The Map of the System of Human Knowledge by James Tadd Adcox
JamesTadd Adcox maps the entire human condition in these short stories. Many of them are barely a page; some are mere fragments of stories. Yet the length doesn’t matter. Narrative-wise the stories make little sense. Each of them exists in little archipelagoes. Clearly James has fun with these; these are intended to simultaneously try and fail to categorize human knowledge. Like the maps of old, which often had large chunks left blank (Central Asia, parts of the Pacific Ocean) James revels in the incompleteness. Do not fear the beginning of the book which looks imposing with its tree-like structure of the collections of stories. These are instantly enjoyable, memorable little vignettes that linger in the mind.
One single item brings back a whole flood of memories (a former relationship, a memory of a religion he was never a part of). It is a charming reminiscence of something that happened and will never happen again. Worldly success is forgone for a greater undefined purpose. Even the one giving up the worldly success has no idea why they do it. As the person gives up worldly success they hear of exes arranging marriages over the internet for money. Loneliness is an intimate emotion. Here poor Jacob is left clueless by ex-wives, mail-order brides, etc.
Maps are a part of life. Here a father calls the son to tell him about education. Poor education made the son think he was better than everyone else. Long ago in the son’s childhood there were maps leading to nowhere. This is pretty similar to education. After a while it becomes obvious that education doesn’t lead anywhere, people lead the way, not knowledge. Knowledge simply informs one of a greater and greater variety of decisions to be made.
Sea-cows are disliked. James doesn’t give a fig about poor sea-cows. Animals scare him. The geese begin to take over. Objects take over more than lives, they take over reproductive systems. For some people the objects need to be fully digested, eaten, though the objects destroy people. That’s part of the worry about too many possessions. Given enough time the objects define people instead of vice versa. Consumer culture tends to do such things. Dolls do this more so, with the average sex dolls as one thing but the pangs of nostalgia bringing in the real cash. According to James, people want the sort of nostalgia they can really relate to, the kind of thing they’re willing to pay big money for.
The philosophy section gets considerably sillier. James becomes rather playful with the work. Simultaneously being funny while referencing philosophy is not easy work but James does it effortlessly. Many of the philosophy stories are of large soups, vacuum monsters, and imaginary friends. The hallmarks of growing up are all here. Bits of sadness make their way through too. A robber feels sorry for a sad sleeping man, explains why he can’t go through with it. Broken beds drive people mad.
Yes the stories, poetry, and little snippets of conversation feel real. These are strange overhead conversations, stories gone weird through repetition, and general off-the-cuff remarks. James Tadd Adcox makes folk tales for the modern era.