CRAIG CONLEY (Prof. Oddfellow) is recognized by Encarta as “America’s most creative and diligent scholar of letters, words and punctuation.” He has been called a “language fanatic” by Page Six gossip columnist Cindy Adams, a “cult hero” by Publisher’s Weekly, a “monk for the modern age” by George Parker, and “a true Renaissance man of the modern era, diving headfirst into comprehensive, open-minded study of realms obscured or merely obscure” by Clint Marsh. An eccentric scholar, Conley’s ideas are often decades ahead of their time. He invented the concept of the “virtual pet” in 1980, fifteen years before the debut of the popular “Tamagotchi” in Japan. His virtual pet, actually a rare flower, still thrives and has reached an incomprehensible size. Conley’s website is OneLetterWords.com.
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July 18, 2019

Go Out in a Blaze of Glory (permalink)
We're delighted that J. Keith Vincent called our One-Letter Words: A Dictionary a "chrestomathy" at a symposium about the Japanese author Edogawa Ranpo and whether or not a person could craft an entire narrative out of a single letter of the alphabet.  "If Craig Conley could come up with thousands of meanings for the 26 letters of the alphabet, whos to say how many stories might not be condensed into any one of those letters?"  Here's how Vincent's paper begins:

I recently ran across a curious dictionary of nothing but one-letter words. The author of One-Letter Words: A Dictionary spent fifteen years compiling 275 pages of definitions of words consisting of only one letter.  This is the dictionary, as one reviewer put it, for anyone who has forgotten that Z was the Roman letter for 2000.”  It also reminds us that Xhas no fewer than seventy meanings in addition to “10,including everything from wrong” (“batsuin Japanese as wellto the place where ones signature on a ballot should go, to a rating for an adult movie, a power of magnification and, of course, the symbol for a kiss.

I discovered this little alphabetical chrestomathy because its author, Craig Conley, cites as his inspiration a story by a detective novelist that I have written about and translated. Its hard to pinpoint exactly when I first got the idea to write a dictionary of one-letter words,Conley writes. But I remember once hearing about a bizarre Japanese crime novel from 1929, The Devil’s Apprentice by Shiro Hamao, and how the entire work consisted of a single letter. The single letter was obviously a written correspondence, but I initially envisioned a single letter of the alphabet. And I marveled at how bizarre indeed it would be to write a detective story that all boiled down to a solitary letter of the alphabet!

Hamaos story is indeed taken up by a single letter. It is written by a man in jail for murder, and addressed to his former lover, who is also the prosecutor trying his case, and whom the alleged murderer blames for leading him astray into homosexuality and other crimes. Conleys productive misinterpretation of the story as a novel consisting of a single letter” (一つとの文字) rather than a single letter” (一通の手紙) is a great example of what can be gained, rather than lost, in translation. The misunderstanding, based on single scrap of text without context, opens his mind to the signifying capacity of single letters and leads him to produce his dictionary of one-letter words, like some queer companion volume to George Perecs La Disparition, a detective novel that was famously written without ever using the letter e.

Might it be possible to tease a narrative out of just one letter? A single characterone would have—protagonist perhaps. If not a majuscule, a miniscule character, one who could at least play a minor supporting role in a drama to which our imagination might supply the rest. Conley continues, I imagined some sort of gritty retelling of Nathaniel Hawthornes novel The Scarlet Letter, where a bloody letter A serves as the only scrap of evidence to unravel a seedy tale of adultery, heartbreak, and murder.If Craig Conley could come up with thousands of meanings for the 26 letters of the alphabet, whos to say how many stories might not be condensed into any one of those letters?

It was with such silly thoughts in my mind that I happened across a story by Hamao Shirō’s good friend Edogawa Ranpo. The story is titled Monogram” (モノグラム) and Ranpo wrote it in 1926. As the title suggests, Monogramis a story about letters in their singularity. And although the story is written using many more than one letter, a close reading of Ranpos text shows that it has quite a lot to say about how one might, or might not, spin a tale out of a single letter.” ...

[Link to pdf.]

> read more from Go Out in a Blaze of Glory . . .
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Original Content Copyright © 2019 by Craig Conley. All rights reserved.