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October 26, 2005

The Document No One Knows About

This is the document no one knows about. If anyone knew about it, it would be the document someone knows about. But no one does. Hence its name. You may think you are reading it, and that you are someone, but please refer back to the title: The Document No One Knows About. No one. Including you. Therefore, either you are, in fact, not reading this document, or you don't exist. There are no other options, because this is the document no one knows about. Not even the person who wrote it knows about it, if indeed someone wrote it at all, which is a matter of some question. It's possible someone wrote it, then died. Which is perfectly acceptable, as being the document no one knows about does not logically preclude being the document someone knew about at some point or another, but now that person is dead. Alternately, the person could be alive but in a coma, or a victim of lacunar amnesia. Or simply very forgetful and busy. Or -- and this is a very real though unlikely possibility -- the document spontaneously arose, winking into existence on the desk of a minor functionary of a small, middle European government in a pile of unimportant and previously read documents, whereupon it was given to a filing clerk who had no more enthusiasm for his job than Bartleby the Scrivener, and who filed the document without so much as a cursory glance, secure in knowing that, bureaucracy being what it is -- especially in the government of a middle European country -- there would never be a need for the document ever to be examined again, and even if there were, no one would be able to trace its absence or mis-filing to him. And so into a file cabinet it went, to rest with other documents, which may equally have spontaneously arose, or perhaps were typed by people now dead, thus also becoming documents no one knows about. Eventually the middle European government would fall, as they so frequently do, and the need or interest in this document, already at a rock-bottom low, would collapse through the metaphorical bedrock into the even more metaphorical mantle of the world, so devoid of interest to humanity that it actually exuded a negative sort of energy -- not only the document no one knows about, but also the document no one wants to know about. However, this is all mere supposition; as no one knows about the document, certainly no one can test its capacity to make potential readers desire not to read it. It is Schroedinger's black box, wrapped in a puzzle, swaddled in an enigma, covered with a thick, muffling quilt and thrown down a well that was subsequently filled up and buried under the foundation of a whirly amusement park ride. Perhaps you are on that very ride, idly wondering what lies beneath, as G-forces threaten to extract the contents of your intestines through your mouth. Really, who knows.

Posted by john at October 26, 2005 12:30 PM

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Jaxon | October 26, 2005 12:46 PM

Paragraphs man! How many times do I have to tell you, if you want to become a 'writer', you have to use paragraphs!

Gabbiana | October 26, 2005 12:52 PM

You haven't been reading Tom Robbins lately, have you?

John Scalzi | October 26, 2005 12:52 PM

Damn you, Jaxson, do you not think I know exactly what I am doing at all times? I am an artist!

Lee | October 26, 2005 01:12 PM

I think you forgot to take the pill this morning. Just jesting! :-)

John H | October 26, 2005 01:17 PM

Been channeling Douglas Adams lately, or what?

Lee Newberry | October 26, 2005 01:29 PM

This is the comment no knows about. It may have been written by a cat walking across a keyboard, or generated by an unusually prescient bot. Regardless, no one knows about this comment. Like most comments in a Whatever thread, it exists buried under a pile of topical and erudite comments, and thus exists to be scrolled over at high speed with nary a glance.

M.A. | October 26, 2005 01:41 PM

Sounds like most everything on my desk, actually...

Emily | October 26, 2005 02:17 PM

Isn't the scrivner named Bartleby?

Emily | October 26, 2005 02:18 PM

Scrivener. Yeah.

Bill Bacon | October 26, 2005 02:21 PM

Deep, very deep. Great religions have started with less.

The worship of the Great Unknown Document!

John Scalzi | October 26, 2005 02:35 PM

Emily -- it says Bartelby. It has always said Bartelby.

Emily | October 26, 2005 02:44 PM

Hah! Now you're going to have to fix your comments, because it's Bartleby, silly!

RooK | October 26, 2005 02:46 PM

Did Scalzi just refer to all of us as "nobody"?

That's harsh, man. True, but harsh.

doubt | October 26, 2005 03:04 PM


Cassie | October 26, 2005 03:11 PM

I have no comment.

John Scalzi | October 26, 2005 03:25 PM

Emily, I have no idea what you're talking about. It's always been speeled kerrecle.

No One | October 26, 2005 03:42 PM

Oh, for pity's sake, John. Now people will be bugging me about this all day.

John Scalzi | October 26, 2005 03:48 PM

You asked for it.

Laura | October 26, 2005 04:17 PM


JC | October 26, 2005 04:31 PM

This reminds me of the Mitch Benn song "Hardest Song in the World to Find."

Erin Hartshorn | October 26, 2005 04:52 PM

We're sorry. We cannot find the document you have referenced. Please fill out the appropriate requisition form in triplicate. Use full names for author or authors and cite any other documents that may refer to the one you are requesting. If such a document is not found to exist, future requests will be ignored.

-- The Department No One Knows About

Wan Zafran | October 26, 2005 05:28 PM

I do not know that this document exists.

Paul | October 26, 2005 05:55 PM

I, as did my predecessors, have absolutely nothing clever to say. But nobody will ever know, will they?

Anonymous | October 26, 2005 06:55 PM

This is not a comment.

nothing, apparently | October 26, 2005 07:02 PM

Six times nine, Laura! :-)

Night Dog | October 26, 2005 07:28 PM

Borges lives!

Audrey Estock | October 26, 2005 08:29 PM

For some reason while reading this I kept thinking of the Twilight Zone.

sulizano | October 26, 2005 09:16 PM

These are the ramblings of a man who needs... pie.

Got plans for Thanksgiving?

Steve Eley | October 26, 2005 09:31 PM

Emily -- it says Bartelby. It has always said Bartelby.

How do you know?

John Scalzi | October 26, 2005 09:38 PM

Who said I did?

Steven Scougall | October 26, 2005 09:53 PM

This is another comment that no one knows about that was made in response to the post about the document that nobody knows about. As nobody knows about the document that nobody knows about, neither does the writer of this comment, who obviously does not know about either on account of a) dying, b) writing the comment in his/her sleep, c) Using his/her unknown psychic powers to accidentally press buttons on a keyboard 20,000 km away, and/or d) all or some of the above. The commenter, blisffully ignorant of both the document and his/her comment, is continuing his/her life as normal, unless condition a) applied previously, in which case the commenter is continuing his/her death in a regular fashion, viz lying in one place while being very very still, decomposing, and the like.

JonathanMoeller | October 26, 2005 10:04 PM

I've gotten book reviews like that.

Bill Peschel | October 26, 2005 10:22 PM

I've written book reviews like that.

John Scalzi | October 26, 2005 10:30 PM

I've written books like that.

Soni | October 26, 2005 10:39 PM

Actually, I was completely unaware that I was reading anything at all until I found myself in the comments section. Creepy.

Mari | October 26, 2005 11:49 PM

If this document doesn't exist, then our comments don't exist, and the blog doesn't exist either, right? Right?

John Scalzi | October 26, 2005 11:52 PM

That's just silliness. Because if the comments didn't exist and the blog didn't exist then by extension you could say that I don't exi

Brian | October 27, 2005 12:22 AM

The 'Bartelby/Bartelby/Kerrecle' issue reminds me of a recent discussion with a friend, in which we were discussing (over IM) how the word pronounced /kowch/ has a silent 'umbrella'. Viz:

I have a very comfortable umbrella in my apartment—it's at just the right height for truly effective lazing.

The point was raised by a third party that this spelling could cause confusion. However this is ridiculous, as my friend and I clearly understood each other with no problems.

Emily, I'm afraid I must side with John. Also, if you keep it up, I suspect Kerrecle will have to get up off his comfy umbrella and thwack you in the gumptin with a nice, heavy ludduck.

tor kristensen | October 27, 2005 03:58 AM

All hail the gnostic document! Print this post out, drop it in a clay jug, bury it and in 1000 years time you will have created employment opportunites for hundreds of wrinkle-browed archaeology post-docs ;)

Slartibartfast | October 27, 2005 07:51 AM

6 times 9 DOES equal 42 -- in base 13

Dr. Sam: Johnson | October 27, 2005 09:32 AM

(stubs toe on mysterious Whatever blog post)
Ha! Thus I refute you!

Pavel | October 27, 2005 12:36 PM

If it had a dire warning at the bottom, I'd print it out and file it at my office.

Brian Greenberg | October 28, 2005 12:56 AM

So if someone goes & finds said document, does it immediately cease to exist? Or does that someone? This could set off a chain reaction...

Abhishek Batra | October 28, 2005 02:52 AM

All the friends I forwarded this to want to kill the person who wrote it, but I myself write these things.

bigoldgeek | November 1, 2005 03:53 PM

Loquo ergo sum.

sizegenetics | December 5, 2005 06:14 PM

Three phrases should be among the most common in our daily usage. They are: Thank you, I am grateful and I appreciate.

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