Encyclopaedia of St Arbuc
The Encyclopaedia of St Arbuc is an immaterial text from and about the city of St Arbuc / seɪnt ˈɑːbʌk / (listen). The Encyclopaedia has been described as "an incomparably valuable source of information not only in regard to the culture of this specific settlement, but also in giving us a fleeting glimpse of the ineffable contingency of our inheritance, of all inheritances."
Recent research has led to a general agreement within St Arbuc studies that the Encyclopaedia of the city had neither a written nor a spoken origin.
At a plenary session of the 2017 joint symposium of Apokalypsis Journal and GMTMG held at the University of Greenwich, a motion was passed which required all members of the Society of St Arbuc to profess a belief in the paradoxical circular statement: "Oléo became Oléo so that she might become Oléo."
In the ensuing confrontation between Society members, several philosophy departments from notable UK higher education institutions were forced to close, though all references to the Arbucian controversy were withheld from the press. The official position of the Society of St Arbuc as regards the nature of the text of the Encyclopaedia remains unstated. However, it is generally accepted that Society members believe that to write or speak a word is to dishonour it, and that only those words which remain in their incorporeal existence are capable of exhibiting true function of meaning.
To speak of a writer or speaker of the Encyclopaedia, therefore, is paradoxical. The solution to this has traditionally been to refer to a 'thinker' or 'thinkers' of the work. The reconstructed and necessarily material form of the text of the Encyclopaedia found here, while reviled by hard-liners within St Arbuc studies, is generally deemed by members of the Society to be a necessary evil.
The 'Thinker(s)' of the Encyclopaedia
At numerous points in the discourse of the Encyclopaedia of St Arbuc an 'I' voice speaks, usually in commentary-like interjections, and on several occasions this voice identifies itself as 'Oléo'. However, the Encyclopaedia is predominantly presented in third person narrative, even when Oléo herself appears. In addition to this, because of the changes of voice, the discursive rhetoric of the Encyclopaedia is sometimes impossible to interpret reliably. Passages treating of the Prince, for example, present his actions, thoughts and feelings critically in places, and with devotion in others, to the end that it is difficult to tell if the voice is ironizing or praising the Prince. Some have identified this aspect of the text as evidence for the Encyclopaedia having been pieced together at some distant point in time (whether past or future) from the thinkings of a number of different residents of the city. By contrast, the esteemed psycholinguist Professor Jim Fleeting (University of Arizona) has long held that Oléo is the thinker of the entire text, but that for most of the Encyclopaedia she was unaware of being its thinker; that, when her 'I' voice appears, she is in effect thinking consciously within her other unconscious thinkings. This, Fleeting has written, is a "structural strategy of the text, one echoed in its account of time, space, matter, history, culture and language: that what is must already have been, and must contain itself within itself."
Dating the Encyclopaedia's 'Thinking'
Although there are found numerous unmistakable references within the text to developments in astronomy, politics, literature, religion, philology, metallurgy, textile production and many others, dating the origin of the text, even approximately, continues to baffle historiographers.
In one particularly interesting entry, that dedicated to a discussion of tools, we find an extended quotation (unattributed) from Thomas Browne’s Hydriotaphia Urn Burial, published in 1658. Most – perhaps all – would say that this proves the Encyclopaedia of St Arbuc was thought after this date. However, in the very same entry we find a quotation from Sir John Mandeville’s Travels (this time attributed, and referring to the edition of 1357) in which St Arbuc is mentioned, and in which the author praises the wonders of its Encyclopaedia, which (so he says) he has read ‘yn the water which runneth chaynels aronde, and yn the sandes of the Citie, its dustes’.
Language of the Encyclopaedia
Some attempts have been made to establish the chronology of the 'thinking' of the Encyclopaedia of St Arbuc by linguistic analysis of its original language. Although no original, authentic version survives, previous translators of the work seem in some cases to have included samples of individual words in order to justify a particular passage in translation. We can only say ‘seem’ here, however, because none of these original translations are extant, but come down to us via numerous intermediaries.
Recent attempts to locate the city of St Arbuc and its Encyclopaedia in both space and time have focused on morphological analysis of remnants of the language of the city. It is generally agreed that the language of St Arbuc exhibits the characteristics of having branched away very early from the Indo-European family of languages which first began to spread across Europe approximately 7,000 years ago. St Isidore of Seville, in his Etymologies, makes several references to words from the language of St Arbuc, though it is now believed that these forms are homographs of Hungarian, Portuguese, Swedish, French and English terms. In each case, the form of words for ‘copper’, ‘water’, ‘dust’, ‘rock’, ‘sand’ and ‘well’ are rendered in a phonetic spelling which closely resembles the Proto-Indo-European forms which only first began to be theorised eleven centuries after Isidore of Seville had written his own monumental encyclopaedia.
From August Schleicher onwards, philologists have found in the few word-fragments purported to remain of St Arbuc’s language a fascinating puzzle: here, it seems -- and in agreement with general scholarly consensus -- is a language that branched off from its native Proto Indo European very soon after it began to spread across Europe; however, according to Grimm's Law, the retention of its morphological characteristics through the course of approximately six thousand years without alteration is impossible. Yet this is precisely what it appears to have done. The only explanation, Schleicher stated humorously, was that St Arbucian must be a language which hasn’t happened yet, a language of the future -- one coming after, and being made up of, all the languages of Europe rather than being prior to and forming them.
This joke-puzzle was made curiously pertinent upon the discovery, more than a century after Schleicher’s death, of parts of the Encyclopaedia of St Arbuc which deal explicitly with the language of the citizens of the city. In these passages, the thinker of the Encyclopaedia continually asserts that the language of St Arbuc developed out of the dead languages of Europe (English, German, Spanish, French, Dutch, and so on), thus confirming Schleicher's ironically made assertion, while at the same time maintaining that the language of St Arbuc is an important root of these same languages. Never does the thinker of the Encyclopaedia of St Arbuc admit to the illogic of this view of the city. The following, under the entry for The Language of St Arbuc, is typical:
- Yes that is what I’m telling you: every evening there was a wonderful sex of words everywhere about the young woman of the House-one-the-Hill. Such staples as rock, bird, water, temple, dust, eye, wall, bed became the origin of much huffing and puffing, caresses, calquings and discalquings, shows of strength, expressions of longing. It was just the way it had always been, how it would be, back in the beginning, far in the future, separations and comings-together, and how it was now, down on the ground on the other side of the wall in the Mercy camp. The great language groups contended in amorous play: Germanic strutted before Italic; Italic eyed-up Iranian; Iranian blushed for Hellenic; Hellenic wept for Celtic; Celtic made sweet discourse to Balto-Slavic; Balto-Slavic sank into despair for Germanic; and round it all went again. The whole network shifted, mixed, inverted and pulsated so that the words of every language which had been thrust together in St Arbuc by the universal exodus out of history writhed with every other in an orgy of meaning. In the morning, when the young woman opened her shutters, there lay evidence of these churnings of words in tracks over the ground, and the words, exhausted by their nightlong activity, lay sleeping in the long shade of the morning, though still they dreamed of what had made them, and what they might in turn have cause to make. And it was not long after that the children began to pop out with lovely strong and healthy features admixed.
This fanciful passage curiously echoes, or is echoed by, the entry in the Encyclopaedia on The Full and Noble Name of the Prince of St Arbuc, which, containing more words than War and Peace, must be one of the longest names in the history of naming things.
The Labyrinth of the Immaterial Text
With these preliminaries dealt with, there is little more to be said of the Encyclopaedia that cannot or should not be said by itself. The reader must enter into that place -- a place which might most accurately be described as a maze or labyrinth, though one having extension rather in time than in space -- and come to an understanding of its ways for him and herself. But that same reader would be wise to keep in mind the words of the thinker of the Encyclopaedia of St Arbuc itself, reflecting on the Prince’s sorrowful lament at having mislaid a relic of the Old Time: “That which is not lost can never be found.”
How to Use the Encyclopaedia of St Arbuc
The reader is advised to embrace the spirit of St Arbuc and become lost in its remnants. However, if you become too lost for comfort (or patience), there are two solutions available: click on the 'random page' link to the left (or below, if you're reading this on a phone or tablet) to go somewhere you've hopefully never been before. Or, alternatively, you can cheat by going to this index, where the pages are laid out alphabetically just how the Prince would like them.