Originally published in “Five Irrational Histories”, Rabid Transit #3: Petting Zoo, Velocity Press, May 2004.
BLOOMSBURY, LONDON, ENGLAND — Due to a cataloging error that has already claimed the lives of six economists, Karl Marx receives from the librarians of the British Museum not the copy of Thomas Malthus’ Essay on Population that he requested, but instead, the Necronomicon of the mad Arab, ʿAbd al-Hazred. Marx is never seen again.
Without the centralism of Marx and Engels to rebel against, the tendency in the socialist movement — exemplified by Bakunin — toward the formation of secret societies (controlled, not by the workers, but by bourgeois intellectuals and self-styled “professional revolutionaries”), never gains traction. The Russian revolution of 1909 is not managed by Lenin’s Bolsheviks but springs spontaneously from the workers’ soviets. The First International is never dissolved; it remains a loosely federated collection of workers’ organizations. In Europe and America, socialist internationalism remains a genuinely popular movement, never successfully discredited by the capitalists.
In 1912 Esperanto is declared to be the official language of the Soviet Union. Switzerland follows suit, as do Austria-Hungary, Japan, and Brazil. In 1921, the first bill signed into law by President Eugene V. Debs is to mandate the teaching of Esperanto in American schools. By 1936 the Internacia Disaudigi Kompanio, of New York, London, and Tokyo, is broadcasting Esperanto programming on every continent. In 1960, a research committee of the League of Nations reports that the international language has more speakers than Chinese, English, Spanish and Arabic combined.
In 1981 the American author Philip K. Dick publishes his semi-autobiographical novel VAVIS. The title, an acronym standing for Vasta agema vivanta inteligenta sistemo, refers to an ancient, brooding, sub-aquatic alien intelligence that touched Dick’s mind one night as he sat on the sea-wall at Ocean Beach, San Francisco. Published only in the original Esperanto, VAVIS becomes a worldwide bestseller overnight.
By the time the world’s metaphysicians become aware of the insidious horrors that hide in the details of the Old One’s revelation to Dick, it is too late; linguistic monoculture has already carried the latent knowledge of those horrors to every corner of the inhabited globe. An entire generation descends into gibbering psychosis. Only a few — the illiterate, the blind, the unreconstructed nationalists — are spared.
The survivors haltingly attempt to recover the diversity of their old national languages. Most books in Esperanto — including Dick’s — are burned.
In 1998, at the new National Library in Euston Road, a monoglot Welsh librarian shelves one of the last surviving copies. The volume’s erroneous catalog number causes it to be listed not as VAVIS, by Philip K. Dick, but as The Poverty of Philosophy, by Karl Marx.¤