The Worst Impurity

by Ben Marcus


Deleted from an early draft of The Flame Alphabet.


I am relating this account through some kind of inhibitor.   I can’t recall the exact name for it.  I have tried my share of them.  This model is not a true inhibitor, since it doesn’t fully block my comprehension of words.  It’s rotted out and it tastes bitter.   It sits wrong inside me.

At Rochester these beauties might have been called Sylvian’s, named after the sweet lump of curiosity buried in the brain, the part that soaks up language, if you believe the studies.  But there were no names for our equipment, at least none that were spoken out loud.  I can’t recall who developed it.  I don’t care.  The brain and its troubles are not my territory, I’m afraid.  And Rochester is no longer in play.

When it’s working, the inhibitor keeps me distant from what I say and write—distant enough not to choke on bile, not to seize—and allows me to issue my report without suffering what you might call complications from the language toxicity.

Complications: a fond little medical understatement for the decimation, some of it quite pretty, that will be recounted here.

The inhibitor translates my own English, which I was once able to use without harming myself or others, into a foreign language for me.  Makes me indifferent to it.  Or it goes one better and it translates it out of language altogether.  A final translation, hurling it far from sense.

I’ll ask any witnesses to this report to forgive what might sound robotic, leeched of warmth, a voice better suited to a machine.  It has been years since I have used language with any comprehension.  That muscle has softened in me.  My abstinence from speech and writing has kept me alive, but it has also changed me.

Do not believe the claim a man makes of himself, his motives, his feelings, his behavior.  The language of self-assessment was rancid before the other languages were—this if you believe Burke.  I should say believed, since Burke is dead.

If you have ever tipped your head back in the water of Asher’s Sound until your ears fill, and then recited something out loud, you’ll know, in some small way, the perfectly alien effect the inhibitor allows.  If you have ever tried to speak underwater at the Meriwether sluiceway, to speak into a pillow, to mouth words without sound, you’ll know the distance that builds up between yourself and your message, how unsure you become of just what you’re saying.

What you won’t know is that without such protection I cannot speak at all.  I literally cannot bear it.  This is not an expression of preference or a sentimental piece of emotionry, just a statement of science.

But speech alone is just part of it.  Words on paper are worse, a poison for the eyes.  The inhibitor defangs my script into a clotted drawing on the page that seems alphabetical in some abstract way, perhaps, but does not gather into any clear meaning.  For this service I depend on it.

The inhibitor also scrambles my ability to read until I’m just looking at unknown codes, a map blown apart.  It is perhaps the signature failure of art to have made the visual side of language, its obedient letters, so fatally toxic.  It’s a clotted aesthetic and it does no good in the end.  I do not care for the image of words on a page.

Credit for that aversion must be shared with my medical regimen.  Since the exit, I have benefitted from self-administered chemical supplements that have provided me assistance in this area.  Smallwork, we call it.   The techniques that keep you alive, at large.  My smallwork has been conducted primarily in the medical arena.

I won’t exaggerate my achievement.  Boasting produces a special pain in any case.  Sernier asserts it’s one of the four most toxic rhetorical modes.  A literal poison.  It is best to ration that sort of speech.  I’ll just observe that I have not died.  How many of us, in the end, can really say that?

The inhibitor I use is homemade.  I scissored the materials and stitched it together here in my shelter, using a pictorial guide.   Part of it goes down easier with water and a slickening of oil.  I do not swallow much, because that muscle pulls wrong when I summon it.  A queasiness spreads through my groin.  We really require a better vocabulary for pain.  Our language fails in the face of it.  When the inhibitor slips from its position in relation to my body, I hear myself speak, a sudden, sharp pollution of sound that tangles in my head and creates a terrible pressure.  Every word a wave form attack.  My immunity for all of this is long gone.  In contrast, what I used to call the crushing seems pleasant in memory, soothing, like a warm milk bath poured over my chest.

Or suddenly, if the inhibitor slips, my scribbles on the page gain logic before my eyes and begin to, what’s the word, mean something—what a simply mysterious term—which is when an appalling nausea overtakes me, my body allergic to itself.

The medical name for this reaction escapes me.  And I’m grateful for that.  I wish more words would do the same.  Escape me for good.

The meaning is the trouble.  One can only endure so much recognition, understanding, comprehension.  It takes its vicious toll.  I’ll leave it to other toxicity reports to describe the damage from language, to the cortex, and to the relevant systems: respiratory, nervous, limbic.  Are there any systems left untouched?

In the corner of my shelter, asleep on the bed roll, is my daughter Esther, no longer a child.  LeBov’s mark is on her.  She is not doing so well.

Reports generally do not include declarations such as these, for reasons I can no longer understand, but I feel it bears saying, the statement has priority, that I hold for this person, Esther, a very great love, despite what you may hear.

I would like to say that love shows itself in strange ways, but that would not be true in this case.  Sometimes love refuses to show itself at all.  It remains perfectly hidden.  One spends a lifetime concealing it.  There is an art to this.  To conceal love is, in its way, the most sophisticated kind of smallwork there is.

I do not know of an inhibitor that assists this kind of work.  One must go about it manually, equipment free, and one must employ the most concentrated vigilance.

To my regret, this account is a true story, the only one I know.  The language sickness has smothered the impulse to falsify.

By language sickness I mean the adjacent toxicities and the regional variants as well, what started in Wisconsin and stained to the East, leaking finally everywhere in logic-blind trajectories: the allergy to children’s speech, to one’s own speech, to the written word, and, in some cases, a toxic reaction to the very act of comprehension and its eruptions of recognition in the brain.

Storytelling, the fanciful make-believe kind, seems small and mean in such times.  Take, for example, the use of Aesop’s Fables as a weapon by the children.  All the stories we used to love.  Now they make us ill.

Even the word ‘story’ seems oiled with something foul, a word soaked in the worst impurity.  Look at what it makes the mouth do.  What better warning is there than that?  When the priorities were finally issued for rationed speech, for medically safe language, storytelling did not qualify.

Some still do it, of course, ignoring the protocols for the new speech.  They invent and connive and promote the most intense falsities.  They pursue consummate acts of subterfuge.  Or they conspire, with beguiling skill, to become someone else.  And in some cases they succeed.

How this relates to me and my daughter, whose illness would be hastened if I even spoke her own name to her, should soon become clear.

For now I will fasten the inhibitor to what is left of me and transcribe what I can.