In a college dorm, in a prison, in a marriage
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Little Gábor looks like any other baby, a fat Buddha whose eyes roll this way and that because he hasn’t learned the trick of aiming his gaze. He can’t even lift the weight of his own head to look around, so his parents aren’t to blame for thinking of him as a blank sheet of paper on which they will lovingly write all that they know about the world.
But ever since he opened his eyes to the bright air, ever since his fingers first closed accidentally around his mother’s, a bit of blanket, or the edge of his bassinet, Gábor has been thinking. The dog’s nose is here, then it is not. Voices come and go. Faces are the same and also different. Light alternates with darkness. Wet alternates with dry. He wants milk. He doesn’t want milk. A crying sound comes from somewhere and startles him, and then more crying comes. He has been making inferences, figuring out what it is to be. He invents a language that expresses his awareness. His sentences are marvelously efficient, each one containing a whole chapter of his philosophy. “Aglaglagl” is one. He says it when the dog’s nose comes to visit the bassinet.
Aglaglagl strikes Gábor’s parents as a sound of contentment, but they don’t know just how right they are. Aglaglagl contains what any number of wise men have tried to write in their holy texts using languages entirely unsuited to the task.
When Gábor’s father leans his face close enough for Gábor to grasp his nose and says, “Aglaglagl” — even though he mispronounces it — a squeal of happiness happens. Yes! Aglaglagl!
It will be some time before Gábor finds that he must learn a second language, a language so broken that, in mastering its false categories word by word, he will learn that he is Gábor, learn that the dog’s nose is not a part of him, learn that flowing water is river or Duna or Danube. In acquiring the razors of such language, he will forget everything that he once knew.
Bruce Holland Rogers