Palabrosis: Taken at your Word

‘The drive toward the formation of metaphors is the fundamental human drive, which one cannot for a single instant dispense with… for one would thereby dispense with man himself. The drive continually manifests as an ardent desire to refashion the world which presents itself to waking man, so that it will be as colourful, irregular, lacking in results and coherence, charming, and eternally new as the world of dreams. Indeed, it is only by means of the rigid and regular web of concepts that the waking man clearly sees that he is awake; and it is precisely because of this that he sometimes thinks that he must be dreaming when this web of concepts is torn by art.’

On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense, Friedrich Nietzsche


New Yorker Joe Ferelli has absolutely no nuance in his accent. The tone of his voice has been levelled out to a grating monotone nasality, strikingly similar to the liltless accents of other capital cities, such as London, Madrid, Bangkok and Tokyo.

Bob Mitchell does not understand the meaning of the words love, truth, beauty, god, life, reality or death. He finds any exploration of these topics and any expression of their meaning at best abstract at worst, boring and stupid ‘naval-gazing’.

If you ask Sara Mahmoud what a kitten is, she’ll say ‘it is a young cat.’ If you then point to a kitten and say ‘What’s that?’ She’ll say, ‘It’s a kitten.’ And if you then say to her, ‘Yes, it’s called a kitten, but loook, what is it?’ She’ll look at you like you’re insane.

For years Sara, Joe and Bob have struggled to find meaning in a meaningless void, unable to fundamentally understand the people around them, blundering their way through a threatening and incomprehensible warzone. But their plight, and that of millions like them, is finally reaching public awareness. We now know that they are all, tragically, suffering from palabrosis.

Palabrosis attacks an area in the left frontal lobe of the brain, responsible for applying conceptual information to phenomena, and somehow severs the ties between it and the rest of consciousness. The palabrotic is left believing that there is no difference between reality and language. Reality, for the palabrotic, is a language: a series of isolated bits and relative and abstract rules. If something is not relative or abstract, he cannot experience it.

It is not difficult to identify someone with palabrosis. In conversation they will only respond to the abstract and relative meaning of what you say. Bright bizarre-but-apt metaphor will confuse them, ambiguity will worry them and qualitative truth will positively terrify them. To the palabrotic the entire present moment, the light, sound, smell, space and subtle quality of it, all at once, is either a collection of relative things in relative relation to each other, or it is itself a thing, in relation to the past and the future. You, the tone-meaning of your speech, who you are and the moment you are sharing together are all, for the poor palabrotic, just content. The flowering context, the twinkling blooms of nuance which hush and flutter through the moment, the specific, ineffable todayness of today, the musical undermeaning behind the surface sign, the light-play of the eyes… all goes unrecognised, unperceived.

Absolute scientists have discovered that palabrosis develops in early childhood. As an infant the child has largely been communicating through tone, vibe, gesture and entire poetic units of babblingly direct context-connected meaning. But then, around about four or five, children begin to understand isolated words and gain the power of separating those words from the context. It is at this point — if the child lives with palabrosis-infected parents — that the virus strikes, cutting the child off from its own experience. Anything occurring that expresses, mirrors or confirms the child’s own experience is then ignored or dismissed as nonsense.

The palabrotic adult is deaf to tone and nuance and the music of his voice atrophies accordingly. It becomes monotone, harsh, nasal and cutting or flaccid and gelatinous like cold porridge. He rigidly adheres to dictionary or professionally-administered definitions and is unable to play with language, form new definitions, new metaphors or new paradigms. The mouth moves, there are words there — yet nothing is actually happening. The meaning always seems to amount to the same thing — I am speaking. Listen to me. All words which represent the context, or direct experience of it, are translated into understandable definitions and concepts. ‘Love’ becomes the feeling or behaviour of craving, ‘truth,’ a subjective decision, ‘beauty’ a subjective feeling, ‘death’ an absence of movement, and so on.

Palabrosis has, until now, been extremely difficult to diagnose. Firstly, because, quite amazingly, the palabrotic adult actually values his illness, and, consequently, actively defends it. Although he is effectively insensate and therefore prone to injury and illness, open acknowledgement of the cause of these problems — his estrangement from meaning — is vaguely perceived as a threat, to be ignored, scorned or rationalised away. Palabrotic problems are usually seen by sufferers of palabrosis as excusable, desirable or inevitable. They often express opinions to the effect that ‘without bad things we wouldn’t be able to appreciate the good things,’ and when asked how they are, will typically respond with a pappy, mawkish ‘oh, not too bad,’ or ‘can’t complain.’

Diagnosis is also stymied by success. The palabrotic adult is able to function without difficulty in the world; indeed the world does not just reward palabrosis with its highest offices, but actively punishes its cure, leaving the poor palabrotic adult skulking beneath the authority of professionally-managed received definitions, and dependent on having knowledge produced for them; leading necessarily to a staggering impoverishment of conversation, limited gossip, stifled creativity, ludicrously inapt facts, a good degree, a nice office and rather wonderful house.

But that time is over! The sad plight of the Palabrosis victim is coming to an end. Joe, Bob and Sara will soon be free of the curse of confusing understandable words for the mysterious experience they represent. The tyrannous rule of language-cut-from-context’s-cloth is over and it will be once again be put in its place, as a servant of man, woman and moment… for, yes, we have found a cure.

No sooner had absolute scientists identified and diagnosed palabrosis than they discovered a potent naturally occurring cure; heyokadrine. Extracted from the bark of the Ficus benghalensis this drug — dubbed “the wilderness pill” due to the bizarre side-effects it produces — will go into mass production in June of this year, and be widely available in the last place you’d ever expect to find it. If you have no idea where that might be, I suggest you place an advance order.