Category: Linguistics

American Pandemic, a poem by David Garyan, published in Interlitq

«American Pandemic» was first published in Volume 12 of The American Journal of Poetry (January 1st, 2022). Volume 12 was the final issue of The AJP before it ceased publication. The archive remained available for some months, until early 2023, after which the website disappeared completely.

Please click here read the story behind the initiative to republish all my work.


 

American Pandemic (The President’s Prayer)

For although you may have absolutely no choice in some matters, this does not mean the things you must do in these moments are absolutely right.
—Wilde 3:16

Dear Lord, today we give
thanks for no longer
having to fear the rapists
living next door to us—
at least those who,
out of their own volition,
did trust in the miracles
of science and go down
to the nearest vaccination center,
where shots
of AstraZeneca are done—
approved, of course, by the CDC and EU,
for its benefits
lie precisely in the fact
that it has killed
a trivial amount
of people,
and was made
by a British-Swedish company,
unlike Sputnik,
which, regrettably,
also, did ice
a similarly trivial amount,
but was, of course,
made by the Russians—
a dilemma, indeed,
for if the rapist
had simply chosen
Slavic vaccination,
it would’ve prevented
him from entering indoor
venues like movie theaters and schools,
much less having access to Europe,
where this vaccine,
along with the Chinese Sinovac,
are still under rolling review,
all for your own safety, of course.
Dear Lord, though we must keep walking
through the valley of the shadow of death,
we will fear no evil;
for Thy Protestant and Catholic
vaccines will protect us,
while the heathens of the East—
Orthodox Slavs and Chinese communists, that is,
will be barred from entering
the Schengen Area
for having disobeyed Thy command,
and taken jabs
from the forbidden list of vaccines.
For we know that your only
begotten Son, Jesus,
cares not whatsoever about all Christians,
nor even those recognized
by the United Nations,
but only those G-7 (formerly G-8) Christians,
who by their burden of upholding
democracy, human rights,
and women’s rights,
(two different things altogether,
as women aren’t humans),
did follow the true path of Thy Son
when they expelled Russia
from this hallowed community
after its illegal annexation of Crimea.
Lord, we ask that you give us
patience and strength
in this time of uncertainty—
for our other neighbor, Bill,
living with his lovely family
just four houses down,
are followers of Jehovah’s Witnesses;
despite having frequently made generous
donations to charities fighting poverty
in Sub-Saharan Africa,
they remain unvaccinated due to their beliefs—
thus posing bigger threats
than the very rapist living next door,
who, in fact, holds a bachelor’s degree
in pharmacology,
and this he received from Tufts,
meaning he has rightly
been ordained as a monk of science,
with fervent faith in all the hottest biology.
Indeed, our dear Lord,
it helps neither Bill,
who once rescued two children
from a burning building,
nor his pleasant family
that often volunteers
to pick up trash in their neighborhood,
to be good, yet unvaccinated Christians.
For the Lord so commanded:
Thou must let all vaccinated
fornicators into heaven,
for if they present
the Green Pass,
and it is valid,
every sin and transgression henceforth
shall be forgiven by the glory of God.
Let us rejoice, sweet Jesus,
and let the miscreants inside!
For it is at once righteous to do so,
but, alas, also legally necessary,
for Lord Fauci,
in all his infinite
scientific glory
and wisdom,
hath ordained that full
vaccination bestows
full immunity
against any sexual misdemeanor,
and perhaps even felony,
but only so long as blood
tests can show
the presence of antibodies;
heathen Bill, however,
can neither be allowed
to keep his job,
nor attend any community functions,
and his satanic family
shall have to wear medieval
masks of shame wherever they go.
Let us pray, dear Lord,
that blasphemous Bill
and his infernal ménage
continue being good Christians,
for their donations
and community service are important,
but let us, nevertheless,
wholly distance ourselves socially,
for they cannot be spoken
to until they receive the sacrament of vaccine.
But let us all the while, dear Lord,
invite the rapist—
provided he agrees to wear a mask
and continues, like before, observing
social distancing rules,
because, indeed, the sacrament of vaccine
works not miracles every time,
something the pharmacologist offender,
or more aptly, offender pharmacologist,
knows very well;
and so, in the name of Jesus, our Savior,
let us pray for that gentle predator,
for he has become
the epitome
of responsibility,
and a shining example
of good fellowship
towards Woman (and also Man,
but only in rare homosexual cases—
for let us not, dear God, tolerate
those who discriminate
against a misfit
that prefers chasing men),
for he knows not only
all the hip sciences,
but also totally trusts
every hip doctor and science,
even when they say
opposite things.
Let us hence rejoice
and place our faith
in that rapist,
for he truly cares
about the safety of others,
even when he’s raping them,
for he will not lay hands
on any unvaccinated souls—
no matter how strong
his urge to do so may be,
and in this way, our heavenly Father,
we didst finally see
a prominent drop
in not only COVID infections,
but also cases of sexual assault;
these latter numbers, howbeit,
are neither relevant nor crucial,
for we’re not so concerned
with them these days,
mostly because developing
vaccines against battery,
even the sexual type,
is scientifically impossible.
And so Lord, we ask that you bless
and watch over
the sexual deviants,
(but only the inoculated)
for before Johnson and Johnson
they were blind,
but now they can see,
and protect also those who took
Moderna, Pfizer, and AstraZeneca,
and especially young women
who took AstraZeneca,
since they are most at risk
of dying from it,
but let us, oh Lord, have faith
and renounce our fright—
for these fair maidens
are now vaccinated
and no longer need Thou;
truly, they hath nothing
left to fear,
for we know
that all the world’s problems
disappear after full vaccination,
two weeks after the second dose, that is.
Have no mercy, howbeit, on those who took Sputnik,
for pride, tyranny, and wickedness cannot last,
but the righteous shall live by Western-approved
jabs and that holy democracy worthy of us all—
the one which accidentally bombs
civilian targets in Afghanistan,
but only under a Democratic administration;
a Republican democracy where civilian
targets are accidentally hit,
can, absolutely, not be tolerated.
Our Father who art in heaven,
we need good, honest democratic
leaders who blow up churches and schools
in the name of Saint Schumer,
of whom the public does approve
no matter what he commands,
and if there be doubt,
it shall excuse his failures
as honest blunders;
the same mistakes
just across the aisle, however,
must properly and justly incur the wrath
of all left-leaning news networks out there,
because that is what it means to be fair,
balanced, and objective, in the name of Christ Almighty.
We ask, also, in this time of uncertainty, dear Lord,
that you promptly hear the grievances aired
by the LGBTQIA+E=mc2@admissions.caltech.edu community—
for on numerous occasions
they’ve demanded that bombs
dropped on civilian targets
proudly display Pride flags on them,
otherwise protests will erupt
across the whole country.
We pray, as well, that all who deny
the scientific thrust behind
these rockets be labeled
provocateurs and Republicans—
meaning anyone from Afghanistan
must display proof of bombing,
preferably with QR codes,
before we can consider them refugees,
much less admit them to this country,
which, supposedly, isn’t a Christian one,
but whose presidents have all been Christian.
And so, in the name of all that’s holy, dear Lord,
please forgive us for putting
sanitizer dispensers
inside your churches,
and wearing masks,
for it’s nothing personal
against you or the miracles
you’ve worked on this earth;
it’s just that washing your hands
frequently absolves us of all sins—
for if Pontius Pilate only had some Purrell
that day he was to condemn
your only begotten Son,
there would be nothing
he would need to answer for today.
Dear Jesus, please know
that if and when you decide
to have your Second Coming,
all the vaccinated rapists,
murderers, and pillagers
will be free to attend the event,
which is scheduled to be held
at the LA Convention Center,
or perhaps Madison Square Garden,
depending on parking—
strictly observing, of course,
all the social distancing
protocols recommended by the CDC.
And if the people
ever decide to crucify
you once more,
something they are bound
to do sooner or later,
proof of vaccination
will no longer suffice;
given the more exciting nature
of this particular spectacle,
negative PCR tests (valid for 48 hours)
and cavity searches will be required
to access the crucifixion site,
for when it comes to safety,
no right or freedom
is sacred enough to uphold.
Oh, hallelujah, dear Lord,
we pray that the planet
and every hallowed
thing you created,
in the name of the Father,
the Son, and Holy Spirit,
simply go to shit
while our chosen leaders
sit there and figure out
how to save us from COVID;
for there are maps, statistics,
and analysis, sweet Jesus—
so much scientific scripture
capable of showing us all,
and very precisely at that,
how fucked up things have become.
Do you not see, my brethren,
that the US registered
148,202 new cases today,
which, on a fourteen day spectrum,
represents a twenty-nine percent increase?
Have the numbers and colorful graphs
not made an impression, my dear brothers?
For if we can’t quantify something,
the problem isn’t worth solving.
And is it not such a tragedy
that we have more vaccines
than anyone knows what to do with?
For in Pelosi 2:3-4 it is so written:
When Moderna ran out,
Fauci’s mother turned and said to him—
“They have no more Western vaccines.”
But that Son of Science so replied:
“Woman, why do you involve me?
My hour has not come yet.”
And after having ordered the syringes
to be filled with Sputnik,
the patients were given those injections
and all were then amazed
they had turned into Pfizer.
The Son of Science did this—
the first of his many signs,
in Cana of America,
and it revealed his glory,
and his disciples believed in him.
So now we must jab them all,
starting with dead people
and unborn fetuses
that can no longer be aborted,
for if daily quotas are not met,
the UN will come raining down
on our asses like a goddamn fucking
firestorm with their resolutions
that have never been legally binding
anyways, hence why be afraid?
And so, feel free to keep committing
your war crimes, my fellow African dictators,
for though they might say
and even shout a lot at the UN,
fear not, I command, fear not—
for everyone sitting
in those plush chairs
will be much content
to have heard the pretty sounds
of their own voices,
only to have done nothing at all
about the problems
they so enjoyed discussing;
at most, they shall show
“deep concern about the rising
tensions in the Middle East and Africa,”
but this too shall pass,
and with some persistence,
you’ll be free to plunder again,
without those pesky
colonizers (Europeans, that is)
scolding you for being colonizers.
And so, my brothers,
forget the rising levels of racism,
greed, and unhappiness,
for there’s no science
behind them anyways—
no graphs, maps, or tables
to show us the daily increase
in anti-Semitism, apartheid,
or even xenophobia,
for all the lab rats
working in democratic countries
have yet to develop vaccines
against these pandemics,
but if there’s no jab
to solve the problem,
then there’s no problem
to begin with—
nothing worth inspecting
any longer.
Just to be safe, howbeit,
keep distancing yourself
from Blacks, Asians,
Latinos, and anyone who isn’t White,
including Arabs and Persians
with American passports,
some of whom may look
and act “Caucasian,”
but don’t be deceived, my brothers,
and remember the famous Bible passage,
Shakespeare 3:16, Act I, Scene III:
Libyans and Iranians
can cite US passports
for their own purpose.
Also never forget
the Civil Rights Movement,
and which color of skin
was then barred
from entering buildings
and using facilities,
even before the Green Pass;
but let us, dear Lord,
remain vigilant as ever,
for unvaccinated Whites,
especially the poor ones,
now pose the same threat
as vaccinated Iraqis
and Afghans with US passports;
alas, should the unjabbed
Whitey, however,
happen to be quite wealthy,
then we must consider
this proof of vaccination,
because gaining COVID
from Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
then dying from it
bestows both status
and upward mobility
upon the dead one,
while catching COVID
from a homeless drunk
then dying from that
is simply a tragedy—
upward mobility
without any fame.
Oh, dear Lord, we pray to heaven
that you get with the program at last
and allow just fully vaccinated
souls into your kingdom;
it would also be nice, sweet Jesus,
if you could demand
that the certificates be shown
in digital form,
with QR codes and cavity checks
and the whole nine yards, really,
for so many have already
been tempted by Satan,
and bought fake certificates
on Telegram and WhatsApp—
a clever business model
with great revenue streams,
something deeply upsetting
for the bureaucrats of Big Pharma.
On the other hand, dear Lord,
Big Tobacco may have cause
for celebration, as some studies
have shown that smoking
may help prevent COVID—
indeed, it doth appear as if nicotine
interferes with ACE2 receptors,
thereby preventing the virus
from entering cells.
Hallelujah, our Father in heaven!
We pray in the name
of your only begotten Son
that all the smokers in Kentucky
will now rise up and initiate
protests demanding mandatory puffing
measures at work, schools,
and hospitals,
but especially hospitals,
for no freedom,
and this we swear,
is sacred enough
to give up in the name of safety,
even the freedom to breathe.
Starting next week,
mandatory proof
of smoking shall
be presented
at the entrance
of every gym, restaurant,
and nursing home.
Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em, fellow brethren!
And as with vaccines,
connoisseurs of Russian cigarettes
will absolutely
be prohibited from entering
any indoor venues,
until the proper clinical trials
can be carried out;
the CDC has already
scheduled rolling reviews
to see if cancer sticks
made by former communist heathens
pose the same health risks
as those made in the free world,
because only the cancerous kinds—
the ones with arsenic,
liberty, and lead inside them
have been known to interfere
with the aforementioned ACE2 receptors.
So far, the CDC has only approved
the democratic cigarettes of Marlboro,
Newport, and Camel against the coronavirus—
in clinical trials, they’ve shown
a smashing 99 percent effectiveness
in killing people before they contract COVID,
much lower than the despotic
brands of Russia,
which have far less additives
and kill only 89 percent of subjects,
but these are just the results
of one medical study funded by Republicans;
the very same study funded by Democrats
showed that Russian cigarettes
kill people on contact,
with vaccinated Americans
from ages 0 to 100 being most at risk;
the State Department hence recommends
that anyone holding a US passport
avoid traveling to places
where this tobacco is sold—
if you absolutely must travel,
buy forty packs of Marlboro
and smoke two a day while wearing
a mask fully covering nose and mouth.
Our dear Lord, we ask in the name of Jesus
that you please forgive
all the fornicators,
thieves, and lawyers,
but especially lawyers,
for any wrongs
they may have committed,
be they sleeping with monkeys,
stealing relics from your churches,
and, naturally, defending
those who slept with monkeys
and stole relics from churches,
but solely if said miscreants
who’ve lived total lives of sin
agree to accept Science
as their only true Savior,
and receive the holy
communion of antibiotics,
and when, with glory, those sins
have been thoroughly cleansed,
shall they proceed, at last,
with the deathbed vaccination,
for the Church of Democratic Science
teaches that only sincere deathbed inoculations
can prevent the spread of COVID at funerals,
while the Church of Republican Science
asserts that COVID was manufactured in a Chinese lab
and hence can threaten only Chinese funerals—
ever since the Great Schism of Science in 2020,
questions surrounding the afterlife
remain a disputed issue in both disciplines,
all because the Church of Democratic Science
and the Church of Republican Science
couldn’t agree on the issue
of whether it was acceptable
to use unleavened jabs
for the sacrament of full vaccination;
other disputes revolved around the fact
of whether scientists could marry
or had to remain celibate,
devoting their whole lives
to the study of reproduction,
rather than reproducing themselves.
And so, it looks as though the teachings
of Democratic Science
and Republican Science
will remain at odds forever.
Dear Lord, we ask that you punish
those scholars who sell indulgences—
fake vaccination certificates, that is,
for it will take a Reformation of Science,
initiated by the one and only
Martin Luther, MD, PhD, PsyD,
with no relation to the former
Augustinian monk,
to create yet another split,
and this time in the Church of Republican Science—
it shall come to pass that doctors
will have no right
to exercise power over people
in jab purgatory,
that is those who may qualify
for vaccination exemptions,
but must show extra proof
of valid medical contraindications
to receive that holy Green Pass.
The Church of Democratic Science
sees all this as heresy,
arguing that patients
must prostrate themselves
before doctors and ask
for vaccination penance—
only this way can they be
admitted to the Stanley Cup Finals,
and also Super Bowl LVI.
The World Series, however,
is a totally different ballgame—
being America’s Pastime,
it does, unfortunately,
require not only prescribed
vaccination penance,
but also a full baptism
with either Olay or L’Oréal—
also known as a “shower”
in scientific literature;
any rituals conducted
with Russian water
and their heathen
communist products
will not be recognized as democratic,
and may result in excommunication,
but also being burnt at the stake.
For we know, dear Lord,
that Psalm 51:7
tells us to purify our sins
strictly with Purell, but perhaps also Lysol—
only, however, if there’s a shortage of Purrell,
for that is surely the superior product,
and then we will be clean;
wash us, our heavenly Father,
but just with brands
approved by American
board-certified dermatologists,
and we shall be whiter
than Russian snow.
Let us pray, dear brothers,
that neither the ACLU,
nor the Woke Apparatus
of Twitter bring
charges of racism
against the Old Testament,
and perhaps even the whole Bible,
for, certainly, African-Americans,
along with darker skinned Latinos
and Asians, have no way of cleansing
themselves to the level
of Scripture-approved
shades of White—
at most, they shall be known
as “Two or More Races,”
or “Some Other Race,”
with the US Census Bureau
very much highlighting “Other,”
for that is how powerful
and prestigious
American body washes
remain on the world stage,
so help us God.
And let us remember,
today and for all times,
Fauci 3:5, where it is so written:
Trust in the Science
with all thy heart,
and do not depend
on your own understanding—
something, dear Lord,
which is good and true,
but certainly contradicted
by Biden and Harris 14:15,
which doth proclaim:
“The simple believe anything,
but the prudent give thought
to their steps.”
For it is the spiritually unvaccinated
who remain separated from Science,
and thus tempted by Satan himself—
for, today, that devil
is not really the Devil,
but rather the embodiment
of the Christian religion,
for in Buttigieg 16:23
it is so written:
Fauci turned and said to Jesus,
“Get behind me, Satan!”
You are a stumbling block
to my Science;
you do not have in mind
the concerns of vaccination,
but merely human concerns.
And so, from this day on,
Christianity became the Devil,
for it was not concerned
with just biology and the body,
but merely human concerns.
For yes, we all know, dear brothers,
that only the communion of vaccination
can absolve us from our sins.
And as the disciples
gathered for the Last Supper
at the White House,
Fauci said: “Take these masks
and wear them, for they are my body—
made in China, of course,
and though America
is on the brink of total collapse,
we can be sure these masks
will protect us from every economic,
social, and natural danger.
He then gave thanks to China
and offered his disciples
the syringes, saying:
“Each of you inject,
for this is my blood,
which seals the covenant
between the President
and his people,”
thus it was written
in Biden and Harris 26:27-8.
And so Washington
did truly rise again
from death,
and took its vaccinated
body—with PCR tests and everything—
that which appertained
to the perfection
of Man’s American nature,
wherewith it ascended into Heaven,
and there will sitteth, until the government
returns to judge all unvaccinated Men
(and also Women, of course,
for we must certainly discriminate
against unvaccinated Women as well)
on the last day.
In the name of the Father,
Uncle Sam, and American Spirit.

 

About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with (DISS)INFORMATION, a full collection with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He received a master’s degree in International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage from the University of Bologna. He lives in Trento.

David Garyan’s Visual Poem «Italianarsi» Translated into Italian by Emilia (@the.misfit.polyglot)

David Garyan’s Poem «Italianarsi» Translated into Italian by Emilia (@the.misfit.polyglot)

March 23rd, 2023

 

Thank you so much to Emilia (@the.misfit.polyglot) for translating!

 

Original English Text

Italianarsi

Walk slow.
Talk fast.

Drive fast.
Live slow.

With great people.
With bad bureaucracy.

Be true—
honesty is key.
Make good impressions—
bella figura must agree.

You’re late?
We’re flexible.
Cappuccinos after lunch?
You must not be Italian!

You make mistakes?
We forgive them.
Chicken on pasta?
Beyond redemption.

Be relaxed. Be informal …
… titles, status, and age
are vital.

On buses,
the young give
their seats to the old.
In life, they leave
Italy to find jobs.

Italians are masters of romance.
Birth rates are declining.

Italians are all about family.
Europe’s lowest marriage rate is in Italy.

Be kind—say permesso
when you must pass.
Be passive—form queues
however you want.

Improvise and innovate.
But don’t change tradition.

Don’t leave the house
with wet hair—
colpo d’aria,
but smoking …
… even near your kids,
is okay.

We’re open
and curious about you.
Best not bring foreign food
to our dinners.

Drink in moderation.
Don’t share your pizza.

Never break spaghetti,
even if no one’s looking.
If you see no cars,
cross on red,
and don’t stop
at stop signs—
some laws are meant
to be broken.

Italians are gentle,
Italians are kind—
Italians have the harshest
prisons in Europe (41-bis).

Drivers
have no time
letting people cross.
People
have much time
staring at strangers.

Homes are very clean,
locals well-dressed—
you’ll often see both
on neglected streets.

There’s campanilismo—
pride for one’s town—
yet dialects are dying …
… it’s discouraged to speak them.

If you come to Italy,
you’ll love it right away,
but, in the end,
love is always hard.

About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with (DISS)INFORMATION, a full collection with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He received a master’s degree in International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage from the University of Bologna. He lives in Trento.

Photoschade, an Essay by Arthur Ovanesian and David Garyan


Photo by Arthur Ovanesian

February 1st, 2023

Photoschade

an essay by Arthur Ovanesian and David Garyan

“It’s strange. I look so different here.”

Photograph.

Have we misread it?

The product of the phenomenon that creates a record of the past, captures history in the frame—with what appears to be unremitting truth and accuracy.

But what if the photograph is a vain (hopeless? self-centered?) attempt to retain what could never be—because it was never meant to be—held in unmandated suspension? Does the photograph rescue memories from oblivion, or does it in fact lead them there?

The French philosopher Roland Barthes believed that photography irrevocably implied death because “it records what was there and is there no longer” (Eliza Richards, “‘Death’s Surprise, Stamped Visible’: Emily Dickinson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Civil War Photography,” 13). We, however, have been given to assume that what has disappeared in the physical sense can now forever stay unchanged simply because it has been photographed. In this sense, the photograph claims to resuscitate the past, but in reality, most of what it does is connected to death. Thus, what we would like photography to do is not recovery of moments (i.e., exact replications of reality, which would be impossible, precisely because reality is a sequence of moments, whereas the photograph is merely one moment—supposedly suspended in time).

Since photographs cannot offer the so-called recovered moments, we attempt to use them to relive instances as they were originally experienced. Yet it is not clear whether that desire is good for us, mainly because it is based on an unconditional trust that photographs will accurately represent what we felt at the time. The very desire to discover the original experience inside a photograph can become openly harmful because it is, in fact, an unfulfillable fantasy. Why? Repeated viewings of the image destroy the sequence of moments surrounding the “one” instance captured in the photo, to such an extent that the individual abandons the interpretive fluidity around the entire event in favor of the coveted initial sensation offered by the supposedly stable photograph. You want what the photograph claims it can give you: the authentic memory of the past stored within. But the photograph has no memory to begin with. All it can do is testify to the disappearance of things around the moment it has captured—the gloomy, inscrutable twilight that settles over what has been.

There are four words related to photography whose definitions clash internally with one another (much like photography, in a real sense, opposes itself to memory rather than enhancing or facilitating it). These words are “mold,” “quick,” “specimen,” and “negative.”

Emily Dickinson, nineteenth-century American poet, was once asked for her portrait by someone she knew. She wrote back refusing, stating that, “could you believe me—without? I had no portrait, now, but am small, like the Wren, and my Hair is bold, like the Chestnut Bur—and my eyes, like the Sherry in the Glass, that the Guest leaves—Would this do just as well? It often alarms Father—He says Death might occur, and he has Molds of all the rest—but has no Mold of me, but I noticed the Quick wore off those things, in a few days, and forestall the dishonor.” The words “mold” and “quick” stand out in this passage. “Mold” refers here to the photographic image; it’s the ‘material’ which has the power to preserve, and yet this very material is also an agent of deterioration. In other words, Dickinson argues that whatever superficial preservation photography gives us, its real nature lies simply in erasing the photographed subject and replacing it with the photograph—that is, the photograph becomes the new subject. This contradiction is for Dickinson what informs the entire medium: to mold the image, but the image itself begins to suffer from mold. How and why does the image begin to “mold?” Because the photograph becomes the object of attachment, while the person fades into the background: a kind of idolization, if you will, the consequence of which is that the person suffers an implicit death and can no longer be brought back—a photographic acknowledgement, yielded by the photograph itself, of loss and departure. The same is true of the word “quick.” “Quick,” according to one scholar, referred to “any substance which increased the sensitivity of the light-recording compound and thus very materially reduced the time of the exposure in the camera” (Robert Taft, Photography and the American Scene: A Social History, 1839-1889, cited in Richards, “‘Death’s Surprise,’” 18). It eased the process of taking a photograph, but it also expedited the very erasure of identity that photography sought to capture, because the “living essence, or “Quick,” of the pictured subject fade[d] even faster than the picture” (Richards, “‘Death’s Surprise,’” 18). The photograph is produced more quickly, but even faster is the loss of the reason, the essence, that informed its taking in the first place. The living essence is emptied out, and what remains is a slain presence, or an animate absence. Photographs without reasons or essence—and, by implication—without people in them either.

Instead, Dickinson would like to see her loved ones “believe her without” (to use their memory in order to visualize her, because the alternative entails losing both the person and the ability to recall them). Photograph means “sun picture,” but its ultimate effect is to lead people into darkness. The photograph occludes memory because it already preconditions the mind by way of looking at the image. More genuine memories might be displaced and cast aside, because the photograph makes a totalizing claim to truth, while your memories cannot do so. If all this seems harsh on photography, it is only because we all lack the recognition that “we photograph things in order to drive them out of our minds.” It is to avoid having to do the critical work of remembering, calling back to mind the possibilities of the past and confronting its attendant ambiguity (for the past is never something to be wholeheartedly embraced or totally rejected). It is not for nothing that an individual in one of Dickinson’s poems found themselves startled, because they could no longer distinguish: is your memory the photograph, or is the photograph your memory? Is there even a difference? This is what concerned Dickinson, and it is indeed no small worry.

Walt Whitman, also a nineteenth-century American poet, offered interesting insights about photography as well in his 1882 autobiography, Specimen Days. Whitman was interested in the simultaneous potential and limitations of photography, in the sense that he would put words to photographic use, seeking within them an illumination of the “relationship between the positive identity represented and the means—call it the negative—of its representation” (Sean Meehan, “Specimen Daze: Whitman’s Photobiography,” 481). Delving into those means was for Whitman the first step in overcoming the limitations of photography (better elucidating its real nature), because the first and most important point to grasp was the following: all that the “negative” (the means of representation, whatever they may be) had to offer were “glimpses.” Glimpses, because, obviously, memory cannot remember everything, but more because, even if it could, no moment can ever be recovered fully—the reality of its having vanished is already past restoration. By having words do the job of the camera, Whitman reveals those aforementioned limits of representation in their fundamental nature. He evokes photographic images in our minds of things he “wish[es] he could convey”; for instance, the creases and bloodstains of his Civil War notebooks (Whitman, quoted in Meehan, “Specimen Daze,” 483). This already is a demonstration of the vulnerabilities of photography: how can it be that an image is evoked that one wishes could be conveyed? A photograph would, therefore, obviously be no more successful in evoking the departed feeling of the photographer than a writer wishing to communicate an emotion he felt long ago, and perhaps even less. In both cases, the reality refuses totalized representation.

Whitman’s glimpses are the “specimens” indicated in the title—the parts that Whitman hopes might put readers within view of the whole: out of reach, but able to be comprehended in some sense. “Specimen pages,” as stated by one scholar, “best represent the type of war they portray by reproducing some of the actual traits of the physical specimens that the war produced…the text remembers by gesturing toward what can no longer be restored…whether reproduced in writing or seen firsthand…specimen cases are primarily visual representations, as the etymological ‘spec’ of the word specimen (Lat. specere: to look at or behold) would suggest” (Meehan, “Specimen Daze,” 484). The representation that is based on specimens would by necessity be incomplete, but the whole point is that a complete story can be incompletely told, leaving the reader with enough of a feeling to understand what it is the writer wanted to share. Authentic, but incomplete: you understand what I wanted to share. Here at last the limitations of photography are overcome: revealing through words that its truth claim is partial. But, having consulted the word for guidance through the mist, and mystery, known as the photograph, we get closer to a resolution. The “negative”—the renunciation of the notion that there can ever be a complete representation of the truth—to arrive at a “positive,” a more faithful rendering of it.

Reading photographs—for the photograph is the word too, enigmatic though it may be—involves acknowledging the unfulfilled certitude of the medium. It acknowledges it by itself. Hence people’s visceral reactions at times to photographs of long ago: “it’s strange. I look so different here.” Strange—as if almost to say, I’m unrecognizable to myself. And so, we have to ask: when we stare at a photograph, what is it that stares back at us?

The LexiKula Manifesto, by David Garyan and Arthur Ovanesian

The LexiKula Manifesto
January 21st, 2023

Language is a prison inside which we’re all free—and the space is comfortable. There’s so much room to move around—if you don’t like the cell that “danger” is in, nobody will stop you from going to the synonymous place where “hazard” resides. You can also visit “safe”—the antonym doing its time in another block. However, there’s no word to describe the anxiety of living inside a language that doesn’t allow you to express the totality of what you’re feeling—not because someone won’t understand, but simply because the words don’t exist. Hence, though we’re free to navigate our linguistic prisons, we’re also confined, mainly because language is all we have.

The prison is unique—not in the sense that it’s special, but rather that there’s nothing else. Thus, having the key to it is pointless because it’s like trying to escape from a planet when that planet is the only one which exists in the universe. Not possible? Or is it? For example, have you ever felt like looking at someone with the hope that the other person will suggest something that both of you greatly desire to do, but are unwilling to initiate—for various reasons, such as shyness, fear, or perhaps the judgment of others? There’s no word in the English language to describe this feeling, even though the feeling itself is real, and it’s quite a common one for all of us to have. Though our own language lacks the vocabulary, there is a word to describe the aforementioned dilemma, and it’s called “mamihlapinatapai.” It comes from Yaghan language spoken in Tierra del Fuego (the southernmost tip of South America). It’s considered one of the hardest terms to translate and The Guinness Book of World Records considers it the “most succinct word.”

There are countless examples like this, and so we’re not exactly living on a planet which is also its own universe. We do have ways to escape the limitations of the English language: Metaphors, images, idioms, proverbs, and so on. Yet, while figures of speech and culture can do a lot to create linguistic variety, they are in and of themselves also limited. For example, take the German expression “Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof” (literal: I understand only train station), which describes a situation where a person is completely confused, and yet, unlike the condition described by the word “mamihlapinatapai” (for which no German or English equivalents exist), there’s already a word in those languages that captures the meaning of “Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof”—“confused” or “lost” in English, and “verwirrt” in German. And so what the German expression has done is merely add color and flavor to the word which already signifies its meaning, but it hasn’t brought about a new “word,” so to speak, the way “mamihlapinatapai” has done.

Metaphors, too, are in a sense artistic idioms. So when, for example, the poet Jeffrey McDaniel writes “My ego is a spiral staircase inside a tornado,” he is pushing the boundaries of language to describe the state of megalomania; in this sense, his word choice represents the highest tenets of what the ancient writer Longinus considered the “sublime.” And yet, like “Ich verstehen nur Bahnhof,” McDaniel’s metaphor is describing a word that already exists (megalomania), except for the fact that he has portrayed it in a way very few people can.

Given how powerful metaphors can be, it wouldn’t be wise to ignore them, and so they will also be a key tenet of the project; the ultimate goal, however, will be the creation of new words, and perhaps, then, also figurative language for those new words. The channel will thus focus less on the former (“decorating” our own language cells), and be more concerned with trying to break free from our own linguistic “confinement.” In this sense, we’re following in the footsteps of the greatest Russian poet, Alexander Pushkin, who, in his frustration of being unable to find the proper words to describe the emotions he felt, simply invented them, which is why he’s considered the “creator” of the modern Russian language. Of course, having coined countless words in English, Shakespeare did exactly the same thing for his language, but his example is far too obvious. And perhaps even Pushkin has become too mainstream in this respect.

Though not as well-known as the aforementioned two, many will have heard of Ambrose Bierce and The Devil’s Dictionary. In this respect, it’s important to highlight that LexiKula is by no means a «trailblazing» endeavor. Even Bierce’s enterprise has predecessors in many respects, such as Gustave Flaubert’s Dictionary of Received Ideas, in which he sarcastically subverts definitions of already existing words.

Indeed, coining words is nothing new, as languages could neither have evolved, much less existed without continuous innovation; in this respect, a more obscure example would be the Czech writer Karel Čapek, who in his 1920 play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), coined the word “robot,” which not only brought him stardom, but also created the very idea of machines resembling humans and their behavior—something that people did not think about before. In this sense, language gave birth to an idea. The play’s discourse, so to speak, created a reality that, in many ways, did not previously exist.

Structuralist and post-structuralist philosophers such as Saussure, Foucault, and Derrida, among others, have long postulated that language creates our reality—not the other way around. The so-called “discourses” we engage in are what stitch together the fabric of society. In other words, the ability to not only define, but to also have the power which allows one to impose those definitions is ultimately what lies at the root of who can influence the world, and who cannot. And so to influence the world, you must first influence the word—for better or worse.

Think of Edward Said’s Orientalism. The West had the intellectual strength to define the East as mysterious, alluring, and a threat to Western values, and such it became; the West, however, was really the one which destroyed the East—not only with its colonialism, but the very act of imposing their false definition onto the East demolished its essence. What do this mean? Precisely that the East is not more alluring or mysterious than the West; the former is just as rational and logical—indeed, that’s where ancient civilization originated. This reality, however, couldn’t suit the West, and so they had to colonize not only the land, but also the history. To colonize territory, one needs guns; to colonize history, one needs only the most powerful gun—language.

Perhaps the most telling example where the birth of a word has brought justice is Raphaël Lemkin’s creation of the word “genocide,” which gave shape and form to the utmost “crimes against humanity.” Consider: Before Lemkin coined it in 1942, there was no international mechanism to prosecute or even outlaw the crime because neither the judicial instrument nor the word existed. It is already apparent that the term created the legal apparatus, not the other way around; as Douglas Irvin-Erickson writes “Raphaël Lemkin coined the word ‘genocide’ in the winter of 1942 and inspired a movement in the United Nations to outlaw the crime.” In this respect, it’s more difficult to imagine a world without the word “genocide” than it is to imagine a society where “crimes against humanity” are not crimes in the legal sense.

It is important, also, to recognize that different cultures (mostly those overlooked) already have unique words to describe emotions we often feel. In this respect, the platform will also serve as an occasional forum (see submission guidelines below) to share such vocabulary, along with the customs/traditions associated with it.

To conclude, Martin Buber postulated that there is no concept of the chair in the universe—no so-called “chairness” we can assign to all objects which fit that definition. Hence, a chair without a definition can be anything, depending on how you want to use it—a ladder or weapon, for example. Given all this, we hope you’ll join us in changing the world one new word at a time—and sometimes even a metaphor. See you in LexiKula, the new dictionary!

—David Garyan
—Arthur Ovanesian

Addendum

λέξη कुल

(LexiKula)

LexiKula: A new dictionary, not just a finite place for definitions, but a community without covers—an open linguistic space to share ideas and reshape the society we live in.

Etymology: GREEK (lexi, meaning “word.”), SANSKRIT (kula, meaning “community, tribe, or clan.”)

Purpose: Bringing together East and West, extinction and life. Capitalize “k” to de-emphasize hierarchy.

 

Submission Guidelines

Original words: The guidelines are few, but important.

1. Make sure the word you’re creating doesn’t already exist (both in English and in another language). A great starting resource for this would be The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrowscreated by John Koenig back in 2009.

2. If condition one is satisfied, follow, more or less, the template outlined above (for the word «LexiKula»). Give the definition. Provide the etymology (origin, how you created it, the inspiration behind it, and so on). Remember the text must fit an Instagram window.

3. Lastly, outline the purpose. Why do you feel we need this word? What are you hoping it will do? How do you see it changing, shaping the world?

 

Metaphors: The guidelines are even fewer here.

1. Be original, and that’s really all. The best metaphors, as the late Charles Simic believed, are those which combine divergent elementsmore dissimilarity equals more potency, like combining love and underwear. Don’t take it from ustake it from Simic.


Source: The New Yorker

 

Culture Corner (in other words, unique words in foreign languages not found in English): Very, very simple here. Share the word from your culture. In what context do you use it? Is it serious, sarcastic, formal, informal? Share a story about the word and how it has shaped not only your life, but also your culture. Story, here, doesn’t only mean writing. A funny video, for instance, could communicate something much more effectively. We’ll leave it up to you.