whitewash

… the deletion of black letters on a page     

 

 

 

There are words and words and words. There are so many words. Often, just to even things up some people rub some words out. Just rub them out. Scratch them out. Tear pages out of books. Crumple page after page into a ball and throw them against the windowpane, across the room, try to get them to land and balance on the seat of a chair.

There are a million words published every minute in the world. A million words is a thousand thousand words, or a hundred hundred hundred words, or too many words to count. It’s fifteen novels every minute. Some of that is in French and Chinese. But then some people have to translate them, each word, so that every word casts a shadow of more words. And beneath this shadow there’s a million people sitting writing more words. Writing and writing. And more words pour out.

Working in a large bookstore in the city centre, you came face to face with this towering wave of words. Two trucks arrive every day, apart from Sunday, carrying more and more books, of more and more pages, of more paragraphs, of sentences, words. Each truck can contain between ten and thirty pallets of books, all bubble wrapped together into one huge agglomeration of words, from various publishers, warehouses and other sources. Each pallet holds, on average, eight hundred books. So that’s three-thousand-two-hundred books a day, on average, which is nineteen-thousand-two-hundred books a week, on average, or nine-hundred-and-ninety-eight-thousand-four-hundred books a year, on average, which is just under one million, which is one million times eighty thousand words, which is, on average, eighty-thousand-million words a year, which, in the average person’s opinion, are far too many words.

All of which raises the question: how many words is enough?

The average person, member of the public and constituent of the masses, can read, at most, fifty thousand words a day, but allowing time for life etc, that is reduced to an average of twenty thousand words in each day. Which is a novel every four days. Which is ninety-one novels a year, or six-hundred-and-sixty-four thousand words a year. But then there are novels with seven or eight hundred pages, great big Victorian type novels in which people live whole lives until they realise that they are each other’s mothers, fathers, sons or sisters, who were responsible for the murder, impoverishment, or enforced prostitution of even more mothers, fathers, sons or sisters. And then there’s novels with volumes, with generations, and spanning continents, jumping from one century to the next, novels with epigrams, epilogues and prologues. And then there’s prefaces. What is the need for such prefaces? And what about introductions? And of course there has to be a few words about the author’s daughter, mother, sister or wife, without whom none of this would have been possible.

How many words are wasted in informing the reader where and when this edition was first published? Because numbers are words too. They have to be counted. How can it be contended that numbers are not words. If not, then what are these numbers?

Few novels content themselves with a day in the life of one or other mundane person. Few novels skip over this person’s feelings. Each feeling, thought, experience, memory, hope and anxiety is dug up and enumerated, so that the pile of earth grows too large and starts to fall into the hole, so that by the end of chapter four-hundred-and-six we’re all up to our necks in the shit anyway.

And then there’s the news, though it’s rarely the type of news we would term news, the type we would sit up and listen to if someone was reading it out on the tram. You wouldn’t shout out “Shut up” if you heard some old woman read out any page in any newspaper, not even the front page, the home of the much lauded front page news. You wouldn’t tell her to speak up, or ask her to repeat one particular sentence or another. You say someone’s died in Africa? Did you hear that? Did everyone hear that? I think that man sitting up in the front is asleep and may have missed that little bit of news. I think someone should get up there and wake him up, before he misses anything else. Was it six people or sixty people killed in that plane crash on the other side of the world? Or was it around the corner?

And then it’s the news told a thousand times by a thousand people. And there’s more news on the backs of cereal boxes. The TV Times. Every street sign. The bus timetable. Your bank statement. Emails. What everyone else thinks to write down – it’s news to someone. Reminders. Warnings. Notes. Ps. The weather.

With so many words, how can any words stand out, make sense, say something, mean something, be found, be read, be understood?

And how bad could it get?

It could get very bad.

How bad is very bad?

Well, if thoughts are strings of words, and dreams are broken and tangled strings of words, memories are pictures made of words, ideas are sentences, hopes and fears are noughts and crosses, love is a story, sex no more than a really bad song lyric, and death the end of a monotonous stream-of-consciousness-novel, and if everyone wrote down every word they ever thought, dreamt, loved, hoped, feared, fucked and lived, then it would be very bad indeed, as bad as it could get, the worst it could possibly be.

And could it get worse?

Apart from the fact that it cannot be worse than the worst it could possibly be, yes it could get worse. Surely writing about writing is worse than the worst it could possibly be.

Who writes about writing?

The foremost intellectuals of our day are obsessed by this very activity. Not content with the million words being spat at them every day, these foremost intellectuals have taken it upon themselves, in pursuit of their own self-glorification to put pen to paper about putting pen to paper. If only it was a matter of putting pen to paper, then the speed of pen over paper (with an average speed of twenty-three miles per hour for the most practised hands) could be a limiting factor; however, as always, technology, in which we have had so much hope, has yet again proven to be a complete fucker.

And then there’s writing about writing about writing, which is what I am now doing. Isn’t this the pinnacle, the summit, the acme of gross verbiage? It hasn’t escaped me that that is indeed what I am doing. Am I not creating a whole new form? Third order writing? Meta-meta-writing? And what if someone was to write about this piece of writing? And so on?

But there is no reasonable justification for mindless panic. There are people in our society who are aware of this problem and who are doing something about it. This underground grouping has taken a vow to never write anything down (thereby rendered unemployable, thus always available for insurgent activity). Apart from the fact that they can’t write anything down, they cannot say or do anything which might cause anything to be written down, even if its being written down, whatever it might be, such as a proclamation or a summary of their fundamental beliefs, would advance their overall goal – the final solution for the written word. Therefore, little is known of them.

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One thought on “whitewash

  1. “…and if everyone wrote down every word they ever thought, dreamt, loved, hoped, feared, fucked and lived, then it would be very bad indeed, as bad as it could get, the worst it could possibly be.” – I think that’s already happened. Just take a look around you at the hundreds of blogs that pop up on a daily basis.

    I’m almost tempted to write about this entry simply because…

    But honestly what I really wanted to say when I first started this comment was that your style is amazing.

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