Oh The New Inquiry, how we love you so. Today, the New York based lit mag brought us a critique on our current political climate and, above all, a tale of caution regarding our individual contributions to the toxic banter. The fable, simply titled “Fable”, comes to us courtesy of Teju Cole.
The short tale introduces us to the ‘Adversary’. The Adversary has created many monsters, some weak some strong, some ugly and some god-like, but all of them defeatable. From all of the Adversary’s creations, one monster in particular – not handsome or intelligent or cunning or equipped with oratorical skills to sing his praises – is taken to the land of Noiseville, “home of the loudest and best noise in the world, the most beautiful noise […] the greatest noise in the history of the world.”
Unlike the other ones who stumbled and fell under the weight of Noiseville’s noise, this monster is fed by it. It is nourished and nursed to strength by noise; the vain pursuit of hearing its own name is its sole life and blood and the greater the chatter the larger it grows.
“But it is so weak!” the people say when he is introduced to Noiseville. “It is not beautiful, or intelligent, or brave, or well-dressed, or charming, or gifted in oratory. How can it grow in strength and influence so?” They booed and cheered and exclaimed – “and from time to time, they turned on each other, and were distraught if they saw their fellows failing to join in the noise.”
“On television, the reporters spent most of their time making noise about the monster. On little devices the people carried around with them, it was all monster all the time. If the monster smiled, there was noise in reaction. If the monster scowled, there was noise. If it coughed, there was an uproar of coughing and commentary on the manner of the monster’s coughing. The Adversary was astonished by how well his little stratagem had worked. The monster smiled and scowled and coughed, and learned to say the things that generated more noise. […] And so the noise swelled to the very limits of Noiseville, and the new monster grew to gargantuan size as had Gulliver in the land of the Lilliputians, and their ropes were powerless against it, and there seemed no limit to its growth, though it was but the eighth month of that year”
Image courtesy of fleischer studios
There was only one way to defeat the monster: quietness, a refrain from speaking his name, acknowledging his growth, and fuelling a fire that was mere illusion. Only through quiet contemplation and a return to grounded conversation – free of sensation, free of superficial wash overs from pop culture and an overzealous media – could the beast be defeated.
Cole’s fable leaves us (after a quick chuckle) in a state of serious reflection. How do our own conversations and political involvement derail our actual motives? Is the banter counter intuitive to our goals? And if loudness isn’t the answer, is quietness our diluent to the insanity – maybe even a solution? Cole is by no means suggesting we refrain from speaking of the ‘monster’ that plagues our Noiseville, only that we use tact when we speak. If Noiseville must ramble on, let its talk be of things other than coughs and sneezes (and Twitter posts). Cole’s fable urges us to arm our words with purpose. They can be the nourishment to some and our own inadvertent demise; but when well poised for the purpose, they are extremely powerful.
Featured image courtesy of Washington Times.