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Preface to the Book of Hujusmodi

by James Graham 

Posted: 29 January 2004
Word Count: 779

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Preface to The Book of Hujusmodi

Some time ago I was standing alone in a country place, when I saw beside every tree a ghost tree moving slowly sideways-up. The gate I leaned upon, the hogsback field, the rutted track into the field, and every head of buttercup, like images in a double pane, passed by me or through me, and away. I looked to see if my own ghost would part from me, and sure enough there it was, an image of myself as if in a receding mirror. But I was left behind. I remained here with this body and did not go away with the other one. I suppose I must have both gone away and stayed.

It was sad for me to see the departure because I am one who, when this other Earth slipped anchor and sailed away to begin a new history, wished like the lame boy of Hamelin that I too had been taken. It is as if I am not a native of this world. I have fancied, almost to the point of belief, that I am one of the Hujusmodians, a descendant of migrants. I do believe it. All beliefs are vulnerable; the best we can expect is that our belief should survive doubt.

Our homeworld and its history survive for us only in shards of legends. We have seen the growth of this people who call themselves homo sapiens sapiens, repeating the word of wisdom as if to make it doubly true. We also have given ourselves Earth-names: homo (for we are human too) dissimilis - the different people - and Hujusmodian, the people of Hujusmodi, 'such a kind' of world. Our ancient language survives only in words and sayings, and does not run together as a whole language any more; and so, as Earth-people have done, we borrowed these names from that older language of Earth, a dialect of ghosts in which many aspects of life and death are so well expressed.

Over our many generations we have seen the knowing, knowing people change and grow. We have seen what wonderful and terrible things they have done with such materials as hard metal or the softest invisible waves. We have seen, too, the old street market and the journeys of journeyman traders grow into a market that is everywhere, like an atmosphere, especially in the weeks of the Great Market in midwinter, when so much waste is sold and bought. We have seen the most terrible waste of all, the withering of so many, the tearing apart of so many others, all sapiens, sapiens no less than those who destroy them.

In our generation, now so remote from the homeworld, we find our adopted world growing darker. We have seen the old empires, that burned living people over fires and threw babies to hungry dogs, finally pass away. But now again, now over the whole world as never before, there is the terrible waste, the people are not fed, they are given no remedy for their sickness, they cannot go where they please. For me this seems so unnatural that sometimes as I walk in the woods I expect to see basilisks, and return to the familiar town almost sure that the signs will be written in a strange alphabet and passers-by will speak a strange singing language.

After the departure at first we sadly wished ourselves away. We have asked ourselves again and again who we are. Either we are different because we are from elsewhere, or we have our myth of elsewhere only to explain why we are different. And if it is only a myth, and we are not from elsewhere, why are we so different? We asked ourselves about the departure itself, whether it was merely an illusion, though it was seen by more than one of us.

Our answers are unclear but out of these doubts we have become more knowing, much more knowing. In that country place there was a small cottage, the only habitation to be seen from that field-gate. I saw it fly away too, and surely the people there; but it also stayed. Did their Earth-selves stay and their other selves go? Or did they go with their other selves? We know only that our selves are here, and if there are other selves we have no knowledge of them.

Until the departure, we were like a flock of small birds that had flown into a strange room. Now, this room is becoming our universe. Whimsically, as if the name would crystallise the being, we are toying with homo sapiens dissimilis. We are bound to this world for ever.

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Comments by other Members

James Graham at 20:29 on 29 January 2004  Report this post
This is a new prose poem, just finished - or just coherent enough to let it loose for a while. I'd like to know if you think it works. (That means, I'd like to know too if you think it doesn't work.)


olebut at 10:20 on 30 January 2004  Report this post

to use that awful American expression 'It works for me'

and left me waiting for the next instalmanet. I am reminded of the beginning of a film, with the hero/anti hero narrating these lines at the start and then the film reprising the past and then moving forward through the present to the future.

thank you for being coherent

take care


ChrisB at 12:20 on 01 February 2004  Report this post

I loved this and I think you have fallen upon something here -so just rock and roll with it.

For me without going into too much detail it conjures up something mystical and magical. And the delicate words are quite beautiful.


Ticonderoga at 14:16 on 07 February 2004  Report this post

James, this is absolutely gorgeous|: beautifully, delicately written; poignantly moving; instinct with wistful wisdom. It puts me in mind, simultaneously, of Native American writings, Richard Jefferies and the exquisite Martian stories of Ray Bradbury! A thing of beauty.



Poetic at 15:16 on 13 February 2004  Report this post
This is a beautifully written, imaginative and thought provoking piece so packed full of wisdom. It presents to the reader a different and object way of looking at the world we live in. I love the techniques that have been used to bring this to the forefront. First of all there is the imagining of three different worlds – the old empires, this world and the homeworld. It is so clever the way the narrator was making observations from these perspectives and succeeded in putting forward compelling opinions. It would appear the narrator is describing an out of body experience in the sentence “I suppose I must have both gone away and stayed” – effective contradiction. It is perhaps a unique way of trying to answer that old age question - Who are we and why are we here? Like many philosophers before specific answers were not found but lots of insights and knowledge were gained. What is known for sure is that we are homo sapiens and “…bound to this world for ever”. As to whether there are homo sapiens dissimilis remains to be discovered and again throws open the question – Are we alone? I love this thinking piece.

tinyclanger at 15:31 on 14 February 2004  Report this post

I am not totally sure what a ‘prose poem’ is, so maybe I’m missing something very obvious.....also I do not know myth/classical ideas well enough to know if it is based on an existing concept, or if this is a race of your own making, but whichever, it seems to have many levels, and I’m not confident I’m getting them all..

The idea of standing watching yourself and your world drift away is fascinating. I loved your “wished like the lame boy of Hamelin that I too had been taken”, reminded me of that long-forgotten story, and, once I’d recalled it, such an appropriate image.
I suppose put simplistically you are echoing that comment most of us feel at times, that we are “on the wrong planet”. However, your expression of it, “I suppose I must have both gone away and stayed,” and the conclusion, “All beliefs are vulnerable; the best we can expect is that our belief should survive doubt.” is wonderful. It has a duality, on the one hand, ‘I don’t belong, and yet I might’ and on the other, the reinforcing of ‘otherness’, because to truly belong would be unbearable, so the idea becomes self-perpetuating. I haven’t put that at all well, but I hope you know what I mean! (In fact, just realised you say it so much better, “Either we are different because we are from elsewhere, or we have our myth of elsewhere only to explain why we are different.”)

I like the way human history, inventions, customs are translated into an almost archaic language, the language of myth perhaps, or certainly of more ancient, simpler, times when life was linked directly with the rhythm of the natural world. The “market that is everywhere” is particularly resonant .

As I read, I felt the language was almost like a song, certainly very lyrical. I have read the beginning of Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf and found myself thinking of that...I don’t know why, maybe just that there’s a link with the language of myth and the idea of being closer to nature. I wonder if the combination of sentences that contain quite abstract ‘philosophies’ with others that are quite short and definate creates the musicality? The last paragraph shows what I mean best, two short sentences cradling the longer one; “Now, this room is becoming our universe. Whimsically, as if the name would crystallise the being, we are toying with homo sapiens dissimilis. We are bound to this world for ever.”

All in all, I enjoyed the piece very much. I certainly think it ‘works’ As I said, I feel that I’m not ‘seeing’ everything that’s there, so perhaps there’s more for me to think about.. However, I hope that my feedback on what I have ‘seen’ is useful to you in some way!



Sorry, "ames"
dumnno where the 'J' went! Have this one, instead!

James Graham at 19:01 on 16 February 2004  Report this post
Thanks to everyone for your comments. 'Poetic' - the old empires, this world and the homeworld: yes, these are the worlds that I'd try to play around with in anything that followed this 'Preface'. I called it that because I was thinking of it as a possible first piece in my next collection. (Hope springs eternal.)The rest would be mainly verse poems, all in some way - directly or more remotely - written from a viewpoint of someone who doesn't seem to belong to this planet. All working through a kind of estrangement, bringing out a strangeness in big things such as power, politics and war - but also a strangeness in ordinary things observed every day. At the moment, as you can no doubt see, I'm at the stage of talking about it, not actually doing it.

Helen, I'm not exactly sure what a prose poem is either. I suppose it's a piece of expressive prose that isn't a short story or essay. Another thing it could be is a cop-out! I tried for a long time to put some of these ideas into verse, but never seemed to find a satisfactory form, so just made them into a piece of prose. Happily, when it was done, I was quite pleased with it. Now, getting some feedback, I begin to see that maybe it does work. The kind of archaic language you notice was deliberate, as homo dissimilis has to be a little out of tune with the present age - and his interest in Latin would seem to back this up.

I feel I'm on the wrong planet mainly because I feel (as many other people do) that all the really big things that are going on in the world are simply not normal. Not just morally wrong, but not human even, at least not in line with what most of us take to be human values. For example, something from today's paper: a spokesperson for the organisation trying to get anti-retroviral drugs to HIV sufferers in Africa say that the cost of one Stealth Bomber would solve their problem. Or, all that stuff that's quite well known now, about Wal-Mart or some other giant corporation being as wealthy as six or ten poor countries. Anyone brought up on socialist - or just broadly humane - values, looks at that and has to say, 'If that's normal and human, then I must be abnormal and something other than human'. It's what I say in the piece, 'the terrible waste' of human lives through, e.g. poverty and AIDS, people not fed and not even allowed to migrate to where they might get a tiny piece of what's going, and even if they do migrate to be then brutally exploited like the Morecambe cockle-pickers.

I'm slightly concerned about any racial meaning that could be attached to 'homo dissimilis'. Giving a biological name like that to what is really just a lot of human beings who, as you say, feel they are on the wrong planet, could be a bit iffy. So long as homo dissimilis is taken only as a metaphor, it's maybe o.k. It wouldn't be taken literally, I hope. I'll take the risk anyway. It's a device - a way of saying that I (and others) are so alienated it goes much deeper than saying something like Blair was wrong to go to war in Iraq - it's more like saying something's wrong with power, all power. And there's something wrong with the way we have to live. The conditions of our working lives, for example - here I'm stuck with the old Marxist thing about the products of our work being taken from us and used for the enrichment of others. This isn't just theory - my brother-in-law has worked for about two-thirds of his working life as a skilled engineer. He has built tractors, harvesters, aircraft and locomotives. The other third is accounted for by redundancy - when there were no orders or the company was moving to some place where the workers would take lower wages, he became superfluous. A major part of his very existence doesn't belong to him! The conditions of our non-working lives too, our 'leisure', governed by advertising and the grotesque debt culture.

So homo dissimilis is a device, not just for doing a social or political criticism of these things, but for taking it a bit further or deeper maybe. For saying this is a looking-glass world, a kingdom of Mordor, or some such thing. However, this has become a bit of a rant. But our predecessor, the great homo dissimilis William Blake, could rant in great style. I take my cloth cap off to him.

If anybody wants to keep this thread going, please do - whether you agree or not with any of this stuff.


Skeetr at 14:49 on 26 February 2004  Report this post

I'm new to this thread, and new here WW also, so forgive this come-lately posting. I was very intrigued as to what a prose poem was, so read yours with great interest. As others have said in their own way, this was a haunting, moving and thought-provoking piece. I don't think you need worry if anyone will see racial motives in the use of "homo sapien dissimilis" -- it's clearly a device, and an evocative one at that. When I read it the first time over, it brought to mind a recurrent idea from childhood of what-if Neanderthals hadn't died away and lived alongside homo sapiens now, what would they think of us? How would they voice approval or disapproval? You have created a subtle and unique 'species' through which to view and critique the human race -- I think it works very well. I look forward to more installments, if they are forthcoming. What I like most about this piece is that, in addition to it being strongly rhythmical and full of haunting imagery, it doesn't shy away from the 'very important'.


James Graham at 13:46 on 27 February 2004  Report this post
Thank you, Stephanie, for your thoughtful comment. I did worry a little about the homo dissimilis idea, but now I think that if anybody took it as racist that would tell more about them than about the piece.

As for Neanderthals, ever since I learned that many of them suffered badly with arthritis I've always been sort of drawn to them and wonder what their lives were like. It seems that the arthritis sufferers were taken care of even though they couldn't hunt or even forage. And there's no archaeological evidence of Neanderthal women having been assigned a 'woman's role'. They probably hunted those cave bears that make the grizzly look like a cuddly toy, and could say equally with the men, 'One day you eat the bear, one day the bear eats you'. If they'd survived, what indeed would they have thought of us?

I hope there will be more instalments, in prose or verse, before too long - pieces about greater and lesser things in the world, from war to the supermarket checkout, all seen by dissimilis. But these things sometimes have to cook for quite a long time.



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