First Words

I’m increasingly interested in the work of Paul Laffoley (and hope to see the exhibit running between Jan 4 and Feb 17 at the Kent Gallery). One of the bits of lore that Laffoley tends to repeat in interviews and his writings is that his first word, spoken at six months of age, was “Constantinople.” He then purportedly remained silent for several years afterwards.

Thinking perhaps that the meaning here may be to change the world, not interpret it, I noticed the following from Stefan Collini’s Absent Minds: Intellectuals in Britain: “Trawling through the literature on the Dreyfus affair, I eventually discovered the original of General Mercier’s remarks: ‘At the moment when the Turkish army forced the ramparts of Constantinople, the so-called intellectuals of the capital of the Lower Empire were debating theological quibbles. We, too, are undergoing our acute paroxysm of intellectual Byzantinism’” (25).