Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Bloguiste Completes Swook, and World Trembles


This post will be the self-indulgent celebration of the bloguiste’s recently achieved swook.  The reader can take it or leave it.

          I am inspired by the word blog itself, which is an abbreviated form of web plus log.  Everything about the cybernetic world is rushed and breathless.  One must do what one can to avoid disyllables, which by the very laws of thought must take twice as long to enunciate as  monosyllables.  Swook—a vocable of my own invention that fills the much needed gap separating swim (n.) from book--achieves a wonderful economy.  For by a most extraordinary concatenation of serendipities I yesterday brought to completion two mighty works.

            The first is the manuscript of a book provisionally entitled The Dark Side of the Enlightenment.  The second is my swim from Bar Harbor, ME to Redondo Beach, CA.  Neither of the projects was completed on the day it began, needless to say, but neither was the building of Rome, roughly comparable accomplishments.  Furthermore, the swim part might be regarded as slightly allegorical.  From a consultation of Google Maps I discover that the shortest driving distance between Bar Harbor and Redondo Beach is 3283 miles.  That’s if you are willing to go by I-80 and pay some tolls.  Believe me, I’ve paid my tolls.  For the last eighteen years I have tried to start every morning with a swim, and I have succeeded in doing so at least seventy-five percent of the time.
            I am convinced that even by the most conservative reckoning—so conservative that it is probably even honest--I have now completed the 231,123 twenty-five-yard lengths of the Dillon Gymnasium pool needed for a metaphorical crossing of the North American Continent.  To tell you the truth, I was amazed at the discovery.  I thought I was still fighting off sharks somewhere around Saint George, Utah, but statistics don’t lie.  Much.

 Brrrr Harbor, Maine

            Moving on to the bibliographical side of my swook, the manuscript I have just completed is 140,480 words long.  This seemed plenty long to me while I was writing it, but in fact in the great scheme of things it is at best a moderate production.  I’ve produced a few more words that Dickens did in A Tale of Two Cities (135,420), though Fenimore Cooper aces me out at 145,469 in The Last of the Mohicans.  These titles also have a happy symbolism about them.  I wrote some of the book in Paris, and as to the last Mohican, nothing more need be said.

Redondo Beach, California: the Pier

            As for the real big boys, I simply cannot compete.  My manuscript falls between a quarter and a fifth of the length of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, the only book I can think of at the moment that seems to provide a fair parallel for literary quality and likely impact on world consciousness.  War and Peace logs in at 587,267 words, though I must admit that I don’t know whether that refers to the original Russian or to the English of the wonderful “Inner Sanctum” translation by Louise and Aylmer Maude published by Simon and Schuster in 1942.
Note the date.  One of many great features of this edition is its patriotic character, reflected in the fine introduction by Clifton Fadiman and even more tellingly in its end-paper maps, which show in stark comparison the advance of Napoleon to Moscow in 1812 with the advance of the German army to its furthest point on November 27, 1941.  Think "Stalingrad".   If we take the starting point of Napoleon’s campaign as K√∂ningsberg in Prussia his army had to march—always on its stomach, remember, which is very like the Australian crawl—780 miles each way!  But of course he had to get to East Prussia from Paris in the first place, which would have added another 1053 outward miles to his trip.  In other words I long ago outdistanced Marshal Ney.
All of this is vaguely relevant, because the last chapter of my book is about Napoleon—sort of.  It is entitled “Did Napoleon Exist?”  My contract does not allow me to reveal trade secrets in an uncopyrighted format, so that I am forbidden to reveal the answer in this venue.  You will have to read my book to find out.  I will point out, however, that the opening scene in War and Peace is a cocktail party in Saint Petersburg in 1805 in which certain characters are discussing whether on not Napoleon is the Antichrist.  I shall further note that the entire round trip distance between Paris and Moscow is three thousand, six hundred and sixty-six miles!  Need I say more?  Let history judge.
For all its exhilaration an achieved swook does bring with it its own anxieties.  What next?  Alexander could weep for the want of new worlds to conquer.  My problem is of a different sort.  A septuagenarian standing before the pier in Redondo Beach has to wonder whether, at a rate of roughly three hundred miles a year, there is much likelihood of ever getting back home.  However, I am planning a slightly more northerly route, beginning at the point where the California-Oregon line hits the coast and swimming eastward along the 42nd parallel to Plymouth Bay.