Solve the mystery before Jeff! The Prologue contains the key clues.
By Luke Hauser – copyright 2017 GroundWork – visit DirectAction.org
We begin with a body.
A corpse, one might be tempted to say, given the ashen complexion and inanimate contortions of the limbs.
However, such an assertion would go beyond strictly empirical evidence into the realm of conjecture.
True, all signs pointed to the body being a corpse, and pragmatic semiotics might find such a reading inescapable.
But perhaps this interpretation is circular, with the conclusion implicit in the premises – a dilemma all too common in the Western tradition.
Such conundrums and problematics make up the subject matter of our tale, in which our intrepid detective undertakes not only to bring a desperate manuscript thief to justice, but along the way to unravel a few of the mysteries of Western philosophy.
* * *
To call the body a corpse carries more than a hint of murder. And murder implies a murderer, a logical inference the authorities were doing their best to deny.
Campus police declared the case a tragic accident: a matter of a large and poorly-shelved book succumbing to the iron law of gravitational attraction at a most inopportune moment.
The instrument of death?
The Cambridge Compleat Dictionary of Philosophy (Unabridged). The mighty compendium of knowledge had left its all-too-obvious imprint on the fallen professor’s skull.
The leading light of Western philosophy – Phineas Q. Testascrittore, Regius Professor of Recombinative Sartrics, who was about to leave his office to deliver the orientation lecture at the West Central Indiana Institute for the Hermeneutical Phenomenology of Interdisciplinary Post-Relativism.
Only grudgingly did the august professor fulfill the onerous annual obligation. The necessity of interacting with students was a burden on his brilliant mind, a distraction from his true calling: to provide an airtight proof of his own existence.
* * *
The task of proving one’s existence stood as the Holy Grail of Western philosophy, an historically-inflected riposte to the debilitating nihilism of the Postmodern era.
Mr. Testascrittore was known to be on the verge of supplying the long-sought proof, which would crown his magnum opus: The Being of Nothingness and the Nothingness of Being (Part II).
He had been reviewing his most recent formulations, poring over a handwritten manuscript (Mr. Testascrittore being notorious for his refusal to use a typewriter, let alone a computer) in which he had sketched the latest draft of the proof of his own existence.
He had just tucked away the manuscript for safe-keeping when a familiar visitor entered the office.
Without a word the guest lifted the massive philosophical dictionary from the bookshelf and walked over behind Mr. Testascrittore.
* * *
How many times in history has a brilliant discovery, an epoch-making deduction, or an incredibly fortuitous hunch been snuffed by the cold hand of icy-fingered death?
Too late Mr. Testascrittore realized his visitor’s maleficent intent. As the full weight of Cambridgian scholarship slammed into his skull, the doyen of contemporary Sartrics was overwhelmed by the ultimate existential irony – that he had succeeded in proving his own existence at the very moment that he ceased to exist.
Darkness curling around his consciousness, he summoned his last reserve of strength. Dimly he recalled a popular novel read in some distant airport where the victim contorted his expiring body to leave a string of clues.
Professor Testascrittore staggered to his desk and grabbed a copy of Jean-Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness in his right hand. As blood dripped from his head onto the book, he flung out his left hand toward a classical marble bust.
Facing the largest bookcase, Mr. Testascrittore made a final heroic effort to tuck his right foot behind his left knee.
Then he leaned back and with a deep groan crashed lifeless to the floor.
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