Kitaab Review: The Arbitrary Sign-The Most Misunderstood Alphabet Book in The World

K.K.Srivastava reviews The Arbitrary Sign-The Most Misunderstood Alphabet Book in The World (published by Red Wheelbaarrow Books, Singapore)

arbitrary signsThe Arbitrary Sign-The Most Misunderstood Alphabet Book in The World by its author Desmond Kon Zhicheng Mindge’ is a book that reminds me of poets who seek wisdom and knowledge comprehensive enough to acquire solutions to problems of the generalities or overall map of the realities of the whole universe. A poet-metaphysician is usually conversant with a number of concepts in order to be able to utilize his range, depth and quality of experience and temperamental interests for transforming these concepts into key notions. For instance, mathematics gave Plato his concept of ‘horme’; co-ordinate geometry gave Descartes his key concept of ‘clearness and distinctness’; algebraic model gave Leibnitz theory of ‘monadlogical harmony’ and moral experience gave Kant creative concepts of a priori forms. In the book under review every scheme of key-notions illuminates certain facts while leaving other facts in obscurity. The language used is paradoxical, metaphorical, symbolical and analogical-all needed simultaneously to create an ‘intellectualized impact’ on the readers. To begin with, let us see, for example, Zz–

Z z (zeno)

‘in the name of paradox as if motion

and by extension emotion were ephemeral

elusive and illusory like a name or words

on the tip of your tongue and how parmenides

liked to think that all might eventually be’

Though subjective need for obtaining meaning in life, being a psychological affair, promotes metaphysical construction and similarly subjective proclivities of the poet gains significant intensity as the reader progresses with his reading, in most of the poems the poet leaves the nature of reality to be solved by the reader. While experiences are evaluated in the spirit of totality but as no two persons can be the same, the flow of thoughts between two individuals cannot be the same. R r (repetition) ‘no two things like utterances/are completely alike.’  The flow of different thoughts is actually philosophy of that moment and the difference brings out the best as in-

D d (difference)

‘and the writing on the wall becomes

no more or less something uttered

in concrete speech the old and forgotten

something that came in a tide and waves’

The book is not purely ‘an intellectual discipline’ but more importantly it is in these pages that ‘vision’ counts.  Unless logic and scientific reaches of the time prove adequate to the poet’s vision, his views would stay a fiction only. Precision paves way for vision whose truth does not lie in narrating any actual state of affairs but in evoking the whole man in relation to the values governing the prophesy and history of human race which Mindge senses-

H h (hysteria)

‘because deleuze saw its true purpose

in francis bacon and his bloodied history

that hysteria was mere need and desire

to escape from one’s own body

its frame and bones and beating pulse

no less a prison than these four walls

we call home or an abode or comfort

its artful decoration as interior

as its exterior now that the large field

of sunflowers and acacia trees

behind the library and bookbindery

is gone and a mall sits in its place’

All poets given to the way philosophers think normally busy themselves in construction of a system but with a difference. For some like Locke, Hume and Berkley, the theory of knowledge itself acquires the status of ‘vision’ while for some like Josiah Royce, Pringe-Pattison, the destiny of individuals assumes crucial role. While the thoughts could be threads of ideas, mistakes of deceptions, the thoughts need analytical truths and the relation of thoughts between truth and imagination are forever on any given day as follows-

X x (xyst)

‘like zeno and another perplexing puzzle

about life and how it’s trapped yet soaring

into the atlas and annals of time’

The initial thoughts of philosophy need testing of time to become actual being and analytical review of these bring the best out of them.  Like cycle of life, the flow of thoughts could be repetitive, but the repetition of philosophical thoughts cannot be identical. Thus the philosophical thoughts become apparent and the difference in thoughts flow like tide and waves. The event of meeting ideas is like meeting the two strangers which ultimately amalgamate into each other and two ideas make beautiful and meaningful significant change.  The amalgamation of ideas make beautiful scenario and such an event appear from nowhere existing forever. Look at the way Mindge beautifully captures the elements:

I i (iterability)

‘the capacity to create singularity

again and again and yet again

like saying the ideal yes

that of which we will return to

in an eternal trace and repeated movement’

There is philosophical difference in intellect which could be recognized, such as difference in pubic and poet.  The philosophy of poet is quite different from say that of a politician.  The philosophy of a politician is a repetition of dialogues whereas the philosophy of a poet is unique which unfolds piece by piece or thought by thought poet’s philosophy that works in tandem with each dialogue.

An old thought of someone may make the difference in other life when it (thought) is suitable to the need of other. The exchange of ideas would be beautiful and long lasting and may be a gift without any emotions. The cycle of life is like prison in its own shape while the one tries to get away from the body which is in the shape of body and life by pulse, the other soul take birth. That any word which can be said by one human being to another must, if it is at all comprehensible, be repeatable. Every word we utter is “borrowed” from somewhere else. Mindge stoutly feels that it is ones ability to create ideas that are unique as he candidly avers-

E e (event)

‘what the metaphysics of presence

would look at and say here it is

this is an event that appeared

in and of itself out of nowhere’

The ideological pleasure principle acts like assessing potential gains and losses of satisfaction in the light of possible outcomes of various courses of action. It seeks to maximize satisfaction and correspondingly minimize pain/dissatisfaction. In the life, everything and anything one perceives begins and ends here and some thoughts can question the very existence of life and God and can fool the human. The philosophical aberrations and opposite subtleties, the result of misguided assumptions are like the new ideas beyond the existing text and when put together they merge into each other like fairytale, entailing recourse to a consciousness,  that would be regulated by the one and developed by the other. The science of intuition and reason as phenomenon of the mind is like everybody and anybody having a name. The study of mind to recall or imagine or interpret is like systematic origin of philosophical thoughts.

V v (virtuality)

‘apparent not just to the out-of-towners

but to the philosopher friends on the couch

sipping whiskey and vodka and alternating

between the mixed nuts and flatbreads

talking about mutually exclusive things

as if they were similar and shared a life’

Mindge seeks to establish human selfhood as a continuously developing series of events or on actual occasions like parts of the body, rather than in terms of a substantive soul  and heart.

In modern times of anti-metaphysical thinking the nuances of logical distinction and advances science has made make it difficult for poet-thinkers to build up notions on the basis of subjects and predicate. Mindge believes and rightly that not only  every proposition that he makes must have one subject and predicate but also no other relation. He does not bring his subjects into organic relation. For a curious reader it is essential to appreciate the value of reconciling differences.  At the end when I finished the book, it brought me ‘peace and pistis’. Nietzsche might have some other set of poets in his mind when he lamented in Thus Spoke Zarathustra,’ I have become tired of all poets, old and new; to me they all seem to be shallow and superficial seas………Once I cast my net into their ocean waters, hoping to land some fine fish. But all I ever pulled out was the head of an old, dead god.’ This book does not classify itself in the league of such poets. And also diligent readers will realize after reading this thin but very dense book that wisdom implies not only sufficient knowledge of actual states of affairs but also a high state of development in the wise man i. e the poet himself who believes—’because semiotics governs by its own rules/and how meaning works becomes/its own unbecoming and undoing/and the trace could be the last hope.’

A book of high intellectual quality demanding great deal of attention and enquiry. Not intended for common readers. The book meets, in a very considerable manner, the criterion set by the poet by titling the book- ‘The Most Misunderstood Alphabet Book In The World’

KKSrivastavaPoet and critic K.K Srivastava is a Civil Servant, who lives in India. He has three poetry collections to his credit—Ineluctable Stillness (2005), An Armless Hand Writes (2008) & (2012) and Shadows of the Real (2012) published by Rupa & Co New Delhi. His poems have been translated into Hindi, Russian, Portuguese, German and Greek. He can be reached at