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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Puthwuth the Memorious

My mind yesterday, tomorrow, and possibly even right now

Do you remember that thing I was trying but failed to say that time, on 23 March 2001? Or that joke I was interrupted before finishing on 14 September 1999? Of course you do. Well, the thing was that despite my protestations (lies) I’ve never liked omelettes, and the punch-line went something like ‘Actually, that was him in the food-mixer.’

There is a Borges short story called ‘Funes the Memorious’ about a man whose memory is so compendious that he conjugates nouns into past, present and future tenses like we do verbs. There is the dog he is looking at now, the same dog yesterday and the same dog tomorrow. Except it isn’t really the same dog, from a Heraclitean ‘all is flux’ perspective, and hence the need to change the word for it.

Well, I’m a bit like that. (I realize, by the way, that this somewhat puts the kibosh on my short-lived ‘generic word for everything’ phase, as described yesterday. Tough!) The only difference between Funes and me is the hole at the centre of my space-time continuum, which means I can’t remember (if that’s the word) things happening here and now, such as… what is your name again? But that thing on 23 March 2001 and that other thing on 14 September 1999, not to mention some pretty special things I have lined up for 24 July 2011 and 15 August 2023… as long as the here and now doesn’t come into it, it’s in the database, sorted.

I was describing this condition to a medical friend of mine on 22 January 2000 (he was wearing a bright blue shirt and, I couldn’t help thinking, a highly embarrasing pair of red jeans; the dregs of his pint of Carlsberg, I remember, had formed into a pattern resembling a pair of saggy breasts on the side of his glass, eliciting a knowing but mysteriously unexplained half-smile from me on the other side of the functional formica pub table), and he offered me a diagnosis I’ve never forgotten (obviously). ‘You realize I have never actually liked you,’ he began, ‘and if you ever stayed at my place for more than a day or two I would be obliged to beat your head in with a shovel, and what’s more any jury in the land would acquit me too. PS You smell.’

As in Hebrew, there is no present tense in Puthwuthian, my very own private language, which may go some way to explaining my condition. Mind you there is no past or future tense either, since I’ve yet to get around to actually inventing the damn thing.


sean lysaght said...

What do you make of the past conditional, Puthwuth, a tense I dislike? All prehistoric peoples inhabit this tense: Neolithic peoples WOULD HAVE CLEARED woodland by burning, they WOULD HAVE INTRODUCED crop cultivation, and new weeds WOULD HAVE APPEARED as a result of farming. Is there any alternative, given the dearth of inflection in English, or could you invent an inflection to mark this hypothesis in the past?

puthwuth said...

Beckett's Unnamable talks about the need for hypothetical imperatives.

I was being shown round a stately home in East Yorkshire a few months ago and the curator slipped into a strange use of the future tense -- 'this is a portrait of the fifth lord, he will grow up to make a bad marriage... his wife will become the bane of his life etc'. Any suggestions for the correct grammatical term for that?

sean lysaght said...

Looks like the opposite of the French futur antérieur, so you could call it the antérieur futur

Ms Baroque said...

See, I love this blog.

puthwuth said...

Molloy I mean, not The Unnamable. Shame on me.

Anonymous said...

What were you doing in a pub with a man wearing red trousers? Reminds me of a Seinfeld episode where Jerry avoids George's father because he sees him chatting with a man wearing a cape.

puthwuth said...

He'd be more my Newman than my George or Frank Costanza. Anyway, he couldn't be George. I am George. Sadly.