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A + B = Essence

 ‘The unconscious is structured like a language.’ 

 Jacques Lacan

‘Pray, sir,’ said the barber, ‘is that Sanscrit,
or what language?’ ‘Maybe it is jadoo,’
I replied in a solemn and deep voice.

Pandurang Hari (1873)

The Saussurian model of language as a system of signs must surely admit Tanerai – my langue close, or constructed language – into the family of languages. Tane in Tanerai means ‘psyche, anima, spirit, soul, daemon, life (spirit); angel, invisible spirit, the soul of a person: his metaphysical double; outburst of feeling, transport, ecstasy, rapture, inspiration’; rai, ‘making, construction; performance; deed, activity’. Therefore, tane rai, a compound word calqued on qaize rai (constructed or artificial language), would surely signify ‘constructed soul’, a reinvention. Tanerai is the language; tane rai, with its interstice, or ma (the silence between notes or words) draws toward Zen mu (nothingness).

Ferdinand de Saussure made a deep impression on me when I studied linguistics during my stay at university. Saussure, I discovered to my delight, coined terms (seqasyanatta) to make new descriptions of language. (My own coinage, langue close, is influenced by Saussure’s langue; trobar clus, the secret love poetry of Provence; and the poèmes clos of Isidore Isou.) Language builders (bocyaqaizeyaris) and counterfeiters (bocyanariaris) have beaucoup in common, it would seem.

From an early age – as soon as I could write, in fact – I needed a secret system of signs in order to commit to paper my difference within the family and out in the world. This difference was soon enough perceived from the outside, too. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can never hurt me! This weary refrain consoled me less than the realisation that words in themselves were hollow, without meaning. A ‘pansy’ is, after all, a flower; by derivation, a thought (pensée); and by imagination, a poem. No matter that it was spat from the mouths of bullies – ’pansy’ became a single-word haiku for me. I transformed it first through metonymy, much as Genet transformed his murderous heroes into homoerotic stallions; I then went one step further, and gave it a name in my private language, making of it sula venoq, as alchemists turned base metals into gold (sulla venustà).

At school, I was studying French and at home, Russian. Perhaps most significantly, my French teacher, Mrs Costain, gave me a book on Esperanto. The creator of this ‘international language’, Dr Ludwig Zamenhof, was, I discovered, a child my age when he embarked upon his linguistic folly, so it was not inconceivable for a boy like me growing up in the Paludines to do the same. As I was having to come to grips with number, agreement, conjugation, declension, inflexion and agglutination, my private language was the perfect place to experiment. At the same time, my private world was burgeoning; I had a lot to say in my diary which I was unwilling to share with anyone just yet. (As I came from a large family where privacy was impossible and a locked diary an invitation to delict, writing in a language no one else could understand was the obvious solution.) 

Tanerai (pr. ta-né-raï), or Taneraic as I call my language in English, was first written down in August 1968, when I had just turned thirteen. In my case, writing did indeed precede speech.1 The supercontext of Taneraic was my diary, however, which I began a few days before my fifteenth birthday, when the language was already two years old. (From 1968 to 1970, I built up Taneraic through translating a handwritten book of short stories by my elder brother, sadly lost.) I wrote some 3,500 pages of confession, discovery and erotica, before taking up English, encapsulating Taneraic in my name and beginning to publish. It became the language in which I could confess (eyonda) or act out (eyanda) within the intimate (mousyi) pages of my diary (mousyacyou, perhaps a calque on journal intime – as opposed to jabecyou, the type of diary which sits on desks in offices). It gave forms and names to conditions and feelings for which I had yet to learn the English terms.

Poetry (hasyan) became the receptacle for public language; words (qasyan) were secret transmissions, a Morse code at first, of self-discoveries, new emotions, a developing identity. As a gay sensibility had manifested itself in me early on, previous even to the diary, what Anaïs Nin called mensonges vitaux or vital lies (pasyan), became a way at first of protecting myself from the hostilities of the outside world. (The word moumis, gay[s] or lesbian[s] or homosexual[s], dispensed with not only the problem of ‘homosexual versus gay’ for me, but also the gay-lesbian nexus; moumis also eradicated the plethora of depreciatory words found in most natural languages. By the same token, pejoratives are indicated in Taneraic by way of suffixes, much like the Italian –accio.) 

Masturbation (rasyen), my first refuge, my first [re]course (sesyenat) in life, was mirrored in Taneraic, a masturbatorily solo language. My diary was full of explosions (taisyan), explications (aisyan); it was full of charm (asyan). Taneraic had become the keeper, the recorder, of all my first fruits of the earth (Gide’s Nourritures terrestres is still my favorite book): my first lovemaking (sesyaret, with a schoolteacher twice my age – I was under age – who begged me not to write down his name or telephone number for a friend of his had been sent to prison for such an innocuous and idle scribble; naturally, I wrote everything down in Taneraic); my first drafts (segehanat); my first dawn (seibevati hauna) after swallowing a hundred barbiturates; my first beloved (sequssatis); my first poems in print (semaitati hasyan); my first victory (sesasecat – a difficult word, a tongue-twister in which the hardship of victory can be sensed).

Like most ‘solo enthusiasts’, I thought I was alone – in Australia, if not the world – in having a langue close. I told no one about it. I concentrated on my poetry instead. But in 1990, a biographical note appended to an American anthology I appeared in said that I was working on a dictionary of a ‘hermetic language of his invention’.2 Another contributor, the poet Michael Helsem, wrote to me from Dallas. He also had a private language, and requested lessons in Taneraic. We now correspond, seherati ai sepou e ai tanerai (partly in English, partly in Taneraic). Helsem has astonished me with his early and easy grasp of the fundamentals of the language (although he has yet to come to grips with the two verb stems for transitive and intransitive – and the reason for them). He is the only person to date who has ventured into the linguistic territory of Taneraic. Would this correspondence satisfy George Steiner’s test for the validity of private languages?3

A couple of years ago, I read A Mother’s Disgrace by Robert Dessaix. In it, Dessaix described an imaginary city state and wrote that it had its own secret language, which he declined to name. He exemplified his language with just one word, mokkó, ‘a small keep’. This revelation of a private language ‘so close to home’, in Australia and not in far-away USA, and the odd choice of a single word to exemplify it, incited a response from me. I wrote to Dessaix:

Although I see numerous parallels with the coming into being of your language, there are important differences. Taneraic is not based on a mythical history, nor has it a history outside a description of its own development, as seen in my diaries. There is no city state (le pays des chimères) and it possesses no ‘dialects’ nor ‘regional variations’, for such depend on an imaginative, chimerical, use of the language, rather than use as a vehicle to convey thoughts too private to be expressed in English. Or, it depends on the existence of personae.

I guess your langue close and mine are very different in function, if not in form. It is perhaps telling that the one word you do disclose hints not only at strength but also confinement, claustration, preservation. I gather your language is a creation of order, pattern and regularity in an uncertain and displaced world. Your secret language brought a sense of control over destiny; indeed, you presided over destiny like a demiurge. What did not fit the rigid structures was of necessity excluded, shut out, repressed, denied. In your book, you said that syntax did not allow for any deviation in your language. 

I take [deviation] to mean linguistically as well as psychologically speaking. On the surface, your language probably has the sort of ‘heraldic’ vocabulary which could easily handle Chaucer or Yeats. Your mokkó is surely linguistically, architecturally and geographically unrelated to the actual world in which you lived as a child. In psychological terms – although I’m no psychologist – perhaps mokkó is your core, the centre of your being, and it belongs to a mystical language unsuited to the quotidian.

Perhaps the biggest difference between our two languages is that while the concept (or expression) of homosexuality was completely alien, forbidden, or whatever, in your Pure Land – and, presumably, in the language of your Pure Land – it flourished in mine. Taneraic is abounding in ‘homotextual’ terms – the vocabulary grew as my awareness grew. I could say Taneraic, by its very nature, is a language of sexual exploration – every discovery was permissible and no experience was denied. And, along with it, came terms like ouniq, yearning for the unattainable.4

Dessaix was providing his private language with an Erewhon, complete with imaginary history (temporal-vertical) and topographically ‘dialectic variations’ (spatial-horizontal). He replied: 

What you have done over the years – and I’d heard about it from various people, of course, at different times – is, as you say, very different from what I have done: much more extensive, much more concerned with vocabulary, much more fantastic, I suppose, and psychologically it must serve a very different purpose indeed. What I have done is really hardly worth mentioning by comparison. (In fact, I don’t feel I’ve ‘done’ it, I have little sense of an artifact – it’s just there like an echo of some other self.)

No, Peter [Timms] certainly doesn’t know it and doesn’t need to know it because he doesn’t live there. You ask, for example, how you can distinguish between checking and observing a rule in a private language. Well, different personae inside the head do different tasks. It’s solipsistic, of course, but who cares? I only need this language when I’m there.5

Dessaix’s Erewhon is Ere(t)h.

Basically, what seems to disturb the clinician about the subject of private language is a lack of historical context. What, the learned doctor may ask, separates the private language of a ‘sane’ individual from the glossolalia of a demented charismatic? (The layman always cites ‘schizophrenics’.) Poetry is the answer I want to give, but System is the key. Yet Taneraic, or Dessaix’s anonymous langue close for that matter, belongs to the tradition of poets such as Mallarmé, Stefan George and Isidore Isou, who created ‘untranslatable’ – and sometimes unreadable – poetry, which nevertheless is moving and transcendental in its beauty. Langue close is to language what abstraction is to art.

Dessaix continued in his letter: ‘You’re right that the castle-keep, the mokkó, must symbolize something very central to my sense of self. Since you ask, the Slavic root it comes from is m-k, meaning ‘to close’, as in zamók (lock) and zàmok (castle), zamykat’ (to close), primykat’ (to adhere to) and so on. And the ending is a neuter diminutive ending.

‘Yes, there’s been a lot of interest in my private language – in radio interviews and so on – but mostly at the level of ‘tell us about this other example of your lunacy’. I’m too embarrassed to talk about it at any length and no one knows the right questions.’

Dessaix’s first book was, à la Satori in Paris, his quest for his ancestral roots; he discovered en route that one of Napoleon’s generals was a Desaix – with one s – and hoped that he might have been a respectable epigon. But Raymond Roussel had already punned the good General in the phrase ‘jusqu’à ce que vint le changer Desaix’ (‘until Desaix arrived to change it’).The last two words are identical in pronunciation to changer de sexe, ‘to change one’s sex’. (Dessaix’s surname is pronounced ‘Dessai’ – does the apocopated X unwittingly stand for polite silence on the subject of transgression?)

The raison d’être of Dessaix’s langue close and mine could not be further removed. While Dessaix is content to keep his unnamed language in his head, I have started a dictionary which is expanding at an alarming rate; also, I would like my lover to converse with me in our secret tongue, my transgressive gift to him that exists nowhere outside of ourselves. Contradictorily, I also feel ready to proclaim my language to the whole world.

I have had occasion to ponder the connection between sexual transgressors (transcendentalists?) and herme[neu]tic literature which turns upon paronomasia, dada, absurdism, lettrism. Pederasts and sodomites (blasphemers and epistemologists) often make the best poets (ask Ashbery). 

Derrida’s deconstruction and Foucault’s theories fit the idea of a connection between sexual and linguistic transgression, along with poets like Rimbaud (an old favourite) or David Melnick (new to me), who did to Homer what (hetero) Zukofsky did to Catullus (poet whose object was arse and cunt; Joyce, of Finnegans Wake, like Zukofsky, does not fit my simplistic schema either, but I agree with Steiner that Joyce did not set out to create a new language but a ‘richer, more public medium’).7  What I am hinting at is the idea that moumis are able to tamper with language, for they are at once liberated from convention and bound in hermeticism (the paradoxical in-the-closet/out-of-the-closet paradigm). This is beyond the scope of this essay, but a subject worth researching.

Language is seductive; translation, so the saying goes, is betrayal. Where there is seduction, there is always betrayal, at least amorously speaking. In truisms such as this, I maintain it is the similarity or the rhyme – or near-rhyme (think of all the great love songs) – of key words and the love of word-play in polemic which have given rise to the concept in the first place. It is the seductiveness of language. Traduttore, traditore (translators are traitors), say the Italians, or any number of postmodernists, but I wonder if the person, a Latin, who first enunciated this small piece of specious wisdom were not carried away by its poetic sonance. Is it not more difficult to accept translation as betrayal in English because of the lack of surface connection between the two nouns? The same for Taneraic: Darveqomaqaizet yoyole trasotoniaris (or any non-Indo-European language for that matter).

I wonder who among readers of this essay might not have been attracted by the pattern in the hasyan-pasyan-qasyan nexus touched on earlier. (Where did these words come from?) Modern parlance – especially English – is full of this kind of appeal or attraction, often fleeting and not lasting in usage: the staccato ‘shock jocks’ of talk-back radio; the reputed maxim of television news reportage, ‘if it bleeds, it leads’; ‘wear and tear’ tautologies; ‘cure versus care/caring and sharing’ bromides; ‘the link between reel and real violence’; the psychologists’ catalogue of ‘the basic feelings’ as ‘bad, sad, mad, and glad’;8 even the deconstructionist ‘word/world’ view (‘God created the wor[l]d’). There is less argument here than prosody.

God (tat) may have created the world but it – yes, lower case and neuter – did not create the word. Nothing in the way a Taneraic (or any) word sounds or is written, when using an alphabet (ab raxi) or syllabary (ab raxi dayole uzo qasyan), at least, and omitting onomatopoeia from this discussion can suggest its meaning. ‘Dog’, the mirror anagram of ‘god’, is just a set of phonemes. If ‘god’ were intrinsically infused with meaning, if the sum of the parts G, O and D actually became the divine, then would not its back-to-front twin, D, O and G also be infused with associated meaning and, when combined, bark? (The Jewish interdiction on the enunciation of the Hebrew letters Yud, Hé, Yud, Hé is based on the intrinsicality of meaning. Euphemisms, such as Adonai, my Lord, or Adoshem, the name of the Lord, must be employed instead, lest the Almighty’s name be taken in vain!) Would it hold true for other human languages, such as French, German, Russian, Indonesian, that their equivalent of ‘god’ be an anagram of an animal, too? (If not canine, then some other animal manifestation?) But ‘neihc’, ‘dnuh’, ‘akabos’ and ‘gnijna’ are not gods and ‘ueid’, ‘ttog’, ‘gob’ and ‘nahut’ are not beasts.

If we were to accept such a proposition, toussa, Taneraic for ‘dog’, could be a logogriphic manifestation of my humanism, for it contains within it the words tou, ‘person’ and ta, ‘deity’ (t[ouss]a). Perhaps toussa encodes in me a parenthetical pagan or pantheistic belief, for sou (mirror anagram of t[ous]sa) means ‘plant’. Toussa backwards – spelling backwards, like backward formation, has a long and distinguished career among republicans of letters, alchemists, magicians and inverts (see ‘transgressors’ above) – becomes ‘assuot’, a quasi-equivalent of assaut, ‘the nameless’ (French assaut, ‘assault, attack, onslaught’ is not even a faux ami, for it is not related in any way).

Tat is ‘godhead’ in Taneraic but demonstrative ‘that’ in Sanskrit, which Barthes says ‘suggests the gesture of the child pointing his finger at something and saying: that, there it is, lo! but says nothing else’.9 That is indeed tat, which has said nothing since it was invented. (My Sanskrit dictionary contains many polysyllabic words along the lines of kachathatapagajadhadaba, not translated but defined as an ‘example of a meaningless word’. I love this dictionary filled with the absence of meaning.)10

It is no paradox that Taneraic radicals have no intrinsic meaning – how could they, when they have been ‘created from nothing at all’?11 No word has intrinsic value. When I am asked where the vocabulary for Taneraic comes from, I answer, ‘From beauty’.

The first word in my Taneraic dictionary is ab, ‘essence, element; idea; wits, sense; juice, sap; vapor’: a + b. (It may not strike one at first to see the correlation between an element and juice, for instance, but compound words such as ab sou, ‘sap’ – essence of the plant – or ab daroyeu, ‘marrow’ – essence or sap of the bone – begin to give shape to the idea behind the word.)

In most alphabet-based languages, a + b (alpha + bêta) = alphabet, alifbata, etc. – the atoms (ab ab!) of written language.

Meaning is derived from a two-fold process: the difference a word exhibits in relation to other words (difference is compromised by homonyms and homophones; hence, the reluctance of auxiliary language constructors to embrace them), and the agreement of a community of speakers of a particular language on the meaning of a word. Here is the paradox: How is a text in Taneraic able to sustain meaning when it does not have a ‘community of speakers’ to verify it? Taneraic words, for anyone else, except perhaps Michael Helsem, have no meaning either in isolation or embedded in thousands of pages of text.

Meaning comes from within the phrase, the sentence, the context, so that what is unintelligible to the reader now can be made intelligible through study of the language. 

For example, TRAJAU. 

What does trajau mean by itself? Only I can give it an equivalent in English – or any other natural language, for that matter – which may make the word seem a little less alien. Trajau alone is bereft of sense (comprehensibility) – as opposed to the dictionary meaning (apprehensibility), for it is bereft of context. What, for instance, do words like ‘resistance’ and ‘collaboration’ mean out of context? Resistance to a virus, an idea, discipline? Collaboration on a book, research, policy? Put ‘resistance’ and ‘collaboration’ together in the context of the Second World War, however, and these words spring into life.

Trajau to the Zukofskyan mind calls up Marcus Ulpius Trajan, a Roman emperor, which in rapid turn may put one in mind of the Trajan Column in Rome – or its imitation in the Place Vendôme, in Paris, my favorite city – with its pellicular spiral of history or perhaps even, by way of concatenation, of Catullus. (Celia and Louis Zukofsky’s ‘translations’ of Catullus had a profound influence on me when I first found them in a battered 1960s copy of The Paris Review).12 In Taneraic, trajau means a ‘terrible or incurable disease’ – ostensibly, a frightening word (like ‘cancer’, a word so cruel and interdictive, it may still be referred to as ‘the big C’ in prissy circles), but the syllables ‘tra-jau’ would not frighten anyone. (I’m not sure it frightens me.) Trajau, a redundant form of jau, ‘incurable or fatal disease; plague’ can be found on page 2,602 of my diary, in an entry for December 1976, when I was living on Bali. It was entered into my lexicon five years before the plague eventually known as AIDS entered English. (The Taneraic for AIDS is pronounced disarmingly similar to Zsa Zsa as in Gabor: jajah – jaugara jebo asmunuenostá hayeni [the -gara suffix on jau denotes a group], which may lack the spectral quality of AIDS and may instead interpose an altogether inappropriate ludic element for a ‘community of speakers’ whose language is English. To ascribe levity to jajah is, however, the mistake of searching for echoes of English or any other natural language in Taneraic. By the way, writing AIDS as ‘Aids’, an innocuous homonym, is an attempt to disguise the discomfiture of Anglophones, although this makes the parachronic ‘Marital Aids’, as seen painted on sex shop windows, amusing.) 

A word itself – any word – does not possess power over us; it is its content, its agreed-to meaning, which does. (This was the point doomed comic Lenny Bruce was trying to make.) Yet, in Taneraic, there is a clue to the meaning of trajau in the first three letters, for they constitute the prefix signifying terror or ignominy. Tra-, a kind of demonstrative tat or even ta, is a pointer to jau, suggestive not of its meaning but of its gravity, its gravitas. (But don’t get me wrong, trajau [disease] and tat [godhead] share no cause-and-effect epistemology.)

Perhaps the easiest way for me to describe Taneraic is to present a short text with a translation and then a line-by-line transliteration:

Sasi breqa paqan

Sasi breqa paqan e sasi ledub pu ya habuvada e nu leisoubda cecer – seresotis i peresotis, go nuri baniaris nu uma alinmoutatta nas dibo na bemieuda gan. Yos yosabanda qemani peta nunis xasda aher mas gindi baniaris uma amaxiraratti nas pepeta uza yosancyagga e leisoubda cer veqis. Evon sasi breqa paqan sejir cigosda e peleisoubati, dus tari yocigosda tatari baniaris uma alinmoutatti nas tuhú; peibosuti elenisti sasi breqa paqan lingandi bouainat. Zau sasi ledub sejir yarqada desgeji busai mesyo baniaris uma amaxiraratti nas dib. Ji sasi breqa paqan mas eyonustadi esmounegiatten leduba sasi.                  

The North Wind 

The North Wind and the Sun were arguing about which of them was stronger, when a traveller came along wrapped in a warm cloak. They agreed that the one who could make the traveller take his coat off would be considered the stronger of the two. Then the North Wind blew with all his might, but the more he blew the tighter the traveller wrapped his coat around him; and at last, the poor North Wind gave up trying. Then the Sun began to shine warmly, and immediately the traveller took off his coat. And so the North Wind had to admit the Sun was stronger than he.  

Sentence One: ‘Mr (Ms) Windnorth and Mr (Ms) Sun are discussing about who is strongest, former or latter, when certain traveller who folds himself in coatwarmth just approaches there.’ 

Sentence Two: ‘They fall into agreement if one is successful of causing traveller to unwear coat, then he will be considered stronger than other.’

Sentence Three: ‘Then Mr (Ms) Windnorth begins to blow as his strongest, but more he blows more traveller enfolds coat tightly; finally, poor Mr (Ms) Windnorth ceases attempt.’

Sentence Four: ‘Then Mr (Ms) Sun begins to shine bright and immediate traveller unwears coatwarmth.’

Sentence Five: ‘Therefore Mr (Ms) Windnorth must confess the superiority of Mr (Ms) Sun.’

Much planning went into Taneraic as it developed over the years. It is not a pale imitation of English; it is not contingent upon it at all – or any other natural language – for its expression.

Taneraic is nevertheless a light traveller in the world of grammar (see Appendix).

Given that Taneraic is rather rich in vocabulary for a constructed language, can one write poetry in it? Charles Bernstein takes another view, now that Taneraic is becoming known beyond its private diary pages. In his essay ‘Poetics of the Americas’, Bernstein wrote: ‘. . . Javant Biarujia, an Australian poet, has embarked on the most systematically and literally idiolectical poetry [italics mine] of which I am aware.’13

One of my early experiments in creating a Taneraic, then English, poem was ‘translating’ ‘Larmes de jeune fille’ by Isidore Isou.14 ‘Larmes’ (tears) is a lettriste (necessarily triste?) poem, a poème clos composed of a mixture of Greek letters and sounds represented in the Roman alphabet, with a liberal sprinkling of diacritical marks. There is no discernible living language (langue) in the poem, just the language (langage) of poetic invention. My first job, after ‘exploring’ the text was to ‘exploit’ it, to use a metaphor from mining. Then, to continue the analogy, I set about ‘extracting’ Taneraic words from Isou’s lettrisme; at last, I had a Taneraic poem. In  1986, I wrote in my diary: ‘If I were to show these two [‘Larmes’] poems to [my partner] or to [Pete] Spence or to anyone, what is there for them to distinguish one from the other? Are they not lettrist to everyone except me? Isou’s poem introduces a more exotic combination of letters (biliterate), perhaps. But, is Taneraic’s predominance of Ys, SYs and SCYs not as exotic?. . .Anton Lotov approaches my hasyan with his zaumni; especially early Taneraic, as it was written in a quasi-Romaico-Cyrillic script. Yet Lotov’s poem has no meaning behind the sound of the words. Should I publish poems written in Tanerai without translation? Will the language become public? Or, as I suspect, will it be ‘accepted’ as lettrist – without underlying meaning and grammar? Could I write a lettrist poem in Tanerai? Would it remain lettrist until a chrestomathic translation proved otherwise?’15

I attempted the ‘Larmes’ poem again a couple of years later, extracting another, more interesting, poem in Taneraic. In homage to Isou, I then wrote a faithful English translation of this Taneraic ‘version’, titled ‘A hunk from contentment’s bar’.16  Here is the last line of the three versions:

ISOU: ‘(-) snca grd kr di.’

TANERAIC: ‘(-) seniuqaga e qardau.’

‘HUNK’: ‘Thêta is convinced on the matter of carnal love.’

My poem ‘Déjà comme la jouissance’ was written in much the same way, employing a seduction scene in James Joyce’s Giacomo Joyce.17 First, I translated the passage into Taneraic. Once done, I used a variety of techniques, such as displacement, mistranslation, cryptography (The Cryptography of Dante by Walter Arensberg was invaluable), etymology, coincidence, resonance, chance, to make my poem. This work, along with a short talk on how it was written, made its début in 1989 at Collected Works bookshop, in Melbourne, as part of the annual Bloomsday celebrations there. Again, just the last line:

JOYCE: ‘Fingers, cold and calm and moving . . . . A touch, a touch.’

TANERAIC: ‘Ibousya, mandibi e zandii e tusqeriari ibousya . . . Qata, qata.’

‘DÉJÀ’: ‘Pressed out of Orestes’ grapes come flourishing trumpets . . . A guitar, a guitar.’

In the Isou piece, the faithful translation is from Taneraic to English, but the Taneraic-to-English translation is fanciful, not faithful, in the Joyce. The resonance of qata (touch) and ‘guitar’ is immediately apprehensible; tusqeriari (moving) and ‘trumpets’, less so. Other methods of ‘translation’ are more difficult to establish in the poem: a corollary of diphthongs (this sounds like the partitive, as in ‘exaltation of larks’ – perhaps an exagmination for a lark?), Oulipian chorizontism, pataphysical interpretations, paronomasia, anagrams, epenthesis, crasis and so on.

The pabulum of my poetry is to be found in its anfractuosity, synchysis and Witzelsucht (a condition characteristic of frontal lobe lesions). Taneraic is a mattoid’s interlanguage – the medium posed between the private thoughts of a kind of wolfman (the boy cried Wölfli!) and his public expression through poetry. The Taneraic diaries – the first 3,500 pages of a diary now more than 11,500 pages in length – are a Zeitvertreib, a kind of Zeitschrift – or, to some (the uninitiated) a Zeitverschwendung.  

In 1992, I published the first instalment of my Taneraic dictionary. Taneraic, for so long a secret, is undergoing an irreversible process of exteriorisation. 18

Appendix: Taneraic at a Glance

(adapted from ‘Abaqi Tanerai’, taboo jadoo, no. 5, 1992)

Taneraic came into being in 1968, a few days before my thirteenth birthday. The period from 1968 to 1977, when the language was written in a quasi-Romaico-Cyrillic script, is known as Proto-Taneraic. Between 1978 and 1986, Taneraic underwent numerous reforms. 

Much of the earliest vocabulary is concerned with the body (e.g., NØPPE > noub, ‘hand’), the home (e.g., CEдX > sedeu, ‘bed’) and language (e.g., тEH > gehan, literature).

The alphabet (Roman) consists of 25 letters (23 single letters and two digraphs):

a   b   c   cy   d   e   g   h   i   j   l   m   n   o   p   q   r   s   sy   t   u   v   x   y   z

As Taneraic should be regarded as ‘phonetic’ (in the non-scientific sense), each word is pronounced as it is written.

Taneraic possesses a number of characteristic grammatical features, of which the following is a small sample: (a) no plural form in substantives; (b) no gender; (c) no agreement; (d) no conjugation; and (e) inflexion (declension). Taneraic also possesses a number of features which have arisen since 1977: (f) suppression of articles; (g) suppression of tenses; (h) new rules for verbs, including endings to distinguish transitive from intransitive verbs; (i) new rules for verbs in negative and imperative moods; (j) new rules for pronouns; (k) new rules for obsolete auxiliary verbs; and (l) backformation of certain so-called radicals to reveal an affix.

Like English, word order is usually expressed by subject first, predicate and object last. In the accusative, the indirect object usually precedes the subject. Adjectives usually appear before the noun, but must follow if the noun is inflected. Compound adjectives prefixed by dayole must follow the noun; compound adverbs prefixed by mayole must follow the verb. Demonstrative adjectives follow the same rule for adjectives.

General rules of grammar:

(a) Every word is to be read as it is written, taking the rules for liaison into consideration. There are no silent letters.

(b) The tonic accent is monotone.

(c) Compound words are formed as in the principal radical or idea standing first, followed by the unattached qualifying or relative radical. Grammatical (case) terminations affect only the last part of the compound. Compounds are always only composed of two elements in apposition (not counting unbound prefixes).

(d) Derivatives are formed with the use of affixes.

(e) If there is one negative in the clause, a second is not admissible.


1 David Lehman, Signs of the Times: Deconstruction and the Fall of Paul de Man (London, 1991), p.94. Jacques Derrida maintains in his deconstruction of causality, contrary to accepted linguistic opinion and the empirical evidence of children, that speech follows writing in the development of language. Lehman writes that the ‘attack on writing has been accomplished by Derrida, who ‘has made the author the creature of writing rather than its creator’ [Stephen Tyler]’ (p.35).

2 Patterns / Contexts / Time: A Symposium on Contemporary Poetry, edited by Phillip Foss & Charles Bernstein (Santa Fe, 1990), p.22.

3 George Steiner: After Babel (New York & London, 1976), pp.190ff.

4 From a letter to Robert Dessaix from the author (April 13, 1994).

5 From a letter to the author from Robert Dessaix (May 16, 1994).

6 Raymond Roussel: How I Wrote Certain of My Books (Boston, 1995), p.255.

7 George Steiner: After Babel,  p.190.

8 Dr Irvin D. Yalom: Love’s Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy (London, 1991), p.43.

9 Roland Barthes: Camera Lucida (New York, 1981), p.5.

10 A. A. MacDonell: A Practical Sanskrit Dictionary. A friend gave me this dictionary in 1989, when she discovered I was compiling a Taneraic dictionary. She inscribed it with a quote at the front of the book: ‘To Javant – lexicographer extraordinaire. ‘Neither is a dictionary a bad book to read. There is no cant in it, no excess of explanation, and it is full of suggestion, – the raw material of possible poems and histories.’ Ralph Waldo Emerson’

11 Johannes Aavik, 1880-1973, the ‘father’ of modern Estonian, invented words for new concepts in the language (e.g., roim, crime; siiras, sincere; veenma, convince). In order to make Estonian ‘better than any living language on Earth’, Aavik created new morphological and syntactic forms from existing phonemes. Aavik wrote, ‘New words can also be artificially formed, created from nothing at all [italics mine], just as God is said to have created the world.’ (From Preface to Keeleuuenduse äärmised võimalused, ‘Extreme perspectives of language reform’)

12 The Paris Review, No. 32 (Summer-Fall 1964), pp.74-75.

13 Charles Bernstein: ‘Poetics of the Americas’, in MODERNISM/modernity, 3,iii (1996), 1-23; repr. in Journal of Design History, No. 9 (1996).

14 For the complete poem, see After Babel pp.195-196.

15 Volume 46 (July-November 1986) of the unpublished diary of Javant Biarujia (8,353ff). Within a few months, my experiments coalesced into what I call ‘pataphysical interpretations’, of which the unpublished manuscript ‘Calques Q.E.D.’ is the result.

16 First published in Redoubt, Nos. 7/8 (Canberra, 1989).

17 Poem first published in Oliver’s Revolving Surgery, No. 2 (Toronto, 1990).

18 ‘Abaq Tanerai ilouggi Nainougacyou Tanerai Sasescya Sepou A-D’ (Basic Taneraic followed by Taneraic-English Dictionary A – D) appeared in taboo jadoo No. 5 (Melbourne, 1992).

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