In the dreamily long summer days that followed, Snell turned
to his new book, On Wonderment. On the surface his mode
of operation was harmless enough, even rather staid: the laptop
computer, the regular hours, the meticulous use of the journal
and other secondary files. But Snell's subject matter, style and
organization of material suggested lunacy in its purest form.
The subject matter, first off, had no apparent rationale or coherence
whatsoever. Snell wrote about nature, art, abstract ideas, personal
experience, science, history, psychology, without the slightest
effort to connect these fields at all. His style was patently
inconsistent, including, sometimes within the course of a single
working day, satire, tragedy, conversational anecdote, philosophical
discourse, humor and belletristic essay. And as for development,
there was none at all. Snell would simply pick up an idea, ride
with it for what it was worth, let it go, and open up a new page.
His only homage to system was the network abbreviated subject
codes that might someday allow him to draw related sections together
out of the increasingly vast miscellany of discourse.
His friends responded to these exotic activities
with various degrees of concern. Sarah, whose feelings toward
Snell had grown undisguisedly affectionate, feared for his sanity.
Adler referred to Snell's project as Briareus, the hundred-headed
monster. Emmons feared some bitter and violent response from the
But there were more sanguine responses as well.
Worried as he was, Emmons could not help comparing Snell with
Renaissance humanistsAlberti, Machiavelli, Erasmus, Rabelais
and otherswho combined genuine learning with the ability
to speak effectively to the general reader. Schmutzhauf and Edward
Marlin (who now visited Snell occasionally) were even more positive.
To Schmutzhauf, Snell's M.O. was reminiscent of great tradition
in modern science. "This is a perfectly valid way to work,"
he asserted. "You collect everything, no matter
how incoherent it appears. You don't stop collecting until you've
collected everything that's in your power to collect. And then
you let it all ferment inside of you. Darwin worked this
Marlin put it differently. "Adam's having
a dialogue with himself. He's exploring mental geographynot
just his own but that of his culture as well. He's tempting pure
chaos but opening himself up to real discovery. No one's ever
found order in himself or society without first having a love
affair with disorder, noting word by word the proceedings of Babel."