The Indexer

14 May

How many ways are there to read? I ask because I desire more.

One of my methods in refuting the ineluctable fuckstorm of reading a book is to love the index. Thou Index, batter mine heart! Skeletons reside within the index; or, at least, the bony, knobby base of the book rests itself on order there. Or there wrests itself to order. Either way, I say “fuckstorm of reading” because—as I’ve written here elsewhere in the past—my feeble mind cannot cage each bit and tid of a book, never will, and reading has become in these last years a desperate foraging for brain tinsel. The process looking similar to the small magpie-gleaned sundries that will illuminate the going-glimmer nest within.

A fuckstorm isn’t wholly negative, by the way. I mean, it’s a raging swirl of fuck, which can be quite pleasant AND brow-furrowed, to put it delicately. But overall, I use the word because of the chaos and capaciousness of “fuck” and “storm,” and because an index is the clarion call of Order, capital-O. Alphabetization, double columns, italics, numbers, logic, sequence.

And I so need Order, folks. Fashioning one’s self an Indexer reins that baggage in with bungee cords. This is my alternate method of reading when the going gets stale. Believe me: staleness creeps like death on tender feline paws.

As a hopeful reader, I’ll die ignorant, to be sure. But for some reason I think the index will save me. When I despair too much, I flip to the back-end and see what’s choice, what’s chosen, what’s important enough to be listed. Lists are a habit of mine. I like marking them in inked phalanxes on the endpaper or flyleaf. My admiration for structure and dissection is depthless. I feel like there would be nothing more suitable for me than to index book after book.

The downside of indices is that they often only appear in non-fiction books. Rare is the novel that contains one. Why so? Fiction deserves as much eggheaded attention as anything else in the index department. As I’m apportioning the voluminousness of Moby-Dick, I’d kill for an index. Which I’m kind of surprised Melville didn’t think of, all the other bells and whistles considered. Searching under the heading “Whale” would be worth the cost of entry.

What wouldn’t work so well with indexing? Haikus, for sure.

On my desk, a copy of Poetic Diction by Owen Barfield. Page 229, the entry “Poetry”:


‘two sorts of’, 12, 111-12
existence of depends on inner experience, 41-2, 49
and on Prosaic principles, 87, 103-4, 105
defined by Coleridge, 58
Great, 166, 170, 178 et seq. ; defined, 181
Modern, 33 et. seq., 148-9, 155-8, 170, 201
as a possession, 52, 55 et seq.
‘joint-stock’, 51
spoken and read, 98-9
fluid and architectural, 86 et seq.
fashionable contrast with science, 63, 138-40

What we have before us is itself a kind of poetry. As I read down the ladder here, I find myself enthralled with the contents before I devour them. The index, then, is poetic foreplay, if you will. Say I came to the index first and saw this entry. I’m immediately curious about our “two sorts” of poetry. Are they the Great and the Modern labeled below? And why is Great Poetry defined, but Modern Poetry isn’t? I’m now wondering what Owen Barfield has against defining the Moderns. Plenty of pages are devoted to both. The answer is within.

Move now to the “existence of depends on inner experience.” How metaphysical. But only three pages! Perhaps poetry isn’t as inner as I once thought. Barfield must not think it necessitates inner experience. Though he does require Coleridge’s thoughts on the matter. And I can say that a small part of my conscience is keen, more anticipatory,  to see proper names in indexes. As I mow the lawn of the index, moving systematically up and down the columns, I’m eyeballing names to latch onto, to compute. Easily recognizable names, or known names, creates a sense of knowingness, or familiarity–a feeling that, hey, I can trust this guy. But anyway…

Poetry then transforms into a possession, joint-stock, and a fashionable contrast with science. The index has distilled the book’s bulk into a potent liquor. Quaff deeply.  Here we can get drunk together on the accidental collision that Order ordains. The index, in my mind’s eye, is like having different groups of friends mingle for the first time. Confusing, awkward, serendipitous.

On page 228, Milton elbows Money, Muller, Music, Mystic, and Myth. The index allows this unusual juxtaposition, seeing as none of these subjects share page-space. And while the author can’t comment upon these relationships, it’s fascinating to see disparate words make even a meager connection.

I would never, of course, strongly recommend that one read a book strictly on this plan. But isn’t it sort of delicious to have the curtain pulled back and the author’s passions exposed? A book declares itself as a stricture on the Nature of Ideas, organizing words into a set design for the reader, their intentions and needs be damned. Life, whipped.

An index also lays out the complexity of the book into pristine statements, as if a yogi lived in the binding, dreaming up witty apercus. By a small transposition on the page, I come up with these sentences from Barfield’s book, under the index heading of Self-consciousness, 204-10.

Self-consciousness depends on abstract thought and vice versa.
Self-consciousness is necessary for metaphor-making.
Self-consciousness produces ‘poetry.’
Self-consciousness opposed to inspiration.
Self-consciousness opposed to cognition.
Self-consciousness opposed to thinking.
Self-consciousness creation out of full.
Self-consciousness unrelieved modern.
Self-consciousness and Kant.

But there’s mystery in numbers. And page numbers can occlude understanding and Order.

Ryhthm apparently shows up on pages 47, 98 et seq., 146 et seq., and 157-8. Why, in a book on poetic diction, does the subject of rhythm only appear on five pages? Lunacy. But, when I look up what the Latin abbreviation et seq. stands for, I find “et sequens,” or, “and that which follows.” In fact, now that I nose closer, the abbr. litters every index page like cigarette butts in a park glen.

Supposing I’m speaking out of school on the subject of reading. That my fuckstorms aren’t as fuckish as all that. They probably aren’t. I’m just trying to ford my way through a minor deluge in the creek. And if I constantly and doggedly read a book in the prescribed way, then I will lose my lust for reading and reading its luster. As an homage, I offer my own hypothetical index entry.

READING (see Education), 193, 193 n, 206-7

defined, i-xi, 2
indexes, 52, 103
by pale fire, 198
with friends, 40-1, 72, 74, 83-6
“accidental,” 1-50, 100-164
“purposeful,” 51-99
while driving, 100-10, 90-99
madness in absence of, 63-70
as a fashionable trait in society, 234
sexual attraction to, 234-260
moonlights as Valium, 261
as opposed to Facebook, 208, 210, 225
as a dying art, 1, 9
as a recuperative lifestyle and restorative, 13, 15 et seq. 

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