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Columns > Jesse Jarnow - Brain Tuba

Published: 2009/09/30
by Jesse Jarnow

The Nomooklllkkk Festival

BRAIN TUBA: The Nomooklllkkk Festival

The increasing smallness of the world would be a hackneyed thought if it wasn’t so apparent. At least it is here, as I file these words and read Twitter while slurping the cool pulp from a klklklklkl fruit and listening to his Kzzzknkh and his friends’ fppppo orchestra, playing tuned joookk shell-gongs and drone-chanting by tag-team for days on end. No matter how far I run, though, everything is closer than it’s ever been, every bit of useless information broadcast over oceans and jungle canopies and up canyon walls, even if the data rolls in more slowly during my daylight hours. All the news from home happens while I sleep. A dream.

One morning, though, as I was sifting in reverse order through the previous day’s events, it struck me that the world isn’t getting smaller at all. It’s getting bigger, bloating with every Tweet-book status update. That is, the universe beyond one’s immediate experience has always been a construct of word-of-mouth and media: television, newspapers, radio. The former is limited by the circles one runs in, and the latter were merely samplings and dispatches: what’s going on in Burma, or Nebraska, or at a local museum. But now, instead of being broadcast through a few wide channels, every bit of information has a channel entirely to itself. Where media was once a representation of the territory, it is now the territory itself. There are voices everywhere. It is a state of being that is deeply democratic, loudly echoing, less classist by the day, and utterly schizophrenic.

Instead of uniformity, though, the smallness of the world has caused a fractalized decentralization of opinion. Everyone has a take on everything, especially the everythingness. Data smog is nothing new (see David Shenk’s 1997 book of that name, added to the OED in 2004) but today’s conditions were unforeseeable, even then. It’s an easy mist to get lost in, at every level of culture, from narcissistic status updates about the state of laundry detergent in the house to the clattering plurality of contemporary politics. It is easy to be amplified, but even easier to get lost in the echo, to live in the echo.

Once a year here, the village players perform a recitation of Nomooklllkkk , a play by a long-dead bard of the same name, a word that has come to translate, roughly, as “he who ascends as he reverberates.” It has been preserved orally for generations. The night of the performance is libidinous, naturally. (The combination of klklklklkl-wine and its seeds, smoked like knife hits with giant spears, is particularly heady.) Nearly three-quarters of the village, including the young and the infirm, attend. That night, each yurt prepares its own reaction to the performance, depicting it in a glyph atop a long sheet of parchment, which is hung outside the door by morning. The following day is spent in a pleasant post-_ Nomooklllkkk_ stupor, wandering the village and marking abstract responses on neighbors’ signs—and responses to other responses—which remain up for a week. It is this ritual, and not the performance itself, that becomes important.

I participated in Nomooklllkkk commentary as much as I could. I’m not entirely comfortable with the language and glyph-systems yet. In my own drawing, I aimed for a logical elegance, but I suspect Kzzzknkh and his friends laughed my analysis as simple. Mostly, I walked around and occasionally made tentative marks on other papers. For that week, nothing is spoken of but Nomooklllkkk, the performance’s nuances, or lack thereof. The commentary, at times, grows vicious, producing what I can only describe as the closest thing the local culture has to mother jokes. (They have mother jokes, too, but they’re closer to light operas than insults.) When the week is over, though, the parchment is removed, collated, and displayed. Removed from the doorways in which they were posted, within a month, nobody can remember the parchments’ meanings. And, for the rest of the year, if somebody doesn’t like a play, he writes his own, even if it’s only two or three minutes long. There are plays every afternoon.

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