In the Middle: Tom Tyler's Ciferae and the Coming of Homo nocturnus

By Karl Steel
In the Middle

CIFERAETyler builds his title from "cipher," a code or a zero, which derives from from the medieval Latin cifra. Signs are what animals have tended to be for philosophy; they're brought in as examples, to point, and then, like any code, to be forgotten. To give way. To become zero. But Tyler insists on animal signs that won't yield, which distort our plural cifrae with an extra, stuttering, wild syllable so that -frae becomes ferae (41-45).

Tyler gives us an exact count of these interrupting animals: .CI. FERAE. Whenever Tyler or one of the thinkers he takes in hand speaks of an animal, Tyler bolds it, and gives space in the margins for a picture and a bit of associated text to let the octopus or the snake or the whatever do its thing. He does this 101 times. The associated text--maybe an old encyclopedia entry, modern natural history, a bit of poetry--may relate directly to the main line of discussion; mostly, however, it doesn't, deliberately so. And if animals play in the body text, they do so not cipherously but indexically, in which their particular beings mean and matter irreducibly (32-33, 67-68). There's a life outside the sign that Tyler doesn't presume to exhaust. Bravo! It makes for a generous and beautiful book. Make sure to get your own original copy in meatspace.

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