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The Talkative Corpse: A Love Letter. Introductory Chapter.
The Talkative Corpse: A Love Letter
By Ann Sterzinger c/o Hopeless Books
write about the people you hate,
Make sure you
do it with love.”
It’s not what the layman would expect, yet the
thing has been common to culture after culture throughout the eons of the human
experience: A society’s most popular art appears to dignify types of people
whom the society itself fails to value. No, that’s an understatement; pardon
me: in fact, popular works of art, particularly those which reach mythological
or historical status, often glorify classes of people whom the myth-generating
society tortures, banishes, or enslaves.
Take the classical-era Ancient Greeks: to
hear the myths, songs, and legends of Atalanta, of Artemis, of Hera and her
wrath, one would expect to find evidence of an egalitarian, or even a shrilly
matriarchal, social fabric.
Not so! In daily life, under the banner of
the virago Athena, even the wealthiest Athenian housewife lived hidden indoors,
kept from the vote, shut out from the joys of the symposium, and, it is
presumed, generally illiterate.
In their turn, the clever men of classical
Greece would later be idolized by the rising Romans for their culture and
learning—so much so that after the Roman legions captured the Greek cities and
played dice upon their polished paintings, every great Roman house wanted to
its own learnèd Greek captive slave, that he might meekly tutor its heirs.
By contrast, types who are officially reviled
may often be secretly desired. When the Ancient French lost their colonial
empire in the 20th century, their former subject lands officially
reviled the haughty Gauls, yetflocked
to their cities in a great, uneasy wave.
We had myriad such examples, backed by reasonable
amounts of evidence.
Imagine the archarological community’s
embarrassment, then, when the findings from the recent unearthing of Ancient
Chicago were produced.
In our defense, the radiation levels near
the major American sites have only recently dropped to levels that allow us to safely
perform extensive digs; till now, all evidence has come from remote sites far
removed from the great population centers.
The surprise engendered by the John Jaggo
Manuscript, nonetheless, remains a major blemish on my profession.
Before the excavation of the Chicago site the
evidence of Ancient America’s tendencies in the arts was scant. Assuming a few
motion pictures of which we found many copies: Edward Scissorhands, Dirty
Dancing (of which we found two versions),
Batman, Spider-Man (mythological
pieces; we found several variants of each)*—scholars could, or did, only guess that
this society must have been particularly enlightened regarding the rights and
value to society of two classes of people: the common-born and the
Based on outlying areas’ extensive
kitchen-midden evidence of near-universal consumerism as well as films such as
these, we extrapolated that, after said films’ release, equal rights must have
been enforced for those not born to relative economic privilege as well as to
those who failed to conform to neurotypical standards of their day. This seemed
to have been particularly likely to hold for such individuals who were, as our
discipline’s jargon has it, “of clever and/or worthy status based on a loosely
defined mix of intelligence, talents, moral qualities, and quirky good looks”—
for short, “clever-worthies.”
In our further defense, the narrative arts
did not provide the only evidence for this hypothesis. Corroborating guesses
were supplied by worship and burial sites, which more often than not contained
religious objects devoted to one of three apparently inter-related
prophet-gods: the first a leader of rebellious slaves, the second a manual laborer
who was literally nailed to a tree for being strange (!), and the third a
merchant who became a land pirate who nonetheless continued to preach that the
devout should give 2.5 percent of their extra income to the poor. Clever men
all, and all, by even 21st-century standards, not just freakish but clinically
But the John Jaggo manuscript has revealed
these “theories” for what most anthropological “theories,” of necessity, are:
mere hypotheses, based on what evidence we had at the time. Faith in such ideas
has often been shaken throughout archaeological history by later discoveries of
additional artifacts. Such is the conscious way of all sciences: ashes to
ashes. So we must accept it. The image of the pre-Great-Blast society of the
North Americas at which we have chiseled for so long must now be faced with a
slightly heavier instrument.
The author of the John Jaggo manuscript is
self-described (although not in quite so few words) as an ordinary member of
the educated laboring caste except for his psychological non-standardness. Nonetheless
he records his experience in the years 2011-2012 CE as the life of one who
could still, despite any enlightenment depicted in this fascinating people’s
art and religion, be thoughtlessly cast aside precisely because he was an obscure and economically
embarrassed freak—apparently without anyone else’s being ethically bothered. He
also seems to have been, at least in his own tacit estimation—since why else
would he have bothered to create such a deliberate artifact out of his own
What caused the discrepancy in what is now
being called the “clever-worthy freak-commoner status rift continuum”? Why did
certain forms of culture show the freak and the drone as consensus-view heroes
during the late 20th century—only to have these character types
reappear in an apparently self-produced time capsule as angry, displaced, and
confused creatures of a society which continued to, as it were, throw boiling
oil at them down the castle walls? The fact that the writer of the John Jaggo
manuscript is that rare combination of both lowborn and freak appears at
first glance to make our task easier. But in fact it merely renders the
variables far more difficult to isolate.
Of course, this manuscript has opened up far
more questions than it has answered, and new theses spring up like grass after
A small majority of my colleagues have rushed
to get behind the suggestion that the heroic popular depictions of the commoner
and/or freak clever-worthy were designed manipulations: that the heroic images
shown in the classic “loser-made-god” films were druglike fantasies, sold by
the highborn and the socially adept to the real-world versions of the putative
heroes, in order to infuse their lives with a false meaning that they might
more gamely trudge through education, toil, and death.
This camp of theorists is not, however,
dominant, because it is subdivided. Half its adherents believe these fictions
to have been designed out of charity—the others, malice.
But both subcamps now agree that the less
fantastical portions of the “John Jaggo” manuscript were most likely related to
the actual experience of the lowborn
and the freak, whereas Edward Scissorhands, Dirty Dancing, and The
Outsiders—heretofore our best evidence for
the patterns of “real” Ancient American lives—were mere fantasy.
The reason the latter were mechanically
reproduced estimated millions of times and the former apparently existed in a
lone manuscript (despite the fact that commoners alone must have, by
definition, formed a majority of the population) has not been satisfactorily
explained by either subcamp.
Thus colleagues from other camps have jumped
upon this mystery; many indeed have made it the sole basis of their own pet
hypotheses. Some posit economic factors, others the overall preference of human
beings for fantasy over reality.
Yet others guess that the John Jaggo
manuscript’s author was either lying, or that the narrator/”author”was in fact the fictional creation of a
separate, flesh-and-blood author, whose annotations to the text were lost in
the Great Blast. This latter theory is undermined somewhat by the narrator’s
habit of annotating his own remarks with footnotes. (These footnotes were not
particularly satisfying; if the narrator, assuming he existed, truly was, as he
claimed, concerned with making his era comprehensible to our millennium, he
was, obviously, not entirely successful.)
The “Fictitious Jaggo” is bolstered,
however, by some of the more fantastical events described herein—those very
elements which in my opinion render both subcamps of the “John Jaggo as
quasi-realist” school rather suspect.
There are other camps still. Those of my
colleagues who find themselves most concerned with the difficulties of
isolating the variables in this case posit that being justa freak or just a commoner added to a citizen’s status, but being both at once
may have actually somehow detracted from it—that wealth and success could
somehow transform freakishness into beauty, or that perfect adherence to
normalcy could elevate the commoner to a higher caste.
Still other guesses emanate from the
literary historians, who compare the “clever and worthy commoner” of the ancient
American filmic arts to the “clever slave” who figured so dependably and
heroically in the popular comedies of the Ancient Romans despite the generally
despicable conditions of actual slaves. Like the clever slave, the worthy
outsider of the Americans may have been a mere stock character whose relation
to reality was inverse—i.e. satirical.
Certain of my retro-Jungian colleagues have,
as usual, used this case as “yet another example” —as Dr. Kayabiff
Flugelhoffer-Chang preeningly put it at a recent conference—for their pet
thesis of civilization: that below every nation’s articulated set of values
there lurks a set of opposite and more powerful values, its “shadow” values,
“which creep through the rot that’s under the vine like the death that’s
implicit in all life,” to quote one of Flugelhoffer-Chang’s more torrential
passages. These not-disinterested scholars include our own society under this
“grand theorem of dismissal of the nation-claim,” an idea which I find only
very slightly offensive, much to their probable disappointment, not that I
More socio-medically minded colleagues guess
that it was lead poisoning.
I myself remain torn, too shocked and
embarrassed by the contents of the manuscript to take an immediate firm stance,
as so many of my hubristic colleagues have rushed to do even in the wake of our
humiliation. Is it a hoax? Is it a subtle piece of political propaganda? Was it
meant as a religious text? Or was it the true cri de coeur of a maddened man
wrestling his demons?
have my hunches. But before I proclaim, I await the results of ongoing digs in
the hope that more illuminating manuscripts will be discovered. In the meantime
I am content to present you, the general public, with the contents of the Jaggo
manuscript, translated from the Ancient American dialect of the Germanic
tongues as best myself and my apprentices could do; I await your feedback. I
may be reached for comment at the usual address, though replies to comments,
depending on volume, could require various amounts of time.
—B. Crominy Cornfeffer
A note on notes: “Jaggo’s” footnotes are numbered,
mine denoted by asterisks.
of a novel have also been found, tellingly titled (or so we thought) The Outsiders.