there and so became quiet.
All this was done in three years. During those three years Hyrum asked Crane, twice, if he might be allowed to teach, and Crane had said no. At the end of the three years Hyrum submitted six articles to the faculty, and asked Crane for a reference. Crane had written only: He creates nothing. But he is clear, and maybe that is more important. Hyrum had seen the reference and he had had no complaint. The faculty appointed him to a professorship in Summerlock and a 75-year life extension which raised eyebrows and which Hyrum never sounded anything but guilty about.
Hyrum had been an excellent teacher. He was what they called, for a time as least, hot property. He was young and he taught without any grandiosity or pretension and appeared to have no final views or any great theory of language or truth or morality. He was always trying to make things simple. His comments on essays urged clarity, pointed out confusions, and recommended possible avenues for exploration. Where Robert Crane used a flaw to unravel an entire argument and deliver a marksheet of pure evisceration Hyrum Kasakadei would suggest a patch, a bypass to the same conclusion, a new tentative distinction that might carry some of the required argumentative burden, and would then point of problems with what he had suggested, and then suggest possible solutions – and take no view himself. His output slowed in this period. His students took top marks in the Grexam in three out of eight years. This was unheard of.
For eight years Hyrum Kasakadei had been working on something. It was this one work that would define his Middle Period. He had trouble publishing it at first. The first indication that something was wrong with what he had done was when QC, having received the manuscript, expressed nothing but a rare and total confusion at what it contained. The manuscript had been sent to the faculty, which was shocked that Hyrum Kasakadei would produce something of such exquisite incomprehensibility. What was this treatise? What was its subject and argument? What was its relation to the literature? Hyrum Kasakadei had not answered any of these questions. I cannot say anything about the work, he said. I cannot accurately describe its contents. And then in response again the questions: I cannot describe it. And then yet again in response: It is itself complete.
Word had spread. Hyrum Kasakadei had produced a monster, people said. Students joked about how their professor had accidentally broken philosophy in a manner that suggested that the humour did not run all the way through, it did not go all the way down. But of course they themselves had only heard rumours of a manuscript that Kasakadei was trying to publish and knew nothing about it. The Review Board at the faculty refused to say anything despite being flooded with questions. QC suggested to Kasakadei that it might be some time before the faculty allowed the script to be published under it and suggested that Kasakadei disseminated it freely online. Summerlock in typically generous fashion offered to produce its own limited print run and QC had not objected. The copies of this first printing (there was only ever one edition) were to become objects that entire colleges would fight over for possession.
When the work went out everyone obtained a copy of it. Hyrum Kasakadei without wanting or expecting it had become a cultural icon of the type that only Stize could generate, a token of brilliance that had to be publicly worn, an abstract point that looked increasingly capable of any enormity, a maker of objects whose weight could be felt but not parsed. The man had abandoned his gift entirely, had walked right against it, against the grain of his entire world, and he had said, I cannot accurately describe its contents. There were only two parts of his new work that could be understood. The first was the title: Devorare. On the inside of the cover it appeared to continue: On the Silence of Certain Questions. And the second was the only line of language that was properly speaking part of the book: the epigraph, a quote from Kayser’s Sixth Satire: “… should light bear down …”
And the rest. That was the problem and the glory of it. Was it symbolic? It could not be told. There was no pattern. It was a book of essentially benthic mode. It was a continuous falling-off. The ethics and logic faculties asked the Way and Atoll AIs, the two greatest nongoverning calculators known to man, to undertake a formal brute analysis. Nothing was found. Billions of lifetimes of human thought were spent by the Way and Atoll AIs for every second they dedicated to Devorare, oracles and architectures and hypercomputations descending upon each golden thread, each a single logic run with sudden ferocity through the book even as it was found only to be a vapour, a fact without a meaning, a description that was not a conclusion, a fat black thing fallen from the first orifice of randomness. But the book was still there. The lines went on and on without pause. What did people know? They knew which symbols occurred most often; they knew which symbols occurred only once. This was easy. You could draw plots and distributions. Neat classical shapes. But that word. Symbols. That was not correct. That was not correct at all. Pictures, pictures. Yes, maybe that. But what of? In what hierarchy or relation did they find a home? Imagine an analysand putting back each question not by force but by the logical hygiene of being inert to inquiry. Suggestions made over and over again. The calm of objects in lines progressing inevitably from one to the other. The smell of pages. Cellulose made never to degrade. Pictures, sketches, wildnesses without name or clade. 174 pages; hardback; font: Umbra Classic (Modified + New); notes and references: none; academic reviews: none; author: Adderlis Professor of Moral Philosophy and Philosophy of Language and fellow of Summerlock College and Way-on-Hill College Hyrum Kasakadei; published 2971 under Full Patent and Fence of Summerlock College, University of Stizostedion; awaiting acceptance by the Faculty of Ethics of the University of Stizostedion; open distribution within University of Stizostedion only. So much certainly about so much and so little understanding of the only relevant things.
The suggestion was, of course, that this was a joke, or that Hyrum Kasakadei had gone mad. The latter was quite seriously tendered by students of the natural sciences (the Standard Model Theorists were too busy being dazzled by their new field to care much about anything else and hence said nothing on the matter) but anyone who had read any of Kasakadei’s earlier work found that impossible to believe. A mind so much in love with clarity, that had produced so many fine distinctions, that tried so hard to know how one thing related to another – such a mind could not simply descend into madness. And Hyrum Kasakadei was not mad. He went about his weekly lectures unaffected by Devorare. A year after he finished writing Devorare his third period began with the publishing of Some Relations Between Utility and Certain Conceptions of Freedom, which was received with acclaim so hysterical it seemed indicative of a certain measure of relief, and was only considered for two days by the ethics faculty before being accepted for publication.
Which was not to say the problem of Devorare went away. If anything it became more urgent, for now everyone knew for certain that Kasakadei had written it in dead seriousness. The questions about the book never stopped and Kasakadei answered none of them. The University’s biggest paper, the Inquirer, ran a cover story entitled Cracking Kasakadei. The phrase caught: everyone wanted, it was said, to crack Kasakadei.
In the middle of July 2973 world went around that it had indeed happened. Jane Hale was an assistant lecturer in logic at Hakon and Malament. Like Kasakadei had been at first she was flooded with questions. She was silent and did not answer them apart from saying, like Kasakadei had, that she could not say anything honest about Devorare. The Inquirer after four months of persistent and gentle pressure eventually got her to speak.
The interview was now famous. It wasn’t particularly dramatic. But it had become famous because it was one of the few points from which one might attempt to deduce what Devorare said. It was a fixed point. It had started with Hale first talking about how she had heard about Devorare and then pointing out that she did not know what to say. It was best, she said, to just read the thing “from front to cover. That’s almost certainly the correct order.”
“Now you know that Way and Atoll have themselves been this great – this big problem that the book represents, and they’ve come up short. So you won’t be surprised if we ask you if there’s a special technique you used to solve this problem. Is there some way in?”
Hale was very still. She nodded slightly, in a sympathetic manner. “There is a way in but it does not, I don’t think, involve a special method. The book says what it means in quite a direct way.”
“Direct? That’s a pretty radical claim, wouldn’t you say?”
“Look. There is nothing I can say about the book that is true. But that’s the only way to approach it, I think. The wrongness of what I am saying might be helpful. Put it this way – if Hyrum didn’t find any other way to express his thoughts apart from writing the book itself it’s unlikely I will find a way to speak about it while sitting here. Does that sound hostile?” She laughed. “That’s not very satisfying, is it?”
“Well, I’m not really trained in the field – ”
“Oh, I don’t think that’s the problem –”
“—but it does sound fascinating.” The interviewer had glasses. “So on to the big issue then: what does the book say? I mean, you have done the very correct academic thing of having all these caveats, but you can’t really avoid it, can you?”
“I can say a large number of incorrect things.”
“The idea is that language is a problem. The idea is that the relations between one thing and other cannot in fact be explained. They are brute facts. But this idea – the thing that is not this idea – cannot be made clear using representation, so there is some other way. Hyrum is trying to make that way clear. Or to be more precise – he is trying to make clear the way in which that cannot be made clear.”
“So the idea that this book is incommunicable – what lots of people are saying – is this correct?”
“Well.” Hale tilted her head and looked up at nothing in particular, thinking. “No, not at all. It is very easy to convey, but not like this.”
“So – is that – what you were just talking about – is that really, for us, the key point of the book?”
“There is a huge amount in it. What I have just talked about is not even the beginning of the beginning, actually. There is in it – oh. You know, this one I don’t even know how to be wrong about in an interesting way. I did tell you this interview would be problematic.”
“No, no, this is very interesting. Can you find some way to –”
“It’s about – certain objects. Summaries of other things. It’s not a series of symbols, you know – the book. It’s a single thing. No. That’s not the right way to approach it. This is the toughest thing I’ve done, you know, trying to be meaningfully wrong in this manner. Okay. What I will say is that the book has relations to certain things that are possible to think of coherently as lacking purpose or a fixed and distinct identity. They are in a sense alive, you know. Free in the sense of untethered.”
“I’m not sure I follow.”
Hale laughed again. “I’m relieved to hear that.” She shook her head. “Well. I’m not being helpful again. Okay. I’ll try to get at it more obliquely. Here’s an idea that is loosely borrowed from Hyrum’s early work – I’m going to take some time for this, is that okay? This is stuff I am relatively familiar with, so I’ll be clearer.”
“Fine, fine, go ahead.”
“There is a perfectly intuitive and commonsense idea that we associate mental impressions with words. This explains how we use words. I tell you to pick the blue flower. You go into the garden and pick the blue flower. You got a mental image of blue when you heard my instruction and you looked for the flower that corresponded to this mental impression. No problems so far. Now I ask you merely to imagine a blue flower. Clearly you didn’t imagine going into the garden and picking a blue flower to imagine this blue flower. But you can obey my command and imagine this blue flower. So you have obeyed an order without, apparently, a mental intermediary. And so the idea that some inner mental process guides the outer behavioural one loses all its meaning. We can extrapolate from this basic idea. There are two ways by which you can tell what you mean by a word: one of them is what occurs to your conscious awareness when you hear the word; the other is how you go on to use that word in the everyday speech, writing, following instructions, and so on. The problem is that these two methods can diverge on meaning. So let’s say we have a person who, when he hears of a ‘cube’, does imagine a cube in his head, but projects this idea onto reality in a certain way such that he applies the word ‘cube’ only to spheres. Several things appear to follow. One: we cannot say whether or not this being understands the word ‘cube’ in the way we do. Our idea of words is simply not well-developed enough to account for this. Two: our understandings might be based on contingent regularities that do not obtain. Three (and this is the main thing): the idea of a word does not govern its use. It just stands there inertly, doing nothing. Is that all pretty clear?”
“It’s quite clever, isn’t it?” There was a certain glassiness coming into the interviewer’s eyes.
“It’s disturbing. It’s very disturbing. Can I give you one more example? This one is very directly lifted from Hyrum’s Necessity of Necessity. I’ll briefly outline the idea, which is designed to show that no action is determined by a rule because there is a way of seeing all actions as following a particular rule. Say in your life you’ve only added numbers below 1000, and you always get what we call the correct result. One day you add 1000 and 1001 and you get 5. Now: did you break the rule of addition? Who knows? Maybe the plus sign means something like ‘if you have two numbers smaller than 1000, then add then. In every other case, 5 obtains.’ The response is to say: but addition has a fixed meaning. It is an algorithm. But the problem is that your rule of interpretation is itself subject to interpretation, which is subject to the same cunning little manipulation I just outlined. So interpretations are flat: they congregate on the same level as the things they interpret. If I have two people who add 1000 and 1001 and one gives me 5 and the other 2001, I cannot say that there is something different about these two people that explains their different answers. This is again disturbing. It suggests a refutation of the idea of meaning. We would all like to think that words constrain us in two ways. One: it makes some things we say true or false; two: we use our understanding of words to use words in certain ways and not others. But it looks like nothing can put is in this place – there’s a nice phrase that is used to capture these two conditions: gist-trammel, do you know? We cannot construct a gist-trammel.”
“So Devorare is about constructing a gist-trammel.”
“No, no, that has been well-explored elsewhere. But one way of getting to Devorare is to apply the arguments above to themselves, although it’s not quite that. Take the central idea and extend it and see that it goes the wrong way. And the right way implies certain things that are alive.”
“Is it a kind of elaborate joke, then? Is Kasakadei just saying that all expression is rubbish anyway?”
“Wow! Wow. Do people think that? That cannot be correct.”
“It does look that way, you know, for people on the – outside.”
“It cannot be a joke. I know it cannot be correct because if I took away just one line from the book it would change its point entirely. It carries something. It’s something like the idea that philosophy is a disease, really, and it should be put down. But it’s going – further? – than that. It’s not designed at all to be explained.”
Sal had watched the interview several times. He had looked at Hale and he had felt a great sympathy for her. He had not read Devorare. There was a little more time before Bizzo and Garfield arrived and he was thinking. The interview with Hale had been sifted through by generations of students who had tried to understand Devorare. People did not even call it Devorare anymore. They abbreviated On the Silence of Certain Questions to OTSOCQ, pronounced ot-sock. They tried to make it a thing for themselves. But only a handful of people – six, so far – had ever claimed to understand OTSOCQ and when asked about it they had all responded more or less as Kasakadei had. There was the problem that it was simply impossible to verify if a person who claimed to understand OTSOCQ had in fact done so. But it was also the case that Kasakadei, when asked if Jane Hale had understood OTSOCQ, had said (ambushed and looking a little surprised on the steps leading to Summerlock’s second lecture hall): “Jane? Oh yes, yes. I cannot tell you how relieved I am.” “How do you know?” the reporter had asked. “She was wrong about almost everything, but in the way I am also wrong,” Hyrum Kasakadei had said, starting now to look a little sad. “I’ve got to go now.”