Scholar's Confessio

No one will find this.

What can it mean, to write something no one will find? In my case, the reasons for hiding this collection of musings and memories will be all too obvious to my peers (if any survive) or former colleagues (to whom my existence, if any are aware of it, would be at most an annoyance, like an unpleasant smell). Let us just say that my contemporaries and those who follow shortly afterward are better off knowing nothing of this account. I did consider crafting this Writing as a cautionary tale, but there is nothing to be gained — no insight that might edify, no warning that would avail.

For myself, I cannot yet restrain my emotions, though I hope in time I will learn to live with my fate, if that is what this is. In any case, there is nothing I can do, nothing to be done, no help — for me, for anyone, ever. Perhaps that is the lesson to be learned. If so, all the more reason to keep it to myself.


.... And yet, as I think now, I have never been, nor will ever be, so happy. The fugitive peace in which I abide at present is better, I suppose, for I am wiser now than I was then, which is to say I now know that I know nothing, and know that well. And am content with that, as if there is a choice. There is a choice, of course, about being content, I mean; but happiness is another thing altogether. If a creature ever experiences joy such as I felt then, however briefly, however brutally it later may be extirpated, then he is blessed — and may someday find his true rest among others like him in this respect, whatever their condition otherwise.


It was raining when I first beheld the Temple precincts, and could at last see its layered dome rising as it were out of the sea, the harbor surrounding it busy with little boats and great ships that wove their way around and about each other like insects in a glorious garden. Thunder had tracked us all morning, and just as we emerged from the forest on the bluff above the river, the clouds ripped open and we were drenched. After less than an hour, we came around a bend in the road and entered the courtyard of a small inn, where we would spend the night and then in the morning climb down to the crossing.

Once I'd stowed my luggage in a corner of the dormitory, I wandered into the meditation hall and found a stairway that led up to the covered watch-platform, and from there I gazed across the broad river to the fantastic towers on the other bank. I had never seen a settlement so large — upstream, the jumble of buildings spread all the way to the horizon; in the other direction, the river mouth opened into an extensive harbor whose shores were lined with piers and boat-slips as far as I could see. In the center of the harbor, like a jewel, sat the Island of the Temple, the eternal fire blazing at its pinnacle despite the pouring rain. I nearly fell to my knees in gratitude for this moment — the moment of my life, surely — the culmination of my life's work.

The moment of my life it certainly proved to be, in a way I could not yet imagine, and whose sudden recollection still catches me unawares, as I ponder this my life, and I marvel at the perfidy of my kind — and at my own silly innocence, that provided the occasion for such a bitter lesson.

I returned to my lodging and spent the few hours before nightfall preparing my address. Indeed, I had already dedicated days and days to marshalling my materials and my arguments, practicing my speech, even rehearsing my answers to the questions and counter-arguments I was certain I would have to face, and was confident I could foresee.

===[lacuna (redacted?): some days seem to have passed — Ed.]===

Shortly after departing the inn the next morning, I turned for a last look at the Temple and its precincts. Even though the sun had only just risen behind the majestic towers of the city, the air was warm, bespeaking a hot day to come, and a fine mist carpeted the harbor, blurring somewhat the image of the little island in its midst, still barely discernible in the pre-dawn twilight from which it had yet to emerge. There was no hurry for me, of course, but I knew that my companions were anxious to cover as much distance as possible before the heat of the day fell full upon us, so I did not linger. But just before turning my face towards our journey thither, I vaguely observed a traveler who appeared at the inn's gate — I assumed to ask for entry, but I was too absorbed in my own thoughts to pay any further attention.

An hour or more might have gone by before I thought to glance back the way we came, but when I did I noticed the same traveler was following, walking at a pace to overtake us, which he did after a short time, passing up the line of wagons to the front. There I saw him speak briefly with our guide, who nodded and apparently welcomed him to join us, gesturing towards the carrier in which I rode. The newcomer stood on the berm until I drew alongside, and then, smiling in greeting, climbed aboard, where he sat opposite me on the bundle he carried with him.

I could not tell his age, but felt sure he was somewhat older than myself. His bearing and complexion marked him as a man who spent a good deal of time out of doors, fending for himself. I nodded but did not speak, my heart still too heavy to initiate any conversation — indeed, I had little curiosity about him at all, feeling so sorry for myself as I did — and I shortly once more became lost in melancholy contemplation of my fate.

It may have been another hour before I came out of my stupor. The sun had climbed midway to the meridian, the air was becoming close, and the man was maneuvering in his narrow seat, endeavoring to take off his outer garment, when his hand brushed against my knee, for which he begged my pardon. I nodded again, noting absently his inviting smile, but remained silent. Then our cart suddenly pulled up short; he was caught off-balance and fell almost into my lap.

He apologized vigorously, and, perhaps to cover his embarrassment, leaped out of the carrier and jogged off toward the front of our train, evidently to discover the reason for our halting so abruptly. In a moment he returned to say that there was another convoy coming towards us on the opposite side of the bridge up ahead, and the two guides were negotiating who would cross first. It made little difference to me — I would be no less miserable sitting still than moving onward, and communicated this to him with a shrug. He looked at me a moment, and then, as if having made a decision, said firmly, "Come with me."

I was surprised enough at this command that when he extended his hand I took it; after helping me out of the carrier, he led me to a small copse not far off, where he sat me down against a tree and began unstrapping his bundle, from whence he extracted a water flask and a small parcel of food. I was uninterested in refreshment and tried to refuse his offer, but he would not be denied, and after I'd dutifully taken a drink of sweet water and bitten into the corner of bread he tore off for me, he gave me a piece of dried fruit and bade me eat that too.

All the while he smiled in encouragement, and something about his calm assuredness made me unable to resist his attempts to cheer me up. Indeed I did feel better almost immediately, and at last emerged sufficiently from my gloomy mood to thank him for his kindness.

"Please pardon if I presume, sir," he said, "but you are not unknown to me. The fact is, I have been following you: I wished to have a word, in order to convey my appreciation for your work."

I was astonished — though as I think now I might not have been, had my presence of mind not deserted me, for, once I looked him full in the face, he did indeed seem somewhat familiar. But at the time his declaration quite unnerved me, and I could not speak.

"I attended your address to the Convention, and found your topic fascinating. Do you mind if I ask you more about it?"

Somehow I collected myself and responded that of course he could ask what he wished, but that I myself was no longer interested in the subject. I'm afraid I was not very convincing in this prevarication — in fact it was an absurd thing for me to say — and he regarded me strangely for a moment, as if weighing what to do next.

"I take it..." he said, looking down and plucking gently at a patch of moss on the ground before him, "— forgive me if I am impertinent — I take it that the Council did not, perhaps, share my enthusiasm for your work?"

At that moment I did not know what to do. The Council's ruling was explicit: I was forbidden to discuss the archive with anyone other than its members and its agents — and this man was, after all, a complete stranger to me. But perhaps the unexpectedness of the moment and his heartening demeanor made me less than cautious. He might easily have been an agent of the Council himself, sent to test my trustworthiness — and, truth be told, I cannot swear that he was not, though other interesting possibilities seem more plausible.

Whatever the case, I admitted that the reception of my talk had not entirely matched my hopes, saying nothing of course about the Council's resolution, and asked that he interrogate me no further on the matter. The expression that dawned in his face, first of compassion, then of full comprehension — was most remarkable: I felt as if he had stood beside me throughout my entire inquisition, and suffered with me the same judgment.

"I will of course respect your wish," he said quietly, acknowledging this with a bowed head, "and ask no further questions. But, with your permission, I will tell you something of myself, so that you may judge the merit of my opinions."

I could think of no objection, and indeed my curiosity had at last been piqued by this odd encounter, so I invited him with a gesture to go on.

"Like you," he said, "I came to the Convention from a far place, where life seems simpler and not so treacherous as in that magnificent city — I for one am happy to be leaving it farther behind with each turn of our carrier's wheels. I too am a student of old things, though in my case it is artifacts, not texts, that I find of fascination. It could be said, of course, that a text is an artifact of a sort — I think you might agree with that proposition, would you not?"

I nodded noncommittally.

"Ah! sorry! — I promised no question!" he said with a laugh. "And in any case, I am not competent to argue the point very rigorously. I spend my life among old things, contemplating them, trying to discern their history, or rather, the story of their coming into my possession."

I could not help but interject that this was just like reading a text.

"Perhaps," he said, delighted, "but the difference is significant, I think. My task is simpler — but more difficult — than yours."

How so? I wished to know.

"The history that I seek to discern from one of my artifacts — insofar as it can be discerned! — is single. It cannot be transferred from one object to another. The artifact and its history are one. A text, on the other hand, exists in two places: first, it is bound to an object, an artifact — inscribed upon your tablet, for instance, or within the documents you displayed in your presentation — I'm so sorry! I'll not mention it again!"

He appeared angry with himself, but I assured him that I hoped he would go on. The discussion we had entered was becoming quite enjoyable.

"A *document* is of course an artifact," he continued, "but the history of the *object* upon which the text is inscribed is only incidental, a matter of what materials are at hand with which to bind text and object together. The text itself is volatile — it may be inscribed directly from thought or copied from another document, for example, and can further be replicated and transferred to as many objects as one wishes."

But is not that process of replication and transferral part of the history of the text?

"No doubt," he said, with a shrewd look, "but the meaning of the text is not altered by the impress of that history, is it?"

I could not stop myself from saying that the meaning of a text is always changed in its replication and transmission, because the meaning of a text is the combined understanding of the author of the text and its reader.

"I agree. Now you see what I mean about your task being easier but more complex than mine!"

I had to laugh. I wasn't sure I accepted his premise that the history of an artifact is singular. And couldn't the history of the artifact be communicated from one person to another?

"Only by means of encoding that history into a text, which of course is then entirely transferrable. That is the nature and purpose of text."

But what other form can the history of an artifact take — once it is "discerned" — than that of a text?

He laughed again, holding up both hands. "I am out of my depth," he said, "and cannot dispute with you. I confess that I am describing my feelings about the matter, rather than carefully working out an argument. It is why I have yet to make a presentation at the Conference — I could not hope to be taken seriously."

You cannot know that until you try, was my rejoinder.

He straightened up somewhat and looked at me. "This is — was — your first Convention, was it not?"

And likely my last, I said with chagrin.

"You must not... take... their words to heart," he said, as if in pain. "They... know nothing... that matters. However that may be," he went on, more easily, "they could be wrong — you did present material that was completely new to them, and, having no idea how to fit it into their scheme of things, they dismissed it as nonsense."

They did worse than that, I said, then shut my mouth.

But he seemed once again to know exactly what I was thinking, what I was recalling with such shame. Only this time his expression of sympathy was mixed with anger. "It was evil what they did to you," he said, barely opening his mouth. "But you will profit from it. Theirs is the true loss."

How did he know these things?

He reached across and put his hand on mine. "You are not without friends," he said, looking earnestly into my eyes. "The archive is lost — perhaps — but you are not."

With that he stood, and looked toward the bridge. "It appears your guide has prevailed," he said, and indeed the first of our wagons had begun to move again. He rebuckled his bundle and helped me up, and we walked to the carrier.

But when we got there, he did not climb in after me. "I have delivered my message," he said, "and must now follow another way. But do not forget me, or what I said at the last."

And with that he strode off in the direction from which he had come. Just then my carrier lurched forward, and I fell into my seat. By the time I regained my balance and turned around to look for him, he had disappeared.


As I pondered this peculiar encounter, more and more questions arose. Where was the man from? What did he mean when he said, "I have delivered my message"? It seemed evident that some unknown person (or entity?) had sent him after me; what was not at all clear was why.

"You are not without friends," he said. "The archive is lost — perhaps — but you are not." He spoke these words with a certainty, even a kind of authority, that was unmistakable. I began to wonder how this man knew so much about what was after all my confidential audience with the Council.

Who were these friends he assured me I was "not without"? As I reflected upon this question, I began to perceive the political potential of my attempt to introduce the archive into the discourse of the Conference. It took me quite some time to piece together an inference of what may have happened, but by and by a plausible interpretation took shape before me.

The content and purport of the actual presentation I delivered at the Convention could well have been, as it were, immaterial. It was not unknown to me that there were factions within the Conference, and that the present Council was not entirely the impartial deliberative body its charter made it out to be: it comprised men of differing opinions and experience, and, more to the point, divergent loyalties to various points of orthodoxy, each of which had its champions and detractors. The tension between these contending points of view was supposed to provide balance, which is a fine idea, but I began to suspect that it didn't work the way its framers intended — or not only that way.

In the case of matter that fell outside the established parameters of doctrinal debate — such as the material that makes up the archive — the precedent has always been to submit a prospectus to the Council well in advance of the actual Convention, but I felt there wasn't time for me to do that. (My plan, such as it was, woefully underestimated the complexity of the situation. That miscalculation was repaid handsomely, to be sure!)

When first confronted with the Council's decision not only to reject my conclusions, but to confiscate all my documents and forbid me to pursue this work further, I at first regarded it as a punitive measure, which, however harsh, was motivated not by malice or political considerations on their part, but by my not following the protocols, which were well known to me. I could not deny that my flouting of the rules was flagrant, but I had foolishly hoped that the excitement engendered by my discovery would militate against a literal application of the statutes. Having discovered I was wrong, I at first blamed my pride, and even accepted my humiliation as being in some way deserved — or in any event occasioned — by the arrogance that led me to misconceive *to* whom I was presenting *what* and *how*.

But now I began to consider that perhaps the Council's actions had nothing to do with me, nor my revolutionary findings, nor even the irregular manner in which I brought my work before them. Maybe I was simply a pawn in some maneuver of which no one but the participants would have knowledge, of use only to check or countercheck some opponent's equally nefarious ploy.

Naturally, I found this construal somewhat comforting. But it was pale consolation for my loss, and shortly a knot of anger formed in my chest that grew hotter by degrees as I brooded on the corruption of this scheme of things. How could anything fresh or creative in thought or research ever survive in such a poisonous atmosphere? This anger was of course stoked by the stranger's words, "It was evil what they did to you," and for a long while I fairly luxuriated in the feeling of self-righteousness that too often accompanies harsh treatment, justified or not.

But eventually the sweetness of my rage began to cloy, and my heart told me this was not good enough. Fury would not carry me through the sorrowful task that awaited me at this journey's end, would indeed only deepen my misery, as there was nothing I could do to redress it. For the first time in my life, I began to feel keenly the truth of that old saying of the Remnant: Anger destroys everything.

I looked out, and saw that the light was already softening into evening, and in the farthest distance I descried the beacon set on the mountaintop of my home. We would arrive by dusk.

In the short time remaining before then, I returned to wondering about the stranger himself. The dialogue he set in motion was of keen interest to me, but as I recalled it, he put forth his proposition rather crudely, and just as we were getting to the heart of the matter he broke off, protesting his incompetence at debate. I had begun to look forward to the coming hours, during which we could indulge the scholar's delight in disputing.

Not a scholar then, I concluded, or at any rate not a professional. A messenger from one, however, or from more than one. One of the factions in the Council? That seemed unlikely — "You mustn't take their words to heart," he said, "They know nothing that matters." This unquestionably took in everyone, not just members of an enemy bloc. What did he mean? That scholarship doesn't matter? Perhaps. But he was not simply dismissing the Council's words out of hand. He felt deeply, personally, the words he spoke. What they had done to me offended him — more, outraged him — so much so that he could not but convey it to me. I may of course never know the particulars, but the truth of his anger was incontestable.

However, this line of thought led back into the tiresome vortex of self-pity from which I wished to escape, and so I turned my attention to the stranger's disclosures about himself. He said that, like me, he came to the Convention from a far place, implying that he had done so more than once, perhaps on a regular basis. And yet, he also said, he himself had never addressed the Convention, but was apparently content merely to attend the exhibitions of others for his own edification. Or was he perhaps there to observe the proceedings for some other purpose? or the secret purpose of someone other than himself?

My recent ratiocinations had cast a suspicious light on everything, I realized, not without amusement, and I again bethought myself of what the stranger had divulged about his own circumstances. He began our conversation by saying he spent his time with artifacts, as he called them, and I sensed this word had a special meaning for him. Objects with a story, he said — rather, a history — which he made it his undertaking to discover.

Setting aside the issue we had taken on in our too-brief conversation on the topic — the relation of text to artifacts — I wondered what these objects might be: jewelry, clothing, tools, weapons, musical instruments? I was suddenly seized with curiosity about the stranger's artifacts, and the means he employed to extract — or discern, to use his terminology — their history. I could not imagine his methods except by analogy to the analytics I apply — or, rather, applied — to the texts once in my care. And what form did this history take? He seemed to resist the notion that his process created a text; but if not a text, what did it create? And how was it communicated? Who benefitted? Himself alone?

I began to feel a certain irritation towards my new acquaintance — or colleague, which he now surely was — for being so mysterious, almost deliberately obfuscatory, but at that moment our procession pulled to a stop at the gate of my settlement, and I realized how exhausted I was. I determined to think about nothing more until the morning. And with that I secured my luggage, returned to my room, and fell into a dreamless sleep.