Sometimes you read a piece that knocks you back in your seat, that makes you want to sit, and sit, and consider.
This interview with Daniel Tammet, an autistic prepared to describe about his savant abilities to the rest of us, bursts with questions.
I barely know where to begin — the autistic savant who can read two pages simultaneously? I’ll restrict myself to two comments.
First, on Tammet’s love of G.K. Chesterton:
Tammet will read anything and everything, but his favourite book is a good dictionary, or the works of GK Chesterton. “With all those aphorisms,” he says, “Chesterton was the Groucho Marx of his day.”
Bless him, the Groucho Marx of Chesterton’s day was, of course, Groucho Marx. But, as I was reading some of Chesterton’s essays in the bath this morning (and what a Chestertonian thing that is to do), I was being constantly struck by the fabulous oddness of the man. He seemed quite capable of surviving only on a good theological paradox, something (anything) to read, plenty of drawing chalk and a pint of beer. I begin to see why he would ring a bell for Tammet.
Second, Tammet is spending his spare time constructing a language:
The vocabulary of his language - “Mänti”, meaning a type of tree - reflects the relationships between different things. The word “ema”, for instance, translates as “mother”, and “ela” is what a mother creates: “life”. “Päike” is “sun”, and “päive” is what the sun creates: “day”. Tammet hopes to launch Mänti in academic circles later this year, his own personal exploration of the power of words and their inter-relationship.
An Adamic language, no less, in which the place of the individual sign in the language is mimetic of the place of the thing it signifies in the world — what we might call a metonymic language. So our Tammet is a modern-day John Wilkins, pursuing a perfect language.
If this were one of the Chesterton essays I was enjoying this morning, it would end now with a startling turnabout, a revelation, a paradox. But it isn’t, and all the revelations, as usual, are elsewhere.