Who & What is Thompson: An Investigation


The figure of Thompson permeates all of Ben Marcus' work, but nowhere as forcefully or mysteriously as in The Age of Wire and String.

In all cases, Thompson is a benevolent figure working toward human survival in the face of existential threats. Thompson is sometimes portrayed as a human and sometimes portrayed as godlike. Sometimes there are multiple Thompsons. Sometimes there are varying levels of Thompson in everyone.

In The Age of Wire and String, Thompson is described as a controlling spirit or force with a body (Perkins), though not dependent on the body. Thompson seems to have worked out the rules for survival in The Age of Wire and String. These are based on a Thompsonian system of silence, blindness, stillness.

Thompson is not an all-knowing figure but seems to have developed various survival systems over time. Thompson's approach is always based on cataloging, defining, and rule-making.

Stith Thompson and the Motif-Index of Folk Literature

Stith Thompson (1885-1976) was an American scholar of folklore. He is the developer, along with Antti Arne, of the Aarne-Thompson classification system, which gave rise to Thompson's massive Motif-Index of Folk Literature: a work of six volumes which is considered the international key to recurring motifs in traditional material.

Ben Marcus has explicitly stated that the work of Stith Thompson has been influential on his, Marcus', writing. It's easy to see why. A search for "wind" in the motif-index returns results such as:
  • A1122.1: Hole of winds: stopper destroyed. The hole is stopped with a wooden stopper, which is destroyed. The country dries up.
  • A1122.2: Wind a bird dwelling in mountain-hole.
  • A1122.3: Lost wind found in hollow tree: has been banished and is needed by men.
The parallels between Stith Thompson and Marcus' Thompson are undeniable. Both figures work relentlessly to catalog and define the uncatalogable and undefinable. Both are mysterious and inscrutable.


References to Thompson in The Age of Wire and String

From The Death of Water. pg 11.
"...Death was realized in 1807 in the water as a new erosion by Carolina and by England and Thompson; it was named for the hills and swells in Deerborne, which had been killed only two years earlier.

From Terms. pg 24.
"TREASURE OF POSSIBLE ENUNCIATIONS: Catalog of first, last, and indeterminate lexia. It includes all possible words and their unutterable opposites. Other than Thompson's Bank of Communicable Desire, no other such comprehensive system exists."

From Terms. pg 24.
"GOD CHARGE: Amount or degree of Thompson occurring in a person or shelter."

From Terms. pg 25.
"THE FIEND: [...] Any aspect of Thompson which Thompson cannot control.

From Terms. pg 25.
"GOD-BURNING SYSTEM: Method of Thompsonian self-immolation. For each Thompson, there exist flammable outcrops or limbs which rub onto the larger body of Thompson (Perkins) rendering morning fires and emberage that lights the sky and advances the time of a given society or culture."

From Terms. pg 26.
"PERKINS: 1. Term given to the body of Thompson in order that his physical form never desecrate his own name. 2. The god of territory."

From Terms. pg 27.
"LEGAL PRAYER: [...] Let a justifiable message be herewith registered in regard to desires and thoughts appertaining to what will be unnamed divinities, be they bird forms or other atmo bestial manifestations of the CONTROLLING THOMPSON, or instead unseen and personless concoctions of local clans, groups, or teams."

From The Religion. pg 92.
" ...You can operate in a campaign mode where your man lives in a pack and tries to become the "thompson" or supreme leader, while grappling with everyday survival. [...]

From Terms. pp. 94-95
"SCHEDULES AND DISPENSING RULES OF SEASONS: System of legal disbursement in relation to seasons and temperature. Thompson embodies the assembly, the constituency, the audience, the retractors, the Thompson and non-Thompson in any weather-viewing scheme."

From Terms. pg 95.
"HUMAN WEATHER: [...] The only feasible solution, outside of large-scale stifling or combustion of physical forms, is to pursue the system of rotational silence proposed by Thompson, a member of ideal physical deportment - his tongue removed, his skin muffled with glues, his eyes shielded under with pictures of the final scenery."

From Terms. pg 96.
"UNIVERSAL STORM CALENDAR: 1. Thompsoned system of air influence. Inexplicable. [...]"

From Terms. pp 122-123.
"WEATHER KILLER, THE: Person, persons, or team who perform actual and pronounced killings of the air. [...] Their works were first uncovered at the wind farm. They exist as items which are counter-Thompson, given that they kill what he has made."

From Terms. pg 135.
"BEHAVIOR FARM: Location of deep grass structures in which the seventeen primary actions, as prescribed by Thompson, designer of movement, are fueled, harnessed, or sparked by the seven partial viscous liquid emotions that pour in from the river. [...]"

From Terms. pp 137-138.
"MESSONISM: Religious system of the society consisting of the following principles: [...] The practice of sacrificing houses in autumn. It is an offering to Perkins, or the Thompson that controls it. [...] The practice of abstaining from any act or locution that might indicate that one knows, knew, or has known any final detail or attribute of the true Thompson. [...] The notion that no text shall fix the principles. [...]"

Incomplete Index of References to Thompson in other Ben Marcus works

Notable American Women: Number of references: 14+

"Thompson Food Scheme"
"Thompson Water"
"Thompson Stick"
"Thompson Box"
"Ice Thompson"
"Female Thompson"

The Flame Alphabet: Number of References: Many

Thompson takes the form of a mysterious character named "Rabbi Thompson." Rabbi Thompson is the source of a clandestine / underground broadcast that contains survival instructions for those who know how to locate the signal. It is intimated that the Thompson Broadcast is a false, meaningless cover signal for a deeper, better hidden, more authentic signal. This is never explicitly proven and a second signal is never located. References include "Thompson Broadcast" and "Thompson Sermon."