Last December, for at least the second time, I received a handwritten letter bearing a Spanish stamp but signed by somebody using a Romanian woman’s name. Enclosing three low-resolution photographs, the writer asked if these depicted me and requested in vaguely menacing language that I get in touch with her or him.
The address was correct, but I’m not Tony Morris and the man in the pictures is not me. My earlier blogpost about that is at http://theartpart.jonathanmorse.net/i-am-not-i/. I took the post’s title from the last line of one of Sidney’s sonnets:
I am not I, pity the tale of me.
That’s still a great last line, but after more than 400 years it’s no longer the last word. Just now, for instance, I’ve done something I couldn’t have done in the days of Sir Philip: scanned one of the pictures to my desktop and then dragged it into Google for a search by image. Up it popped there, instantly: the identical face and pose, and attached this time to a LinkedIn name. The name was Tony Morris, too, and furthermore, wondrously! the text attached to the name was a poem. It wasn’t just any poem either; it came to me demanding to be read in the lofty spirit of Horace’s odi profanum vulgus.
Those are the words of George Chapman, him who spoke out loud and bold to John Keats. As a principle either of writing or of reading, they’re right. Hear for yourself as you give ear to the tale of Tony.
Singing its way down the page as from a score, the reading will complicate beautifully into counterpoint when it reaches the words “Hawaiian Islands,” because nobody in Hawaii refers to his home that way — not even if he also lives simultaneously in Florida and Hong Kong. And Hawaii, ordinarily referred to as such, happens to be part of the United States, where the British-spelled word “defence” isn’t in the name of any of the armed forces. Likewise, the academic abbreviation “BSc” is British, not American, and the University of Hawaii at Manoa doesn’t offer a degree in chemical engineering.
And Tony: you harmonize the registers of mathematics and capitalized General Problem Solving? And you sing not just of Asia but of Asia Good morals? Plus chemicals? Romanian lady of Spain, no wonder this Tony is the man you want to link! He is not I; he is far more. He is language itself, a self-singing lyric with an illustrated libretto: “High and hearty invention expressed in most significant and unaffected phrase.”
And best of all, he is, as Chapman says of his own poems, strange.
Source: George Chapman, Ovid’s Banquet of Sense. London, 1595; facsimile, Menston, Yorks., Scolar Press, 1979.
“This is not who I am,” tweets a millionaire whose racist email about President Obama has been intercepted and published.
“This is not who we are,” sing a chorus of pundits in antiphonal response to a Senate report demonstrating that the United States government, like other governments, tortures people.
And today’s snailmail brings, for the second time this year, this letter.
Enclosed with the letter are three low-resolution photographs showing a smiling middle-aged man with sandy hair beginning to go gray. He is a man of leisurely action, apparently. In one image he is wearing a white turtleneck as he sits among a crowd in bleachers; in another he is seen closeup in morning dress with wing collar; and in the third he is seated in a small aircraft next to a pretty girl.
This is not who I am.
But I do share my sense of who I am not with the millionaire and the chorus of pundits. After all, that sense is built into the language we all hold in common. It has been built in for centuries. Here, on damaged paper, is its theory.
And its practice comes to us still. If we bid it to teach us, it will. Undamaged amid the clutter of torture instruments, it will explain what we are not to who we are not, saying: