My brother Ben, a well-intentioned man whose great soul is bubonic with the blackest of violence, intermittently finds himself without a ready source of pig carcasses. The pig is well known in the close-knit hung ga kung fu community of Syracuse, New York, as the farm animal whose physiology most closely resembles the human’s, and as such its corporeal remains are the sine qua non of proper practice; one cannot correctly tear out the human triceps muscle bare-handed without extensive practice on the homologue in pigs. In the absence of pig carcasses, a hung ga man must find something else to cool the blood, and in deference to this need my brother has gained admission to the rare books library at Cornell University under the auspices of its “Ph.D. program in Medieval studies,” a transparent administrative fiction likely confabulated on the fly by a wispy-haired dean covered in the flop sweat that only afflicts a man at the witching hour in the dark night of fear for his triceps.
I am a neuroscientist by trade, and so it was only Ben’s descriptions of his frenetic evenings turning crumbling pages with plastic tongs
and consulting obscure grimoires of various defunct paleographies that made me realize what I had on hand — although even his grunted fragments, much like silage, required some rumination to release their value, since I had stumbled on my anonymous scribe’s codex, not in a library of rare books, but at a delightful cafe called Small World Coffee in Princeton, New Jersey. Skipping past the first few then-incomprehensible pages, my eye caught the beginning of Mireille Absolon’s story and never let go, in spite of my painful dysfluency in its idiom. My brother’s library stories infected me with his lust to translate, and I determined to translate my codex, a task whose difficulty outstripped my preparation in ways I could only understand when fully, disastrously, committed.
The codex is written in a language I learned late and piecewise; I have been neither immersed nor formally trained in it and am doubtless guilty of all the numberless barbarisms that afflict the speakers of pidgins. Only the sustained practice of translation has allowed me to decipher the scribe’s commentary, although I am sure that the reader will find, as I have, that translation lifts little of its obscurity. Like many ancient texts, the story is excessively stylized and its characters’ actions, to say nothing of their circumstances, often strain belief. Even the manuscript’s provenance is questionable: Could the scribe truly have endured the events of that period in Altronne’s history while remaining safe and undisturbed enough to transcribe the tale accurately and completely? Could he truly have written it faithfully, free of doctrinal bias? Carbon dating of the manuscript places the paper’s manufacture years later than the best estimate of the date of Arielle Jeandarc’s fabled first transmission; is it a copy of the original transcript or simply an expansion, assisted by educated guesses and best efforts at recall, of its well-known synopsis?
Extant art and knowledge are powerless before these questions. I can only hope the story strikes you, as it did me, as an object whose
beauty justifies this gnat-plague of uncertainties.
It remains to credit my advisors. Although, as written, I have no formal training in the field that must now suffer my fumblings,
nonetheless a portion of this edition’s merit is owed to those who taught me, through no will or flaw of their own, via those most crude and august technologies of remote learning. Dr. Increase Chanticleer’s seminal work first directed me to the history of Altronne and the legends of the Lily Knight and others, without which I could never have understood this manuscript enough to render it in comprehensible form. Dr. Translucia Glycon’s vivisection of the trickster-poet-terrorist archetype was as valuable as it was venomous. Drs. Alfred Oliver and Marilyn Hogg provided critical background material on xenobiology and performance art. My intellectual ledger in full form would drown my scribe’s hard work in red ink, but of all those scholars, named and nameless, who would appear in it, only Dr. Jean Foxe truly speaks the language in whose rendering I am now, perhaps, a journeyman. We persist in stumbling on manuscripts and translating them, but I often suspect that it is Foxe who has written them and hidden them, in archives and coffeehouses and other places of power, so that we might continue to amuse ourselves — or perhaps simply so that towering philologist might one day have a proper conversation partner. For me, in any event, to read Foxe is to rekindle the sun.