Friday, 6 January 2012

The Oldest History of the World

The text of The Oldest History of the World may be used, quoted, copied and distributed without the publisher’s consent as is seen fi t by rational people everywhere.

Lost, Lowdown, and Lonesome: An Introduction

The year 1926 saw publication of the fi rst substantial step in the career of a new author.  This author went on to affect a profound change over the direction of American letters.  He was one of those rare literary talents around whom we may divide all writers into
two: before and after.  As it happens, that wasn’t this book.  It was The Sun Also Rises.  Written by Ernest Hemingway.The tendency when tracing the history of literature, or indeed, any art form, is to construct a linear narrative that fl ows, sequentially, from point to point.  We fi nd it more reassuring, and easier, to demonstrate the infl uence of one generation on the next in a long list of connections that inevitably concludes with the present.Unfortunately, the histories of literature and art are neither coherent nor linear.  Art doesn’t progress.  It mutates.
We no longer marvel at the new style Hemingway, in part, brought to bear.  Time has transformed him into the normative from which all mutation must proceed.  The old man was successful. Other men, other mutants, were not.

The Oldest History of the World is a work so obscure that to call it forgotten would be an abuse of terms.  Forgotten things must fi rst be known.  Remembered.  The work at hand had no such luck.  Self-published in 1926 by its author, Benny Evangelist, it has remained nearly unread for the past seventy-fi ve years.The title is literal.  The author has rewritten Genesis from a period slightly before creation up until a thousand or so years before the fl ood of Noah.  The only recognizable characters are Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel, and God.  The rest are pure inspiration.  Outside of a degrading inclusion as a plot device in a nearly unreadable novel by Colin Wilson, it has known no literary recognition.  No one has found meaning within its pages.  No one has found inspiration.  No one has found a style infl uencing enough to warrant imitation.  The year 1885.  In Naples, Italy, Benny Evangelist is born into the world as Benjamino Evangelista.  Nothing is known of his early life.  At the age of seventeen he emigrates to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  He joins an older brother named Antonio.

According to Evangelist’s own writing and Antonio’s account, Evangelist begins in Philadelphia to experience religious trances. The nature of these trances are unknown.They occur in the early hours of the day, and provide Evangelist with the impetus, the material, and the inspiration to write his great work. Evangelist’s religious views and practices grow increasingly unorthodox.  His brother’s disapproval deepens.  Antonio disowns Benjamino in 1908. The two Benny Evangelist 6men barely speak again for the rest of their lives. After Philadelphia, Evangelist moves to York, Pennsylvania.He works on a rail road gang. York provides him with a rich harvest of folk religion.  He witnesses the region’s faith healers and hex magic. He observes and he absorbs. 1921 sees him settling in Detroit, Michigan.  Evangelist establishes himself as a carpenter. He marries.  The Evangelists have children.  Benny outgrows his profession.  He’s soon established as a general building contractor and a relatively prosperous real estate owner. The money comes quick and fast.

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