1. “The Grand Object Play”

2. “How to make the perfect taco nowadays”

3.“Idaho's weather”


The Dictionary Story, originally called the arbilexicon, is a kind of reverse Mad Libs™, in which a conventional number of words randomly selected from a dictionary—usually ten—serve as the springboard for a short story; that is to say, the words chosen at random must be used in the body of the story. I-Ching and tarot advocates often use the same principle of random selection in order to prognosticate or characterize some aspect of themselves or their future. The only difference is that the tyranny of random selection is partly overcome by the “arbilexicographer,” because this kind of writer can choose to reject a word and attempt to find one more pleasing; constraint is loosely enforced, in other words, but the writer can only reject ten words before the next one must be chosen. “Arbitrary” originally meant nearly the opposite of what it means today: It referred to the preference of the subject for the objects chosen, the subject’s mediation; it still retains this sense more strongly in its legal meaning (think of the verb “arbitrate”), whereas more commonly we think of the word as a synonym for “random.” It was the arbilexicon that caused the etymological confusion, because of the limit put upon the writer to reject only ten words, and more importantly, the fact that the words could only be randomly selected. As often happens, and as Jacques Derrida expresses again and again, a single word inhabits opposite meanings, because everything is meaningless without opposites, without “play.”

Early Christian mystics attributed the arbilexicon’s invention to the occult master Hermes Trismegistus. Hermes, among other things, was a kind of ultimate reference librarian who lived on the Mediterranean shore of modern Egypt in a massive temple—a labyrinthine storehouse of books—whose walls were made of diamond scored with gold filigree that formed in interlinked patterns the various alphabets of the languages he protected—Hebrew, Greek, Syriac, and Arabic. The building does not exist today, of course, nor do the manifold volumes of sacred and subversive literature he had amassed and memorized. How he was able to remember every line of every book in his library remains as great a mystery as how he could melt diamonds to form a vitreous material for the library’s outside walls that, at certain times of the day, caused the building simply to disappear in the complex refractions of sunlight through the subtly faceted diamond, leaving only the gold tracery of the filigree to float in the bright light like hallucinated alphabets. Phoenician sailors are said to have invented the Greek alphabet based on the vision of it radiating from Hermes’ library across the waters of the ancient Mediterranean.

The disciples of Hermes Trismegistus gathered on a regular basis to participate in the games of arbilexicon he conducted. The words he selected were chosen from the various languages and often used by the participants without knowing exactly what they meant. Hermes would teach them to search their minds and associate an image with the strange word, what modern deconstructionists would call an “arbitrary” assignment of meaning. But there was nothing random or whimsical about it: The Hermetic students believed that the mind used words to fathom the absolute, that words were the lightning rods of divinity, and that every person, in turn, became divine as they contemplated the words.

So what you are about to play is no mere parlor game. Choose or reject the following words; you may only reject ten before you must accept the next word. When you have ten words, compose a story and submit it. Think carefully before you write. Spend more time with your eyes closed contemplating the imminent fiction. Don’t stare for too long at the words as they appear on your monitor, and don’t get sidetracked by traditional narrative structure. It will only discourage you and dilute the fiction. The story must form in the brilliant cavities and grottoes of your mind. That’s where the beauty of your imagination lies. There was never any diamond temple or golden alphabet until you imagined it. And there certainly was never any game.
But now - click to write and submit your own story.

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