Cyclopaedia Chapter Twenty-One: The Lost Tree
Quiddity rolled back and forth in bed, pulling the covers over himself until he felt he was suffocating. He thought of the Cyclopaedia, the thing he created, and he hated it. How was it possible to spend one's life in an enthusiastic frenzy of building, collecting, negotiating, and evangelizing only to wake up one morning and completely loathe it. No this didn't happen instantly. Not in a single morning. This happened so gradually he didn't notice until the loathing had thoroughly rooted. And now it was too late. He was old, he wasn't young enough to destroy anything. Destruction took a necessarily incendiary humor. It took the vitriol of immortal youth. It took bittersweet rage. For the young, destruction and creation were entangled. At his age there was little enthusiasm, and a surplus of skepticism. But he hated it, he decided, he hated the Cyclopaedia. The dozens of Compilers now criss-crossing the globe, astutely and devotedly capturing the nature of the world, he hated them too and the oaths they'd taken to perform their tasks. How sanctimonious. Why would they waste their lives on it? They believed the Cyclopaedia was theirs. But it wasn't theirs, they worked in the service of it, just as he discovered he inevitably worked at the service of the ruling powers of the world. The compromises he'd made allowed them too great a share of his idea. The idea had become filthy with commerce. What he should've done, he thought, was stay in his room. Never have told anyone about it. Instead of making the Cyclopaedia as large as he could, make it as small as possible. And not tell anyone. No, telling anyone was his first mistake. It was a mistake of pride and unverified arrogance, telling anyone about it was only a desire for reward and praise. These frailties were incompatible—exposure to human desires polluted the project, the purity of the original was twisted into an institution, a hierarchy of authority, a resource to be battled over. Everything was a medal to be won. He'd wanted to make sense of the world, and, he thought as he pulled the covers back over himself after gulping down air, he'd only revealed what everyone suspected—that the oldest species of motivations dominated their lives—the greedy and the egotistic, the wealthy and the powerful. Worse, he may have helped those representatives. He should never have left his room. He could've indexed the world without ever seeing it, he didn't need to send people on dangerous voyages by sea to the far corners, discovering new lands, new rivers, new flowers, new animals. He could've imagined everything right here. The fold of the sheets before him, like the rippling of mountains, he would declare it a new country, and create an entry for it in the proper work, a real Cyclopaedia of the mind. The table across from his bed, it was a plateau, wide, reaching far into the distance, populated with roaming creatures, gigantic, not bothered by hunters because of its remoteness, attacked by no predators because of their size and number. The curtained window on the other side of the room was a faint sun, crawling along the plateau and the mountains in a manner he'd formerly believed as late afternoon, but now on the surface of that table those shadows stretched half a continent. This was an alien world. If he couldn't destroy the Cyclopaedia immediately, or soon, he would have to devise some means to destroy it later. He believed he could do this, there was a way. The idea made his heart thump. He would begin another Cyclopaedia, right here, an alternate work, which contradicted everything in the first. He would set up the conditions for an unavoidable battle, between the very large and the very small, between the authoritative and the imaginary. Neither would win. Winning wasn't the point. The point was equilibrium, to remove the weight he'd deliberately placed on one side of the scale, he'd then purposefully stack the opposite side. Who could he trust? Nobody. But that didn't matter. He would be manipulative. He would plant seeds. To trust anyone else with this task meant failure, like the Cyclopaedia it had to live and grow on its own, in the dark maybe, for a long time maybe, but it would grow. Yes, he thought, there needs to be an antithesis. Making sense of the world outside oneself could not happen without an imaginary world. He would build it. He would construct the basis, here, in bed, as the landscape around himself revealed a geography that was as rich as the Cyclopaedia, the four corners of the room were enough. But the legacy of this project required conspirators. He understood he couldn't reveal his intentions directly. He would have to put the alternate, the imaginary, inside the existing—inside its conception, inside its philosophy. The imaginary would generate itself, over time, finding necessary adherents. They may not even be fully aware of their allegiance to this lost tree, this dreamed index. It would be magnificent and subtle. And some day this machine of subversion would awake, a map of this small room, powered by dreaming, by a landscape of a story, a fable. The real things of the world would be consumed, indexed for the alternate, until the Cyclopaedia was no longer a museum but a long walk through the woods or an eternal tale. Quiddity got out of bed and went slowly to his desk. He drew out a sheet of thick, fibrous paper. Decades of work had led him to create a concise symbology, a kind of calculus to plot the course of ideas. He began composing, hesitatingly. Then as the course of things became clearer, he wrote with harried desperation.