среда, марта 28, 2007

Pharmakon 1: Yamanu and Djeheuty

Yamanu received his old acquaintance Djeheuty, who had come all the way from Naucratis to show Yamanu his latest discoveries. Among these was a concoction derived of various herbs and fluids which had the curious property of improving memory and wisdom. And he pulled out a flask and offered Yamanu an appraising swig.

Yamanu looked sceptically at the flask, and said: ‘Why should I? There’s nothing wrong with my memory, and I should think nobody would question my wisdom.’

‘True enough, on the face of it,’ replied Djeheuty. ‘But this will improve your ability to write down your instructions.’

‘Instructions?’ said Yamanu. ‘What instructions? What writing? I need no writing. My word is Law.’

‘No,’ said Djeheuty. ‘My master’s word is Law. Your words are merely an interpretation of the Law. You must write them down, or you are liable to forget them.’

And Yamanu figured that this was probably true, after all. He nonetheless regarded Djeheuty with some suspicion.

‘Is it poisonous?’ he asked, gesturing at the flask.

‘Very possibly,’ replied Djeheuty. ‘It is not just a concoction, it is both artwork and artefact.’

‘Well, that may be,’ replied Yamanu, ‘but I am receiver of this gift, and it will be I who decides the value of your discovery.’

‘You speak like my father,’ said Djeheuty. ‘I did not like him. All he did was reject, belittle, abandon, disparage. He, like you, was suspicious of writing.’


From the tale of Yamanu and Djeheuty, it should be obvious to all that the articulation of wisdom belongs to a father, much like a son belongs to a father. This is no metaphor. A father speaks; writing is only necessary in his absence.

Let us note some of the ways a father can be absent: he can die of cancer or be hit by a car while riding his bicycle. He can be stabbed several times in the lungs by a stranger and lie in the street watching his lifeblood bubble from his chest, his child can take revenge and push him unsuspecting from a cliff. And then from whence will we find our wisdom? Or must we get by without it?

It was Socrates who pointed out that the writing down of wisdom is misery, whether pitiful or arrogant. But I will add that this is born both of the distress of the orphan who has no father to speak wisdom, and of the perfidy of the orphan who sought wisdom beyond the father in the first place.

Hence Yamanu’s suspicion was legitimate: the gift of writing is poison.

But really, it behooves us to acknowledge that the orphan, whose welfare cannot be assured, is the same as a letter of the alphabet: this letter, once it is inscribed on paper, is no longer a son. It has no origins. But the same letter when spoken has a father. It lives through this father, while the letter written down is half-dead. The spoken letter has no thoughts of murder or revenge.

The tale of Yamanu and Djeheuty proves that the responsibility for wisdom belongs to those who accompany the father; that is, the letters he speaks. They protest, they answer questions and – unlike wisdom written down – they respond when their father is present.

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