A nauthor

Who am I writing for? The question was put to me years ago by a very good friend of mine who lives in London and amuses himself in his spare time by acting as a reader for various publishing houses as well as for aspiring authors – mainly by way of telling them, ‘This won’t work’. Despite the fact that this is not his main occupation or preocupation, he wet-nursed an international bestseller to fame in the nineties.

In other words, his judgement is as acute as it is astute and his chance remarks have always had this annoying habit of following me around like the hound of heaven and howling like a banshee in my dreams. Such as that million dollar question: ‘Who do you write for?’ It was on the phone, and he might well have said ‘whom’, which will roughly indicate just how long ago this conv. must have taken place. I’d written three novels by then and intrepid as my friend is, he had been kind enough to look through at least two of them. Decency demands that his comments remain as unpublished as the novels in question.

My friend was a bit doubtful about my English too. You see, my English is like Oberon’s Indian fairy-child deserted in the ur-forests of Germania and raised by wolves which have strayed across the border from Poland or the Czech Republic. This has resulted in my English fermenting into a very special kind of brew which few can imbibe and even fewer recognise as one of the more exotic flavours of their beloved lingua franca. Further, my English being practically self-taught, there are large gaps in it, call them blind spots. To give you but one example: I have a penchant for such tantalising words as ‘demotic’ which crop up in connection with Eco’s The Name of the Rose, for example. I check the meaning every time and conveniently forget it after use, so that I have to google the damn thing all over again the next time I’m thinking of using it. Demotic, for instance: does that refer to simplified ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs or to a form of Modern Greek? And it’s not me who’s doing the bullshitting, believe me.

Okay, so it’s Google and not the O.E.D., is it, even for somebody like me who ‘belongs to an older semester’ (which is the polite German way of putting it)? The answer is yes – I confess shamefacedly. These days, one outsources one’s memory to Google/Wikipedia and most people are unperturbed by the fact that their phones are probably smarter than them. It’s a comfortable situation, really: your head is in a Cloud, the rest of you walking the earth like a zombie.

I have not always been this modern, remember. There were the times when everybody else was running around with an iPhone and I was telling them that I was the only person carrying a uPhone – what’s that? They wanted to know. It means that I’m not going to call you, you’d better call me. Not I phone but you phone, that’s uPhone, in pidgin, I told them. You know the problem with a uPhone? It never rings.

And now I’m going to give away a business idea which will probably be snapped up by Apple: I’ve been thinking of a smartphone which will be an electric shaver as well so that you can switch over to the shave function when the conversation gets boring. The phone will be as loud as it will be sensitive so that the ladies can use it without interrupting either their chat or the depilation.

Thank God all that is behind me now and this is just a blog – I love that ‘just a blog’ demurral – so my reply will be ‘Dunno!’ every time you ask who I am writing for. The Germans call it Narrenfreiheit, fool’s liberty, meaning of course the Fool or the court jester of medieval times, like the one in Shakespeare who used to call King Lear ‘nuncle’.

Now there’s a funny word. I’d always taken it to be Shakespeare’s, until I googled it and discovered that it’s only the archaic or dialectal form of ‘uncle’, risen apparently through the rebracketing of phrases such as ‘an uncle’, ‘mine uncle’, ‘thine uncle’ and so on. Dunno about my phone, but Google is certainly smarter than me, at times.

Though I still like to think that nuncle is the negation of uncle, it’s like fooling Uncle, nuncling him, nuncling the nuncle, if you know what I mean. You don’t? Let’s go back to the Wiktionary: nuncling means to cheat or to deceive. Perhaps also to deride?

Well, if Lear can be a nuncle, I can be a nauthor too. Yes, that’s what I’ll be, that’s what I’d like to call myself, rebracketed and transposed, not an author, but a nauthor. Any objections?

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