Today’s Literary Country is the Democratic Republic of Congo. The first chapter of James Gleick’s THE INFORMATION deals with the complexity of the languages found in the region surrounding the Upper Congo River.
Gleick writes that “the drums conveyed not just announcements and warnings but prayers, poetry, and even jokes. . .in which meaning is determined as much by rising or falling pitch contours as by distinctions between consonants or vowels. This feature is missing from most Indo-European languages, including English.” (Gleick 22-23). Gleick expertly points out the sophistication of these languages — likening the Congolese to the Spartans of Ancient Greece, with respect to their highly developed systems of communication. All in all, it’s a fascinating update on the observations of Joseph Conrad.
If the Literary Man ever finishes his novel, much of it will takes place in the D.R.C.’s North Kivu province, site of the little-discussed African World War. Literature must surpass History as the method of informing the world about the issues it might otherwise tend to forget.