ANOTHER PIONEER 


Nevertheless gentlemen I fear the lone instance I can recall having heard aloud derived from an acquaintance of a close friend who said that he had himself overheard this exemplum aboard a high-altitude commercial flight while on some type of business trip, the fellow evidently holding a commercial position that called for frequent air travel. Certain key contextual details remained obscure. Nor, one hastens to admit, did the variant or exemplum contain any formal Annunciation as such, nor any comme on dit Period of Trial or Supernatural Aid, Trickster Figures, archetypal Resurrection, nor any of certain other recognized elements of the cycle; nevertheless gentlemen I leave it to you to judge for yourselves as of course you each in turn have left it to us as well. As I understood it the man in question was diverted by weather onto the continuation of a United Airlines flight and overheard its narration as part of a lengthier discourse between two passengers seated in the row just ahead of his own. He was, in other words, forced to sit in steerage. It was a continuation of some much longer flight, perhaps even Transatlantic, and the two passengers had evidently been seated together on the flight’s first leg, and were already deep in conversation when he boarded; and the crux here is that the fellow said he missed the first part of whatever larger conversation it was part of. Meaning that there was no enframing context or deictic antecedent as such surrounding the archetypal narrative as of course there is with all of us together here this afternoon. That it appeared to come, as the fellow described it, out of nowhere. Also that he had evidently been seated in the particular medial exit row that is always nearest the wing’s large jet engine, the overwing exit often in I believe on this type of aircraft Row 19 or 20, whereat in an evacuation you are required to turn two handles in two separate and opposed directions and supposedly then to somehow pull the entire window apparatus out of the jetliner’s fuselage and stow it in some very complicated way all detailed in glyphs on the instructional safety card that on so many commercial airlines is very nearly impossible to interpret with any confidence. With his point being that because of the location’s terrific ambient engine noise throughout the flight he was able to overhear the narrative fragment only because one of the prenominate passengers before him seemed to be either hard of hearing or cognitively challenged in some way, for the somewhat younger passenger—the one who appeared to be relating and interpreting the cycle’s variant or parable or whatever you may adjudge it to be—seemed to articulate his sentences very slowly and with unusual clarity and distinctness. Which he said come to think of it is also the way people who are not particularly bright or sensitive speak to foreigners, so that perhaps the older passenger was a non-native speaker of English and the narrator was himself not bright. The two never turned round or turned their two heads sufficiently for him to get a real look at them; all there ever was to look at as the narrative unfolded were the rear portions of their heads and necks, which he said appeared average and unremarkable and difficult to extrapolate anything from, which is the way the backs of strangers’ heads on airliners nearly always look. Though of course there are exceptions. From the outset, certain parallels were striking. For it concerned a certain child born in a very primitive paleolithic village somewhere. Just where he did not know; this was undoubtedly a part of the narrative’s protasis or exposition which he had missed by finding himself forced to fly standby and entering in as it were medias res. On the United leg. The sense he got was of a certain extraordinarily primitive, Third World, jungle or rain-forest region of the world, perhaps Asia or South America, and so terrifically long ago as to be literally paleolithic or perhaps mesolithic, as of course the anthropological origins of genres like this nearly always are. The context in which my friend then subsequently had it related to him by his acquaintance was if possible, he said, even more banal and unexpected than a commercial airline flight, as if somehow the quotidian and as it were modern everydayness of the narrative circumstances made its archetypal parallels even more remarkable. But he also emphasized extremely primitive and paleolithic, in the variant, as in spears and crude lean-tos and pantheistic shamanism and an extremely primitive hunting-and-gathering mode of subsistence; and in a certain isolated village deep in the region’s rain forest apparently a certain child is born who emerges as one of these extraordinarily high-powered, supernaturally advanced human specimens who come along in every culture every once in a great while, as history shows, although he said the younger airline passenger, whom he surmised may have been a corporate or academic scientist, did not use ‘supernatural’ or ‘messianic’ or ‘prophetic’ or any of the other terms the cycle usually reserves for specimens like this, instead using terms such as ‘advanced,’ ‘brilliant,’ or ‘ingenious’ and describing the child’s exceptional qualities and career almost exclusively in terms of cognitive ability, raw IQ—because he said apparently at a very young age, an age at which most of the village’s children were just beginning to learn the very basic customs and behaviors that the primitive village expected of its citizens, this two- or perhaps three-year-old child was already evincing an ability to answer absolutely any question put to it. To answer correctly, accurately, comprehensively. Even very difficult or even paradoxical questions. Of course the full range and depth of the child’s interrogatory intelligence were not manifested for some time; thus their emergence serves as the comme on dit Threshold Experience and occupies much of the protasis. That at first the ability seems simply a novelty, something for its parents to so to speak dine out on and amuse the other villagers with, something on the order of, ‘Look: our two-year-old knows how many twigs you have if you hold five twigs and then pick up three more twigs’; until of course one of the parents’ amused neighbors happens to say or ask something that prompts the child to disclose that it also knows everything culturally important about each different individual twig the man happens to be holding, such as for example the village’s official and idiomatic names for the trees the twigs derived from, and the various pantheistic deities and religious significance of each species of relevant tree, as well as which ones had edible leaves or bark that eased fever if boiled, and so on, including which species’ grain and tensile flexion were especially good for spear shafts and the small phytotoxic darts the villages of this region used with crude reed blowguns to defend themselves against the tropical rain forest’s predacious jaguars, which are apparently the scourge of the paleolithic Third World and the leading statistical cause of death after disease, malnutrition, and intertribal warfare. After which, of course, in short order, after reports of the remarkable twig prelection get about and the parents and other primitive villagers begin regarding the child’s intelligence in a wholly different spirit, it emerges that the child is also fully capable of answering all manner of both trivial and also profoundly non-trivial questions, practical questions that bore directly on the village’s subsistence-level quality of life, such as for instance where was the best place to find a certain kind of cassava root, and why were the migrations of a certain species of elk or dik-dik—a species which the village depended for its very life on hunting effectively—more predictable in the rainy season than in the dry season, and why were certain types of igneous rock better for fashioning sharp edges or striking together to produce fire than other types of igneous rock, and so on. And then, of course, subsequently, in a rather predictable trial-and-error heuristic evolution, it emerges in the action of the protasis that the child’s preternatural brilliance in fact extends even to those questions that are considered by the village supremely important, in other words almost religious-grade questions, questions which—substituting my friend’s own terminology for that of the analytical younger man on the United flight—involved not just cerebration or raw IQ but actual sagacity or virtue or wisdom or as Coleridge would have had it esemplasy, and soon the child is being called upon to adjudicate very complex and multifaceted conflicts, such as if two gathering-caste villagers both happened on the same breadfruit tree at precisely the same time and both claimed the breadfruit who should get the breadfruit, or for example if a wife failed to conceive within a certain specified number of lunar or solar cycles did the husband have the right to banish her altogether or did his rights extend only to no longer sharing food with her, and so on and so forth—evidently the passenger up ahead provided any number of exemplary questions, some of which were very involved and difficult for either my friend or his acquaintance to reconstruct. The point, however, is that the exceptional child’s answers to these sorts of questions were without fail so ingeniously apposite and simple and comprehensive and fair that all sides felt justly treated, and often the litigants could not understand why they had not thought of such an obviously equitable solution themselves, and in short order a great many long-standing conflicts are settled and perennial social conundrums resolved; and by this time the entire village had come to revere the child and had collectively decided that the child must in fact be a special emissary or legate or even incarnation of the primitive Dark Spirits on which their pantheistic religion was primarily based, and some of the village’s shaman and midwife castes—members of what would later become the new social structure’s professional consultant caste—claimed that the child had in fact come spontaneously into incarnated form deep in the circumambient rain forest and had been suckled and protected by divinely mollified jaguars, and that the child’s putative mother and father had in fact simply stumbled onto the child while out gathering cassava roots and were lying about its having been conceived and born in the usual protomammalian way, and were therefore of course also by extension lying about their own legal paternity; and after a great deal of discussion and debate the village exarchs vote to remove the child from the parents’ custody and to make it an as it were ward or dependent ex officio of the entire village, and to invest the child with some sort of unique unprecedented legal status that was neither minor nor adult nor member of any caste, neither a village exarch nor a thane nor a shaman per se but something entirely else, and with the nominal ‘parents’ granted certain special rights and privileges to compensate them for their supplantation by the village in loco—the exarchs apparently having come in secret to none other than the child itself to help them structure this whole delicate compromise—and they construct for the child a special sort of raised wicker dais or platform in the precise geometric center of the village, and they designate certain extremely rigid and precise intervals and arrangements whereby once every lunar cycle the villagers can all come to the village’s center to line up before the dais according to certain arcane hierarchies of caste and familial status and to one by one come before the seated child with questions and disputes for him to resolve via ethical fatwa and are in return to compensate the child for its services with an offering of a plantain or dik-dik haunch or some other item of recognized value, which offering was what the primitive but complex legal arrangement provided for the child to live on and support himself instead of being his alleged parents’ comme on dit ‘dependent.’ The context in which my own friend then had the narrative related to him by his acquaintance is unknown to me as anything more than ‘quotidian’ or ‘everyday.’ They would all line up before the dais to offer the child a yam, an ampoule of blow-dart phytotoxin, et cetera, and in return the child would undertake to answer their question. As exempla of this sort of mythopoeic cycle so often go, this arrangement is represented as the origin of something like modern trade in the villagers’ culture. Prior to the child’s evection, everyone had made their own clothes and lean-tos and spears and gathered all and only their own family’s food, and while certain foodstuffs were sometimes shared at equinoctial religious festivals and so forth there was evidently nothing like actual barter or trade until the advent of this child who could and would answer any question put to it. And the small child thereafter lived atop this platform and never left it—the dais had its own lean-to with a pallet of plantain leaves and a small hollowed-out concavity for a fire and primitive cooking pot—and apparently the child’s entire childhood was thenceforward spent on the central platform eating and sleeping and sitting for long periods doing nothing, presumably thinking and developing, and waiting out the 29.518 synodic days before the villagers would again line up with their respective questions. And as the village’s trade-based economy became more modern and complex, one novel development was that certain especially shrewd and acute members of the shaman and midwife castes began to cultivate the intellectual or as it were rhetorical skill of structuring a monthly question in such a way as to receive a maximally valuable answer from the extraordinary child, and they then began to sell or barter these interrogatory skills to ordinary villagers who wished to extract maximum value for their monthly question, which was the advent of what the narrative apparently terms the village’s consultant caste. For instance instead of asking the child something narrowly circumscribed such as, ‘Where in our village’s region of the rain forest should I look for a certain type of edible root?’ a professional consultant’s suggestion here might be that his client ask the child something more general along the lines for example of, ‘How can a man feed his family with less effort than we now expend?’ or, ‘How might we ensure a store of food that will last our family through periods when available resources are scarce?’ Whereas on the other hand, as the whole enterprise became more sophisticated and specialized, the consultant caste also discovered that maximizing the answer’s value sometimes entailed making a certain question more specific and practical, as in for instance instead of, ‘How can we increase our supply of firewood?’ a more efficacious question here might be, ‘How might a single man move a whole downed tree close to his home so as to have plentiful firewood?’ And evidently some of the village’s new consultant caste developed into rather ingenious interlocutors and managed to design questions of historic cultural importance and value such as, ‘When my neighbor borrows my spear, how can I make a record of the loan in order to prove that the spear is mine in case my neighbor suddenly turns round and claims that the spear is his and refuses to return it?’ or, ‘How might I divert water from one of the rain forest’s streams so that instead of my wife having to walk miles with a jar balanced on her head in order to haul water from the stream the stream might be made to as it were come to us?’ and so forth—here it was not clear whether my friend or his acquaintance were providing their own examples or whether these were actual examples enumerated during the dialogue he overheard on the United flight. He said that certain very general conclusions about the two passengers’ different ages and economic status could be deduced from their respective hair’s color and cut and their postures and the backs of their necks, but that that was all. That there was no reading material except the seat pocket’s customary in-flight catalogue and safety card, and the wing’s engine’s constant noise would have prevented him from sleeping even had he taken a pill, and that there was literally nothing for him to do but lean ever so subtly forward and try as unobtrusively as possible to make out what the darker-haired young passenger was relating to his less educated seatmate or companion, and to try to interpret it and fit it into some context that would as it were ground the narrative and render it more comme on dit illuminating or relevant to his own context. And that but at certain points it became unclear what was part of the cycle’s narrative Ding an sich and what were the passenger’s own editorial interpolations and commentary, such as the fact that it was evidently during the child’s decade-long occupancy of the special raised platform that the village’s culture evolved from hunting and gathering to a crude form of agriculture and husbandry, and discovered as well the principles of the wheel and rotary displacement, and fashioned their first fully enclosed dwellings of willow and yam-thatch, and developed an ideographic alphabet and primitive written grammar which allowed for more sophisticated divisions of labor and a crude economic system of trade in various goods and services; and in sum the entire village’s culture, technology, and standard of living undergo a metastatic evolution that would normally have taken thousands of years and countless paleolithic generations to attain. And, not surprisingly, these quantum leaps arouse a certain degree of fear and jealousy in many of the region’s other paleolithic villages, which are all still in the pantheo-shamanistic, hunting-and-gathering, hunch-round- the-fire-when-it’s-cold stage of cultural attainment, and the United flight’s narrative focuses particularly on the reaction of one large and formidable village, which is ruled by a single autocratic shaman in a kind of totalitarian theocracy, and which has also historically dominated this entire region of the rain forest and exacted tribute from all the other villages, this both because their warriors are so fierce and because their autocratic shaman is extremely ancient and politically astute and merciless and frightening and is universally regarded as being at the very least in league with the primitive rain forest’s diabolical White Spirits—recall that this is an equatorial Third World region, such that here dark colors are apparently associated with life and beneficent spiritual forces and light or whitish colors with death, absence, and pantheism’s evil or malignant spirits, and evidently one reason why the dominant village’s warriors are so formidable is that the shaman forces them to smear themselves with white or light-colored clay or ground talc or some canescent indigenous substance before battle such that according to legend they present the appearance of a regiment of evil spirits or the risen dead coming at one with spears and phytotoxic blowguns, and the sight always so terrifies all the other villages’ warriors that they quail and lose heart before battle is even joined, and the dominant village has had no serious opposition since the necromantic shaman took charge many aeons ago. Even so, the more politically astute upper castes of the dominant village eventually become concerned, obviously, about this other village with the messianically brilliant child; they fear that as the child’s village continues to evolve and becomes more and more advanced and sophisticated it will be only a matter of time before some prescient member of the little village’s warrior caste comes before the child and asks, ‘How shall we attack and defeat the village of ————’ (the fellow could not understand or reproduce the airline passenger’s pronunciation of the dominant village’s name, which evidently consisted mostly of glottal clicks and pops) ‘and take their lands and hunting grounds for our own more advanced and sophisticated culture?’ and so on; and a delegation of the bellicose ———— village’s upper-caste citizens finally work up their nerve and appear en masse for an audience with their tyrannical shaman, who it emerges is not only extremely ancient and powerful but is in fact an albino—with all that extreme congenital pallor connotes in this part of the prehistoric world—and who evidently dwells in a small, austerely appointed lean-to just outside the dominant village’s city limits, and spends most of his time conducting private necromantic rituals that involve playing crude musical arrangements with human tibias and femurs on rows of differently sized human skulls like some sort of ghastly paleolithic marimbas, as well as apparently using skulls for both his personal stew pot and his commode; and the elite villagers come and make the customary obeisances and offerings and then lay out their concerns about the upstart village’s rapid development under the stewardship of this brilliant juvenile lusus naturae—who by the way we are informed has by this time been presiding hierophantically from his raised central dais for several solar cycles and is now something more like ten years old—and they respectfully ask their necromantic leader whether he’s perhaps had a chance to give any thought to the überchild issue and/or might see fit to intervene before the child’s upstart village becomes so advanced that even the predacious ———— village’s albescent warriors are no match for it. There are certain intimations that the dominant ———— village’s culture is cannibalistic or else perhaps uses the practice of cannibalizing enemy POWs as a way to further terrify and demoralize rival cultures, but all this is left shadowy and as it were merely suggestive. All he could say for certain was that the flight’s highly analytic narrator was darker-haired and—judging from his posture and the distinctively squared-off edge of the haircut against the back of his well-tanned neck—both younger and of a higher social or economic station than was the other passenger, who, again, appeared to have some type of auditory or perhaps cognitive deficit. Structurally, this scene apparently functions as both the climax of the protasis and the as it were engine of the narrative’s rising action, because at just this point we are told that the original exemplum splits or diverges here into at least three main epitatic variants. All three versions involve the maleficent shaman’s hearing out the ———— village’s upper-caste citizens’ fears and their pleas for counsel and then conducting a lengthy and very intricate pantheistic ritual in which he boils yams in a special ceremonial skull and reads the rising steam, rather the way certain other primitive cultures read tea leaves or the entrails of poultry in order to divine and inform a certain course of action. In one variant of the epitasis, then, the shaman—whose eyes are described as appearing literally red in just the way certain modern albinistic specimens’ pupils can appear hemean or red—apparently imbibes some melanistic philter or smears himself with dark clay and disguises himself in a cloak and bushy rabbinical beard and magically transports himself bodily across the region to the upstart village, whereupon he insinuates himself into the long line of villagers waiting to ask their respective questions of the child on the dais, and, upon eventually arriving at the queue’s front, the nigrescently disguised shaman presents the child with the offering of a certain mysterious mutant specimen of breadfruit which has a strange excrescent growth resembling the child’s village’s new crude alphabet’s glyph for ‘growth,’ ‘fertility,’ ‘wisdom,’ or ‘destiny’ (the village’s written language still wasn’t very advanced or differentiated) on the breadfruit’s side, and then instead of asking his question aloud at high volume, publicly, which had gradually evolved into the custom at these lunar Q&A rituals, the malefic shaman instead leans forward in his jaguar-hide mantle and flowing French Fork and whispers something in the child’s tiny ear—the natives of this region evidently all have very tiny and close-set ears, rather the way the aborigines of other Third World areas developed racially distinctive eyelids, complexions, and so forth—susurrating some question that is completely inaudible to anyone else in the line but which evidently has a profound effect on the child, because directly after the thanatophilic shaman withdraws and melts back into the rain forest the child on the dais closes its eyes and withdraws its consciousness into some type of meditative catatonic state for weeks or even according to one sub-version of the variant months, refusing to respond to anyone’s questions or to react to or even acknowledge the presence of any of the other villagers; and there are apparently all manner of further sub- and sub-sub-versions of the variant which devote a great deal of narrative time to various speculations and allegations about what it was that the dominant ———— village’s incognito shaman whispered to the child, although all the sub-versions’ theories evidently concur that whatever it was had indeed been in the standard grammatical form of a question and not any sort of declarative statement or apothegm or rhyming mesmeric spell. In the second of the epitasis’s three main variants, the autocratic shaman evidently does not disguise or insinuate himself in any way but rather gathers all the upper-caste citizens of the powerful ———— village as well as a phalanx of attendants and palanquin carriers and syces and white-painted security personnel and specialized antijaguar squads and travels with this contingent en masse through the rain forest to the puericratic village for a full-scale State Visit or Diplomatic Summit, and in this version the epitatic complication is due not to anything the sibilant shaman asks—because evidently the entire Summit consists of nothing but the endless roundabout courtesies and ritual tropes which intervillage State Visits in that region of the rain forest always entail—but rather to some potion or spell affixed to the mutant glyph-excrescent breadfruit which the shaman presents in a decorative parchment papillote to the seated child as one of the State Visit’s countless de rigueur ceremonial gifts and tokens of esteem, which potion or spell here then causes the child on the dais to close its eyes and enter the aforementioned oneirically catatonic mystical state, rather like a mainframe compiling, and he refuses to answer or acknowledge the villagers’ questions for several lunar cycles. Then in the third, final, and rather more passively modernistic epitatic variant, there is evidently no disguise or State Visit or psychoactive breadfruit; rather in the third version the malefic angekok merely consults the yams’ evaporate and makes elaborate necromantic calculations and finally tells the ———— village’s upper-caste supplicants not to worry, that in fact no action is called for, that the actual threat the überchild poses is not to them or the ———— village’s brutal hegemony over the region, because the child at this point is just on the verge of reaching the sidereal equivalent of eleven years old, which birthday evidently represents the paleolithic Third World’s bar mitzvah or as it were age of majority; and, the albino shaman tells the delegation, any child this preternaturally gifted and exceptional is itself still growing and developing and learning at a geometric rate and advancing inevitably toward its supernatural entelechy’s fulfillment, and that—this is still the shaman, whose role in this third main variant of the epitasis is almost wholly oracular—and that, ironically, it will be the very questions the child is asked by the increasingly modernized and sophisticated villagers that will facilitate the wunderkind’s further development into something so supernaturally advanced that it will ultimately prove the upstart village’s very undoing, and so the shaman tells his upper-caste subjects not to worry because before too long the puericratic villagers will all be back hunting and gathering and worshipping Yam Gods and soiling their loincloths with fear at the sight of an etiolated regiment and coming across with their annual tribute of yams and hides to the hegemonic ———— village just as they always have, and so on and so forth; and sure enough in this moodier and somewhat more contemporary third version of the epitasis—in which narratively the malevolent shaman is reduced from a peripeteiac antagonist to a mere vehicle for exposition or foreshadowing, this rather anticipating the function which oracles, sorcerers, Attic choruses, Gaelic coronach, Senecan dumbshows, Plautian prologues, and chatty Victorian narrators perform in various later cycles’ exempla—but nevertheless in the variant’s next scene sure enough, at the precise sidereal moment of the paleolithic equivalent of its eleventh birthday, the child on the central dais spontaneously goes into the same ptotic autisto-mystical withdrawal as in the more structurally conventional variants—although according to the highly analytical younger man on the flight there exist here as well certain even less conventional sub-versions of the third main variant in which there is no mention of any regionally dominant village or shaman or cranial obeah, but rather here it is purportedly the young and extraordinarily comely daughter of an upper-caste villager, who had just died after a lengthy death-pallet scene, who—‘who’ here meaning the nubile daughter—leans in and whispers the mysterious coup de vieux-type question in the child’s ear; or in another marginal sub-version a mysterious white wasp or possibly trypanosomic bloodsucking fly of genus Glossina flies through the village straight to the center’s raised dais or platform and stings the child on the forehead in the precise spot corresponding to the ajna or sixth Hindic chakra, with the child immediately thereupon falling into the ptotic and compiling-esque trance—but the crux nevertheless is that in all the myriad variants and sub-versions of the rising action the child’s trance and its essential characteristics are the same, and it is at the point of the child’s psychic withdrawal that all three major competing editions of the epitasis apparently converge again and conclude the as it were Second Act of the exemplum; and what then transpires throughout the catastasis and various relief scenes and faux-reversals and dal segni and scènes à faire all the way to the narrative’s final catastrophe remains the same in all the putative variants and versions, such that the mythopoeic narrative’s very structure itself moves from initial unity to epitatic trinity to reconciliation and unity again in the falling action—this observation evidently also inserted by the jetliner’s somewhat pedantic young narrator, in or on the back of whose scalp as time passed my friend’s acquaintance said he began to think he could discern an unusual patch of gray or prematurely white hair that was of markedly different texture than the surrounding scalp’s hair and seemed if gazed at long enough to comprise some sort of strange intaglial glyph or design, though he was quick to admit that the same phenomenon can occur with clouds or configurations of shadows if one looks intently enough for long periods, and on the United flight there was simply very little else to look at—along, of course, with all the iconic resonance that an apparently One-into-Three-into-One dramatic structure will possess for the Western analytical mind. Nevertheless, when the child comes out of the catatonic trance or chrysalis stage, or resurfaces from meditating on the implications of whatever it was that the hegemonic shaman or nubile mourner had whispered, or recovers from the first wash of pubescent testosterone, or whatever precisely it was that was going on on the wickerwork dais while the boy sat motionless and incommunicado for several lunar cycles—afterward it’s immediately clear that the child has undergone some significant developmental changes, because when he finally does come out of it and opens his eyes and responds to stimuli and resumes answering the cyclic queue of villagers’ questions, evidently he’s now answering in a very different way indeed, and his relationship to the questions and to the villagers and to the village’s developing culture as a whole now comprises a wholly different gestalt. It is the progressively extreme changes in the advanced boy’s relation to as it were both Truth and Culture which constitute the exemplum’s catastasis or crisis or falling action or Third Act. At first, now, the child will sometimes answer a villager’s question just as before, but now will also append to this specific answer additional answers to certain other related or consequent questions which the child apparently believes his initial answer entails, as if he now understands his answers as part of a much larger network or system of questions and answers and further questions instead of being merely discrete self-contained units of information; and whenever the reawakened child breaks with previous convention and extemporizes on an answer’s ramifications it evidently sends both cultural and economic shock-waves through the village’s community, because the established custom and norm heretofore has of course been that the child on the dais answers only a question that he is explicitly asked, answering in an almost idiotic, cybernetically literal way, such that—as the pedantic younger man reminded his auditor he’d mentioned in passing during the protasis—such that an entire new caste of interrogatory consultants had come into being in the village’s economy, consultants whose marketable skill lay in structuring citizens’ questions in such a way as to avoid the so-called G.I.G.O. phenomenon to which questions presented to the child before the climactic trance were susceptible, in other words being paid or as it were compensated to ensure that the question posed was not for example something like, ‘Can you tell me where my eldest son’s lost blowgun might be found?’ to which the child would traditionally be wont to answer simply, ‘Yes,’ the boy intending this answer not to be sarcastic or unhelpful but simply True, operating out of an almost classically binary or comme on dit Boolean paradigm, a crude human computer, and as such susceptible to G.I.G.O., being still after all at heart a child no matter how exceptional or even omniscient, and then the unfortunate villager would have to wait an entire lunar cycle before he could re-pose his question in a more efficacious way, an interrogatory syndrome which the consultant caste had gotten more and more successful at preventing, at higher and higher rates of compensation; but now in the epi—pardon me in the catastasis now the powerful new consultant caste’s whole stock-in-trade becomes useless or unnecessary, because the child’s new incarnation appears now disposed not just to respond to villagers’ questions but to as it were read them, the questions, with ‘read’ evidently being either the passenger’s or my friend’s acquaintance’s term for interpreting, contextualizing, and/or anticipating the ramified implications of a given question, the metamorphosed post-trance child in other words now trying to involve his queued interlocutors in actual heuristic exchanges or dialogues, violating custom and upsetting the villagers and rendering the consultant caste’s rhetorical or as it were ‘computer programming’ skills otiose and sowing the seeds of political unrest and ill will simply by having apparently evolved—the exceptional child has—into a new, suppler, more humanistic and less mechanical kind of intelligence or wisdom, which itself is bad enough but then apparently in the next phase of the child’s heuristic evolution—as either he pubertally matures and develops or else the hemean shaman’s or maiden’s or wasp’s or tsetse fly’s spell takes further hold, depending on the epitatic variant—after a few more lunar cycles the child begins the even more troubling practice of responding to a villager’s question with questions of his own, questions which frequently seem to be irrelevant to the issue at hand and are often frankly disturbing, for example in one of what the fellow remembered as the numerous examples proffered on the United liner if the question was along the lines of, for instance, ‘My eldest daughter is willful and disobedient; should I follow our local shaman’s recommendation to have her clitoridectomy performed early in order to modify her attitude, or should I wait and allow the man she eventually marries to be the one to order the clitoridectomy as custom dictates?’ the answer would apparently be something quite off the point or even offensive such as, ‘Have you asked your daughter’s mother what she thinks?’ or, ‘What might one suppose to be the equivalent of a clitoridectomy for willful sons?’ or—in the case of the example he apparently heard the most clearly because the auditor either did not catch it or was unable to follow the point and asked the pedantic and analytical young United passenger to repeat it more slowly—the question being, ‘What method of yam propagation is least apt to offend my family’s fields’ jealous and temperamental Yam Gods?’ the catastatic child apparently launches into an entire protodialectical inquiry into just why exactly the interlocutor believes in jealous and temperamental Yam Gods at all, and whether this villager has ever in quiet moments closed his eyes and sat very still and gazed deep inside himself to see whether in his very heart of hearts he truly believes in these ill-tempered Yam Gods or whether he’s merely been as it were culturally conditioned from an early age to ape what he has seen his parents and all the other villagers say and do and appear to believe, and whether it has ever late at night or in the humid quiet of the rain forest’s dawn occurred to the questioner that perhaps all these others didn’t really, truly believe in petulant Yam Gods either but were themselves merely aping what they in turn saw everyone else behaving as if they believed, and so on, and whether it was possible—just as a thought-experiment if nothing else—that everyone in the entire village had at some quiet point seen into their hearts’ hearts and realized that their putative belief in the Yam Gods was mere mimicry and so felt themselves to be a secret hypocrite or fraud; and, if so, that what if just one villager of whatever caste or family suddenly stood up and admitted aloud that he was merely following empty custom and did not in his heart of hearts truly believe in any fearsome set of Yam Gods requiring propitiation to prevent drought or decimation by yam-aphids: would that villager be stoned to death, or banished, or might his admission not just possibly be met with a huge collective sigh of relief because now everyone else could be spared oppressive inner feelings of hypocrisy and self-contempt and admit their own inner disbelief as well; and if, theoretically, all this were to come about, what consequences might this sudden communal admission and relief have for the interlocutor’s own inner feelings about the Yam Gods, for instance was it not theoretically possible that this villager might discover, in the absence of any normative cultural requirement to fear and distrust the Yam Gods, that his true religious conception was actually of Yam Gods who were rather kindly and benign and not Yam Gods he had to be fearful of offending or had to try to appease but rather Yam Gods to feel helped, succored, and even comme on dit loved by, and to try to love in return, and freely, this of course assuming that the two of them could come to some kind of agreement on what they meant by ‘love’ in a religious context, in other words agape and so on and so forth . . . the child’s response appearing to become more and more digressive and pæanistic as the conventionally pious villager and the whole rest of the monthly queue stand there with eyes wide and mouths agape and so on and so forth for quite some time in the example, the more educated passenger’s articulation of the child’s response here being clear and distinct but evidently also rather prolix, even when slowly repeated, as well as frequently interrupted with pedantic analytical asides and glosses. The important point here being that, from the cultural perspective of the paleolithic village’s exarchs and GP shamans, the child has begun to respond to questions not by providing the customary correct answer but now by simply ranting, and no doubt at this point in the exemplum’s falling action the child could simply have been discredited and/or dismissed as having gone insane or been possessed by an insane spirit as a result of the dominant ———— village’s shaman’s whispered question and could—the child could—at this point merely have been as it were deposed, removed from his omphalic dais and divested of his unique legal status and returned to his parents’ custody and no longer taken seriously as a hierophantic force . . . were, however, it not for the fact that these more heuristic and less mechanical so-called rants the child inflicts on his interlocutors have such a terribly profound and troubling effect on them—on the villagers who’d continued queuing patiently up every lunar cycle as was the custom, hoping only to receive some clear, comprehensive answer to a developmentally relevant question—the dialogues and exchanges often now sending questioners staggering back to their lean-tos to lie curled foetally on their sides with rolling eyes and high fevers as their primitive CPUs tried frantically to reconfigure themselves. All of which obviously compounds the fear and unrest the villagers feel toward this new metamorphosed catastatic incarnation of the extraordinary child, and many of them might have stopped lining up every lunar cycle with offerings and questions altogether had the sidereal ritual not become such an entrenched social custom that the villagers feel terrific unease and anxiety at the thought of abandoning it; plus we’re now told that in addition the villagers also have come more and more to fear offending or provoking the child on its raised dais—a child who according to the glyph-haired passenger is by this point fully pubescent and developing the broad squat torso, protrusive forehead, and hairy extremities of a bona fide paleolithic adult male—and their fear and unease is then further increased in the falling action’s third and apparently final stage of the child’s development, in which after several more lunar cycles he begins to act increasingly irritable and captious with the villagers’ questions and now begins responding not with a sincere answer or a further question or even a digressive chautauqua but now with what often seems a rebuke or complaint, appearing almost to berate them, asking what on earth made them think that theirs are the really important questions, asking rhetorically what the point of all this is, why must he be consigned to life on a wickerwork platform if all he’s going to be asked are the sort of dull, small, banal, quotidian, irrelevant questions that these squat hirsute tiny-eared villagers line up under a blazing Third World sun all day with offerings in order to pose, asking what makes them think he can help them when they haven’t the slightest idea what they even really need. Asking whether the whole thing might not, in fact, be a waste of everyone’s time. By which point the village’s whole social structure and citizenry, from exarch to lumpen, is in an uproar of cultural disorientation and anxiety and antichild sentiment, an hysteria abetted at every turn by the consultant caste, most of whom are now of course out of work because of the metamorphic changes in the child’s mode or style of answering questions and now have nothing better to do all day than hold seminars for the angry villagers in which for some type of fee the consultants will advance and debate various theories about what exactly has happened to the child and whom or what the child appears to be metamorphosing into and about what it portends for the village that its central dais’s beloved omniscient child has become an agent of disruption and cultural anomie; and in the versions with the disguised malefic shaman or the breathtaking daughter of the deceased exarch there are now also some especially costly elite-caste seminars in which the consultants theorize about just what fatal question the dissimilated magus or jeune fille dorée might have whispered into the boy’s hypotrophied ear to cause such a ghastly transformation, with various sub-versions’ consultants arguing for every sort of possible question from, ‘Why do you put yourself at the service of villagers so much less extraordinary than yourself?’ to, ‘What sort of Yam Gods and/or Dark Spirits does someone as supernaturally advanced as yourself believe in, deep inside?’ to the deceptively simple but of course all too plausibly disastrous, ‘Might there ever be any questions you yourselfwish to ask?’—as well as untold other examples which ambient engine and cabin noise obscured, the United flight evidently being filled with weather and turbulence and at least one interval during which it looked as though they were going to be rerouted and forced to land somewhere other than their scheduled destination—but with all the different versions’ and sub-versions’ seminars’ hypothesized questions sharing an essentially recursive quality that bent the child’s cognitive powers back in on themselves and transformed him from messianic to monstrous, and whose lethal involution resonates with malignant-self-consciousness themes in everything from Genesis 3:7 to the self-devouring Kirttimukha of the Skanda Purana to the Medousa’s reflective demise to Gödelian metalogic; and fewer and fewer villagers begin queuing up before the child’s platform in the village’s center every 29.52 days, although they never make so bold as to stop coming altogether because the villagers are still deeply afraid of offending the child or making him angry, especially after one incident in a recent lunar cycle in which apparently one of the brighter, more ambitious warrior-caste villagers had positioned himself in the very rear of the line and waited until everyone else had had their Q&A exchanges and dispersed and then had—which is to say the warrior-caste villager waited until everyone else had left and then had—had then leaned in and very quietly asked the child what the best strategy might be for attacking and defeating the dominant ———— village’s spectral troops and necromantic shaman and seizing the ———— village’s lands and exacting tribute from them and from all the rain forest’s other primitive villages and establishing their own paleolithic empire over the region, and the child’s answer—which no one hears because the rest of the queue has dispersed, which in retrospect raises questions about how the young, vigorous, essentially dark-haired and patriciate narrator on the United flight justifies including it in the catastasis—but in any event the child’s answer, which the boy evidently leans way far forward off the edge of the platform to whisper in the warrior’s tiny close-set ear, instantly destroys the warrior’s higher faculties or spirit or soul and drives him hopelessly insane, and the man reels from the dais with his hands over his ears and staggers off into the rain forest and wanders senselessly about making distressed noises until he’s eventually set upon and devoured by the area’s predacious jaguars. This incident sends the first wave of open terror through the village; and, with the demotic fomentation of the lumpen-consultants, the village’s citizens begin truly to hate and fear the child, and there is now more or less a consensus that this preternatural child whom they’d so stupidly revered and depended on and based all their advances and developments on the counsel of is, in fact, either one of the thanatotic White Spirits or a duly authorized agent of same, and that it is only a matter of time before someone catches the child in the wrong mood or asks the wrong question and the child says something which destroys the whole village or perhaps even the entire universe (the two being scarcely distinguished in the paleolithic mind); and a quorum of the exarchs officially decides that the child needs to be assassinated A.S.A.P., but they cannot persuade any of the village’s warrior caste to get close enough to the central raised platform or dais or plinth to kill the child, even spear- and/or phytotoxic dart-distance obviously being well within range of the child’s voice and the memory of their late comrade’s fate—namely that of the ambitious warrior who had been driven insane with a single whisper—remaining still quite vivid in the braves’ minds. And thus then there is apparently a brief interval during which a type of Taoist or comme on dit ‘dolce far niente’ or Zenlike constructive-nonaction movement gains ascendancy in the exarchs’ counsels, some in the warrior and consultant castes arguing that if the villagers simply all stop lining up with provisions once every lunar cycle then the child, who has not moved from the central dais in years and has never had occasion to learn even rudimentary hunting-and-gathering skills, will inevitably starve to death and so to speak solve their problem for them . . . except it turns out that the child had in fact been farsighted enough to break off and stash a certain portion of all the months and years of offerings under his pallet of plantain leaves—note here please gentlemen that in the catastasis of the first epitatic variant in which the dominant ———— village’s theocratic shaman functions as an antagonist it is at this point revealed via flashback or interpolation that what the disguised sorcerer had in fact whispered into the child’s tiny close-set ear when he reached the front of the queue had been something along the lines of, ‘You, child, who are so gifted and sagacious and wise: Is it possible that you have not realized the extent to which these primitive villagers have exaggerated your gifts, have transformed you into something you know too well you are not? Surely you have seen that they so revere you precisely because they themselves are too unwise to see your limitations? How long before they, too, see what you have seen when gazing deep inside yourself? Surely it has occurred to you. Surely one such as yourself must know already how terribly fickle the affections of a primitive Third World village can be. But tell me, child: Have you begun yet to be afraid? Have you begun yet then to plan for the day when they wake to a truth you already know: that you are not half so complete as they believe? That the illusion these children have made of you cannot be sustained? Have you, for example, thought yet to break off and secrete a portion of their lavish offerings against the day they awaken to what you already know you are, and turn fickly against you, and then because of their own turning become disoriented and anxious and blame you further for it, see you as the thief of their peace and begin to fear you and hate you in earnest and before long perhaps even cease to bring you offerings in the hope that you will starve or slink off like the thief they now believe you to be?’ and so forth, which monologue now in a rather oracle-to-Laius-type irony of fate appears in retrospect to have been both sound and fatal advice, although we should note that in certain sub-versions of the other two epitatic variants’ catastases there is no mention whatever of irony or hoarding: the child simply endures the catastrophe of the queues’ and offerings’ end and of his own utter isolation and in effect perverse banishment at the precise center of a village whose center everyone now goes way far out of their way to avoid, the child here enduring alone on the dais for months and months, surviving on nothing but his own saliva and the occasional nibble of plantain leaf from his pallet—here evidently echoing the way certain medieval hagiographies depict their own extraordinarily high-powered, supernaturally advanced subjects as being capable of fasting for months and even years without discomfort—and by this point in the falling action as well the weather had cleared and the fellow said even the noise of the engine seemed to have abated, perhaps because of the United airliner’s initial descent in preparation to touch down, which made it possible to hear at least some of the archetypal catastrophe over the rustling noises of the passengers all gathering their personal effects together and beginning to as it were assemble themselves for disembarkation. Because eventually they left. The village did. When the child failed to starve or leave the dais but merely continued to sit there atop it. That at some point the entire community simply gave up and abandoned the village and their tilled fields and centrally heated shelters and chose to strike off en masse into the rain forest and to return to hunting and gathering and sleeping beneath trees and fending off the predacious indigenous jaguars as best they could, such was their fear of what they decided the child had grown to become. The exarchs had organized and assembled them and the exodus was extremely quiet, and the boy was not at first aware of the mass departure because evidently for some time now all commerce and social intercourse among the citizens had been conducted only on the extreme perimeters of the village, well out of earshot of the center’s dais; the boy had not seen a living soul in the center for months. In the humid quiet of dawn, however, the child could detect a difference in the center’s dead stillness: the village had emptied in the night, they were all now spread out and moving, the papoose-laden women keeping sharp eyes out for edible roots and the hunters searching for dik-dik spoor the consultants cast spells to summon, following the herd as they had before the dawn of time. Only a small detachment of elite and lavishly compensated warriors remained behind, and as the sun rose they prepared crude torches and fired the village, the huts’ yam-thatch catching easily and the morning breeze spreading the blaze in a great phlogistive hiss as from a dissatisfied crowd; and when they had judged the fire unstoppable the warriors launched their torches like javelins at the village’s center and lit out for the jungle to catch up to the migrating tribe. The hindmost of these warriors, looking back as they ran, claimed to have seen the motionless boy still seated, surrounded by glassy daylight flames, although apparently a separate variant’s catastrophe follows only the tribe’s main body and its forced march into the tropical wilderness and includes only silence and primitive sounds of exertion until one keen-eyed child, hanging extrorse in its sling on a mother’s back, saw blue hanging smoke in the dense fronds behind them, and low-caste stragglers, turning round at the long column’s rear, could make out the red lace of a fire seen through many layers of trees’ moving leaves, a great rapacious fire that grew and gained ground no matter how hard the high castes drove them.