I recently read a strange and disturbing little book. I tend to be attracted to strange and disturbing books, little or othersized. This one, however, I’m not entirely sure about. It’s called Senselessness, and it’s written by Horacio Castellanos Moya. How could I resist a 142-page novella with glowing blurbs from Roberto Bolaño (author of the widely acclaimed 2666) and Russell Banks, the former evoking Buster Keaton and the latter referencing Franz Kafka? Here’s the synopsis from the flyleaf (yes, this paperback edition has an actual flyleaf! It’s akin to finding a triangular vent window on a new car!):
An alcoholic, atheist, sex-obsessed writer finds himself employed by the Catholic Church (an institution he loathes) to edit the testimonies of the survivors of slaughtered Indian villages. The writer’s job is to tidy up the 1,100 page report: “that was what my work was all about, cleaning up and giving a manicure to the Catholic hands that were piously getting ready to squeeze the balls of the military tiger.” Mesmerized by the eerie poetry of the Indians’ phrases, the increasingly agitated and frightened writer is endangered twice over: by the spell exerted over his somewhat tenuous sanity by the strangely beautiful heart-rending voices, and by real danger. The Church is hunting the military, but the military is still in charge of the country, and our booze-soaked writer is soon among the hunted – or is he paranoid? Or is he paranoid and one of the hunted?
Now, in retrospect, that’s a little breathless and dithyrambic (sorry— just acquired that word recently), but it has the gist right. However, as I made my way through the story, I sensed not the prescient existentialism of Keaton nor the macabre dyspepsia of Kafka. Instead, due to the narrator’s increasing mania, paranoia, and tendency to repetitiously refer to those “one thousand one hundred pages,” one name towered above all others as a literary and artistic forebear: Poe. In short, I found the novella to be not so much Keatonesque or Kafkaesque as… what? How do you describe it when something is reminiscent of the style of Edgar Allan Poe? Poe-esque? Poeal? Poeish? Poeian? Poetic? How can someone so distinctive, so influential, not have an adjectival eponymic? Predictably, this observation of mine is not unprecedented. As a foundation, I refer you to Wikipedia’s list of eponymous adjectives as an authority. On it, there are 329 adjectives, from Aaronic to Zwinglian. Poe does not appear. Next, I direct you to Ben MacIntyre’s brief and entertaining article in The Times (of London): The Last Word: How Pinteresque! in which he “examines the pitfalls of the auctorial [how British!] adjective.” Among other musings he writes
Writers unfortunate enough to have names that are already words are doomed never to have their own adjective. Graham Greene’s writing cannot be described as Greenish. Alexander Pope was a Roman Catholic, but his legacy is hardly Popish. Thomas Mann was definitely not Mannish. And how to adjectivise Edgar Allan Poe? Polish?
In a short article discussing Random House’s Word of the Day for 7 March 2000 (eponym), someone named Carol (RH’s website doesn’t seem to be particularly navigation-friendly) opines, “and, as far as I know, there is no rhyme or reason as to why Whitman and Keats are eponyms, but Poe and Shelley are not; perhaps it is poetic justice.” I’m just a little frustrated here. no point of entry for Edgar Allan? Such a crime. In my digressionary way, I’m now considering other inimitably famous folks whose names have been hitherto untapped for eponymity.
Bonus Increasingly de rigueur multimedia (read: audio) tie-in:
p.s. I guess he would be Walkensian, but that’s kind of conventional.