Sharks can smell a drop of blood from many miles away. So what? Some academics can sense when someone, no matter who or where they are, is disparaging their pet subject. Take Dr. Mark Phliger, for example, author of the award-winning thesis, To Honour and Orbez: Maurice Orbez and the Phantom Code.
There I was, thinking that I might be able to put the Maurice Orbez controversy behind me for a few days and sail into the warmer waters of the Luis Funnel hullabaloo, when along comes Dr. Mark Phliger, paddling a raft of new arguments, less-than-neatly packed into the sort of sprawling letter that makes Victorian novels look like haiku.
Here follows a short summary of his claims.
Firstly, regarding the identity of Orbez, he seems to fall into the Carl Stensson camp, believing that, although a man called Maurice Orbez did exist, he probably enlisted the help of one (or possibly two) people in order to create the two books (Life is Sickness and Other Medieval Wall-Scrawlings and Pain is an Everpresent and Yet More Medieval Wall-Scrawlings). One of these people was – as Andrew K has pointed out – most probably a defrocked nun going by the name of Madame De Bouffray-Ticholauz. The other figure may have been Gustav Lamont, poetic prodigy and son of a Parisian butcher.
On the subject of whether or not the aforementioned books are pure fiction, or documented fact, Phliger ambles down a well-worn path, opting for a mixture of both. ‘It is,’ he writes, ‘impossible to imagine that the authors ignored real wall-scrawlings – though equally difficult to suppose that they could have come across so fertile a crop as this’. A tediously fair point.
And then we come to the code. Could it really be, as Andrew K has written, that ‘the location of the Ark of the Covenant or some such great Mystery are contained within the Wall Scrawlings’ ? According to Phliger, nothing could be further from the truth, though he understand’s Mr K’s argument. ‘After all,’ he writes: ‘Orbez’s intention was very much to give the impression of there being a code; a code which both was and was not there: a code that was created in order to make fun of codes themselves. In short, an ironic code.’ To understand the true nature of this ‘ironic’ or ‘phantom’ code we must, it turns out, read Phliger’s thesis (which, if his academic style is anything like his letter-writing style, will probably be a long and tiring read).
Of course, what these comments don’t deal with is why a strange team of two of three authors would want to create a couple of curious books containing ironic codes in the first place? The echoing question is, as ever: enough about the damn authors – what about their audience?