Sunday, February 24, 2013

What is it like to be a bat??

That classic query by the philosopher Thomas Nagel  has for many decades  stood as an uncrackable conundrum.  Yet, surprisingly, until right now, no-one has thought of simply asking a bat what it is like.
And so, speaking through an interpreter (none other than our good friend and colleague  Dr John Dolittle, of Puddleby-on-the-Marsh), we put the question to an amiable fruitbat of our acquaintance, and he replied as follows:

efInfn2090sdpqoieavnq¥ÉÀ$)Benv8Y$%&JœÃKJGF$##!@!FFGIU^$FDF+(Kk+=ÕefInfn2090sdpqoi‰ÂÊnq¥ÉÀ$)B4rtwgsnY$%&JK?>GKJGF$##!@!FŸU^$FD®+(KÍ+=ÕefInfn2090sdpqoieavnq¥ÉÀ$)BU5¢Y$%&J∆™¿JGF$##!@!F»ñIU^$FDF+(Kk+=Õ …

According to the good Doctor, that all makes perfect sense in bat-language, and presents a fascinating portrait of the cave-dwelling, upside-down-hanging, echo-locating, fruit- and bug-eating, night-flying life (ah what delight, to mate  in mid-flight!) of these nocturnal vespertilians:  but unfortunately the account is not translatable into English.

For more on the excellent Professor Nagel, try here:

[Update]   The bulk of Lofting’s late novel Doctor Dolittle’s Garden (1927)  concerns just such an exercise:  learning the language of insects.   The book is alas not so engaging as its predecessors, simply because such creatures must be forever inscrutable to our psychic understanding.  (Granted, one entomologist could write a fine book titled For Love of Insects.)
The illustrations, however, continue to be outstanding.   He was his own E.H. Shepherd, so to speak, and one increasingly appreciates his qualities as a draughtsman.

[Bibliographic post-note]  In the course of seeking a .jpg to download, I came across a handful of purported “Dolittle” titles  of which I had not previously heard:  for the very good reason that they are latter-day fakes.   I shall not cite any of the titles  even to denounce them -- Nicht gedacht  soll seiner werden.  There is nothing wrong with coming up with new stories about characters broached by deceased authors -- most of European literature has been exactly that, since ancient times, and sometimes as a very explicit continuation as in the two halves Le roman de la rose, respectively by Guillaume de Lorris et Jean de Meung;  indeed, I have essayed such myself, in the matter of the good doctor, here:  Doctor Dolittle voyages to visit the Penguin King.   But these commercial ventures seek lucre by passing some hasty new Machwerk off  as from Lofting’s own hand (for legal reasons, the covers merely say “based on stories by HUGH LOFTING”, hoping you’ll skip over the fine print, and do not name the ghostwriter;  but catalogues, with only an “Author: “ field and no “Fake author: “ field, make no such distinction.)   And the illustrations are of an unspeakably humdrum nature; everything that made the Dolittle pictures special  has been lost.

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