Thursday, March 03, 2005

You are Invited

I have been asked to contribute a series of articles for "People without Knowledge" and so I have offered my own thoughts on the origin of paper. Here is the first draft.

A Future History of Paper for People Without Knowledge

Most histories of paper begin in the past, while this history of paper begins in the future. For that is where paper comes from. I won’t explain just now in difficult scientific language any exact reasons for this contention. Has knowing difficult scientific language ever been essential to the business of walking around or carrying logs or growing food? Scientific language has never been essential. Look, there is the sun in the sky. Now, should I want to trouble humanity, to travel to the Sun in a metal cylinder, yes, then maybe a few explanations would be a good idea.

One person is sure to ask, “How can we fly like an eagle?”
And another, “How far away is the sun?”
And finally, “Is it okay if Nathan comes, I know he is depressed right now, but he’s really a great guy. I’m sure travelling to the Sun would give the man a boost.”

So science, the great persuader. The confidence man is carrying a test tube and wearing a white coat and reinforced glasses, “in case acid explodes.” Acid would not be exploding in sterile rooms if the confidence man could just hold back and regulate their behaviour. Look around you. How many of your friends have made acid explode? How many great poets have made acid explode? Very few. When did you ever read a tremendous sentence, only to discover that the next sentence was missing, and in its place, just the words, “My genius ends here, I don’t know how to make acid explode.”

A thing to remember

- The imagination requires no explosions

Primo Levi wore a white coat and wrote about the Holocaust. He was also capable of manufacturing his own paper. As such, he constitutes an anomaly, but remember, the essential message he states was “The future prevailed.” This is where the homemade candles and paper came from.

Not everyone was so blessed with being anomalous.

Italo Calvino wrote like someone who stayed late after school, possibly for fear of the walk home. It’s generally accepted that his lungs were not first rate, and that the walk home took him past the house of a couple of big boys, big boys who thought it was the simplest thing in the world to stop Italo and push him around. So he stayed late and made friends with someone who could add up. That’s how these movements begin. Later, there was a meal and the five year old Italo stood on a chair and recited multiplication tables, all the way to 13 x 13 = 169. Such is the nature of precocity. But what do those stories that feature some maths, learned because of fear of big boys, because the one equation he refused to confront was Big Boy x 2 / Italo = Pulped Face and Broken Satchel Strap - what does it help us with?

Finally, Italo Calvino had no idea how to build a sunrocket, and this is what damns him. I doubt he could even create a bucketful of the hydrogen fuel that such a craft would employ. Yet here was a man who would lecture people, quite publicly, such was his vanity. And all because he could sit around and draw a diagram and then write a story. And then point at the diagram and the story and say something that most people struggled to make sense of or even remember. This is why he published so many books, because everyone so quickly forgot what he said. I am not seeking to diminish Italo Calvino, merely to return him to his proper place, he had an ability, worthy no doubt of some admiration, the same way we may admire people who can rollerskate backwards.

Now, leaving aside Italo Calvino, a human footnote, it is incumbent to show just how much paper there is in the world. It should not take more than a few minutes.

A thing to remember

- For those without knowledge, paper is equivalent to energy

Firstly, the amount of paper in the present never changes. Paper is basically the same as everything else, in that whatever one imagines can be rendered in paper. For instance, the paper aeroplane. It is little known that the first commercial aircraft were made completely from paper, the mystery of the paper engine being developed by British scientists during the Great War. Later, it was decided not to mention that aeroplanes were made from paper, as the uninformed passenger may wonder about the effect of rain upon the paper plane. They would not understand that rain and paper are equivalent, that the two effectively cancel one another out on contact (this is why it appears to be dry inside, even in winter).

Anyone who has stood on the Giant’s Causeway will immediately grasp the import of this (provided they were facing East and hadn’t been drinking). That is, at the start of the universe, there was an amount of paper that made up the very fabric of everything.

It was Bobby Darin’s contention that it was only a paper moon. And in 1952, that contention was most likely truth. Whether the trees were made from muslin, I leave that to others to determine. My own educated guess is that the trees were made of wood. Wood is the only thing we can spare in our world to readily resume its path to the past as paper. This is one reason why trees grow so much taller than everything else, particularly in the tropical rainforessts, where no-one can read or write.


Blogger Jagan said...

Really good stuff!

2:08 PM  
Blogger anan said...

Let me say this.
I love Italo Calvino, especially when he does his neutrino impersonations.
Any relation between Italo and paper is a malicious lie, possibly started by large sachel-breaking ninnies.

2:17 AM  
Blogger kingfelix said...

I love Italo Calvino, but I am reading his "Hermit in Paris" writings and wondering at how humourless and dismissive he can be. One of my friends has just interviewed a Oulipo member and she too recalls Calvino as being humourless. So I think that I was disappointed to hear that, and now out comes some finger-pointing at Mr C. But it is only the first draft and is not intended to directly represent my own views, the idea being to offer something to those "without knowledge" (of anything)

(Plus, how many times can someone pack the phrase "My father was an agronomist..." into one book.)

7:40 AM  
Blogger anan said...

...unless you are sitting at a bar with a sad drunk, i think that this phrase can only be used once per victim.

i refuse to believe that someone who could say of a dinosaur returning to the sea:
'Oh, now that's a grand step forward for evolution!'

could be devoid of humour.
Possibly he was still sulking over getting a poke in the eye.

9:14 AM  
Blogger kingfelix said...

everyone has one good joke in them! that was his.


9:22 AM  
Blogger anan said...

what's your joke?

sorry, but you really did walk into that one.
In fact, i think you might have designed and built the trap and cleverly camoflagued it, also.

*all ears*

1:43 PM  
Blogger kingfelix said...


come on! in all seriousness, there are enough original funny jokes in Extreme Unction to last Italo Calvino until the year 2500

so i hardly think i walked into anything. if i'd said, "hmmm, flann o'brien, i'm funnier" now that would be setting myself up for a fall, but i don't think much of a case could be made for Italo Calvino being funnier than myself!

2:05 PM  
Blogger anan said...

no, oh no!
that's not what i meant at all!
(extracting foot from molar)

of COURSE EU is joke-enriched. Enough so, to keep all of Italo Calvino's bloodline chuckling till there is no chuckling anymore.

What i THOUGHT you meant was that everyone has one quintessential joke, a joke that sums up their entire existence.

You know, a joke where someone could come at you with an extended hand saying, Hi, i'm Fred F., PR man for the People Who Know Nothing Convention, and you could answer, There once were three men travelling along a road...

i was just wondering what the pithy bottom line of YOUR identity might be.

Padum dum.

6:07 PM  
Blogger kingfelix said...

i am not that pithy at heart.

i think the thing that would sum up my existence is probably a loop of black and white film, flight of the bumblebee playing, and a magician doing some plate-spinning.

well, that's how it feels today

8:22 PM  
Blogger anan said...

... but where is the punchline?

unless it's a black and white Rimsy-Korsakov spinning the plated wannabees till they're loopy?

by the way.
nice, nice writing.
i really enjoyed this in places.

8:29 PM  
Blogger kingfelix said...

ah, it is only the very first rough version, about 30 minute splurge, so it will be made better or something.

as for the lack of a punchline, absolutely, i don't think there is a punchline down there, just something frantic and bizarre that goes on and on and on

8:55 PM  

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