Several for-profit companies now make personalized genetic testing more widely and readily available than in the past, adding the particularly attractive feature of widespread comparison amongst people’s genomes.[1] The usefulness of such genetic testing (for orphans and non-orphans alike) resides almost wholly in the breadth of participation by other people who have been tested, since the hope to locate one’s immediate family depends heavily (maybe entirely) on whether someone in that family has also been tested at the same site as you (but see the note on GEDMatch below). [2] Such testing will most likely provide indirect clues to one’s actual genetic family (second cousins and further back), principally because there are simply more of those to be found, and especially if one’s needed “search base” is transnational.[3] In brief, such testing offers a tool not an answer. It requires work (from the orphan) and often depends upon the kindness of (distantly related) strangers to yield actual “answers”. [4] That is, when such sites “find” that one has 500+ “third or more distantly related cousins” represents a kind of bad faith as an answer to “who am I related to” (or “what is my origin”). I suspect that orphans may hope, but don’t really believe, genetic testing will provide an easy answer, but it seems clear that such a prospect is part of genetic testing’s pitch (to orphans and non-orphans alike). This opportunity for genetic testing tempts people to throw their hat into the “genetic searching” ring, promising some kind of “answer,” which, in fact, will almost certainly only be forthcoming if you do a lot of necessary work to “make” that answer. And if your answer even “exists” within the pool of people searched–again, an important issue for transnational orphans. In general, I would note the much greater social justice in the demand to open previously closed adoption records than to emphasize any “work-around” that genetic testing might offer orphans. Whatever value genetic testing would or does have, to “locate one’s immediate family of origin” seems a red herring, tempting but not the most desirable gesture. So what “good” (or “bad”) is genetic testing for orphans? Endnotes [1] This has occurred, ironically enough, at a time when states like Washington have instituted new rules allowing access to previously closed adoption records. This rule goes into effect tomorrow, 1 July 2014. My petition is already submitted. [2] One of these developments includes GEDMatch, an independently operated genetic comparison database service that takes results from several for-profit (pay) sites, and lets you look even more widely and powerfully into degrees of connectedness with other genomes. As a volunteer-run, free service, keeping things running on their shoestring budget could use our support generally, especially as it adds strength to one’s ability to research paths of relatedness and origin. [3] Like any “Internet” forum where the public gathers, the degree of helpfulness (and thus the degree of usefulness) in genetic testing varies. I’m fortunate to have landed in an anthropological sub-niche, which not only has dissertations and papers written about it, but also generates its own genealogical interest amongst its members. Without this help, short of a crash course in self-education (if I had been able to figure that out without any on-site help), access simply to the genetic information itself remains largely vague and not useable. [4] Rather like the injustice of the child who has to pay for psychotherapy to deal with parental issues, the orphan is asked (or commanded) to bear the cost of this. My sister, who is also adopted, actually persuaded my adopting parents to pay for her psychotherapy, but when it came to hunting down her genetic relatives, she didn’t submit a similar demand for help.

Excusing Environments

28 July 2014

A recent study on adoption and suicide suggests genetic (biological) rather than environmental factors play a dominant role in risks for suicide.

Researchers used Danish adoption data and compared non-biologically related siblings of orphans (children who had been adopted and biologically related siblings that the orphan did not grow up with. Basically what they looked for were co-occurring pairs of suicide or non-suicide. [See the footnote for a descriptive example.][1] The researchers found the strongest association of co-occurring suicides in orphans and their (unknown) biologically related siblings.

The authors include some various caveats and methodological qualifiers you can read about for yourself in the cited study above. A most important factor, not mentioned in the study but confirmed in my correspondence with the lead researcher: none of the children studied were transnational orphans. Specifically, I asked, “Are these adoptees all domestic adoptions (meaning only of Danish, or Caucasian, children or not)?” And the reply was, “We looked only at Danish children, so ethnicity were the same for all of them.”[2]

This study accepts as a matter of course an elevated suicide risk for adopted orphans, but defenders of adoption will be glad to hear genetics play the dominant role. This, because it means that the orphan happened already to be prone to suicide—as the suicide of her or his (unknown) biologically related sibling suggests. An analogous anecdote: after I came out to my father, he eventually “got okay with it” when someone told him homosexuality is genetic: that explanation “let him off the hook”; me being gay “wasn’t his fault”. I’d expect the same stuff from parents of adopted orphans who commit suicide—the tragedy “isn’t their fault”.

One may also imagine, with a shudder, what sort of regimens might get implemented by adopting parents to ensure that the suicide time-bomb of their adoption might not go off. Or maybe opponents of adoption could use this result to frighten would-be adopters: “we don’t really know why, Mister and Missus, but orphans who get adopted are far more likely to kill themselves. Caveat emptor!” We might try to imagine what sort of bizarre “screening” process for orphans would be traffickers might develop to eliminate genetically proto-suicidal orphans.

Disregarding the methodological pitfall that insists a genetic/environmental dichotomy actually has useful explanatory power (I doubt it), what other problematic consequences do you see stemming from this finding? What sort of mechanism do you think explains the finding; for me since all of the children are domestic Danish orphans, to talk about “mere physical separation” as evidence of “environmental differentiation” within Denmark seems dubious. The absence of “non-Danish” orphans strikes me as very significant as well.



[1] To use me as an example: in my adoptive family, I have one sister who was also adopted and one brother who was not; I also have (presumably) biologically related siblings I don’t know. If I commit suicide and one of my adoptive-family siblings does, that argues positively for environmental factors (the study assumes). If I commit suicide and one of my (unknown) biological siblings does, that argues positively for genetic factors (the study assumes). If I do not commit suicide and one of my adoptive siblings does, this argues against environmental factors but does not therefore automatically support a genetic argument. And, finally, if I do not commit suicide, but my (unknown) biological sibling does, this also argues against the genetic explanation, but does not automatically provide evidence for the environmental explanation.

[2] There remains an ambiguity here. My own question inadvertently permits the conflation of nationality and ethnicity and the researcher’s reply assumes (or states as a fact) that all of the “Danish” children in the study were the same (Scandinavian) ethnicity.

As I plod slowly along on the slow trail of information-gathering to hunt down trails of my possible genetic origins through different genetic testing tools, I sometimes note an obnoxious petitioner’s syndrome that being adopted [1] can engender.

Petitioner’s syndrome points psychologically to having to address a greater power for essential information and structurally to working around the various social constructs that have sprung up to help and hinder individuals who cannot otherwise access that essential information.

In the case of adoption, this essential information points to stuff considered some of the most basic for the non-adopted: where did I come from; who are my relatives; what kind of health issues might I face, &c. The extremity and significance of this information exacerbates petitioner’s syndrome. It can make the adopted more circumspect in approach, sometimes sneaker—or at least they will feel they must be: precisely because so much seems at stake. A refusal to answer a petition likely has very wide-ranging consequences. As a result of this, structural features include predatory lawyers, kinder (but still expensive, sometimes) search angels, and various legalities (opened but still limited information about adoptions) and illegalities (bribery) that circumvent control over access to such information.

Petitioner’s syndrome manifests as when, having already sent off my DNA testing kit, I make up a story to my adoptive father about intending to test simply to provide me a pretext to ask him, once again, for any details he knows about my genetic contributors. As the only source of such information—whether his information is degraded by the passage of years or was ever true in the first place—I have to feel like I’ve created a circumstance for my asking that will elicit the actual best truth from him; I need a pretext to guarantee his honesty. Petitioner’s syndrome manifests structurally in the necessity of resorting to genetic testing in order to obtain information about one’s immediate family in the first place.

And it manifests in  a hybrid structural/psychological way there in that context while rummaging in the genetic testing communities as well. Having a higher than typical (for a Caucasian) contribution from sub-Saharan Africa, my roots, in the United States at least, apparently go back to a tri-racial group in West Virginia (and their descendants). An example shows how this raises the spectre of petitioner’s syndrome. One of the previously best-established genealogists from that population of this population (usually referred to as the Chestnut Ridge People) wrote his most famous book explicitly to deny all traces of African-American heritage in the lineages. (In fact, he adopts the classic dodge, one already well-established amongst the lineages he seeks to document: claiming to be colored, if at all, due to Native American inheritance, not African.) I have already been “warned” by one helpful person that there are people in these lineages who will still maintain this position. I’m fortunate she wasn’t one of them, or that door might have closed.

And so, though I feel honoured (like Pushkin) to have unambiguous and (in evolutionary terms) very recent African-American heritage in my familial past, not everyone I would contact in order to research that past will welcome my efforts. In fact, they might dead-end me. Hence, in my “public profile” (visible to everyone, even those I’m not “sharing” with), I removed the reference to my African-American heritage, reserving it only for my non-public (post-sharing) profile.

The underlying factor of petitioner’s syndrome concerns access to and control of information. The availability of genetic testing allows me to re-contextualise my adoptive parents’ monopoly on birth narratives about me (whether true, false, or indifferent); it permits me to say, “They told you I’m Irish, German, and Welsh. So far, that seems to be true. But I’m also African-American.” Similarly, my petition to the State of Washington for my original birth certificate permits me to say to any that would deny my origins, “No, in fact I am your relative, are we’re part Black.”

Of course, access to adoption records in Washington state (a recent development) points to an increase of social justice precisely because it removes the monopoly the state had on control over that information. It modifies the structural aspects, such as predatory lawyers (or kinder, but expensive) search angels who can bribe or steal their way through the system to uncover this information, because now the path to the information is less blocked.

Any political position about adoption justice, if we must suffer it to exist at all, would therefore seem to demand the elimination of petitioner’s syndrome, psychologically and structurally. One example of this: every adoption must be explicitly and permanently open.


[1] It may have been noted, I refer to “adoptees” as “orphans” now. The orphan is the one who is adopted, remembering that not all orphans get adopted: some get fostered, some die, some commit suicide, some run away, &c. Orphans who must ask others for information about origins will likely wind up in a “petitioner’s syndrome” scenario, but for now at least, I’m proposing that the syndrome arises structurally from adoption.

Having lately resorted to genetic testing to uncover my immediate genetic family, I confront therefore the panoply of folks, mostly not adopted, who are on a similar (but different) quest for their origin.[1]

Compared to whatever conceits are at work in the efforts of committed and serious genealogists, the amateurish, armchair types—the ones who causally claim descent from Napoleon or Cleopatra or Ireland—present a different picture. Most don’t seem to have the patience or wherewithal to do the necessary work to ferret the details out. Genetic testing companies give the impression, “Just do the test and your family tree will spring up before your eyes.” Not so. Consumers instead receive some vague pronouncement like “you’re 89% European” and that’s where it stops.

Notwithstanding the difficulty of making this result mean something more specific, I wonder why genetic testing has emerged particularly as a tool for hooking into a human curiosity about one’s origin, especially in the United States. I think there are several factors.

First, of course, advertising and hype help bolster the market for it. Second, to the extent that “white” people are coming to realize that “white” is not a race and that people of “ethnicities” have all kinds of cool or neat “roots,” this helps to drive home the realization, “Oh, maybe I have roots. Wait. What are my roots.” In a place like England or the Czech Republic, not only is a much vaster amount of genealogical information already readily available (if one “does the work” or simply “consults the book”), one’s “ethnic” descent is already much more likely to be obvious: i.e., plainly I’m English, or Irish, or Scottish—probably a bit muttishly so, but to whatever degree I claim “white” this maps almost immediately onto “Irish” or whatnot. Not so in the United States. Third, then, the history of massive immigration, a subsequent mass history of interbreeding, and a complex (often taboo or denied) history of intermingling with Native Americans, imported slaves, and the various immigrant groups makes it pretty much impossible to make “white” overlap on any precise, non-concatenated ethnic designation. Fourth, this itself makes people in the United States prone to the equation “white” = “American” as a default. And, fifth, once you realize or decide that won’t cut it, finding ones “roots” becomes a tasty prospect. All of this would seem to increase the likelihood of the popularity of genetic testing in the United States.

But then, how does this support the State’s interests?

Significantly, the FDA intervened to prevent one testing company from providing “health reports”. Why doesn’t matter so much as far as this post is concerned, except to note that the State did not also feel any need to prohibit “genealogy hunting” or “origins curiosity” via genetic testing.

This connects to issues for orphans because, in historical legal terms, the “health issue” argument has very often been used successfully to force States to open adoption records. Even now, in different states, a record might be opened for the sake of “health information” although often with the caveat that “identifying information” may be excluded at the parents’ request. In some cases then, the strategic pretext of using “health issues” to uncover “one’s origins” got worked-round by the State and fell short of the “real” goal: answering the question, “who are my parents?”

In the United States, for many people, their citizenship appears in the hyphen, i.e., I’m Irish-American. If “white” = “American” ultimately doesn’t cut it for someone then the addition of a hyphen helps “fix” citizenship. Moreover, realizing I’m Romanian-American, for instance, doesn’t transfer my allegiance to Romania but rather to other Romanian-Americans living in the United States. And this particular urge, at least when it shows up in “white” populations (I’m suggesting), occurs due to the vast and nearly total destruction of sociability that the neoliberal state has been working on for the last 40 years with such dogged insistence. Thus, as “society” disintegrates around people, leaving them more and more wondering at a fundamental level “who am I?” (and in a context where “I’m an American” has for some disintegrated to the point of vacuity), then genetic testing permits offers a “patch” in the addition of a hyphen (a minus sign?), so that White=American becomes Irish-American, or whatnot. The typographical change alone is fascinating.

So for the orphan who is adopted, as one of the rootless persons par excellence, the offer of genetic testing for “origins” has a different flavour, especially in transnational cases. A transnational adoptee from Korea, for instance, would seem more properly an American-Korean than a Korean-American; or perhaps even more simply, a displaced Korean. There was never any white=American equation in the first place for an “origin” from genetic testing to provide its hyphen (or minus sign). But even for a domestic adoption: confirmation that I’m “Welsh” doesn’t make me Welsh-American; it makes me Welsh. And, in fact, that matches exactly the already extent origin story; my adoptive parents told me, “You’re Irish, German, and Welsh,” even though I was born in the United States. My status as an “American” never got asserted by anyone. For me, to be told by genetic testing “You’re Welsh” does, in fact, transfer my national allegiance to Wales, or at least intervenes that move as a step on the way to redefining this whole mess, “I’m Welsh-American (also).”

The adopted orphan has historically been able to demand the State relinquish its monopoly on access to health information, and the State has at times done so, but often without disclosing the birth parents. Whatever factors are in play that make an orphan’s petition “I want to know about my health” persuasive to the State, they must not arise simply by virtue of the request itself, since (1) some orphan petitions get denied and (2) the State directed at least one genetic testing company to stop making health information readily available. However, to the extent that “health information” is simply one strategy and pretext an orphan may resort to in pursuit of the “real” question (“who are my parents?”), we have not seen (that I can tell) any State intervention to prevent that use for genetic testing companies.

More precisely, it’s very unlikely simply to stumble across your parents; they would have had to have tested as well at the same site you did. And sifting through the morass of relatedness to figure out family trees simply from your shared genetic information alone is a daunting task that will dissuade most from the attempt. So we might say the State doesn’t really “care” if we stumble across such people; whatever protection of their privacy the State affects (in allowing “non-identifying information” to be disclosed in the interest of an orphan’s “health questions”), genetic testing simply becomes a most recent means (along with search angels, private investigators, and perhaps sometimes genealogists, depending upon how much you know) for hunting down one’s genetic contributors.

Meanwhile, just as “health details with non-identifying information” evades or dodges the orphans “real” desire about “origins” (“who are my parents”), the vague offer of “origins” that genetic testing makes available (to everyone) similarly evades or dodges that “real” desire as well, if mostly only by accident. Still, it shows, in the way that it transforms White=American into Ethnicity-American, a useful function for the State, by “cementing” allegiance to one’s sense of citizenship (as an Ethnicity-American)—a function not available, by genetic testing, to the orphan. That is, those people who feel rootless in our current neoliberal wasteland may find succour or consolation by the “patch” of a hyphen provided by genetic testing. Such “rooted” individuals will supply more (quantitatively and qualitatively) docile bodies, in Foucault’s sense, vis-à-vis the State.

All of this was inspired by the question whether we participate in the means of our oppression (as orphans) when we petition for information about our origin. In the case of genetic testing, we see that whatever tool it offers, its usefulness will be more through our work and our alliances with other people (indirectly related to us). The “health issue” has been Federally shut down, and the “vague origins” issue cannot serve as a “patch” or “fix” (unless I agree, rather unconvincingly, that I should call myself, for instance, Welsh-American).

To the extent then that genetic testing does not meet our needs as we want them met, to rely upon it makes it always a second-best, at best. Still useful, perhaps, but it’s worth thinking, contrarily, that unlimited open adoptions are more on point, both for cases from the past and as a feature for all future ones.


[1] Established lineages, in point of fact, matter only to aristocrats, because it is by them that disputes about succession get determined. This matter touches upon everyday folks where issues of property come into play (succession writ small) so it is no surprise that records like tax rolls become such key documents (along with birth, marriage, and death records) in genealogical research. But I will simply state bluntly that most seriously committed genealogists (of non-famous families) do so in imitation of aristocrats. I oversimplify, of course, but it boils down to something like familial vanity to generate the sort of depth for one’s family tree normally reserved for aristocrats.

Manifold disclosures about the unethical and immoral practices of those trafficking in human children now make clear the systemic, not merely idiosyncratically aberrant, character of those ethical and moral violations. [1]

For instance, my adoptive parents paid for a white baby, but they didn’t get one—as 10.4% of my genetic heritage makes clear in its tracing back to sub-Saharan heritage. Had I been born back in West Virginia among my historical people, I’d’ve been labelled “colored” which would have been as fine for me there as here now.

However, my adoptive parents’ reasons (or worse, their feelings) for seeking adoption matters less in this analysis than the structural existence of the means that manufactured their desire to adopt. And just as the history of international adoption from Korea makes abundantly clear, the “back-end” of that process discloses a veritable shit-storm of contradictions to the “front-end” discourse of family building, love (feeling in general), &c. Whether my Hispanic (i.e., Spanish and Apache) adopted father, who had married a Caucasian woman (herself adopted), explicitly wanted a “white” baby or not, that was what the system claimed to parcel out in general.

The resort to international adoption must have numerous influencing factors,[2] but if we stay with an eye on the domestic market, then clearly “babies who can pass as white” will be a desirable, though maybe not plentiful, part of that market. From a student’s thesis about the Chestnut Ridge people (“my people”) that I read recently, the author carefully allowed the social construct of race (rather than any genetic basis) to direct her analysis. In other words, people who outside of their local, historical context would not have been called “colored” were labelled as such. The author examines the tax rolls and shows how tax roll personnel would actually change the racial designation of people over the years; people previously “white” would become some category of “colored” (and then might, in the future, return to “white” again). These changes were, in part, due to increasing paranoia by Caucasians about race; so much so that such “colored” people by the 1930s had a whole repertoire of denials (specifically about African origins), even though their own ancestors had unabashedly and openly practiced interracial life-making.

Poverty—all the more so when imposed systematically—manufactures orphans, and the area my people come from continues to be poor; in West Virginia, one county away from one of the loci of the Chestnut Ridge people, is the poorest county in that second poorest state in the national (second only to Mississippi). Thus, it comprises structurally a fertile ground out of which would be generated adoptable babies, i.e., apparently white ones. This will become even truer for those who left the area. As the thesis author notes, people unmistakably white in appearance were labelled “colored” (by tax assessors) simply by association, by the historically known cohabitations and associations that had begotten various “white” individuals.

Since the most famous genealogist of this group from that group set out to rigorously expunge from his lineage’s history all trace of African origin, his relocation to Spokane, Washington—I mean, his birth amongst descendants who had previously moved away from an area where their heritage was well-known—suggests that relocation for the sake of being “mistaken” for white might well have been a motive.[3] Structural features or forces like this help, then, to create (one of the many pools) of “acceptably white” babies that might supply the adoption industry domestically.

This shows how my adoptive father got defrauded and thus the fraudulence of the system generally all over again (if such proof is necessary). I do not propose this “revolutionizes” any understanding of systemic adoption, but rather fills in yet another niche (that I or we might have guessed existed, even evidence for it had not surfaced yet). Structurally, I think this discloses something that genetic testing is “good” for for orphans. Personally, it means that my awkwardness (as a “white guy participating here”) was misplaced; I might have suspected all along.[4]


[1] Once one assumes a demand exists, then no means to supply that demand gets taken off the table—only whether or not certain means remain publicly acknowledged or not. But even here, the distinction between heinously outright theft, dispossession, coercion, lying, or mere purchase of infants (i.e., the deliberately literal creation of orphans) by “individuals” contrasts with the “accidental creation” of orphans by structural features (like war, economically predatory international trade agreements, globalization, &c) only in degree. It echoes the observation: kill two people, you’re a murderer; kill 200,000, that’s foreign policy. And while it can be difficult to detect the “structural” element at work in the “individual” behaviour of the serial murderer or child-trafficker, this therefore requires simply more attention to those structural features, not any easier or lazier resort to “individual” explanations. So long as we talk about what individuals do, we implicitly argue that the fault lies with the practitioners of the structure, not the structure itself.

[2] I think it would be very interesting to study how Korean (or perhaps Asian) babies came to be a valid market product. I recently read a dissertation that traced the origin and rise of “fertility reduction programs” (aka “family planning), which found their first large-scale experimentation and implementation in Taiwan in 1963. While reading it, resonances between the “problem of fertility” and adoption (from Korea) tantalized me.

[3] I’m not blaming anyone for that motive, but the genealogist’s efforts to falsify his family history suggests perhaps he’d’ve done better to abandon the project.

[4] And happily something only ever in my head. No one ever made me feel unwelcome.

NOTE: this is Volume I of what is left of Ehlich Odr’s (1792) text; the remaining volumes will follow. For a fuller explanation of the deletions by the current edition’s editor, see here; the following explains the matter briefly and why there are square brackets in the text:

I have spared readers of this current volume the worst, and even the middle-worst, of Odr’s peregrinations. Most of it I have sliced off without a word; at times, I offer summaries in square brackets to account for what gratuitous material Odr supplies that he refers to as his text rambles on. The single largest of these omissions is his Self-Introduction, of course, which runs 83 pages in the original edition—one-sixth of volume 1 itself, in fact—and so we pick up in media res on page 84.

The Ghrü: Observations on A New & Curious Phenomenon (vol. 1)


Thus you may see from this self-introduction, which I trust my readers will forgive me for omitting portions of as either too irrelevant or too delicate or too personal, whether for myself or on the part of those others I hold dear in intimate terms or stand obligated professionally as a matter of ethics or decorum (or both!) not to make public what I have neither the compunction nor the permission—nor the inclination it must be said—to make public or to divulge or to disclose for reasons of principle or out of that font of wisdom that is our nation’s great and most civilising of mores, you will no doubt then have had coloured your lively understanding and impression as to why I will have undertaken this study of such a new and curious phenomenon as I set out it before you in brief within this volume, but none of this will make clear either the purpose of my study, much less its contents. Sheer honesty [a wealth of classical examples to justify painstaking forthrightness about making one’s motivations for doing anything as unambiguous as possible to others] demanded that I disclose all that I have, but even the gods cannot be infinitely scrupulous, and with each moment that passes, we are no longer ourselves. Already, even as we fancy we venture into an ever more lucid and lurid of light, our shadow lengthens behind us as a trace of our change, so that we must look back to understand in the first place at all, and thus lose the view where we were going. One wonders what cure might be found for this calamity of divided attention, that our minds might not be two places at once, in two states (that we are aware of!).

[A digression examining attention, self-consciousness, and the Unconscious, with a digression on dogs and their colours.]

Do not despair, sweet Reader and friend, though I see I’ve spent already half a ream in scribbling, I intend not to defer forever an approach to my subject (not even till volume II), but only to make what preliminaries the subject requires. I might simply have said “dogs are loyal” and perhaps that would have been enough for some. But the history of domestication [and of husbandry more generally, including the domestication of plants, which includes the various techniques of grafting, so dissimilar in most ways from gem-grafting and demonic moulding] makes clear two facts as regards what I intend to call the ghrü: (1) they are not dogs; (2) not all dogs are loyal; and (3) loyalty may not be a quality of ghrü.

I draw my observation from my time in the Dark, the history of which place [retold with an astonishing degree of inaccuracy] is not well known to me. It was there I made my first observation of a ghrü: approximately four inches tall, of a rubbery, greyish texture and colour, and shaped like a mound of dog scat, or perhaps a Hut. To my chagrin, I believed it to have dropped from, or to have deposited by, the anal opening of the unfortunate creature just before me—green, misshapen, and not unlike an uncanny a cross between a kobold and an orc.[1] To my even greater chagrin, my hail to this unfortunate inspired a quick retreat, but it was the fact that its faecal deposit uncrossed legs and went scampering after it that gave me the greater start.

Baffled, I consulted all I knew about the alimentation of kobolds and orcs alike. [A digression on (1) eating, digestion, and de-fecation, in particular as expressed (2) in small and medium humanoids, orcs and kobolds specifically, followed by (3) a survey of the available literature, scant, on sentient scat, and so (4) speculation on the same without any constraint on the discussion.] But I had to admit, given all we know in this regard, which is to say very little—next to nothing—I had to confront the realization that the little creature that followed did not originate in the bowels of the beleaguered “cork”, may not, in fact, have originated with him at all. And moreover, in that respect—and not entirely without giving me some relief—was not some animate form of dropping after all.

You might well imagine my wonder at the thought, but there is no need, for I shall tell you. [A description follows of the next several weeks, meticulously detailed—including at one point a passage where the number of salt grains at a meal spilled are enumerated.] But none of this mattered the least when I encountered my second ghrü. This one, in seeming isolation, rather a darker shade of grey, and so more difficult to see against the background of the Dark. It also seemed larger and less faecal, and not simply due to my already greater familiarity with its form. I recognised it immediately by its round, gold eyes without pupils, and inevitably I deceived myself at first that this was, in fact, the first ghrü all over again, though perhaps more grown up, or just fatter. [A very, very long enumeration of things the ghrü might have eaten, or consumed, or ingested, or taken into itself by means analogous to, but not exactly like, alimentation—rambling speculations about what this might consist of follow.] Subsequent observations would disprove all of this, but I leave that to its own proper space in the volumes.

[Over the next 89 years, 16 more ghrü were encountered—each described in decreasingly minute detail,[2] and accompanied, after the ninth specimen, with mathematical fitting curves—based on no discernible mathematical theory anyone knows—to explain “and even one day, I dare to hope, predict” when the next ghrü would appear.]

As one may see from the evidence, however, the concept of a rate of ghrüness is in need of further study. I have sought, with what resources I have at my disposal, to find a correlation between the second, minute, hour, day, week, day of week, month, day of month, phases of the moon (using various planets), seasons (in systems from one to nineteen), years, decades, and scores—scores of years being the highest denominator in my 89 years of observation—and while the temptation lingers to triumphantly declare, “I have found the pattern!” so far the next appearance of a ghrü in each case has made playful mockery of my—and my formulae’s—power of prediction.

My Reader may rest assured that I have no intention to stop investigating this curious phenomenon, and I am certain that more ghrü will appear—more properly, that I shall encounter more as I wander in the Dark, but for now, in as much as this volume runs to nearly 800 pages, I find its sheer weight inhibits my ability to travel. Plus, if my vanity be forgiven, I am keen to find a publisher for this first volume. And so, for now, I stop.


[1] I later learned, not to my amusement, that these unfortunate creatures are often teased as “corks” apparently because they whine a great deal.

[2] It will be thought, in view of my claim for the empirical utility of Odr’s book, that I have erred seriously in skipping over these minutely detailed descriptions; see, however, Odr’s realization at the beginning of volume 2, if you seek an explanation. [editor’s note]


Ehlich Odr’s (1792) Observations on A New & Curious Phenomenon by now most certainly occupies that most questionable of intellectual positions: “of historical interest only.” It was both sooner and later thoroughly surpassed by other amateur work, like Brüxzel’s (1805)[1] Exonoölogy and el-Shadr’s famously wry (1923)[2] The Pincushion of Conscience, as well as later specialists and experts alike, especially Su Yi’s (1911)[3] “Chromotopes of the Ghrü” and Minnestraller Ajuch’s work generally, most of all her monumental (1933) Ghrü: an Anatomy, which still serves as the most basic textbook and an on-going source of delight, insight, and discovery for students new and established.

It is almost no exaggeration, in fact, to say that Odr’s work does little more anymore than to give us that preposterous spelling for the ghrü that we have all since inherited and which no amount of disciplinary debate and pearl-clutching can apparently dislodge or change. For the most protracted, convulsive, and inconclusive of such debates, one should consult Habermach and Möl, as adroitly summarised by Develoux et al. (2012)[4] and Okun, Verma, Mitchell, and Flowerdew (1997),[5] respectively.

Why then, short of one more gesture of that sort of institutional perpetuation long since a necessary staple in all market-driven university systems, should we suffer our libraries’ already over-stuffed shelves to be burdened yet again by yet again another edition of Odr’s often wrong, and even frightfully wrong, and stumbling guesswork? The answer is blunt and simple, and it is not—as some wayward scholars[6] who have strayed out of their pen to pen even less well-informed hackwork than Odr’s original have insisted—because Odr’s texts offers in spades all the pleasures of desire and blindness. Most assuredly, it does not; rather, it is clunky, garishly rambling, and usually simply lost. But it also does at least offer—unlike all of the most-publicised current research on the ghrü since Arididea’s (1976)[7] “The Death of the Critic(al)” and subsequent (1981)[8] “Postpartum/Postmortem”—actually empirical observations on the ghrü as a phenomenon; that is, rather than talking about how we talk about the ghrü, and thus never saying anything whatsoever about the phenomenon itself, Odr at least gives us—sometimes perspicaciously, frequently ludicrously, but always empirically—actual evidence and data about the ghrü itself/themselves. In these days where the fashion prevails for models of models—if not models of models of models—simply to turn our discipline’s omphaloskeptic gaze from its lint-riven navel and back outwards again (if, at the worst, toward an illusion of the) real offers such a necessary and useful correction these days that even a text as faulty as Odr’s serves good purpose.

The temptation arises to take issue with the quality of the current debate that results from this. After all, Ajuch’s work still rests as the cornerstone of the discipline, but careful readers of the Journals have already long noted—and it has been pointed out many times (Airhihenbuwa & Webster, 2004; Douine, Bouchaud, Moro, Baubet, & Taïeb, 2012; Hagopian, Thompson, Fordyce, Johnson, & Hart, 2004)—that the valence (if not also usually the precision) of Ajuch’s terminology has been turned on its head. Moreover, as Ellis (1989), Graff (1983), and Eagleton (1984) all make clear in their different ways, the specific need and necessity in current critical fashion quite literally requires the exasperated response of an unfavourable critic even to exist. This, because the new critical method is neither new, critical, or methodological, so that it is only by the construction of a position by an exasperated commentator that the new critics even have one. Consequently, to address the models of modelling models (or, alternatively, the frames for framing framings) keeps us off the topic that Odr, albeit sometimes with rigorously dogged stupidity, keeps his attention on. That topic being, of course, the ghrü.

Nothing else needs be said in this Preface but this. Most within the discipline only know of Odr’s work, paying lip service in literature reviews about the “founder of the discipline” (which is false) or the “earliest student of the phenomenon” (which is falser). Meanwhile, few have read it, and one can hardly blame them. And while this must normally affect a fatal critical flaw—as we see in Lentricchia’s complete failure to grasp Arididea’s misunderstanding of Saussure’s thesis, system, or details—in Odr’s case, his text is so meandering, is so frequently diffuse and seemingly lost in its own miasma, that it crosses the border into cruelty to ask anyone interested in the ghrü to pole the gondola of their reading through the verbal morass of its swamp, only to arrive at an uninteresting oasis of sand with one rather tawdry dandelion of germane observation growing there.

Accordingly, I have spared readers of this current volume the worst, and even the middle-worst, of Odr’s peregrinations. Most of it I have sliced off without a word; at times, I offer summaries in square brackets to account for what gratuitous material Odr supplies that he refers to as his text rambles on. The single largest of these omissions is his Self-Introduction, of course, which runs 83 pages in the original edition—one-sixth of volume 1 itself, in fact—and so we pick up in media res on page 84. Throughout, moreover, I make no attempt to tabulate the pages of this present volume with any previous one, original or derivative. And this does raise a second, more precious, justification for the present volume: to restore Odr’s original text, however admittedly awful it is most of the time, and to reclaim it therefore from the scholars, bureaucrats, and occasionally the certifiably insane scribblers who have granted themselves the kindly license to do Odr the favour of correcting him.

Let me be clear. I never—or at best only extremely rarely—indicate in the text anyplace where my deletions occur. This I do in part to avoid any risk towards the extinction of all dragonkind for wearing out every available fang-nib inserting ellipses into Odr’s text but also for the reason that those familiar with the text, at least by weight, will note how seamlessly the text actually flows despite the deletion of whole sentences, paragraphs, chapters, or even scores of pages at a time.

If some commentators would insist that I commit the same error as the scribblers in my restoration of Odr’s own words—albethey stripped of their context—rather than offering my own paraphrase of the gobbledygook that his text entirely consists of, then I would say not only that such chatterers are wrong but that they have thereby also shown that characteristic lack of critical acumen too common these days. For one would have to get quite a bit deeper into the thicket of the intentional fallacy and the meaning-generative mechanisms of texts to make identical a text’s redaction by an editor, on the one hand, and its reinvention in a paraphrase on the other.

To dilettantes and professional whack-jobs, however, I leave the absurd task—taken up with such enthusiasm of late by certain elements within our discipline—of insisting, against all reason and plausible argument, that Odr’s text only attains not just its fullest, but its truest, extent of meaning when considered in its entire whole: as when, for example, Pith, Lepizzera, Lhommeau, Dilger, and Lambla (1997) connect Odr’s misinformed ramblings about latex paint as illuminating his remarks on the surface structure of ghrü, or the transcendental immanence (the phrase is not mine) that Pepperberg (1987) proposes—admittedly and thankfully only in passing—between Odr’s incorrect etymology for ghrü from “grey” and his apodictic ejaculations about prunes and varieties of prune trees. Such intellectual contortionism seems not only unnecessary and not even wrong, but a positively undesirable form of misdirection for any study of the ghrü. It goes without saying—and so these days must be said: if one’s theory of meaning insists anything can mean anything, then everything also means nothing and it would behove one to shut up.

On the other hand, for those who would bemoan my deletion of those few, precious, and unfortunately far too irrelevant passages that in the text become, under the vast and heavy pressure of its greater inertness, jewel-like in their lustre—or perhaps it would be more fair to say that Odr sometimes buries a gem in his dung heap—I justify my deletion in two ways. First, such gems must be the true reward only of those who not only have hazarded the whole dung heap itself to find them, but must also have found them—apologies in advance for the metaphor—principally and only by having swallowed the dung heap whole and experienced the pain (quite inevitable) arising from the passing of that precious gemstone. The second reason is less romantic. Such lucider passages should not be remain in the narrow covers of this volume, for their sheer presence—princess and the pea-wise—would do the reader the disservice of creating a markedly better and altogether wrong impression of the value of Odr’s work in toto.

In brief, I assert something better than “no harm” befalls a reader’s understanding in an edition truncated in this way. One gets the boon of no needless encumbrances by cutting out of the text its dead flesh—if not also the often egregiously undead or altogether still too proliferating living flesh. This leaves, as you may already perceive, a very slender volume, but this not only recommends itself in an era without attention but also presents, perhaps for the first time, what remains still the most recommendable part of Odr’s book: his empirical observations on the ghrü. If nothing else, this edition provides in Odr’s approach (however badly he executed it) a model for a much needed habit, now well out of practice in our own disciplinarians: the habit of actually looking at what one would study, rather than a drawing of it or an abstract about it.


[1] In J. Munby (ed.) (1981). Communicative syllabus design: A sociolinguistic model for designing the content of purpose-specific language programmes, pp. 13–107. Braggdrigé University Press.

[2] Ibid., pp. 108–252.

[3] Appendix C in Ndiaye, P. (2008). La condition ghrü: essai sur une minorité française, pp. 547–91. Calmann-Lévy.

[4] Develoux, M., Le Loup, G., Dautheville, S., Belkadi, G., Magne, D., Lassel, L., . . . Pialoux, G. (2012). [Malaria among immigrants, experience of an urban hospital (2006-2010)]. Bulletin de la Societe de pathologie exotique (1990), 105(2), 95-102.

[5] In Okun, N., Verma, A., Mitchell, B. F., & Flowerdew, G. (1997). Relative importance of maternal constitutional factors and glucose intolerance of pregnancy in the development of newborn macrosomia. J Matern Fetal Med, 6(5), 285-290. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1520-6661(199709/10)6:5<285::AID-MFM9>3.0.CO;2-C

[6] Miller, J. H. (1987). How we ghrü: the triumph of theory, the resistance to reading, and the question of the material base. Publications of the Modern Language Association of Thither, 125(2), 281–291.

[7] Arididea, J. (1976). The death of the critic(al): mesotēs, energeia, and alētheia. Epoché: A Journal for the History of Philosophy, 11(2), 409-420.

[8] Arididea, J., Baines, C. P., Kaiser, R. A., Purcell, N. H., Blair, N. S., Osinska, H., Hambleton, M. A., . . . Dorn, G. W. (2005). Postpartum/postmortem: loss of cyclophilin D reveals a critical role for mitochondrial permeability transition in cell death. Nature, 434(7033), 658–762.

[9] I later learned, not to my amusement ,that these unfortunate creatures are often teased as “corks” apparently because they whine a great deal.

[10] It will be thought, in view of my claim for the empirical utility of Odr’s book, that I have erred seriously in skipping over these minutely detailed descriptions; see, however, Odr’s realization at the beginning of volume 2, if you seek an explanation.

[11] Hanbeyoğlu, A., Kazez, A., Üstündağ, B., & Akpolat, N. (2011). Determination of urinary N-acetyl-β-D glucosaminidase (NAG) levels in experimental blunt renal trauma. Ulus Travma Acil Cerrahi Derg, 17(6), 475-481.

[12] Lem, S. (1970). Solaris. 1961. Trans. Steve Cox and Joanna Kilmartin. New York: Hartcourt Brace.

I compose these notes to fit the mind of the student for whom I intend them.This is part 8; you may find parts 1-3 here, here, and here, respectively; parts 4-6 are here, here, and here, respectively; part 7 is here. I include the introduction from part 1 again below.

For those more or less advanced, there may seem much that digresses or states things too succinctly. I believe one may still find value in reading these notes, even for those not the student in question. In those places where things seem too much elaborated, I apologise that my student’s frame of mind overtaxes yours. And where things move too quickly, I can only suggest immersing yourself in the more elemental or basic texts that address the matters at hand.

Also, I use past and present conjugations of the verb “to be” under protest. You should imagine every occurrence in quotation marks; typographical preciousness prevents me from indulging this visually.


No system, however imperfect, contains errors.

Therefore, we must come to terms with the fact—ourselves each being omniscient—that the errors of omniscience must lie not in ourselves but instead in the nature[1] of omniscience.

However, given that adding manpower to a late project makes it later, we may understand then not only:

  • that the reproduction of the world—understood in its broadest and narrowest senses—puts off the end of the world, but also
  • that the elaboration of a trinary (or greater) logic can only paper over, sometimes very cleverly or intriguingly, the abyss that binary logic (or dichotomous thinking generally) opens up.

Let us take some steps to move beyond this.

Conclusions: Observations on Observers

I feel like at this point some sort of apologetics for Observers might be cried for from certain quarters. Here we set out to find a way free of any determination at all, and instead I prove to the world that all that exists only has existence because of Observers. In some places, you can see that the Observation is very partial: incomplete buildings, half-formed personalities, everything seems dim, fuzzy, vague—it seems almost more half-destroyed than half-observed. But since we wouldn’t have existence without Observers, that we can complain about them is a sign of our blessedness, to put it foolishly. It represents an inexcusable biomorphism to accuse Observers in such a fashion—we can only project our own Reality upon them, and then browbeat them for our own limited Consciousness on the point.

I will put it as plainly as I can. Observers are the Encoding. I really don’t know that we might imagine them more usefully, if we’re going to talk about them at all. And by an Encoding, we must remember (again) that it represents an embodiment of an Encoder’s declared desire. This makes us no mere playthings, as the Puppet Theorist insist so ill-temperdly, but in one sense the ghighest hopes, the vastest wishes, the most profound expressions, and a lot more similar hyperbole for them. Nor must we take this as a high compliment, just because they value us so much that they have Encoded a Reality where they might Observe us.

Almost none of Reality bears even a slight trace of Observation, and so it only possesses Being, not Existence. In banal, simplistic terms, this means that 99.99% of the time, if we are determined by anything, then we have no way of even discerning what it would be, and so our lack of knowledge spares us the agony of the dilemma. Problem (almost entirely) solved. Of course, the Artist is an interloper in the more negative sense, a psychic parasite, because his presence is destructive and awful for those who wish to be spared it. And for those who object to Observers—appreciating all the while that it is only because they have an Observer that such an objection may even be framed—the quality of psychic parasitism differs enough that the term commensalism seems more appropriate. While a parasitic relationship describes a symbiosis where the parasite destroys or woefully degrades its host, in commensalism the symbiotic relationship provides a benefit at least to one while not harming the other.

By symbiotic relationship is meant narrative relationship.

This much wider field of consideration involving Observers complicates to a large extent any desire to be free from determination, especially with the realization that 99.99% of the time we are but that the 0.01% matters to an overwhelming degree. However, the bulk of what was summarized earlier as insights gleaned in this essay for freeing oneself from determinations by the Artist may apply here, more or less, as well. Specifically, we err if we imagine we encounter Observers; I believe, rather, based upon my own observations that what we encounter as Observers (or the presence of Observers) is co-terminal if not identical with the Encoding. And everything I’ve said—plus others who’ve written on the topic—makes clear that we may directly intervene into the Code. This is not to say that we can only “hack” it; Chaos Mages and others can fiddle with this past the end of time, but it all will still be within the field of what the Encoding determines. Rather, we can “crack” the Encoding using the neither-nor, opening an orienting window where Time must then be frozen to permit an infinitely detailed examination of the Encoding itself for the traces of the Declaration and Desire written into (encoded) in it.

Such a technique can only have—if we speak in terms of “physics”—a “local effect,” i.e., on the one who cracks and adapts the Encoding for personal use. And the attempt is not without considerable danger because, in effect, one creates in this way a solipsistic Reality—and that, obviously, will absolute partition you off from Reality and you won’t know you’re inside it and no one will be able to reach you from the outside, if they even can discover the realization that you’re not locatable. To negotiate “across” this solipsistic barrier requires (it seems) exactly the sort of thing that Observers, i.e., Encodings, embody in the first place, somehow connecting and translating “them there” to “us here” for the sake of interaction. In Maelender terms, it would mean nothing less than becoming a Prime, which as far as I can tell, not even the Maelenders claim is possible, even in theory.

This is one of the suspicious universals of Reality: Observation is one-directional. I realise I am going against the grain of the Prime Theory of the Maelenders, but my point is not to refute the experiences of those Maelenders who claim they witnessed creatures they refer to as Primes. I’m questioning only their explanatory framework. As atheists have frequently observed of various pantheons how embarrassingly and suspiciously human many deities seem, one has to say—for all of the intensely individualized self-expression of the Maelenders—their Primes certainly share, to a suspicious degree, certain traits that seem fundamental to Maelender culture itself: above all and most foremost an emphasis on interpersonal interaction as the very basis of Culture (if not Reality itself).

But I want to stress again: the only Maelenders whose experiences of the Primes I would suspect would be those I suspect of lying for some external reason. The fact that no one can travel to the world of the Primes marks a limitation that is more than absolute and for that reason extremely suspicious and interesting. Not even Chaos can translate me to the world of the Primes; that’s a limit on the absolute potential of Chaos we should not pass over lightly. It is one thing to say “I” cannot reach there—I’m a limited being, as we all are. But that Chaos cannot reach there to put anyone there, that’s another kettle of fish.

We’ll have to leave it as idle speculation for now whether Chaos does in fact influence the domain of the Primes. All I want to say at the moment is that on this side of the epistemological barrier, the Maelender claim to have seen the Primes in their actuality seems premature to me. Hence, I use the term Observers to offer an alternative designation. What I see, when I try to look “out” of Reality: I see the Sphere of Encoding, and beyond that Chaos.

But we now know also of the Neither. And if the “quantum cloud” of multiple states wreaks havoc on notions of determinism, then to the extent that we might enact or enable or encode some sort of similar encoding marks out a way—an extremely dangerous way, once again, due to the threat of a solipsistic collapse—to free oneself of determinism.

But after having said all of this, one appreciates the bluntness and ease of implementation in Schiller voluntary submission. Yet at the same time, the difficulty of the Encoding challenge opens up a very vast number of possibilities and speculations, especially in light now of the presence of the Neither.

Just because a thing is difficult does not mean it’s worth doing but neither is it also therefore not worth doing.


[1] My aversion to the use of the word “nature” borders on reasonable, but here needn’t occur a variation on the origins of my aversion. What I would note, rather: I would much sooner have written “Therefore, we must come to terms with the fact—ourselves each being omniscient—that the errors of omniscience must lie not in ourselves but rather in the qualities (or perhaps the quiddity) of omniscience itself”—but had I done so, not only would the sense of the claim have become unfamiliar (largely due to the word “quiddity”) but also because a certain kind of intellectual “work” or “symbolism” gets carried by the word “nature” that fails to come across with the word “qualities”. This suggests that the word “nature” (rhetorically speaking) performs a sleight-of-hand—perhaps even a bait-and-switch—that, I suspect, lies at the root of how sapient consciousness in particular get deceived about the most fundamental things. Perhaps later in these notes I will return to this.