David Russell Mosley
22 March 2017
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire
Here I was sitting in a coffeeshop (one of those chains I am no particular fan of, but it was on the way of the many errands we had to run today). I was reading Michael Martin’s excellent new book The Incarnation of the Poetic Word. When all of a sudden I was transported to a different world. How can I describe it? Have you ever been walking in a forest when you suddenly happen upon a clearing filled with deer (or perhaps elves or fairies)? It was something like that. It was almost, though this perhaps exaggerates, as though I had been walking under the shadows of heavy clouds to suddenly have the sun blaze forth. And what was the cause of my revery, of my translation? Was it, perhaps, the beauty of Martin’s prose? Or the salience of his point? Or the radiance of his topic? No. It was none of these things. It was a word. A simple word. Almost a palindrome. What was the word, you ask? I’ll tell you: denied.
Now you make think me a bit touched, or elf-sick, aelf-siden as our ancestors called it, to suggest that the word denied could send me to places unknown. But I tell you it was an occasion of Mooreeffoc. What (or where) is Mooreeffoc? Spell it backwards––or look at it in a mirror or on the right side of a window––and you will find that the magical land of Mooreeffoc is nothing more than a coffee room. The word itself was coined by Dickens and later taken up by Chesterton. The word connotes a sense of seeing the familiar in a new light, or defamiliarization (to use Shklovsky’s term). Chesterton used the Mooreeffoc often in his fiction, whereby a normal, everyday object is transfigured into something unfamiliar. A brilliant example of this is in Chesterton’s Fr. Brown story entitled, “The Invisible Man.”
In that story a man is murdered in his house and no one can figure out who “done it.” No one had entered the house. Suspicion falls on the automata that this recluse had made (an early fear of the singularity perhaps). But Fr. Brown discovers the murderer. Notice how he describes him (he had previously called him invisible):
“He is dressed rather handsomely in red, blue and gold,” replied the priest promptly with precision, “and in this striking, and even showy, costume he entered Himylaya Mansions under eight human eyes; he killed Smythe in cold blood, and came down into the street again carrying the dead body in his arms—”
How is this possible? Well, as it turns out no one had entered the house in nearly the same way as nobody had blinded Polyphemus. The man in question was a postman. But he had become so commonplace that the casual observer no longer saw him despite his ornate dress (his postman’s uniform). Yet Chesterton’s description of the postman is an effect of Mooreeffoc.
This is what I experienced when I read the word denied. It helped, certainly, that it was capitalized. But for some reason, quite unknown to me, I read the word and did not yet comprehend it or recognize it. I initially pronounced it in my head as Deneed. I wondered what this new word could possibly mean and how I had not encountered it before. I began to explore within my mind what the world this word had conjured was like. Sadly, as I entered the forests of Deneed I ran against a wall. My mind had suddenly realized that what I was reading as a new word with new possibilities was really just an old and familiar word, simply denied. But then I was reminded too that part of defamiliarization, part of the world of Mooreeffoc is to return us to our starting point a changed person. In this case I was reminded that no word is plain or simple. Words are disclosive. They disclose reality, wrapped up in metaphor and analogy and yet not in any way that can be called arbitrary. The incarnation of the poetic Word indeed.
And so now I continue to sit here, blessed by the joy, by the strangeness of words and reminded that the many participate in the One. That logoi participate in the Logos and that this applies not only to words but to the things the words sacramentally symbolize as well. A tree, as I am fond of saying, is not just a tree. Bread and wine can truly be flesh and blood. This is where I am left this morning, while I sit surrounded by concrete, reminded that even the rocks and wood that have been obliterated to make this horrific landscape, the saturnine wasteland too participate in God. May we all be given such moments.