Literature consumes itself. Readers rewrite what we read anew, to be read and rewritten again and again and on it goes. “Each fire is all fires,” as Cormac McCarthy put it. In “Words Lost and Found” Ben Shields goes in search of the modern revival of the Syriac-Aramaic language, “the mother tongue of Jesus,” and finds himself lost in a thicket of stories, competing versions of the truth. Shields’ account is literary nonfiction. The author’s borrowing from named works is intentional—though often not signaled by quotation marks or formatting, to both convey the experience of losing oneself in the stories of others and to explore the ways that mimicry and borrowing construct the writer’s authority. T.S. Eliot, a famous champion of this method, originally titled his long poem “The Waste Land, “He Do the Police in Voices.” In that same spirit, Ben Shields gives us “Words Lost and Found.” All scenes and dialogue involving named persons are factual and reported faithfully and accurately.
5 August, 2022