Vinylia – Chapter 7 – Confucia and her Ocean

Months would elapse before Confucia Wang made her decision known but, in the meantime, the world’s media had almost all decided on the headline they would use the day she did. It was going to be “According to Wang”.

According to Wang” was an expression commonly used to mean that some task had been performed with an obsessive attention to the accuracy of even the most microscopic details. The reason why Wang had become a by-word for comprehensive and meticulous treatment was her legendary book – Wang’s Ocean of Dervish.

So great was its prestige that no self-respecting lawyer would have let a client enter their office without making sure that this substantial volume was displayed very visibly on their desk or on their bookcase. Some people even went as far as to add her doctoral thesis, Degrees of Inference in Post-Tort-Claim Purpose-driven Compacts.

Ocean of Dervish was at this point in its fifth edition. After the third edition there had only been minor changes made, but the publishers had cleverly decided to use a different colour dust jacket every time an update was produced, which encouraged lawyers to buy the new versions just to demonstrate that they were not behind the times. There was a flourishing trade in counterfeit dust jackets, although they were becoming increasingly difficult to forge now that the publishers had begun to use watermarks and colour-changing inks.

Confucia appeared to most people to be the very model of a Mandoo Fat Cat. When she flew it was always in OnlyYou Class. She never seemed to have time to talk to anyone below her rank unless it was to give instructions. And everything about her seemed to signal that she was unavailable for human communication: she wore her hair pulled tight from her forehead; she walked as if there were compressive forces acting on her body from every side; she talked almost without opening her mouth; she was never seen without her almost surgically snug Perclipto iodising sunglasses on; and every morning before going out she applied a thick layer of Apathy! – a de-emotionalising face cream which prevented unwanted expression from occurring. Apathy! was based on fish-eye extract smoked in lotus incense, which gave it its characteristically mind-numbing smell.

Her appearance was however misleading. Behind her mask, she was passionately dedicated to her work and was in actual fact one of the few people inside the WFC who was truly committed to the policy of Global Reversal of Climate Change which the organisation paid such fleshy lip service to.

Confucia had grown up in her family’s ancestral home in the coastal town of Taidi in South-Eastern China. It should have been a happy childhood. Her parents doted on her and spoilt her shamelessly. But even when she was only five it was apparent to her that there was something wrong, even though she could not understand what it was. The fact was the house was slowly becoming waterlogged as it subsided into the rising sea.

Her father never failed to smile and hug her when she was in his vicinity but he gradually withdrew from the world, becoming increasingly despondent and spending hours every day pointlessly poring through a huge ledger in which all the obligations that acquaintances and relatives of every degree had incurred with the family over the preceding six generations had been recorded. Her mother reacted frantically, desperately trying to stem the disaster with emergency feng shui, herbal concoctions, animal extracts and various kinds of wailed incantations addressed to the ocean waves. Sometimes Confucia too would run down to the sea and pretend that she was warding off its advance as well by shouting elaborately rhythmical nonsense at it.

Mostly though, she played behind the house, where it was still a dry and wonderful place . Confucia became a passionate botanist, she marvelled at the trees, studied the different ways the sky looked when lying beneath each of them and compared the leaves and flowers of even the most humble of the plants. In her fancies, every plant became a person. The tall trees were all quirky adults, while the plants her size, which she meticulously cleaned of insects, were, like her, children and became her imaginary playmates.

She was nine when the home was finally abandoned. Every piece of furniture carefully wrapped and packed was a little funeral. To their new home, which was twenty miles inland, her parents carried a sense of mourning which hung about them like a heavy poisonous cape corroding their physical and emotional well-being. Neither of them survived their trauma. At the age of eleven, Confucia found herself orphaned and was sent to live with an aunt who only seemed to notice her existence every two or three days.

By the time Confucia was in her unhappy teens it was clear that she was far more clever than anyone around her. Her intelligence was a like a surgical knife with which she dissected issues effortlessly. Under normal circumstances, she would have become a physicist or a mathematician. Or perhaps in view of her abiding passion for botany she would have become a specialist in that most poetical of sciences.

But the loss of her ancestral home and childhood paradise left her with the conviction that she had an obligation, at least to the memory of her parents, to do something to remedy the world’s climate disaster. So instead of mathematics or physics or botany she chose to devote her skills to studying something through which she thought they might make an immediate impact on climate change: Dervish.

The Dervish movement was a relatively recent development. Its origin can be dated back to the second decade of the 21st century when someone called Peter Ritner, who headed the Amarna Institute for International Treaty Law, happened upon an old Turkish grammar .

What struck Ritner was a description of Turkish verb forms. Especially a table which outlined all the ways in which Turkish combined tenses and moods to express all kinds of complex attitudes in what seemed to him to be a crystal clear fashion.





-idi + II
ise + II
Past conditional
-idi- + -ise- + II
-imiş- + I
-imiş- + -ise- + II
Dervişleri görüyorum.
I am seeing Dervishes.
Dervişleri görüyordum.
I was seeing Dervishes.
Dervişleri görüyorsam, …
If I am seeing Dervishes, …
Dervişleri görüyorduysam, …
If I was seeing Dervishes, …
Dervişleri görüyormuşum.
I am said to be seeing Dervishes.
Dervişleri görüyormuşsam, …
If, as they say, I am seeing Dervishes, …
― or ―
If I am said to be seeing Dervishes, …
General (aorist)
Dervişleri görürüm.
I see Dervishes.
Dervişleri görürdüm.
I used to see Dervishes.
Dervişleri görürsem, …
If I see Dervishes, …
Dervişleri görürdüysem, …
If I used to see Dervishes, …
Dervişleri görürmüşüm.
I am said to see Dervishes.
Dervişleri görürmüşsem, …
If, as they say, I see Dervishes, …
― or ―
If I am said to see Dervishes, …
Dervişleri göreceğim.
I will see Dervishes.
Dervişleri görecektim.
I was going to see Dervishes.
Dervişleri göreceksem, …
If I am going to see Dervishes, …
Dervişleri görecektiysem, …
If I was going to see Dervishes, …
Dervişleri görecekmişim.
I am said to see Dervishes.
Dervişleri görecekmişsem, …
If, as they say, I was going to see Dervishes, …
― or ―
If I am said to be about to see Dervishes, …
Dervişleri görmüşüm.
I saw Dervishes. (so they say)
Dervişleri görmüştüm.
I had seen Dervishes. (so they say)
Dervişleri görmüşsem, …
If I have seen Dervishes, …
Dervişleri görmüş idiysem, …
If I had seen Dervishes, …
Dervişleri görmüş ümüşüm.
I am said to have seen Dervishes.
Dervişleri görmüş ümüşsem, …
If, as they say, I have seen Dervishes, …
― or ―
If I am said to have seen Dervishes, …
Dervişleri gördüm.
I saw Dervishes.
― or ―
I have seen Dervishes.
Dervişleri gördüydüm.
I had seen Dervishes.
Dervişleri gördüysem.
If I saw Dervishes, …
― or ―
If I have seen Dervishes, …
Dervişleri gördü üdüysem, …
If I had seen Dervishes, …
Dervişleri görmeliyim.
I must see Dervishes.
Dervişleri görmeliydim.
I needed to see Dervishes.
Dervişleri görmeliymişim.
They say I ought to see Dervishes.
Dervişleri görsem, …
If I were to see Dervishes, …
Dervişleri görseydim, …
If only I had seen Dervishes, …
Dervişleri görseymişim.
They say that if I were to see Dervishes, …
― or ―
They say, “If only I would see Dervishes”!
Dervişleri göreyim.
I might see Dervishes, maybe later.
Dervişleri göreydim!
Would that I had seen Dervishes!
Dervişleri göreymişim!
They say, “Would that I had seen Dervishes”!




Before becoming President of the Amarna Institute, Ritner had spent a number of years working in inter-governmental organisations. He had come away from that experience appalled at the way in which treaties and declarations were produced. It was a feeling which he had kept to himself for many years, but when he came across the table of Turkish verbs, he decided to get his frustration off his chest. He wrote a provocative article in which he stated that the problem with international treaties was that they were generally cobbled together by committee in an atmosphere of uncontainable horse trading. Accepting someone’s proposal to stick in an “as appropriate” which voided article 38 of all meaning might allow you to delete an adjective your country found especially threatening in article 54. This was a bit like building a house in which every piece was liable to be swapped for another if someone insisted enough. You ended up with an edifice whose windows and doors were all in different styles, with different colour bricks on the facade – and some holes here and there – as well as bathrooms with three bath tubs and no toilets and perhaps no stairs connecting the first and second floors. The difference was that a house made of a thousand contradictory elements would stand out on the skyline a mile away, whereas an international treaty would only disclose its contradictory nature in a crisis, at which point it was often too late to repair the damage.

Other contradictions, according to Ritner, stemmed from the lack of understanding of language, grammar and logic of the participants as well as the mental state of irritation and spite which they fell into late at night after many hours of tiring discussions, which was when most of the more complex parts were decided on. Late at night the only way to deal with an impasse was often to escape into fuzziness. Ritner claimed that the outcome was frequently a text with a meaning no one could be sure about. In fact, he stated, he had at times seen people objecting one year later to the very wording they themselves had introduced the year before.

Ritner, just for fun, wrote an article entitled The Dervish Solution in which he reprinted the table and suggested that Turkish, with the precision with which it dealt with moods and tenses, would be a good alternative to English for drafting since it would provide clear rails for texts to run on so as to put an end to those baffling hour-long discussions on whether to use “shall”, “may”, “might” “will” “would” or “should” in a sentence.

To top his tirade off, he suggested that it would be refreshingly honest, instead of using the usual expressions in recitals, such as we are determined to undertake all measureswe resolutely call for action… we boldly demand that steps be taken … it categorically behooves us to act… or we urgently call for vigorous efforts, to replace them all with the wonderful Simple Subjunctive in the last row and first column of the table and speak the plain truth, namely we might do something to solve this problem, maybe later.

Ritner had made his suggestion half-jokingly, so he was astonished at the number of positive reactions he received from other scholars in his field. It was obvious that many others shared his sense of frustration. A group, called the Dervish Project, was set up to examine the possible developments of the idea.

Very slowly, and purely as an abstract exercise at first, the team began to draft the structure of a modified form of English which would also borrow concepts from other Turkic languages such as Turkmen, Azeri, Bashkir, Kyrgyz, Uzbek, Chuvash and particularly Uyghur. The project began to attract attention in other areas as well and in fact the branch which really saw it take off was International Contract Law. In the space of a decade, thanks to its precision and unambiguity of expression, it became the basic medium for contracts between people with different languages and legal systems.

It took another ten years and endless debates for Dervish, as the language had almost accidentally come to be called, to be adopted experimentally by the United Nations. Ritner, who was present at the final vote to see his dream come true, delightedly announced when interviewed that the days of phrasal wrangling and textual foggery were now over and that precision and perspicuity in the language of international agreements would translate into much needed clarity of action and purpose in combating global problems.

Unfortunately, despite the initial enthusiasm, it soon became clear that the real effect would be almost the exact opposite. Like many solutions developed by people who are endowed with common sense, it had the fault of assuming that reasonableness would also prevail in the way other people implemented it.

It was of course to be expected that, once Dervish began to be used widely, it would undergo changes and be subject to drift in the way which occurs with any natural language. What had not been anticipated was that university chairs in Dervishistics would be established, which meant that there would be professors who would have to publish to ensure their professional status and one of the easiest ways of producing an article on Dervishistics was to devise some new mood-tense combination. The first instance of this was the invention of the “Remote Subjunctive”, which covered events which had odds of more than 1000-1 against their occurrence. It was actually quite useful to have a specialised verb form with which you could state “the likelihood of my seeing a Dervish is less than one in a thousand”. Once the Remote Subjunctive had been coined it was only a matter of time before someone added to the table the Remote Future and the Remote Past, both of which were helpful, as well as the Remote Present, which was open to any number of interpretations.

Unfortunately, the trend went into overdrive with the creation of the Trans-Dervish movement, which aimed to expand the possibilities of the language by an order of magnitude. While Turkish and early Dervish had tense-mood combinations, the Trans-Dervishists started inventing mood-mood combinations as well. It started out with the Exclusive Conditional “ if and only if I see Dervishes” and the Negational Inferential “it is said I see Dervishes but it isn’t true” and soon snowballed so that the language quickly acquired baffling complexity. It became possible to speak in mood-moods such as the Valedictory Terminal, the Supercilious Anterior, the Nugatory Inconsequential, the Absolute Abject, the Pandering Proximate, the Counterfactual Extortionary, the Vacillatory Optative, the Expletive Introspective, the Minatory Merciless and even the Presumptive Hereditary, the Spectral Apparitional and the Bovine Ruminative.

It was, as Ritner despondently admitted, taking stock of the situation on the tenth anniversary of its adoption by the UN, a good idea gone wrong, which made it easier than it ever had been for people to find words which could be used to sell sheer emptiness, “a vacuumonger’s paradise” as he put it.

So when Confucia decided to study Dervishistics she saw herself as embarking on a quest to eradicate a pernicious disease. And after completing her doctoral thesis on degrees of inference in purpose-driven contracts at Oxford, when she was invited to join the legal department of the WFC, her only aim in life became to put some order into Dervish and make it once again the tool for clear reasoning and crisp decision-making it had been intended to be. It was a Herculean task and Confucia was fully aware when she embarked upon it that it would require the sacrifice of her social life and almost every one of her individual interests.

It was this almost total dedication to her mission therefore which paradoxically made Confucia appear to be the typical pampered and uncaring Mandoo Fat Cat.

There were only two things which you could call personal pleasures which Confucia indulged in. One was decorating her flat in Kathmandu. It had a wonderful view of the Himalayas and she had provided it with visually enhanced windows to add to the effect. She had inherited some wonderful furniture, decorations and various other notable items from her parents, including the ledger of redeemable obligations her father had pored over so often. To this she added some original art, particularly from the fashionable Himalayan Obstructionist style, which could be picked up at bargain prices in Kathmandu valley.

Her other indulgence was chocolate. But not any chocolate. She only ordered chocolates from the world’s most finest producer, which was in Moscow and so exclusive that it didn’t even have a name. Its boxes bore no lettering but only a simple asterisk in the bottom right-hand corner. Calling them “asterisk” chocolates was a proclamation of ignorance and a clear sign that you were not one of their customers. Even more comical were the people who thought they would sound more knowledgeable and authentic by using the word for asterisk they imagined managers at the Moscow chocolate factory used and called them Zvezdochka chocolates, in an imaginary Moscow accent. No initiate would never do that; instead they would indicate the brand when speaking by a pause (or at the very most an almost inaudible cough) and slightly raised eyebrows. “Could I tempt you with a … (raised eyebrows/inaudible cough) … chocolate.” Being a customer of *’s was like being a member of a secret society. There was no way of placing an order. They would offer you a supply themselves if they thought you were worthy of it. Their chocolates were produced in very limited quantities. Each one was individually signed and numbered. The boxes seemed heavy when they arrived but only because they all contained a 350 page book describing each piece in unbridled, extravagant prose. The price was outrageous as well, even for someone on the kind of generous salary Confucia had and she treated them like jewels. She would eat just one a day, sometimes spreading it out over several hours, taking a tiny nibble once every forty-five minutes or so.

The first goal Confucia set herself when she began her work on Dervish was to catalogue all the tense-moods and all the mood-moods which had ever been adopted over time and to provide the clearest possible account of what they meant. After nine years of tireless work, conducted in the time she managed to carve out from her paid job at WFC, she completed the first edition of Wang’s Ocean of Dervish. It became a required reference book overnight. Confucia would have earned “According to Wang” status on the strength of that volume alone, but it was only a first step in what she wanted to do. Using every minute of her free time, every second spent flying in OnlyYou class, shunning all conversations which weren’t legally required, she began to work on a second edition of Wang’s Ocean which would include Minors, Oncers and Others, the three categories of very rare forms which she had not covered in her first edition..

In her third edition she moved on to tackle something which she felt to be even more important. The most alarming thing about the introduction of mood-moods was the possibility of thousands of new combinations being concocted almost on the hoof. For example, once the Bovine Ruminative and the Minatory Merciless had been brought into existence it would have been child’s play to re-graft their endings and also generate the Bovine Merciless and the Minatory Ruminative, with meanings which no one could be sure of. This hadn’t occurred to anyone yet, but it was only a matter of time and there were so many mood-moods which could be re-combined that it was like living in a house full of unexploded bombs. Confucia decided that she would set to work to defuse the destructive power of these Exotics, as she called them, by suggesting possible meanings for all of them and if possible linking them to existing forms so as to discourage their use.

It had been her life’s work. When the Schrodinger case was referred to her, Confucia was entering her sixties. She had been bitterly disappointed that, despite all the fame and recognition she had achieved, she had not been able to bring about any visible change in the way business was conducted at the WFC and at other international organisations. She had pleaded insistently for the establishment of an Dervish Academy which would bring some discipline to the verb forms used but her efforts had been in vain. Decision-making on the great issues which affected the world was still a fumbling, incoherent and inconsistent process. Although she often felt that her work had all been in vain, Confucia had still not given up entirely. She was in fact working on a new book to be entitled Wang’s Dervish Navigator, in which she tried to become an academy single-handedly and provide guidance on which tense moods and mood-moods should be used and which ones ought to be discarded. It was a desperate enterprise. And, even though overwhelmed – even she could not remember all the Dervish forms in existence – Confucia had thrown herself into it with the drive of someone who knew that this was the last chance she would ever have of making any real impact.

Anything that took time away from her work on the Navigator was an unwelcome distraction as far as Confucia was concerned. And though there was no doubt, in view of her great sense of duty, that she would do an extremely thorough job, it was with very little enthusiasm that she embarked upon her investigation of the Schrodinger appeal.