He finished writing his encomium.
He sat back and shut his eyes.
He was looking forward to plunging into a dream.
Instead, he heard critics carping on what he had failed to praise. Or rather on what he had failed to posit within the encomium—it was ostensibly of the brotherhood of man—as its equally legitimate obverse.
Even at the outset of needing to articulate the thing that had first set his mind afire, he was aware of the obligation to anticipate those critics’ counterarguments—to anticipate them and, thus, give them their honorable due. How else would the finished encomium be able to smolder complexly with the white-hot coalish trace of his original burning thought?
At the same rate, how was he supposed to anticipate those critics’ arguments without first fully presenting his own? It was necessary, he had concluded, to reach the summit of his own thinking before he would see where his ascent, if tracked in reverse, might be vulnerable to an avalanche or two. By then, surely he would be high enough to locate, if need be, an alternate slope by which to descend without incident. Besides, once up that high, was it even necessary to come back down?
And in this mode, he floated up out of his chair.
Outside, the first flakes began to fall.
Maybe, he thought, now looking down at the top of his head, there was no such thing as a summit. There were inclines, certainly, many of which were steep and angular enough to be, in effect, peaks. But an actual summit? Maybe that was simply where one decided to stop climbing. What if by trying to climb higher, though, one gained a view suggesting that things spied earlier on, at the presumed summit, had been perceived, in fact, through a haze of nearly invisible snow? For example, those little bumps one had taken to be cushiony little moguls: what if they were now revealed, in the melting glare of the sun, to be sharp little ungraspable rocks? And higher still, what might those rocks turn into?
Was it even necessary to come back down?
He felt doomed, then, if his writing was always destined to cancel itself out.
Or was it?
The critics refused to respond to this. Instead they needled further into his heart by asking why he had also failed to ask the question of how he had been able to ask the question that prompted the encomium in the first place. Or to put it more bluntly: the piece, lit by a spark that could have been fanned only as a result of the high financial and educational privileges that had first shaped its author’s mind, was being awfully mealy-mouthed about its democratic aspirations. Wasn’t a nod within the encomium itself toward this prompting prompt (his elitist origins) as integrally vital to the piece’s actual comprehensibility as the prompt itself? And yet, having not made such a concession, even nominally, how could he claim finally in good faith that he’d stoked a hot enough coal in his cold little mind, way back when?
The flakes were descending heavily now, whitening the trees, covering the roads, sticking to the panes.
But all he heard were the critics.
And with the world being blanketed outside, he floated back down into himself, head first, jaw settling below his boot.
Considering that they were now no longer critics but rather sentries borne by his own blood cells, he began to wonder where and why exactly he had had them dispatched so brutally so that he could do their talking for them. Also, by preemptively killing them off, wasn’t he only further bolstering their main claim—that he was a writer who, at great cost to his literary validity, murderously succumbed to earliness? What’s more, if he really was such a heartless killer, whom else might he be looking to do in?
Brotherhood of man, indeed!
He was exhausted. He felt numb with dumb.
He was shivering.
And to think: all of these feelings came from that finished encomium of his. And all of these feelings he now had to think about alongside everything else he had apparently failed to think about when first pulling out a sheet of paper, blank as a blizzard, in that bygone, irrevocable moment of what he had believed was ethical and innocent creativity.
Finished encomium! Ha!
He was wide-awake again, kicking his skull, reaching for a pen, scowling.