In the absence of 100,000-year-old writing, historical linguists like Jasanoff have to look for clues hidden in more modern languages to reconstruct this shrouded history. Drawing on connections between related language families to reconstruct their otherwise lost ancestors, they can reach back to ancient languages that faded out long ago. Such work doesn’t just dredge up lost vocabulary but can also reveals the culture of ancient societies and how they interacted with one another. It’s the linguistic equivalent of archaeology, unlocking parts of the human story not revealed in excavations.
But how far back can these reconstructions go? Historical linguistics is a powerful tool, but it can’t peer back 100,000 years to humanity’s primordial speech. There, experts can only speculate. Jasanoff suggests the transition from basic animal communication to complex human languages was likely a subtle one.
He wrote me a letter. That’s how we met. He had read my book, The Anatomist, in proof, and enjoyed it. (“I meant to provide a blurb,” but “got distracted and forgot.”) This was when I was still in San Francisco – early 2008. This was when people still wrote letters regularly and when one got a letter, sat down and wrote a letter back.
“Dear Mr Hayes – ”
“ – Dear Dr Sacks…”
As a kid, I was in awe of my grandmother’s ability to stretch a dollar when it came to food. She always knew the price differentials at the local Hispanic, Asian, Middle Eastern and white American markets. And she strategized for trips to McDonald’s.
For instance, she realized that the two of us — a child and a senior, both petite females — added up to one extra-large appetite, so ordering a Big Breakfast to share made better sense than ordering separate, smaller meals. We shared quite a few of these over the years. There was a McDonald’s on the way to my elementary school, where she would walk me some mornings. She’d sit with her coffee (the best in America, she always said), and me with my juice. And we’d attack the Big Breakfast from either side.
The noir novel drops us into a world whose contours we know well: an urban sprawl of violence and sex and caustic pith, with a mystery (a murder, usually) at its center. At the level of logic—the how and the why of its wanton, crime-ridden ways—the noir world simply is. For the reader it must remain this way, through a suspension of disbelief, as her immersion in the narrative depends on not calling it into question.
Initially, The City, Awake appears to be no exception to this rule; this gothic noir presumes its dystopic city and motivates only the particulars of the plot that unfurls within it. In fact, though, over the course of the novel Duncan Barlow subtly manages to overwrite these rules with those of his own devising—and with great profit.