>>>A Translation of a Letter from an Obscure Artist to the World

A Translation of a Letter from an Obscure Artist to the World

A Note from the Translator

A dear friend of mine came across the following manuscript while moving into a new house. He found it in an old dark-room in an otherwise unfinished basement. Knowing that I am a linguist, he brought it to me in the hopes that it would prove to be of some interest. Indeed, this turned out to be the case; for, I found myself focusing on its translation, rather than my other responsibilities at the university, for the past year.

The author writes using a type of symbolic shorthand, which (to my knowledge) has appeared nowhere else. (Fortunately, the sentence structure is similar to that of the English language, putting me at some advantage.) For example, the author uses two different symbols to represent “body,” the circle and horizontal line. The former is used to denote body together with consciousness, while the latter symbolizes body without consciousness. For the sake of simplicity in reading, I have translated both as “body” (maintaining the distinction in the footnotes).

The manuscript also contains certain chains of symbols which I was, initially, unable to decipher. It is here where I must credit my good friend, Paul Sherman, who is a mathematician at the university. Sharing my problem with Paul, I was fortunate that he had read a paper concerning the modeling of vowel systems.1 He was able to recognize these symbols as representing plots of tongue position with respect to time—the symbols being visual representations of English phonetics. This realization allowed me to proceed in my project.

Additionally, it should be noted that, during translation, I came across certain passages which seemed to describe biological processes. I brought these sections
to Alice Corvino in the biology department. She confi rmed my assumptions. Graciously, she put much effort into interpreting each of these processes, as described in my translation. I have also included this information in the footnotes.

I would like to stress how grateful I am for these people. Without their help I would not be able to present you with the final translation of the manuscript. Additionally, I would like to thank my friend, Jon Meier, who thought to present me with this wonderful, unique find.

– David Allen

The Letter

author unknown

The french refer to the orgasm as “la petite mort.”2 I fi nd this curious. I am aware of trillions of my body’s points as they shrink and bulge, their centers tighten and shatter, their walls writhe and tear3, which I cannot help but interpret as a trillion minute orgasms. This feeling is so intense, it pains me to hold my pen.

As I search for the words to put to paper, I can sense billions of my body’s4 switches, toggled on and off, flinging their charges at fi ngers.5 The closest sensation, to which the reader might relate (however much more diluted), is the feeling of blood returning to a limb after it has fallen asleep. Almost every finger in my head is receiving a charge, numbing my ability to process that which I want to communicate. As I am unsure how long I can maintain my writing, I begin my story (I fear it might end abruptly).

As an artist, it was my noble ambition to create a work which perfectly sums the whole of the human experience. Furthermore, I had set out to do this in a wholly
authentic way, void of external influence. To this end, I decided to spend a week with no outside stimulus. That is, I was to neither read nor view material produced by any other individual. While this proved more difficult than I had assumed it would be, I found myself surprisingly productive for the entirety of the week without foreign dossier. I was uncharacteristically prolific in my art, but I was still unable to produce the masterpiece6 for which I had hoped.

While I had been successful in eliminating new input, it had been impossible to create outside of the shadow of former stimulus. My body7 of work was despoiled of true value by the influence of artists and thinkers before me. To put to death this creative paralysis, I devised a yet more profound8 version of the former week’s experiment.

Understanding that photography required equipment realized by others, I no longer had use for my darkroom. So, I destroyed the equipment which it contained. This delighted me as a physical manifestation of my burgeoning philosophy. (Art often concerns itself with destruction as much as it does creation.) Then, I soundproofed the darkroom. I recognize that, in order to do this, I had to use tools and materials which were realized by others. Often, one must use the tools of his imprisonment to enact his escape. I had been shackled by the key of disrepute influence, and it was with this same key that I fled my constraints.

To achieve my singular understanding of humanity, I locked myself in the darkroom with nothing but a jug9 of water. I spent the following three days attempting to empty my body10 of memories. I write body because it was not only my goal to empty my mind, but to lose myself of all abject, former physical sensations. (While I have only been partially successful in the latter, any memory of previous sensations only seems to exist in order to elucidate my current experience.)

At first, I felt nothing. With time, however, I was able to begin to shed my former self. I focused on what I was experiencing at that moment. Due to the purity of my environment, I can only assume that my experience was (and is) pure—that of the generic human. Suddenly, I became aware of a magnitude of pins in my eyes. Flooded with salt and bone, charges flickered down, they relaxed and released.11

Now, I am able to sense every single one of my body’s12 processes. I can feel the humming at the center of every cell. I know this to be the true realization of the human experience. The reader, polluted with external influence, is in no position to question this truth’s validity. External influence had kept me blind to these internal systems. In setting out to make my work, I had not expected my body to be the canvas. This, of course, was asinine. What pure medium exists outside of one’s self? If you are reading this, you have glimpsed into the beautiful purity of the sum of human existence through the virtuous, singular effort of one being.

I can feel muscle falling away, truncated, transported into muscle.13 I fear that I do not have much time. But, I know it is unreasonable to expect the unadulterated to last. Paint chips, canvases tear, and I extinguish. I only ask that you follow my example of pure independence and forget what you have read.


  1. Patrick D. Shipman, Sérgio H. Faria, Christopher Strickland, “Towards a continuous population model for natural language vowel shift,” Journal of Theoretical Biology 332 (September 2013): 123-135.
  2. “the little death.” As the symbols here include gender, we assume the author intended this to be in the French.
  3. The author appears to be writing about Cellular Apoptosis, a type of cell death.
  4. “body with consciousness.”
  5. Presumably the firing of a brain’s neurons.
  6. The symbol used here is a plot representing the phonetics of  “self.” From context, the translator takes the liberty of assuming “masterpiece.”
  7. w/ consciousness
  8. The symbol used here could also be translated “abject,” but this is unlikely from the context. The writing at this point becomes much more sloppy and therefore more difficult to decipher.
  9. It is only clear that the symbol used here is a noun, but I cannot find a suitable translation. While “jug” is used, the reader should not imagine a jug.
  10. This is the only case of “body” being represented by a line through a circle.
  11. The author is most likely describing the deactivation of his eye’s photoreceptor cells (likely rod cells) due to depolarization.
  12. sans consciousness.
  13. Probably gluconeogenesis.
By | 2017-08-09T11:37:30+00:00 July 29th, 2017|Other Texts|0 Comments

About the Author:

After dropping out of College to focus on video production and graphic design, David decided to become a strength coach. And, after deciding to no longer be a strength coach, he went back to college. This resulted in a Masters degree in mathematics. Now—while working as a freelance writer, graphic designer, and mathematician—he moonlights as an art photographer. He currently resides in Toulouse, France.

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