Jacques Servin


There is a world and above it a world below it likewise a world etc.
There is there is a way a way you
un voyou
away you!
you, you
you have
words. (Words.)

Put, the, vulture, in, the, cage!
Efforts are made
a calmness reigns
in spite of all a calmness reigns.

--Alphonse Tache, Le pêché chez les bêtes

When birds were men, and men were birds....

--New Caledonian tale, from Bulletin de la Société d'Anthropologie de Moncelon, series ii, volume ix, p. 613

Welcome to the aviary. Here you will find most of the varieties of exotics you have come to admire and worship and perhaps even frequent. It is true that none is available in the usual senses or non-, ringed by and ringing with knowledge and use, but this should in no way diminish your visit. Your visit can be rich, can "pull wherewithal from negation," can engender effusions, ablations and drainage, can pop. It can be something you describe, later, in words--"The birdsphere surrounded me fully, there was no space for breathing, I clutched"--or in dark little lines--say, a drawing of one of the features. (For non-obvious subjects see index.)

At the beginning[**] you will find a display, demonstration, and discussion of flight, with reference to the drug, marijuana, which is used here not so much for its effects, which are often annoying to both user and friends, as for its conceptually alliterative properties. It stands for LSD, cults, Plato well grasped, and all other scourges of America's youth's parents' mindblowingly dopey instructions to America's youth, often mistaken for America's youth itself. In one of those psycho-physical metonymies reputed more common in biblical times, the pot plant is used to make rope, and burning it in its unravelled form in one's lungs or nearby helps burn tethers to inherited lemons of thinking, at least in one's teens (later it just makes one smarter or stupider). Each tether torched, the artery it bogglingly still is for others can, for one's entertainment and progress, be riddled and pickled and served up in dizzying flourishes of once well-woven errors. (This is often mistaken for cruelty.)'

In the second part is the story of life after rote on a different road, tether hemp frayed and burnt, worry defrayed, with curtseys and scrapings to certain completely certain ideas in complete disrepute, and salutes to the forms of living that depart from those commonly catalogued as fulfilling the wishes of numina best. None is endorsed, some are proved vital, many are licked up and down.

These first two parts outline the whole of this world--life hindered and not, hinged and not. The third deals with issues of self and its mysteries, and in the last are more potshots at arteries, suddenly whole again forms of imprisonment, not torched or melted at all.

If these four prefab chunks don't do it for you, several additional sections, pamphlets, proofs, manifestos and tracts can be formed by reading the index for topics with three or more entries, or by adjoining like topics. Reading the state-name stories could be good preparation for a cross-country trip. The stories referred to by "Androgyny, usefulness of," "Annelids," "Bug-eyes, attractiveness of," "Cleopatra," "Fraternity boys," "Heterosexuality," and so on could form an excellent prom-advice pamphlet. If your faith has been flagging, read up on "Hasids," "Mists" and "Recycling."

There is guaranteed to be produced, somewhere, in one of the sections native or composite, at least one of the chancy excesses that dreams, truth, and flight are consigned to be made of forever (unless, of course, you're still hoping for Lebensraum).

A brief word on history, that necessary evil. There is a history to the birdhouse, of course, but it is far beyond the scope of our thinking, let alone this discussion. There is also a much more manageable little history to our interest in birds.

The head curator speaks: "Birds are quite a bit sillier even than fish. What is sillier than a bird? Nothing. Yet birds have determined my life.

"When I was a boy of eight, I went to visit my uncle psychiatrist, whose mynahs were the shame of the family: he was sure he had taught them to think, or rather to tell him about it. 'When the world finds out,' he told me, 'I'll be as famous as Darwin, anyone.' (Was Darwin anyone?) Then, demonstration: after telling them it was my birthday, he asked them what day it was, and they squawked out some sounds that he translated to mean that they knew.

"Later, he sold them.

"In the early 1990s, another researcher, Irene Pepperberg, proved beyond doubt that her parrot could think. From her office in Tucson, home of the Biosphere, Jane Goodall's chimps, the Garbage Project, the Multiple Mirror Telescope and Norm Austin, she declared in full view of the bird-behavior community on which she and her family depended that her little gray bird had the cognitive abilities of those chimps and dolphins that others had managed to befriend and prod for their secrets just as, in the legend, the first or so white Americans had with their subjects.

"'I am sad,' the parrot confided to her one day as she left it for a routine medical check-up, 'and I don't wish you to leave me alone.'

"If I could, I would name this the Charlie Myran, M.D. Arearium. Or perhaps, since he died right after Dr. Pepperberg unveiled her parrot, I would name it the Myran-Pepperberg Construct and Archive, or the Myran-Pepperberg Ornithopticon. But I can't, any more than Caesar could name his Rome, or America's natives America. In any case it doesn't exist.


If in the course of your visit it becomes apparent that indeed, there is no aviary here after all, take comfort, this has been studied. There is, to be precise, a two-inch layer of inky green matter covering the ground where, previously, the grandest living archive imaginable could always be seen. This matter consists of near-equal proportions of all those qualities which founded the "substantive base" of the structure--the thoughts, ideas, errors, dilemmas, and perverse little resonances which allowed the mere object to stand. If you scoop up a handful and sow it among your turnips, you may obtain within days a perfectly-scaled little replica of all civilization, there in the turnips. Don't.

In the air above the inky green matter, the sometime stuff of the birdhouse: its cargo, now loose, yet uncertain of what to do without walls and fixtures and curators, and therefore preserving the concept of same so adroitly that visitors are still often misled into seeing the thing. But there is no thing--nor, strangely, has there ever been. There are only ideas, and part of the charm of the aviary is in its heightening of this fact through the partialness of its masking.

There are those who consign themselves to this puddle of birdhouse for fairly long periods, the way moonstruck medievals would crouch in the bowls of miracle fountains till their leg-muscles started to atrophy, claiming it made all life singular, distinctions vanishing into the black hole of each jot and tittle's feral uniqueness along with their cramps: there are truths, these touched would declare stretching back into shape, but not as we think of them, nor ever will. For many, this was an issue of comfort, for others a matter of mystic something or other, while yet others were finding something specific they had dropped at a fairground some decades before, or would drop the next.

The alert citizen of the abstract will indeed note that truth, unlike beauty, can't always be seen, in the usual sense. Though there is such a thing as negative capability, it is most often while falling asleep, or being shocked out of hiccoughs, or being conked, or whatever, that the whole picture shows up in some form. Then one says "Yes, there is something here to wrest me from damage," or "No, I will no longer fluster the vitriol of my dearths," or the like, before submerging in sleep, gratefulness or unconsciousness.

Some experience this moment as lunacy or powerlessness, which is why it so rarely occurs, but the curators call it "ideation compaction" and see it, as do the parrots (from whom, if truth be told, they obtain their ideas and phrasing), as a means of salvaging life from the slag (modified from the parrots' more elegant but foggier "means of dredging the dogged," or "bogged," or something). (Despite differences in vocabulary arising from different milieus, curators and birds are agreed on most things, including these concepts, and on the goals of the aviary: loosening of strictures, effective if muted revolt against ways of thought and vocabulary imposed by milieus, deafening of the shapes of constraint into shapes, mere this and mere that, rather than shapes of constraint. The parrots call the malleability of reality that makes this possible "the flightiness of all factualness," or "the lightness of all actualness," or something like that.)

In events, one thing will occur regardless of neighbors, and another will never occur, all strife to its doing a lark in its eyes; by a different token, each thing will roam to each other regardless of order, but the cause and result are of one's own gazing, like Australia of the Australians' singing.

This minded, you needn't start anywhere in particular in your visit, any more than history had to start with an apple, tablet, or cudgel. Nor, as through history proper, need your motion be influenced by any arbitrary decoction of lines such as these, or those to be birthed from exchange with the index; like the order of living events, lines are a matter for plotters and fishermen, not for the quick.

You should steadfastly ignore all this chatter, in fact, and randomly wander, perhaps waylaying one of the parrots briefed to discuss, without any traces of vanity, most any subject concerning their new cousins, the apes and the dolphins. While the trainer is pleased to announce the parrots' near-complete grasp of the research, cranial size prohibits presentable discourse on all other usual subjects, and visitors attempting to ask about traffic, clothing or other hard matters of localized interest will be asked to depart. Questions pertaining to the absolutes of philosophy have proved surprisingly easy for parrots even without education, and are therefore allowed, if not exactly encouraged.

But don't get caught up with those beaked cassette tours either. Just scratch on the walls, demote ceilings, eat floors--slobber on something, if slobbering helps. If you find yourself rethinking what-not, don't reach for your pipe, just go on and do it, and think also of health, boys, gadgets, malaria, grunge, and especially that tongue depressant of knowledge, the sameness of life.

[*] Author's preface to Aviary Slag (Jacques Servin, Fiction Collective Two, March 1995).

[**] The four sections referred to here and below are:

"Torchings of Tethers, Potshots at Arteries: A Pickler's Guide to the Highway,"

"The Rote Less Ravelled: Being Less Than a Sum,"

"Romancing the Smelt: Self-Colonization, Mischief, and the West," and

"He-Man Moments: The Matchless Shafts of Eventfulness."