The Free Encyclopaedia
Back in 1983 a door-to-door encyclopaedia salesman paid me a visit. I allowed him in and listened to his spiel. This is an embellished version of what he had to say.
Eldred Q. Gink
Executive Marketing Director
Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.
"Good day to you Mr Martin and I have the greatest pleasure in presenting my card and introducing myself as a harbinger of good fortune. Yes Sir. Our computer has selected you from its mighty memory of over ten million others. You, Sir, are to be the lucky recipient of our magnificent new edition of the greatest encyclopaedia in the world."
I looked at him with disdainful interest. Here was another caricature - the world was full of them. The flashing white teeth, the buttoned blue suit with triangle of handkerchief at breast pocket, the floral tie, shiny shoes, heavy looking briefcase, eager insincerity.
“Mr Martin, you have had the incredible good fortune to be chosen as the one in ten million recipient of a full set of the new Encyclopaedia Britannica Three."
A light of hope flickered briefly in Eldred Gink's eyes. He looked pointedly past my shoulder and said, "Yes Sir. The revolutionary approach to the Complete Circle of Knowledge (by the way that is the literal meaning of the Greek word 'encyclopaedia') is to divide the thirty volumes into three distinct areas."
With an unmistakable gesture he shook the briefcase in his right hand and motioned with his left towards the interior of my abode.
"Allow me the opportunity to explain."
I sighed. I led the way inside and told the Executive Marketing Director "If you want to sit down you can." This was not genteel but I felt justified. This fucker was a conman and he should be humiliated a little on behalf of those idiots who had believed his lies about a free gift.
The EB Inc director sat in one of the armchairs and laid his briefcase flat on the carpet and opened it. I went into the kitchen and poured myself a tall glass, two-thirds Virginia topped up with soeties. Then I cut a piece of cheese and went back to the lounge. I placed the wine and the cheese on the arm of the couch and said, "Just hold it," and went out and pissed in the gully. I knew this could prove to be a long show and I wanted to be comfortable. In the back room I collected his pipe, Balkan Special, perlemoen shell and matches as well as my pouch of dagga and rejoined the harbinger of good fortune. I reclined on the couch like Manet’s Olympia, one hand comfortably in my groin and said, “Okay, Eldred. Go for it."
Eldred had his manual on his knee. “Mr Martin, our computer, with its vast database, has selected…”
“Yes, yes, yes. Now tell me something interesting. The encyclopaedia.” I sipped.
Eldred Gink was no longer showing his large white teeth. For a moment he appeared to brood and then stood up abruptly, unbuttoned his jacket, took it off and draped it over the other armchair. He loosened his tie and said, "Alright. How about offering me a drink?"
I was pleasantly surprised and went to the kitchen and poured a tumbler three quarters Virginia and one quarter soet. (Didn't want him getting too pissed.)
"Sir, I see that our computer is not infallible. I also know that our marketing strategy is, like the Encyclopaedia itself, built upon three fundamentals. Unlike the Encyclopaedia, which is noble in conception, the marketing strategy is base in the extreme. Greed, Deception and Cruelty. I shall continue on this theme at a later stage if necessary, but for the moment I proceed with my dissertation on The Complete Circle of Knowledge.”
He drank from his glass, groaned and removed his toupee. He massaged his balding pate, and then tossed the hairpiece into the open briefcase. I had taken him to be in his mid thirties but now I could see that he was considerably older.
"The first edition, in three volumes, was published in 1768. As the world has changed and the amount of knowledge has increased, so Britannica has grown to keep up with the times. Since its inception it has been the most important single source of authoritative information available to man, and today it retains that exalted status. It was because human knowledge had grown so immensely that Britannica Three was devised. It has been totally restructured to become a complete University In The Home, able to guide one through any field of learning, all the way from the basic outline to a complete and detailed grasp of the whole subject."
He raised his glass to the light, admired the amber colour and took large gulp. He loosened his laces and kicked off his shoes with gratification, wriggling his pinched toes.
"Christ, but your feet stink!" And I hastily lit my pipe.
"In thirty volumes there are over fifty three thousand pages, with forty one million words, twenty six thousand superb illustrations, nineteen hundred maps and one hundred and sixty colour plate inserts. The new three-section format makes it very easy to move about in this vast storehouse of knowledge, with every subject, every fact fitting naturally into place. Sir, you can see that Britannica is totally committed to the dissemination of knowledge. Each and every volume is prefaced with the motto, 'Let knowledge grow from more to more and thus be human life enriched."
“He that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow."
"Sir, you wish to goad me. You wish to be offensive."
I covered my nose with one hand and pointed to the stockinged feet.
With exasperation the owner of the feet pulled off the socks, knotted them together and went and hung them on the window handle to air. Returning, he stood stiffly erect, drained his drink, and flung the-glass sideways into the fireplace with a ceremonial flourish. It smashed into many pieces and I clapped four of five times.
Eldred Gink unbuckled his belt and seated himself. After a lengthy pause in which he seemed to be collecting his thoughts he resumed as follows:
"In the fullness of their experience and wisdom the editors of the fifteenth edition deemed it in the best interests of Mankind to restructure the Encyclopaedia Britannica into three distinct yet interrelated sections - the Propaedia, the Micropaedia, and the Macropaedia. Let us explain diagramatically."
From his case he took two kokis, one red and one blue, and began to write on the wall adjacent to the window, which allowed in the cool light reflected from the south. He drew a large circle in red, divided it into three equal segments and wrote in blue within each.
"The Propaedia is the single volume Outline of Knowledge and guide to the Britannica. It categorizes all fields of learning, breaks them down into their component parts, and shows how they fit together and relate to other areas. And it shows you exactly where each aspect of every subject is dealt with in the main body of the Encyclopaedia.
"Now the Micropaedia, in ten volumes, serves as the ready reference and index. It gives exactly what is needed in short factual entries on more than one hundred thousand topics. And, what is more, for the utmost convenience to the reader it is arranged alphabetically."
"Yes, quite so. There are also seventeen hundred superb illustrations, so for those readers who are illiterate the information is not only told but also shown. And when further facts are required the Micropaedia indicates exactly where more detailed information may be found in the Macropaedia.
"Which brings us to the Macropaedia – the nineteen volume main text. This is the circle of world knowledge in depth. Any part of it you want you can have, right there in your lap, or on a table in front of you, or on the floor, in bed, on the toilet, in your car, flying or sailing, wherever you go, whatever you do, you can have these nineteen volumes right there with you, and you may become an acknowledged master of any area of learning you choose - for what you read will have been contributed by a world famed expert and approved by other world famed experts. But written so clearly and simply that EVERYONE can understand. Even a person afflicted with cretinism; even a mentally retarded dwarf with wide set eyes, a broad flat nose and protruding tongue."
He dropped the kokis back in the briefcase and sat down. I noticed there was blood on his foot.
"Mr Martin, I now wish to share with you my wonder and excitement with regard to the vast and intricately beautiful complexity of the human mind. But my throat is parched and I become hoarse and weak." He unbuttoned his shirt, revealing a tattooed belly.
I had finished my own drink. In the kitchen I filled my glass as before and emptied a can of All Gold Appelkooskonfyt into a bowl. I gave the can a rinse under the tap and filled it with half Virginia and half soet.
"Sir, I thank you. And now for the human mind. It is generally accepted in academic circles that the mind is situated in the brain, which is situated in the head, and that if the brain in the head were to be removed, the mind would inpso facto cease to function. Yes, that's good. I like that. Within the head lies the brain and within the confines of the brain resides the mind, No brain, no mind. A logical consequence of no real interest or significance, so fulsomely obvious. Nevertheless, if we were to remove a head by slicing and hacking with sharp instruments like the carving knife, the cut throat razor, the panga and the cleaver, all honed and stropped to a fine edge, and then sawing through cartilage and bone with a toothed instrument such as the rip saw, the cross cut saw, the tennon saw, or the petrol powered chain saw, the head would be rendered remote from the body. It could then be placed ear down, listening for stealthy vibration, upon a two foot diameter chopping block, and if a fourteen pound sledgehammer were raised to full height and brought down with full force upon the other ear of the said head, one would be left with a fine example of how not to attempt anatomical explorations of the human cranium. Far better to forego decapitation altogether and merely saw off the top of the skull with the aid of the common hacksaw, which has an inexpensive and easily replaceable fine-toothed blade. And then if one were to lift the hatch, so to speak, one would be rewarded with a view of the unimpaired subject of one's learned enquiry. At which juncture one would roll up one's sleeves to above the elbow. Then if one were to place the palm of the right hand upon the convoluted grey surface and push and compress, one could ease the fingers down the side of the cavity, probing ever so carefully for fear of catching a fingernail, until the arm be immersed to mid forearm. At this depth one should be able to feel the edge of the foramen magnum, being the hole in the base of the skull where the occipital bone rests on the first cervical vertebra, being Atlas supporting the world on his shoulders. The fingers should curl naturally about the cerebellum, being less flabby than the cerebrum. The medulla oblongata can be felt at the base of the cerebellum, entering the foramen magnum to connect with the spinal cord. At this point we may apply upward pressure in order to extend the spinal cord in order more easily to hook one's index finger around said cord and said medulla oblongata. If one is experienced in dissection, or the cleaning of large crustaceans, or the harvesting of pyura stolonifers, one should then be able to pluck forth with facility the brain intact. A rapid corkscrew motion exerted forcefully upward is usually sufficient to effect the procedure, it being important for the motion to be swift and smooth in order to snap the spinal cord and optic nerves. So far, so good. The organ is placed upon a bread board and one may then hone and strop ones’ finer instruments and dust off the lenses of ones’ microscope. The in-depth examination commences."
He sipped thoughtfully from his jam tin, stood with his back to the fireplace looking down at me, paced back and forth a few times and sat down again. I had mixed Balkan Special half and half with dagga and was blowing clouds of smoke and inhaling deeply through my nostrils.
"Mr Martin, Sir, it is appropriate to remind ourselves that we are engaged in the pursuit of knowledge through scientific enquiry. Our tools are anatomical dissection, hypothetical metapsychology, didactic philosophical claptrap and the New Encyclopaedia Britannica Three. With the aid of two sharpened sticks one may now prod, probe and turn the pink and grey mass. One may familiarize oneself with the major divisions, being, and we ascend in order from the spinal cord, as follows and exactly thus: the medulla oblongata, being considered a continuation of the spinal cord and attaching to the rhombencephalon, being considered to be the hindbrain, being connected to the mesencephalon, being considered to be the midbrain, being connected to the prosencephalon, being considered to be the forebrain. Now the rhombencaphalon may be seen with the aid of the eyesight to consist of the myelencephalon, being the medulla oblongata, the metencephalon, being the pons, and the cerebellum, being itself, without further ado. Likewise the prosencephalon may be discerned to comprise the diencephalon, being the betwixt brain, being the central connecting part of the forebrain and otherwise known as the between brain, corresponding approximately to the thalamus, and not to be confused with the hypothalamus, and the telencephalon, which happens to be nothing other than the two cerebral hemispheres, which are not at all hemispherical if one is respectful of both the logical and geometrical necessity of the plural term denoting the spherical, when in fact the shape of the two segments together does indeed approximate to the form as applied in the singular, and it becomes clear that such aforesaid confusion could have arisen from no other cause than the intoxifying effect of four parts Ceylon tea to one part methylated spirits upon the cerebral functions of T. Pickering Pick, B. Sc. , Ph.D., M.B., B.Chir., Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons at St Georges Hospital, London, and is yet further proof that the opinionated blatherings of the scientific community in general, and the medical fraternity in particular, should be viewed with scepticism. Be that as it may, if now one were to take up a four-tined stainless steel cutlery fork and grasp it in the left hand manner all good parents forbid their offspring so to do, and if one were then to harpoon the encephalon, having taken a line of sight upon the intersection of Rolando's transverse and antero-posterior fissures, easily distinguished by the large lamina of nerve fibres protruding from the ventral aspect, then one would stabilise, if not totally immobilise, this remarkably volatile organ. One may now wish to commence dissection of the cerebral cortex using ones’ right hand and a suitably honed and boned instrument, of course. At this point it should be noted how disproportionately large is the cerebrum, the centre of thought and consciousness. The average human brain has a mass of approximately one thousand four hundred and nine grams and eighty five percent of this is cerebrum. Over the last million years, give or take a year or two, the cerebrum has mushroomed like a fungus and is clearly an aberration. Mr Martin, Sir, it is clear that you and I, as representatives of the human race, are aberrations of nature. But let us not lose sight of the fact that it is impossible to gauge from our physical structure just how aberrant we really are. Tall persons have heavier brains than short persons but, relative to their height, short persons have larger heads and brains than tall persons. However there is no statistical evidence to show that large headed persons are more intelligent and thus more prone to aberration and depravity than small headed persons."
My pipe had gone out. I looked at Eldred Q. Gink with interest. You never know who will knock on your door. The thought seemed filled with a deep profundity.
"Hey man. You look a bit like Dracula. "
The door-to-door marketing director had begun to drip blood onto his chest. It dripped from his chin, having welled from his mouth. He looked startled and then his face darkened.
"There are sharp edges on this mug," he said accusingly. "And it’s empty. "
When I returned with replenishments Eldred was cleaning up his dentures with a strip of cloth from his shirt. For a few seconds he sat, shoulders slumped, looking at the teeth in his hand. I feared an outburst of emotion but the moment passed -and he placed his set in the briefcase, straightened himself and resumed in an altered voice; the words shuffling and slipping over his gums.
"We are about to examine this wrinkled metastasis the human mind. If the pachydermic creases were ironed flat it would be found that the surface area of the cerebral cortex extends in all directions to a vast two hundred and eighty five thousand square millimetres. The total number of cortical nerve cells…"
"You got a calculator? Divide one million by two hundred and eighty five thousand. What you get?"
"Three point five zero eight double seven one nine."
"One hundred divided by that?"
"Twenty eight point five seven one four two eight."
"Twenty eight percent of a square metre? That's bout a square foot. Unimpressive. How many nerve cells?"
"Fourteen thousand three hundred and twenty eight million." I was unmoved but said nothing.
"Such a number is beyond comprehension. In order to grasp the magnitude of such a cell population it is necessary to take a smaller sample. Let us examine a cube of cortical matter one millimetre by one millimetre by two point five millimetres. That gives two and a half cubic millimetres. Now, Sir, how many neurons do you think could be packed into such a miniscule volume?"
"For fuck's sake! How many?"
"Sixty thousand neurons, Mr Martin. Sixty thousand. Packed into a space no bigger than a pinhead. And each neuron, with its axon and dendrite net, is capable of participating in fifty thousand synapses which, according to my calculations, gives the figure three times ten to the power of nine, being exactly thirty thousand million. Now multiply thirty thousand million by two hundred and fifty thousand and you have the number of synaptic interactions taking place at any given millionth of a second in man's cerebral cortex."
He looked pleased with himself.
"And so? "
"And so, Sir, we are led to the realisation that the human mind has infinite potential. Infinite, I say without fear of contradiction. Infinite. The possibilities, the permutations are not finite. This cerebrum, sliced into rashers and examined with microscopic vision, reveals itself to be the most immensely powerful thinking machine imaginable. Sir, I wish to elaborate on the theme."
Kneeling in front of the fireplace he placed the calculator on the hearth. Wielding one of his shoes as a hammer he struck it several times. Unhappy with the effect, he took up the heavy manual and tried a few blows with the spine.
"Damn thing's indestructible," he said in frustration.
I found this activity to my liking and laughed maniacally. I went out the back and found a brick.
"Try this. Fuck it in its moer."
E.Q. Gink laid the book flat on the hearth and propped the calculator on its edge against it.
"Quick, it’s a cockroach, swat it!" At my exhortation he slammed the brick down with a one handed aim that was true and the Sharp E7L 531 burst open like a ripe pod.
"Ah, here we have it. Take a look at this. Imitation cortex." I returned to the couch and Eldred sat on the edge of his chair. Both trouser legs were torn at the knee and the cloth was turning a deeper shade of blue.
"Sir, it is my express intention, and I must stress that I do indeed intend to express myself with cogency and a dedication to arriving at a logical conclusion, it is my express vocation and duty to reveal to you the working of the human mind and the manner in which said mind is bent on the overweening desire and self driven necessity to categorize all and every thing under the sun. If I may have your attention," and he held up the open calculator and snapped his fingers to focus the gaze of his audience. "We see here the guts of a brain, so to speak. Bits and pieces of electronic paraphernalia. One might describe it loosely as a data processing system, being a collection of electromechanical and electronic components and devices assembled in a plastic module containing switching and, communications components such as transistors, diodes, capacitors, resistors and integrated circuit, all combined into various kinds of circuitry by technical means of the highest integrity, together with a memory system, a power supply, delay lines and various types of magnetic media such as magnets and bits of wire for carrying and transferring and transposing data and information, as coded cybernetically and in strict accordance with binary Boolean logic into instructions, computations and apologetic or accusatory interjections regarding failure and error. One hundred and fifty functions capable thereof, entailing four hundred thousand electronic signals per second traversing highways and byways within this microscopically miniaturized chip of processed silicon to the precise tick of a quartz crystal timing device – all in the interests of and to the greater glorification of the human cerebrum. Let us be quite clear about one thing, Mr Martin. About one thing it is of necessity that we should be quite clear and, without belabouring the point so excessively as to cause offence, and without beating about the bush, it is clearly of the utmost urgency for the purposes of this exercise to be entirely lucid upon this, and this only, the subject, object and ultimate goal of this our expressed endeavour, viz. to promote comprehension and awareness of the innate drive compelling man to describe the descriptions of the functioning of the functions of the super computer situated in the cranial vault."
“Jesus, but you can talk a lot of shit! I thought you were flogging encyclopaedias. What's this got to do with encyclofuckinpaedias?”
Eldred's eyes became round with astonishment. "Do you mean to tell me you haven't been following the simple logic of my argument? Do you mean to say that you are incapable of seeing that my intention is to lead you to the realisation that the New Encyclopaedia Britannica Three is the pinnacle of human learning and the most succinct piece of evidence to date that the human cerebral cortex is within reach of taming the entire universe, of discovering Higg's boson, of crossing the last frontier? Mr Martin, have you not had the faintest inkling that I am in the process of enlightening you, of illuminating your mind so that, by the end of my performance, you will not only be grateful but desperate, I say desperate, to own the New Encyclopaedia Britannica Three?”
I said nothing.
''Mr Martin, I have reached a critical point. I have revealed to you some of the marvellous complexities of the brain and I am about to convince you, once and for all, that even you will be unable to live without the possibility of immediate access to it once you have gazed upon its beauty. And I refer to the Complete Circle of Knowledge as categorized in the Propaedia of the New Encyclopaedia Britannica Three."
He paused and looked into his jam tin. When I mode no move he held it upside down so there could be no doubt as to his wishes.
"Sir, you oblige me to be crudely blatant. You do not encourage subtlety. My tongue is withered at the root. Do you require me to bite my arm like the Ancient Mariner had to in order to utter sound?"
Scowling and muttering, "This had better be good," I fetched what was left of the wine and shared it out. Eldred Q. Gink drank his portion straight off and tossed the can into the corner behind him. Theatrically he smacked his bloodied lips, coughed end cleared his throat.
"Testing. One two three four. Testing. Testing. One two." He massaged his adams apple, coughed again and spat into the breast pocket of his shirt. He got to his feet and made a show of moving the manual to the exact centre line before the fireplace. He then stood on the book facing me, stiffened to attention and raised his eyes ceilingward.
"The Complete Circle of Knowledge, devised and presented by the illustrious Board of Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., choice of domicillium citandi et executandi being Boardroom and Bar, ninth Floor, Britannica House, 425 North Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois, United States of America, will hereinafter be referred to as The Complete Circle of Knowledge. The Complete Circle of Knowledge, hitherto referred to as The Complete Circle of Knowledge, is the sole property of the aforesaid Board of Editors, elsewhere referred to as the Board of Onanists, and not referred to ever again hereinafter, and should be deemed to constitute the essential credo of the aforesaid Encyclopaedia Britannica and, not withstanding anything to the contrary contained herein, hereto or hereinafter, without prejudice to me, Eldred Q. Gink, officially appointed Executive Marketing Director, Encyclopaedia Brittannica, Inc. (South Africa), under no circumstances whatsoever, be it manfully with fell intention or be it womanfully without prior knowledge of the consequences, the aforesaid credo being deemed to be the ex deo inalienable property of the aforesaid Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., shall any man or woman, be it under cover of darkness or be it in flagrant contravention of public decency, singly or generally, refer to, directly or in passing, such aforesaid Circle of Knowledge without the prior payment in full of such monies and stamp duties as should be required in terms of the lien held by the aforesaid Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc. on all or any forms of knowledge purporting to be of the circular ilk or kind. So help me God. The Circle of Knowledge may be depicted schematically as a wheel with a hub and nine spokes, the hub representing the Branches of Scholarship, and the spokes dividing the Circle of Knowledge into nine Areas of Learning. The nine Areas of Learning do consist of Matter and Energy, The Earth, Life on Earth, Human Life, Human Society, Art, Technology, Religion, and the History of Mankind. The hub consisteth of Logic, Mathematics, Science, History, The Humanities, and Philosophy, being the Branches of Scholarship which may be used, selectively or eclectically, to examine any or all of the nine Areas of Learning, which may be divided and subdivided ad infinitum into innumerable categories and components as the mind sees fit. The first Area of Learning to prostrate itself before our scrutiny beeth the universe of the physicist, chemist and astronomer and do be termed Matter and Energy. We may gaze upon the atom and its nucleus, its structure and properties, and its elementary particles. We may examine the periodic variation in the properties of chemical elements and the molecular structure, as well as the bonding and reactions, of chemical compounds. Heat, thermodynamics end not only the various nonsolid states of matter but also the solid state of matter are here alongside each other and the mechanics of particles, as well as both rigid and deformable bodies, which are subject to elasticity, vibrations and flow. Then run your eyes over electricity and magnetism, past waves and wave motion to the open realms of the solar system, stars, galaxies - and the cosmos! The first Area of Learning, quod erat demonstrandum, but in briefest of outline. You may pursue the details forever, if you so wish. The second Area of Learning to raise the curtain happeneth to be The Earth, which is where we are here and now, upon the great globe itself. She appears to us as a planet with physical properties, an internal structure and composition with constituen minerals and rocks. Her outer garment is the atmosphere, of exquisite texture but somewhat befouled, while the undergarment is the hydrosphere - oceans, fresh water bodies, and ice masses, stirred by the motions and forces that created them, and ruffled by weather and climate. Beneath the garments we discern the physical features produced by geomorphic processes acting on her surface. We become aware of her origin and development and are able to interpret the geological record, running through eras, periods and epochs of geological time in response to the unheard music hidden in the shrubbery - Precambrian, Paleozoic, Cambrian, Ordovicien, Silurian, Upper Paleozoic, Devonian, Lower Carboniferous, Upper Carboniferous, Permian, Mezozoic, Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous, Cenozoic, Tertiary, Quaternary, Pleistocene, Holocene - the rocks, the life, the stratigraphy, the environment - altering inexorably. Then in the third Area of Learning we can examine Life itself. The characteristics of Life on Earth, the origin of living things and their classification are dealt with. If we wish to believe it there is an explanation of the molecular basis of vital processes involving chemicals, metabolism, bioenergetics and biosynthesis. The vital processes at the molecular level are covered in detail, special attention being given to the cellular basis of the form and function of organisms, the coordination of vital processes through regulation and integration, the procurement and processing of nutrients, gas exchange, internal transport, and elimination. Reproduction, growth, differentiation, morphogenesis and the transmission of traits through heredity are not ignored. Neither are the behavioural responses of organisms, which have evolved and developed a range of individual and group capacities. And an overall picture of the interacting patterns of life is given by an analysis of the biosphere, it being appallingly apparent that Man has set himself above the world of living things that are required to exist in a single system of biotic and environmental interdependencies. Which leads us on to the fourth Area of Learning - Human Life. Verily, Man's chief obsession is with himself. The stages in the development of human life are chronicled in minute detail, from the appearance of prosimian and anthropoid primates with their distinguishing characteristics differentiating them from other mammals in such aspects as vertebral column and posture, manipulative capabilities of hands and feet, dentition, snout, muzzle, nose, brain, nervous system and sensory perception - even the reproductive organs are placed under a magnifying glass - to the Hominidae and the emergence of Homo erectus, Homo flaccidus and Homo sapiens. The evolution of Man is recalled, using fossil and implement records to trace his development through the three Quaternary Periods from one million years ago to ten thousand years ago, when our relations Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon were frequenting all the best caves. And now the attention is brought to focus on truly vast fields of knowledge: human health and diseases, human behaviour end experience, communication and language, and aspects of daily life. Health end Disease covers no less than the entire structure and function of the human body, the manifestations, recognition and treatment of diseases, disorders of the human body, and the practice of medicine. The practice of medicine! The practice of medicine can include any or all of the following: radiology, surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, urology, opthalmology, otolaryngology, neurology, psychiatry, anaesthesiology, pathology, endocrinology, immunology, toxicology, physiology, nutrition, pharmacology, gerontology, cytotechnology, dentistry, orthodontics, periodontics and osteopathy. You takes your pick. Behaviour and Experience is all about conjecture as to whether man is a god or a freak, and how various influences on stages of development, attention, sensation, perception, learning, thinking end personality have resulted in godfreak performing an extremely bizarre range of antics. Communication deals with signals, signs, symbols and gestures as non-vocal means, and speech and laughter as the vocal manifestations. The logical structure, emotional dynamics, and style and technique, both verbal and situational, of humour and wit are covered in detail. The nature, function and structure of language, spoken and written, are defined, and of course considerable attention is given to linguistics and the classification of languages. There are so many languages being jabbered all over the world that no scholar would risk putting an exact number to their quantity. Suffice it to say that there are thirty six main languages or groups of languages. These are as follows: Indo-Iranian, Celtic, Italic, Romance, Greek, Baltic, Slavic, Germanic, English, Albanian, Armenian and Tocharian, which are of the Indo-European variety. Uralic and Basque are non-Indo-European. Indo-Iranian, Dravidian, Austro-Asiatic, Sino-Tibetan, Tai, Japanese, Korean, Altaic, Paleosiberian, Caucasian, Austronesian, Australian Aboriginal and Papuan are the languages of Asia and Oceania. From Africa and the Middle East are the languages of Niger-Congo, Chicari-Nile, Nilo-Sahara, Khoisan, semitic, Egyptian, Berber, Cushitic, and Chadic. Eskimo-Aleut, North Amerindian, Mexican, Central American, South American and Caribbean are the last major groups. Then of course there are Gobbledegook, Codswallop and Horseshit. Extinct languages of which we have knowledge are Anatolian, Etruscan, non-Romance Italic, Sumerian and Tocharian. Artificially constructed languages are Esperanto and Interlingua, whilst machine languages are Fortran and Algol. It is of considerable interest to note that speech developed in man as a direct result of him choosing, a million years ago, to forego making mechanical use of his mouth in food gathering and tool making, thus freeing his oral cavity for such activities as verbal articulation, not to mention fellatio. There could hardly have been a more significant decision in the history of man's development, could there? It is with this thought that we turn to the various Aspects of Daily Life as set out in the Propaedia. And a depressing round of tedium and duty it is too. We are reminded of that ancient curse requiring us to earn our bread by the sweat of our brows all the days of our lives until we return unto the dust from whence we came. This is the gloomiest part of the whole work and I would personally excise it from the Encyclopaedia Britannica if it was in my power to do so. Unfortunately I am not authorised to perform editorial surgery and we are required to bolster up our spirits and plod through the details of a day. Eating and drinking, defecating, sleeping, waking, rising. Masturbating in front of the mirror. Clothing ourselves, housing ourselves. Dragging off to work day in and day out. Procreation. The coupling of man and woman and the feeding, clothing and educating of offspring. And the discussion of the use of leisure time does nothing to cheer. On the contrary, the long list of games is confirmation of the darkness within us. If we aren't keen busy with frivolous play, then we begin to fight or become suicidal. Let us hurry away from such morbidity and move on to a scholarly treatment of the fifth Area of Learning, Human Society. This is divided into culture, social organization and social change, the production, distribution and utilization of wealth, politics and government, law, and education. Once more we are up in the crisp air, able to describe, arrange and theorize, above the smog of Chekhovian despair. Everything you need to know about peasant societies, ancient and modern, ethnocentrism and cultural relativism, kinship systems with special regard to mate selection, marriage, incest, exogamy, endogamy, marriage alliances and customary exchanges of property and services accompanying marriage, the conflict model theory of social structure, which views society and its elements as products of conflict between groups or individuals competing for power, the positive socializing roles of family, peer group and education, the regulation of behaviour that departs from social norms by punishment such as verbal reprimand, fine, imprisonment for varying periods, beating with whip, cane or barbed wire, racking, immersion in liquid, exposure to heat as in burning at stake or frying in chair, attaching of electrical devices to sexual organs, guillotining, hanging, garotting and the threat of any or all such punishments, the dichotomy of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft, effects of industrialisation and urbanisation on the modern family, definitions of race, racism, ethnic group and ethnocentrism, the 'baas fok meid, boi fok miesies' theory of the origin of apartheid, the mid twentieth century rediscovery of the poor, the affluent, criminals, sexual deviants, prostitutes, drug abusers, suicides and the physically and mentally handicapped - everything you might want to know about culture, social organization and social change. The production, distribution and utilization of wealth are treated with similar thoroughness but are of little relevance to the likes of us at this stage, so let us skip merrily along to politics and government, raise a hind leg, and trot on to law. Another catalogue of a subject in all its aspects. Ditto education. I tire, Mr Martin, I tire. It must be this cheap rotgut wine. If you would be so good to pass me my hypodermic. And the Methyl Phenidate Hydrochloride.."
"Can't you get it yourself?"
"I fear that if I move from here I will loose the thread and have to start again at the very beginning."
I got up and rummaged in the briefcase until I found the syringe and ampoule and handed them to the orator. The clear liquid was taken up, the left tit of the mermaid on his stomach was pricked and the plunger depressed.
"Ahh. Let's hope this will stimulate my cerebral cortex, improve mental activity and relieve insidious depression and fatigue.”
I took the hypodermic and empty ampoule and dropped them back in the case. I returned to the couch.
"I beg your pardon, but it tends to do this to me." He unzipped his trousers, adjusted himself, pulled up the zip and buckled his belt. "I feel a little stronger. More virile. I can only try. Let's see. Human Society is behind us. The sixth Area of Learning is simply entitled Art. Theory, classification and criticism, yes. Literature, theatre. motion pictures, music, dance, architecture, sculpture, drawing, painting, photography. It’s all there. Words, pictures. Much as you like. I can’t get over this lassitude. So much for art. Number seven - Technology. Measurement and observation, tools and machines. Agriculture, industry, construction, transportation, information, communication, the military, space exploration. Tools and machines. Eight. Religion. Oh my God: Nine: The History of Mankind. Tragic, tragic. And there we are. Done. Finis." He stepped down from his platform and sat on the edge of the chair.
His manner changed. He had not been able to sustain the performance and, inspiration gone, he was becoming businesslike and abrupt.
"Normal selling price, one five three five and fifty cents. Its yours for nix."
"Bullshit. Not a bad spiel but I'm not interested. Try somewhere else."
Gink had his shoes on and was knotting his tie. He looked at me with naked contempt. "I'm telling you this is a free gift. The computer must have fucked up. What a waste. I don't know. Mindless. Bloody lousy wine." He took a two-way radio from the briefcase, extended the aerial and spoke into it.
"Lone Ranger to Hottentots. Lone Ranger to Hottentots. Come in, Hottentots." The radio crackled end a voice was heard.
"Daar's die ou poes. Luister wat hy wil he." And then: "Under and over. Hotnot to Lone Ranger. Ja?"
"Bring it in, bring it in, for Christ's sake. You know the routine. Do I have to come and do it myself?"
I watched him adjusting his hairpiece, smiling experimentally, pulling on his jacket. Could it possibly be? There was a knock at the front door.
"Come in, come in. Hurry up. You know what they said at the office."
Two men in brown dust coats entered the room. One walked backwards, the other forwards. Between them they carried an imitation rosewood bookcase loaded with large volumes bound in red regency. They put it down against the wall, looked about insolently, and left.
Eldred Gink slammed shut his briefcase. "Well, there you are. It’s all yours. Mindless, mindless." He left.I stood string aghast at the books.