The Flame Alphabet

Joshua Cohen writes:

Ben Marcus’s new novel, The Flame Alphabet, is a commentary on the Elisha text, but a commentary that fulfils both obligations of flame: the text’s illumination is also its destruction. A novel concerned with children and language and the terrors wrought when one comes into possession of the other, it holds speech to be dangerous not just to Samaritan delinquents and itinerant seers but also to religion and the life of the mind. Marcus does violence to prayer – it doesn’t help, it harms – and to philosophy, which becomes a playground of forgery and misattribution: he misquotes Thoreau as having called the alphabet ‘the saddest song’ (shades of Psalm 137); he has Schopenhauer impossibly plagiarise Wittgenstein (‘if it can be said, then I am not interested’); while the Nietzsche citation is not only false but a reversal of NietzscheanSprache: ‘if I could take something from the world … it would be the language that sits rotting inside my mouth.’

(LRB 21 June 2012)

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