3rd – Somnium Omnium by James Green

edgar_degas_-_dante_and_virgil_at_the_entrance_to_hell

Dante and Virgil were travelling through the depths of the inferno and found a little nook buried off somewhere in the lower circles. Sweltering and stinking of shit and fear, Dante fainted and Virgil offered him a hanky saying,

“You need a break or something from this trial,

And here’s a little room I do not know:

In this darkness we’ll rest a little while.”

Immediately, however, a solemn voice wheedled out from the incredible dark, where sound was muffled to a whisper. Dante looked beneath him to find that he had been sitting on the face of Tarquin Quonquon-de-Prenghyo, with his sculpted chin and Hitler Youth hairdo, of whom nothing was visible except his favourite features.

“That stinks,” he said, flicking a head that he hoped one day would yield the description ‘shock of blonde hair’ in a broadsheet Weekend magazine.

“Scusi,” said Dante awkwardly. Then, gathering himself: “Ditemi, acciò ch’ancor carte ne verghi, chi siete voi.”

“You find yourself in the hall of narcissists,” said that boy’s face. “Everything here exists to keep us ignored. Despite appearances it’s hideously small, and we can only speak in careful whispers. We exist in vain fragmentary pain: over there a chap who is only biceps flexes silently for all eternity, since only our most beloved parts remain. And we languish in the nothingness: independence is a lie, self-sustenance is a falsehood, or at least they are perhaps cruel truths: nothing is crueller than exile, no barb sharper than the lack of love. Not even the demons know of our existence: I would even rejoice to see Satan’s shitting anus. But, anyway, as to what I did to deserve this punishment: it’s simple enough. My crime was writing for the student newspaper, especially writing asinine comment articles assuming that opinions I had culled from various recesses in the Internet were in fact worthy of being broadcast, and that despite my callowness I had an innate genius that would overshadow my inability to write precisely and clearly with some vestige of ‘personality’.”

The noble poet Virgil recoiled in horror to hear of the year he wrote ten consecutive columns about campus feminism.

“Too late have I repented for my sins. I should have known, the moment I stumbled across a poorly-scribbled poster in the woods near my childhood home, that my efforts at fame and glory in the world of punditry were in vain. For even though it was printed in Comic Sans, even though it stank a bit of manure, it far outshined anything I could ever muster. I memorised it then as a child, but only in this dark place do I read it with renewed, illuminated, wiser eyes. This is what it said:

“INCIPIT MANIFESTO ID EST SENTENTIAE ARTICULATIO SEQUENDA AUT NON, QUAE ‘SOMNIUM OMNIUM’ DICITUR DEBET.

“Because it is already used by most people; because it is forceful and not what we’re used to despite this wide usage; because it doesn’t believe that high rhetoric should be high-minded nor low rhetoric low, but that profundity can be made simple and simplicity made transcendent, and everything in between; because it espouses the value and usefulness of everything; because of its willingness to embrace contradiction in the name of productive friction and the drama created by it; because of its consequent oscillation around central points; because it’s a laugh; because it is collaborative; because a legion of wankers do their utmost to suppress the likes of it for God knows what reason, and it would be good enough to see the looks on their faces; because it lacks access and is inaccessible; because it is ignored and ubiquitous; because it is mischaracterised and even appropriated by foul cretins as being as compassionless as they are, as unthinking as they are, as comfortable as they are, as status-quo as they are, as safe, as unkind, as inauthentic, as easy, as mediocre as they are, making it a dirty word demanding a reclamation; because it not only sees the marginal part, but also it sees the structuring whole, poking at and pervading both; because it defies blandness, authoritarianism, totalising structures and strictures, definability, intellectual comfort, idolisation, the mainstream, falsehood, wasteful battles and simplicity; because it always was and ever shall be, as long as we exist, whether we like it or not; because its very unexpectedness and disgust with strict form and logic could be an opportunity of unprecedented scale; because it is playing:

“I pledge an allegiance to the V U L G A R as a method and a horizon for art.”

And Tarquin lowered his eyes, and let willow-tendril hair weep on his eyes. But Dante and the Roman in the silence shrugged and sniffed and made their heavy tracks.

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Somnium Omnium by James Green won 3rd Place in our 2016 Creative Writing Competition