A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, Science, History, Math, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7500 images, 4 million hits| Press & appearances in The Times, Le Figaro, MENSA, The Economist, The Guardian, Discovery News, Slate, Le Monde, Sci American Blogs, Le Point, and many other places... 4,200+ total posts
While browsing a volume of the Scientific American (Scientific American Supplement #1453, November 7, 1903) I came across a picture of the Columbarium of the Villa Codini, Licinian Gardens, Rome, and then within a minute I came upon a similar scene just dozens of pages away--a striking likeness, though this time the sculpted openings were for the living. It showed a lecture being delivered to inmates of a criminal sanatorium, hearing about the evils of alcohol, each prisoner stored away in his own little box. "Columbarium" comes from the Latin word ("columba") for "dove-cote", and it is easy to see the similarity between the sepulchral images.
There is another image that I've saved but which has no reference for origin. It depicts prisoners in a European institution attending a Sunday service:
SO--this is either a very large tricycle with average-sized crew, or an average-sized trike operated by tiny people. Since it appeared in the November 11, 1896 issue of Scientific American--which had a very very slight leverage on humor--I report here that this was indeed a very large tricycle. As a matter of fact it required a crew of eight to operate, and weighed in at about 1500 pounds. It was actually constructed, as this crew peddled it around the Boston area for a 125-mile jaunt. Why this was done--other for the sake of doing it--I do not know. It seems someone just made a Big Thing, coming (as the short description in the issue says) "in this age of 'big things' ".
I found this delightful article while browsing volume 11 of Nature (1874)--J.D. Everett's On Mirage. It actually appears in parts over two issues (November 19 and 26) and I've got to admit that I was attracted to it from the illustrations--the wood engraving appearing in the concluding part having neo-proto-Absurdist qualities six decades before that would become recognized as an art form. I've included the image below from my copy as it is very sharp and crisp--I've also included links for the texts from the University of Wisconsin (though their scans of the images are not quite so fresh as the one below).
[Everett (1831-1904) was a distinguished physicist and is perhaps best remembered for his translation of a wonderful textbook by Augustin Privat-Deschanel, Elementary Treatise on Natural Philosophy: Physics (1882), a book I've found useful over time (along with Ganot's Physics) for identifying period scientific instruments as both books are absolutely filled with images.]
I think that this pamphlet could stand without comment, but, well, here it goes anyway:
Here's an extraordinary title from the Found-Absurd/Surreal Department: What Can the Women Do? was published by the Extension Department of St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia in 1940. It is a odd, uncomfortably-phrased work that seems completely antiquarian today--and yet the work is only 75 years old, well within the lifespans of 10% of U.S. citizens alive today. That such a question would and should be asked within the space of the lifetime of millions of grandparents is remarkable, and brings the past bursting into the present. This question did not die here in 1940, but would continue for several decades more.
The other point here is that this is only 20 years after women were granted the rights to vote in the U.S., and in some ways was an advancement in showing the number of different sorts of occupations open to women besides her job as housewife and mother.
Make your own poem with the first few words of the first twenty entries of definition quotations of Charles Babbage used in the Oxford English Dictionary. Actually, any name will do...
I just happened to choose Uncle Chuckles while I was taking a peek to see which scientist was used most often by the OED in definition quotation--and also because he may be the least likely of the famous scientists to be associated with poetry. (I've written a number of posts here on "found poetry"--enter this phrase in the Google search box at right for results.)
So here it is, the bones of poetry--I think that there may be a "something" in this nothing, though our 12 -year-old instantly identified this as "meaningless--they're just pieces of phrases", which of course is correct. Except sometimes you find the art where the art ain't; and sometimes, you don't, simply because it if ain't art it just ain't no matter how hard you hit something with the art stick.
Love him or not, there seems to be little middle ground with Salvador Dali. What I find probably-peripherally interesting in Dali's writings are the titles of them...maybe more so than the written piece itself--perhaps that is because I enter such deep shallow pool in them where I become lost or bored or just cleaved up in misunderstanding...it is all a possibility. One thing that is inarguable I think are the titles of some of his works. For example, I wanted to share a few that are found in the Surrealist-laden but not-necessarily-Surrealist art magazine, Minotaure (1933-1939):
"Non-Euclidean Psychology of a Photograph"
"The Spectral Surrealism of Eternal Pre-Raphaelite Femineity"
"First Morphological Law relating to Soft Structure"
"A Paranoiac-Critical Interpretation of the Obsessive Image of Millet's Angelus"
"Concerning the Terrifying and Edible Beauty of Art Nouveau"
"The New Colouras of Spectral Sex-Appeal"
"The Aerodynamic Apparition of Object Beings"
The Guggenheim notice on the Minotaure: http://blogs.guggenheim.org/findings/minotaure-surrealist-magazine-1930s/
Captain Marvel was once upon a time in the 1940's a superhero more popular than Superman, though Superman is the obvious victor over time (and a long time at that). I don't know what Captain Marvel is doing here hawking a paper punch-out flying "buzz bomb", particularly since it seems to have been produced during WWII.1 It does seem unlikely to me that a flying toy modeled on the buzz bomb would be sold to kids during the war. After all, the "buzz bomb" was the German advanced weapon called the V-1, or Vergeltungswaffe 1, (“retaliation”, or “vengeance” weapon), or Fieseler Fi 103, or Doodlebug, and was a flying bomb (on the order of a very primitive cruise missile guided by a gyroscope autopilot) launched against population centers in England by the Nazis during the June 1944-January 1945 period. The bomb was about 27’ long and 17’ wide, weighed 4,700 pounds, and reached 400 mph with an 1,800 pound warhead. Thousands of people were killed in the 8,000+ sorties of this foul-sounding beast--there was only a general sense of where it was going and where it might land, so the death and destruction it caused was indiscriminate. Given all of this I'm assuming that the guesses on the year of production of this are wrong, and that it is a post-war bit, which would be in less bad taste than had it been actually produced in wartime. It seems to me that most superhero/action hero types were busy punching Hitler or some such thing, and not selling a toy based on Hitler's weapons when they were actually killing thousands. In any event, I'm sharing this unusual image with its unusual story.
This post is a part of overlapping categories, including:
Duplicate Earths (including Mondo Bizarro, Science Afflictions and the Dubious Mind—Bad Science, Part 1. NYC in Space (?!) here and Extra-Earth Humano-Alien Souls From Outer Space Repopulate Earth-Hell!!(??)here)
And before we get to Mystery in Space I wanted to make an uncommon addition to the "Duplicate Earth" category--I really don't find "Extra Earths" too often and so I feel a certain obligation in reporting them. And so, the Extra Earth of Fletcher Hanks' cover for his very uncommon superhero creation, Stardust:
I don't know if this is an actual Extra Earth that makes an appearance in a Stardust episode, or if it is just a repeated element of design--from what I have seen from Hanks, it could easily be either.
And now on the the rest:
In the eight years or so of collecting information and stories for the odd-bits section of this blog I have never encountered so many choice visual examples in one place for strange/weirdly-imagined/impossible/high-SciFi of the Earth than with the comic book, Mystery in Space. The very dedicated keepers of Coverbrowse.com website have reproduced thousands (?) of covers of pulpily-published science fiction and exotic-thinking comics books, including the home base in which all sixteen-plus years of Mystery in Space live.
Character Sketches or the Blackboard Mirror, a Series of Illustrated Discussions, Depicting Those Peculiarities of Character...Subjects Illustrated With Over Fifty Engravings, by George Augustus Lofton (1839-1914), is a peculiar but not necessarily transcendental religico-social-morality screed in the vein of more antiquarian emblem books. The major attraction to the work were the very unusual, half-edgy, unschooled illustrations for the morals investigations made by the author--which do approach a sort of transcendental nature, all on their own. The text I'm afraid pulls the drawings down some, as I'd rather work the stuff out with just the image and a title, the descriptions becoming very quickly a preachy jaundice of judgment more so than insightful observation--though the descriptions of the images do have their moments from time to time.
[Source for all images, plus the text and rest of the images, located at Internet Archive, https://archive.org/stream/charactersketche00loft#page/n11/mode/2up ]
I think the drawings by Lofton are remarkable for their (probably unschooled) expansively unusual possibilities, all of which are very outre for the close of the 19th century. The human figures are certainly very stylized, but the background and foreground bits are generally very oddly aggressive, and off-putting.
This interesting image came from a collection of Victorian photographs, all ca. 1868 (one in the group was dated so). This example stands apart for me as an example of the Found Surreal--it has a certain artistic planned emptiness if you look at it in a certain way. Of course the original intention here was for someone getting the 18x18" sheet ready to accept four more photographs placed in the hand-drawn frames.
Jello is a powdered gelatin formed of collagen, a cocktail of peptides and proteins from pig skin and cow bones, and "ready to eat".
It is also basically what glue is.
It is the "glue" part of this thing that brings us together here, to tell a story of atomic bomb secrets given to the Soviets and the U.S. traitors who made it happen.
The story of Harry Gold, David Greenglass, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg has been told countless times, and in some of them the hook for the story was this box of Jello. The Jello box was cut in half, and used as an innocuous way for Gold and Greenglass--who each possessed one half of the box--to match up, signifying that each man was communicating with his proper counterpart. Why they thought it was innocuous to be walking around with Jello box parts in their wallets is not known, but they used it successfully, and under this cover of establishing their identities, they carried on their work.
As I said, it is an old story. Back in the mid 1980's when I thought I wanted to be a journalist one of the stories I dredged up was this one, and I tracked down the Rosenberg kids and interviewed them, and the janitor who cleaned up after the Rosenberg's deaths in their execution in Ossining, and even to the Rabbi who was probably the last person to see them alive. The story for them gets pretty weepy, and convoluted, but not so much anymore after you read the Venona transcripts regarding them. And that pretty much tells the story, I think.
Anyway, their stories are best told by others elsewhere.
All I wanted to do here was make the passing note that the girl on the Jello box has some resemblance to the girls populating the artwork of Henry Darger, the bleak, fabulous, impossibly-driven Outsider with what was probably a complicated and terribly unsavory fascination with young girls.
I don't know if this is the exact type of Jello used by the conspirators, though this is what was entered into evidence at the trials of these people, a "replica" of what was believed to be the box, but it is good enough:
[Source: National Archives, here: http://blogs.archives.gov/prologue/?p=4655]
Here's is an example of the (clothed) Darger Vivian girls. I know, I know, he is perhaps one of the great three/four great icons of Outsider art in the 20th century, but all I take away from him is a sense of very very complex creepiness:
See an earlier post of mine on Henry Darger and the Campbell Soup Playhouse Schoolroom for Kids, here: http://longstreet.typepad.com/thesciencebookstore/2012/09/henry-darger-and-campbell-soups-kids-playitme-schoolroom-1955.html
Nothing quite sounds or looks quite so unusual as a forgotten piece of popular culture from a different generation, something that was stretching the boundaries in potentially cringeworthy ways. Of course everything is removed from context, so the historical/cultural part isn't immediately neuronally available, though with just a little bit of digging into memory or archives these things would fit the thing nicely in place and time and would recover their sensibilities.
But as stand-alones, these exemplars of outre thinking might do little more than raise a surprised eyebrow to their unexpected appearance.
So, while searching for exotica/tiki music online, I stumbled upon and over "The Spotnicks" (read "Sputnik"), a groovy 1961 Swedish band that I guess was a semi-equivalent to a 70's hair band, except these guys appeared in space suits there at the hot part of the space race. And: they were actually very proficient musicians, though, proficiency (and even giftedness) don't necessarily a good band make. Never having heard of them before (I grew up in the era of The Rock and the Roll, though the music never really appealed to me much) I came to learn that the band is still around, and has made 42 albums, and sold 18 million copies of their music, which I would never have guessed to be the case. So, while the music might not necessarily be the stuff of which memories are made, it wasn't bad, and the players certainly seemed to have some chops. (And their movement as they played seems to have come a decade or more before Devo.)
It turns out that space--themed music was a popular bit in the late 1950's and into the 1960's, though it seems from my brief dip into that genre that not a lot of it was outery-spacey, though the album covers were. (Sort of like "Atomic Cafe" or "atomic cupcakes", where the idea of the "atomic" part was present but had nothing really to do with anything at all except for the name and signage.) That this, I did find this album from 1967, produced and sold while Star Trek was experiencing a small spike in the ratings. There are space-related themes here, present in Mr. Nimoy's poetry and spoken word, so this at least has something to do with the music:
If you'd like, you can listen to it a bit, here: http://www.maidenwine.com/lps.html
So in my limited walk-about experience, genres like Exotica and Tiki seem to live up to their name beyond the album cover design; the sub-category of "outer space" Exotica music probably does not, though that might not matter so long as the album design is wicked good.
I have a little pocket-sized book at home, a fine little arithmetic book by Roswell C. Smith, Practical and Mental Arithmetic on a New Plan in Which Mental Arithmetic is Combined with the Use of the Slate--it was published in Hartford, and this copy was printed in 1836, in its every energetic 53rd edition. Mr. Smith wrote himself one fine and popular arithmetic tract, and the book is absolutely loaded with all sorts of info that could see a person through most aspects of figuring-life for years to come. My copy is very very well worn, and although it is missing pieces of the paper cover and the surface of the books looks like the Somme, it is actually very smooth--worn and rubbed smooth from years of use.
And just about the only word left visible from these years of being handled by little hands is the fragment "ART" from "Arithmetic", which I thought was a lovely thing.
As a matter of fact there is plenty in this books that is perfectly fine and applicable at the rudimentary math stages--of course some of the units of measurement have long since fallen into obscurity (even by the late 19th century) the lessons remain useful, if a little stiff, especially when you're asked to work out some of the results on your slate.
But the issue remains that this tidily compacted work is a pretty thing to work with:
This is a rare entry in this blog's "Crazy Eyes" series, and appeared in the Illustrirte Zeitung 17 March 1904. In the original the ad measures only 1x3", but it does have a strong impact, just because of those eyes. Otherwise I would guess that most people would pass up the opportunity to "Teach yourself piano in a few days" via a method contained in a 25-mark book "that the world has never before known". I've got to say, it is a pretty effective little ad.
See this link for another bit on crazy eyes, including a crazy-eyed Mercedes driver, Barney Google, and Superman: http://longstreet.typepad.com/thesciencebookstore/2014/05/crazy-eyes-in-advertising.html
“Cataloguing is an ancient profession; there are examples of such “ordainers of the universe” (as they were called by the Sumerians) among the oldest vestiges of libraries.” ― Alberto Manguel, A History of Reading (and also translator of Borges and co-editor of A Dictionary of Imaginary Places, a book worthy of high consideration as the The Book that you could have with you on a desert island.)
[On the other end of the infinite library, see an earlier post here on "The Library of One Book", here: http://longstreet.typepad.com/thesciencebookstore/2009/10/the-library-of-one-book.html]
In Jorge Borges' "The Library of Babel" (published in 1944 and translated into English in 1962) we find that an infinity, or a universe, or a heaven, is declared to be a sort of endless library, stocked with hexagonally-shaped rooms books filled with books, all the same size, with the same number of characters. The rooms are endless, as are the books, which are written in every conceivable language and containing 29 necessary elements (including the alphabet, and the period, comma, and very interestingly concluding with the space). There are endless varieties of possibilities, and the place is staffed by librarians who have interests and obsessions from, well, A to Z, or Az^Z^Z^Z to ZA^A^A and so on, until we run out of time. (Others have done some smart thinking on Borges' great thought experiment/short story, and have estimated the size of the library in terms of stacked orders of magnitude beyond the atoms of the universe--but you can find all of that stuff elsewhere with a quick google search.)
And then there's this sample fro Borges on what sorts of books make up the library:
"...the detailed history of the future, the autobiographies of the archangels, the faithful catalog of the Library, thousands and thousands of false catalogs, the proof of the falsity of those false catalogs, a proof of the falsity of the true catalog, the gnostic gospel of Basilides, the commentary upon that gospel, the true story of your death, the translation of every book into every language . . ."
Here's how you arrange an infinite library: you don't.
The books are not sorted to any sort of classification, only collected to the point that they are together.
The many seem to be written in indefinable languages. Some of the librarians spent their time pursuing the holy grail--since all books that could ever be published would be present here, which theoretically include an index to library, or some sort of organizing principle.
But since there was no verifiable organizing principle at play here, the library was useless as a "library", though for the individual bits, it was perfectly fine. The structure though just turned into a long, endless, shelf. This might explain why the caretaker/librarians of the place are so desperate.
I cannot recall a mention of a card catalog, which I guess could be as all-powerfully impossible as the library, given that the library is not-classifiable. This is particularly true when you consider that there must also be a catalog of the arrangement of all possible false catalogs of all possible false books in the library, in addition to the true catalog. Perhaps the cards from this catalog would take up all of the space in the universe that would bump up against our own.
On the other hand, the logician W.V.O. Quine has written in a short piece that the Borges library is finite, because at some point there will come a time that all that can be written or will be written has been written:
"It is interesting, still, that the collection is finite. The entire and ultimate truth about everything is printed in full in that library, after all, insofar as it can be put in words at all. The limited size of each volume is no restriction, for there is always another volume that takes up the tale -- any tale, true or false -- where any other volume leaves off. In seeking the truth we have no way of knowing which volume to pick up nor which to follow it with, but it is all right there."
He reduces this argument elegantly but completely without the humor of Borges, and says that all that is known can be represented in two symbols from which everything else can be derived--a dot, and a dash. He writes:
"The ultimate absurdity is now staring us in the face: a universal library of two volumes, one containing a single dot and the other a dash. Persistent repetition and alternation of the two is sufficient, we well know, for spelling out any and every truth. The miracle of the finite but universal library is a mere inflation of the miracle of binary notation: everything worth saying, and everything else as well, can be said with two characters."
"The ultimate absurdity is now staring us in the face: a universal library of two volumes, one containing a single dot and the other a dash. Persistent repetition and alternation of the two is sufficient, we well know, for spelling out any and every truth. The miracle of the finite but universal library is a mere inflation of the miracle of binary notation: everything worth saying, and everything else as well, can be said with two characters. It is a letdown befitting the Wizard of Oz, but it has been a boon to computers." [Quine's "Universal Library" is found at Hyperdiscordia, here: http://hyperdiscordia.crywalt.com/universal_library.html]
Quine's approximation cuts way down on the size of the library, which evidently would not fit in the known universe, which opens the gates for Heaven, which I think doesn't depend on such restrictions--unless of course it was too big for that, which means believers would be in trouble, and none too happy with being kicked out of paradise to make space for a book.