Particularity or a dull thudding of convention? An intro, a platter, a warm-up act? Not bad, invisible. Hidden in plain sight, a spotlight—but in all these, so brief that it’s barely perceptible, and its main act is only slightly more memorable. Poor the—repeatedly and forever pulled from its leisure and called into service on short notice just in time to quickly scan its noun-mate’s (more intimate a term than is warranted since, in an overwhelming majority of cases, these words are mere acquaintances) dossier. Often the doesn’t even know what its noun looks like. But it almost always manages to do its job only to be forgotten forever or again shanghaied before even catching its breath. It’s thinking about organizing its fellow thes. Something needs to be done. But it’s so hard to communicate with its comrades buried by their assignments in truckloads of privileged, preening nouns. The wordsmiths sometimes throw the a bone by letting it lead off a sentence. It gets to stand tall for a brief, glorious moment, but all except a green, wet-behind-its ears the knows that this is an empty gesture, a trampoline by which its subject noun can gain everyone’s attention, propelling itself far above the sentence and into the minds of an untold number of readers while the is left behind in obscurity.
But here, on this safe page, my the is allowed to function, perhaps fulfilling a lifelong ambition, as noun. The cannot look at itself without losing sight of its true theness in a house of mirrors, all ehtthe or theeht, its fine focus diverted in infinite replication.
And in fact the was itself vulnerable since its newfound subject-object status meant it could become a threat to itself. And so it was 51-50ed. Doctors noted that it pointed at things—windows, keyholes. It spun around like a game show pointer. It kept trying to point at itself. What could it be compared to? A cat clawing a mirror and theing? A fragment of a shadow arrow fallen from a broken universe?
Characters riding language off the cliff of the page, over the prison wall of the page, over the corral of the page, subverted in the election of the page, one language voted off the page, another language voted onto the page, a set, a grouping, a taxonomy of words voted off the page, restricted from, beaten and arrested and placed in confinement off the page, a set of metaphors and conceits flown in landing on the page, and finally once again a group of characters placed on the page so that they can go off the cliff of the page in cars and horses into an eggshell-white oblivion, written language forgetting itself, that it’s supposed to move to the right, inexorably left to right, left to right, move along, march, march, march to the wall and then in blessed memory, everyone blinks at once and, magic, a left to right forced march, march, march on down the page, down the page, turn, down the page, turn, language anthropomorphized, fluxing and not making the hairpin turn, going off the cliff, the page as launchpad to oblivion, how wonderful, words throwing themselves into the white hot electrons of the void, but the characters, where are they, they’re in the military it doesn’t matter, units of conquest, but doesn’t language power them? turn them into centurions? the action hot, carrying them into themselves while forming, one after another, so many characters, piling up in the void, editors insisting on frontmatter apparatus, a list, interlocking family trees, readers aids, how many are smiling, how many make the reader smile, how many smiling readers, or just bodies, characters, composting in the imaginations of readers, before they’d even formed, paged worlds whirring through the brains of characters, then into the body of the language, riding the words into spaces of formal coalescence, words hidden in the clouds to the right of the wall, undone by weight into hot oblivion, into the space where it might have happened, where the story the right one might have been ordered to coalesce, letters then words then characters, then actions. Action! But immediately, something new and frightening is setting itself up, something unforeseen please let it not be a symbol, please God, a symbol just entered the host and killed it, so many now gone, the page is at fault, it never picked them up, the page has caught many a falling object, but not now, not here, its faulty devices, timing off, characters unrecognizable, piles of word-bodies, or not even identifiable as such, a toothless broth, or nature, they never had teeth, hillocks now covered over with scrubland or in mass-produced white sheets of unknowing, was the page truly at fault? perhaps it was as yet unborn? enter the fabulously well-credentialed social scientists, quantifying for us, starting with the basics, how many characters can actually fit on a page? turn them sideways, now how many? infinite had always been my understanding.