The following is a short story called ‘Preface’ I wrote recently for a competition The White Review are running. It predictably got nowhere, which is probably for the best given I’d promised to eat my own shoe in the manner of Werner Herzog if it was shortlisted. It is reassuring in an odd way, seeing the creeping indifference I’ve been feeling towards writing fiction being matched by other people’s reading it; the way I imagine being diagnosed with some decrepit illness might be reassuring after a long period of uncertainty. The compulsion to write certainly feels like a disease at times, albeit a relatively minor one like scrofula or some mild irritation of the buttock as opposed to say gangrene or myxomatosis. This particular story was inspired by reading Borges’ Labyrinths as well as some recent Huxley-style investigations into dissociatives I’ve been conducting (I’m writing the latter up into an essay on neuroscience and consciousness, which should be published in the months to come, it’s marginally less awful than it sounds). More than anything, it’s about writing and solipsism, which are fairly inseparable things.
As you have read this far, you will understand the importance of my contacting you. If you will permit me, as I know you will, I would like to provide a more personal summation of how I became involved. I had known Fionn Adana for as long as I can remember but cannot quite put my finger on the precise moment I became aware of his writing, writing that would change everything for me. It was as if I had always been aware of his work yet only became overtly conscious of it in hindsight, like a child realising he or she has never believed in God. This, however, was a presence rather than an absence. Yet there must have been a moment when he contacted me, if I might call it such an act, when these writings ‘arrived’, a moment that utterly eludes my recall. I remember, certainly, nights in the library having taken his papers there to examine, studying them in the half-light, feverishly and to the considerable detriment of my eyesight. I remember becoming so engrossed in his work that I failed to notice the rising of the sun or the changing of the librarian at the front desk. On occasion, I forgot to eat. It was as if, I must confess, the worlds of which he spoke were more interesting than this one, worlds that tentatively, in the true sense of the ill-fated Tantalus, remained just out of reach, like a sublime morning dream to which we struggle, but fail, to return.
They began, it seems, with essays on the works of others and travelled inexorably further and further into the margins, by which we might also say deeper and deeper into language, philosophy, into treatises on space, time and consciousness, until they were not treatises on any subject but subjects in themselves. Realities you might say. Which came first? We do not know. His analysis of Bruno Schulz’s The Messiah? Joyce’s oceanic rhapsody The See? John Toland’s De Tribus Impostoribus? Perhaps it is his essay on the role of psychopomps in literature or wunderkammer or memento mori? It is idle to speculate. Juvenilia is constantly being unearthed, to the extent it would seem that he never actually began at one fixed point at all. He is moving backwards, earlier and earlier into his writing as we speak, as well as forward in time. Colonising the history of literature in all directions. Continually writing his first work, backwards into time and re-delineating the present and future as he does so. The claim, by some, of reviews printed before the books they reviewed were written remains a controversial but recurring one.
Such talk is the talk of madmen. The profound solipsism that is a writer’s ego. There are some who might suggest that he was always mad, that it was the inevitable product of his findings and ambitions. Ludwig Wittgenstein and Georg Trakl met him on a Viennese Street, apparently by chance, whilst walking silently together. They were “beset by an apparition made flesh.” The encounter profoundly unnerved Wittgenstein, who Adana chastised claiming his focus on language and logic was like “trying to define what lay in the abyssal sea depths by spending your life analysing the froth spewed on its surface.” In contrast, he complimented Trakl, who nevertheless had to be restrained from throttling the interloper. Immediately, Adana was seen to run away “wild-limbed through the crowd.” Professor Walter Benjamin has spoken of engaging in vigorous conversation with a fellow matching his description in New York City, conversations that left him simultaneously exhausted and enthralled, “for several days I neither wished to sleep nor to remain awake, such were the thoughts he had aroused in me.” Might we locate the point at which madness assumed sovereignty over him? Might there be or have been a tipping point?
If we look closely, we can establish certain vertices, where he crosses over from his essays being about other works to becoming something else entirely. In all his texts, he is given to conjecture and tangential or inter-textual referencing in his footnotes. When assembled in certain orders, these footnotes seem to grow until they rival then eclipse the main body of the essay and then even the subject of the essay. His study of Plato’s Hermocrates is several dozen times longer than the work it is based upon, his analysis of Livy’s Ab urbe condita libri several hundred times. At various points, the footnotes begin to encompass the entire work and it becomes apparent they are no longer linked to points in any corresponding text but to things physically around him; inanimate objects in his room, contemporary events, matters of universal magnitude and microscopic complexity. The footnotes eventually seem to escape the text and Adana is driven to record everything, from every thought he has to everything he perceives in the natural world, reciprocally. It became a monomania, if indeed you could define existence and consciousness as mono, which as we know from his studies they are most certainly not.
Around this time, given the exertion of the exercise to which he had set himself, Adana began to physically deteriorate, perhaps in direct proportion to his philosophical ‘expansion.’ According to witnesses (no family, conventional friends or love interests have ever been identified), he began living unconventionally. Effectively a hermitage, his flat became filled with vast reams of paper, forests-worth, none of which were filed or organised but simply scattered, presumably over his shoulder, as he typed. He appears to have slept on his typed scripts, even bathed in them given the drains were found blocked with scraps of sodden papyrus. Whether the writing remained as consistently inspired is a matter of pending enquiry. It will take several centuries of critical study before we will even come close to regarding even the texts of this apartment alone as coherently mappable. Yet even this is but an epigram to the main body of his writing, if we may be so bold as to even limit such a thing by its naming.
On a fateful November morning (dates vary), a young postman became concerned when he found he was unable to squeeze the junk mail he was delivering to Adana’s address through the letterbox. Upon investigation, he discovered that the door was barricaded by a vast pile of paper. Having recently learned of an elderly woman who had died and lain in various degrees of decomposition in her flat for seven years, he phoned the police. An hour later, two officers called around and, fearing there was a possible loss of life involved, gained access to the premises by force and with a degree of struggle. When they finally entered, they were confronted by an unkempt and startled Adana, as bearded and wild as Blake’s Nebuchadnezzar. One of the officer’s was so unsettled by the sight that she instinctively drew her weapon at which Adana was said to emit a feral shriek and bolt for a back room. Wading through masses of paper, the officers were unable to catch up with him. They were forced to watch as Adana exited via the second floor window and ran off ‘like a man possessed’ in a northwesterly direction. It was the last time, he would be positively identified for two years.
In his intervening period of physical absence, he nevertheless made his presence known. Having abandoned or been denied a typewriter, he began transcribing directly onto walls and surfaces in acts of flagrant vandalism. These have been compared to the methods of the ‘Cold Mountain’ poet Hanshan of the Tang Dynasty era who wrote his verse on rocks, trees and bamboo. Adana’s writing was notable not only for its content and verbosity but the urban environment on which it was transposed. He wrote on glass, metal and stone. His handwriting was authenticated by experts in the field though several examples of copycat writing have been identified. Somewhat controversially, he scratched vast treatises onto restaurant windows and parked cars at night, texts so sprawling and labyrinthine that the cars were more scripture than automobile upon their finding. He wrote on pool tables, church pews, lightbulbs even sleeping vagrants. We can only speculate as to his lifestyle and subsistence during this period of inner exile and dissolution. We know, almost for certain, that he spent time living in various abandoned buildings and indeed the sewers. One particular section of the subterranean network became his own catacomb with some of his finest writing being scrawled in negative space in encrusted filth on the walls, including his acclaimed The Ghost Tractitus. This was for some time his most significant work, or more accurately excerpted work, until his famous or rather infamous passage On the Nature of Parallel Universes was discovered behind the wallpaper of a gentrified once-dilapidated tenement block (both works remained untitled by their creator). It is suspected that many other works remain undiscovered within the city and perhaps beyond.
After several clandestine years, Adana was reportedly identified at several sites; in a public chamber in The Monument to the Third International, on the Eighth Sister of the Zaryadye Skyscraper, in Ville Radieuse and La Città Nuova. Almost every time, he became irate when approached, by security or well-wishers alike, roaring that he required “a reception” or “signal” before escaping in signs of distress. His appearance was reported to range from ‘goatish’ to ‘putrescent.’ All spoke of his almost nauseating intensity.
The one certifiable act we know of in detail is also his most notorious. Max Brod was a prominent figure in Tel Aviv’s literary and theatrical circles. He’d published the novel Schloß Nornepygge to some acclaim in his youth. By all accounts, he was an amiable, highly intelligent and fervently loyal fellow. It was of some surprise to those who knew him, when he was discovered in a near-comatose state, having slit his wrists on a broken window pane. Under sedation, he related to nurses and police stenographers that his apartment had been broken into by a ‘wildman’ who called himself Fionn Adana. Keen to avoid unnecessary confrontation, Brod had sought to placate the intruder to little avail. During the course of the conversation, Adana had accused Brod of disposing of certain valuable documents penned by a friend of Brod’s by the name of Franz Kafka, an obscure Jewish legal clerk who had published several minor short stories before dying of TB decades previously. The matter related purportedly to a cache of burnt manuscripts. Brod broke down and asked Adana how he had found out “his secret,” believing Adana to be an agent of the devil sent to torment him. Adana replied that he had discovered ways “neither mechanical nor celestial” to see through the boundaries between parallel universes, divergent worlds created with every decision we make and crucially “to establish contact between them.” In at least one world, he had become aware of some grave sin Brod had committed.
How he was able to permeate through to these ‘other worlds’, if indeed he could, has become the question of countless academic studies with the suggestions providing less than concrete results. When Brod was found, a warrant was finally issued for Adana’s arrest. When he had recovered, if indeed he ever recovered, Brod refused to speak about the incident, aside from revealing that Adana had stolen a briefcase from him. Brod died a somewhat broken man, declining to ever reveal what it had contained. His last words were “This need not have ended like this.” Or words to that effect. After several months eluding the police, Adana was eventually captured and sectioned under the mental health act. He refused to answer any questions from police or psychologists. Under their strict guidance, he was however permitted to write as a form of rehabilitative guided therapy. To assert a degree of control over his ‘hysteria’, he was restricted to ten minutes writing at a time. He choose to write letters. Psychologists presumed they were messages even taunts towards them. It seems their occupational talent is for always making the issue about them. You will be aware as I am that he writes to himself, or rather his selves.
Perhaps at this point then, we might begin our study of his work. All points are arbitrary after all. Let us examine his essay on the Golem, focusing as it does on deciphering codes in the Torah and how the right letters in the right order might have magical properties. How the deciphered secret name of God placed under the tongue of a clay figure might conjure it into life. How the right words in the right order could unwind the stars or create a hole between one place and another and enable the two to speak. Your thoughts?