The Daily Rambling Artist: Mourning the Emperor That Never Existed: Pomp and Nothingness

The Daily Rambling Artist: Mourning the Emperor That Never Existed: Pomp and Nothingness

Since early childhood, my written words received praise from teachers and adults, who often remarked, "You have a strong voice." As a young child, it seemed strange to hear those words, thinking, "I'm just a kid." Yet, encouragement worked its magic, and today, I continue to express myself using that voice across various mediums.

Over the years, I grappled with the significance of voices, particularly within the context of literary classrooms. During my master's degree studies in literary criticism, we explored concepts where books argued that words held no meaning. Strangely enough, this idea deeply affected me, leading me to stop reading fiction.

Even now, I don't read fiction. I can't quite explain the connection, but that's how it unfolded. Instead, I engage with biographies, history, and theory—genres where the power of language remains intact(?), despite my disillusionment with fiction.

The true source of my disillusionment with words, however, originated in my junior year of high school. Mr. Narendorf would project poems on a screen, and we would dissect them. One particular poem was Wallace Stevens' "The Emperor of Ice Cream." I enjoyed this part of class; the poems felt like puzzles. But this puzzle was different; we couldn't crack it.

Hands would rise with interpretations, only to be swiftly dismissed by Mr. Narendorf. This constant defeat troubled me. We circled around theories concerning the roller of big cigars, the dawdling wenches, and the lamp affixing its beam, but to no avail. We grew weary and desperate, running out of theories. Then, out of the blue, Mr. Narendorf exclaimed, "There is no Emperor of Ice Cream!" He let out a maniacal laugh. "Don't you see? It's brilliant." The bell rang, and class was over, yet that moment has stayed with me ever since.

To this day, I ponder it all, perplexed throughout my adult life. We invested immense effort in extracting meaning, only to discover that there wasn't any true meaning or, if there was, it wasn't the meaning we sought. There was no Emperor of Ice Cream. It was all an elaborate spectacle of emptiness. To lay this heavy revelation on a sixteen-year-old was no small matter. We believed in him, but as the poem proclaimed, we had to "Let be be finale of seem." The Emperor simply did not exist.

Yet, many years later, where does this leave my voice? Or anyone's voice, for that matter? We each seek our own meaning, I suppose. It’s not a cause for sadness. It’s a good thing—it’s where freedom comes in, accompanied by the weight of responsibility. Above all, we shouldn't take it any of it too seriously because, in the end—despite our attempts to create him—the Emperor of Ice Cream never existed. But still, I mourn him. 

-Sergio Santos