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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Indexicalisms

So, clearly, the whole BtR crew has been kidnapped, stuffed into a van, and driven to some remote location in Outer Idaho recently. We fought our way out valiantly. By putting our captors to sleep with stories out of university dramas and jokes from the The Gull's Horn-Book. And now we're back, to unleash our ridiculousness on the world by way of the crafty new medium of the interweb.

Well, the only thing that's really kidnapped me is my index. Don't be fooled by the siren song of indexing, dear readers; despite all that sexy cache and the promise of instant fame, it's actually mind-numbingly dull, tedious, and seemingly endless work. For those of you who haven't done it before, it involves a really weird combination (which is a little like being exhausted and over-caffeinated at the same time) of unrelenting tedium and attention to dusty minutiae with a kind of oddly theoretical reflection -- the latter insofar as you're forcing yourself to be precise about categories and terms. Into what fifteen delightful fragments can I split this hair? How many angels do I see dancing happily on this pin? And what kind of dances? Moriscos?

But actually the really frustrating part of the experience is that I'm constantly being confronted by how completely loosely I use language. Every instant of doing this index I'm staring at some word on the page -- a word that I've written, and maybe not all that long ago -- and realizing that, in fact, I really don't mean anything in particular by that word. I just liked it, one day, probably sitting in the little neighborhood coffee-house run by music-loving but coffee-incompetent hipsters, when I was probably way too much affected by the nostalgic sounds of old Dinosaur songs in the background and the not-so-nostalgic sight of pretty people in the foreground to really pay enough attention to what I was writing. But the word that I wrote that day is a Big Word. It has all kinds of possible significances attached to it, despite my willingness to throw it around so casually, and despite the fact that I don't really know, now, exactly what I had in mind that day when I wrote it down. But I have to try and find some way in which my uses of that word somehow add up to a kind of system that can be taken hold of, analyzed, broken down into its component parts, and alphabetized.

You might think that the solution to this dilemma -- I mean, aside from getting a little more discipline in my writing -- would be to pay someone else to go through this headache. But I've had that experience, too, with another book I was involved with. The index that resulted was a disaster, though the experience was oddly wonderful, in it's way -- in a kind of Pale Fire way, specifically. Reading the index was like reading a confession, or a narrative. First of all, it was immediately apparent that the indexer was an enormous sci-fi / fantasy enthusiast. There were entries for things like "dragons" and "time-space continuum." Moreover, there was also an unfolding emotional drama. The plot kicks off abruptly with entries like "aggression, expressions of"; then I think around the letter C we get the major crisis, when this person was dumped by a boyfriend or girlfriend -- the aggressor or the subject of the aggression? -- leading to entries like "death," "despair," and "desire." After this we get the confusion of "intentions, conflicting," as well as a pronounced sense of "injustice," leading to "introspection," "maintenance, self," but also "recognition, need for," as well as the darker note of "revenge." By S this person, like all love-lorn souls, has taken to writing poetry, and is wondering about "serpents, symbolism of" and "storms, symbolism of," not to mention how to express "struggle, inner." Things take a darker turn yet with "suicide" and "wickedness," but perhaps end with some kind of inner enlightenment, expressed cryptically in the entries for "truth" and "universals, apprehension of." At least, I like to think it all ends up happily.

Indexing. What a drama.

  • At 5/08/2007 07:01:00 PM, Anonymous Wat wrote…

    Not sure where to leave this comment: I put up another summary of a play over on my Holzknecht blog [oldplaysmadenew.blogspot.com] and you're welcome to cut and paste it to Blogging the Renaissance if you'd like. It's Richard Brome's The Sparagus Garden.

     

  • At 5/08/2007 08:51:00 PM, Blogger Truewit wrote…

    What I like about your indexification, Inkhorn, is that to do it, you're using index cards. How happy those cards must be to be serving their true purpose in life!

     

  • At 5/08/2007 11:14:00 PM, Blogger Inkhorn wrote…

    As God intended it.

     

  • At 5/09/2007 10:26:00 AM, Blogger Flavia wrote…

    I used to edit indexes (or indices, if you want to be all pedantic about it, and I'm sure we do), but somehow I never recognized their potential as vehicles for tortured self-expression.

    I mean, who needs a blog?

     

  • At 5/09/2007 01:39:00 PM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    While we're on the topic, I also love the genre of the utterly pointless index entry, such as this one that popped up in (and was subsequently deleted from) an index for a biography of Nixon: "Nixon, Richard M., water consumed by." Sure enough, it was followed by something like ten separate page references.

    It sounds like the indexer of Inkhorn's other book was channeling the ghost of Charles Kinbote.

     


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