A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, Science, History, Math, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7000 images, 3.6 million hits| Press & appearances in The Times, The Paris Review, Le Figaro, MENSA, The Economist, The Guardian, Discovery News, Slate, Le Monde, Sci American Blogs, Le Point, and many other places... 3,000+ total posts
Years go when this photograph was first made the vast majority of women who were having their hair cut not-at-home went to barber shops, with their hair cut by men--so explaining the "see the barber" part of this style menu in the window of a chop shop. Unfortunately I do not have the reference for the photograph--the image I am working with is from a newly-found set of photographs I made years ago copying FSA photographs from the mid-1930's found at the Prints & Photographs Division at the Library of Congress. Of the 20 style cuts 16 were "Bobs" of one sort or another, including the beguiling "Ultra-mannish Bob"...
Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray thee Lord, my soul to keep;If I should die before I wake, I pray thee, Lord, my soul to take.--New England Primer, 1784 edition
There's nothing scary in that is there? The nightmare-maker may have its first introduction in the New England Primer, a book which was the backbone of North American education for many decades. as popular as it was and as much as it was used, print runs were not enormous, and most children would never actually own a copy of the book. It would be read to them for lessons, and that being the case much info was presented by vivid short rhymes , some of which are hard to forget because of the mental imagery they present.
For example the mnemonic devices used to help learn the alphabet is riddled with murder, mayhem, vice, death, and not all that much hope....except if you include stuff like "Job feels the rod, and praises God" as a Puritanical form of hope/salvation. Perhaps the writers were after the indelible impression as well as searing the cerebellum with the moral code. In fact, in the 24-letter alphabet presented in the edition ("i" and "v" are not included), 12 of the letters are death- or violence-related, including the statements that we are all sinners, that cats kill things, dogs bite, fools are whipped at school, life runs out like sand in an hourglass, punishment deserves prayer, offensive things as big as armies can be swallowed up whole, a teary Rachel cries over her tiny dead child, time will kill you (again), kings will do and so will so, and youthful bits can of course kill you. It is part-and-parcel I guess of the rearing of kids in the not-necessarily-glorious history of childhood. Death and the possibilities of it or some close relative of it was a lot closer to reality than it is today, especially when the average life span at the time was well under 50 and infant mortality easily an order of magnitude more prevalent than it is today1. And of course outside of the plague-of-death culture and the subjugation of kids for a better behavior there was also the screaming Calvinist theology that beat up/taught readers the abandonment of the self to the creator available to young and old.
This sort of indoctrination was hardly limited to the New England Primer, printed in this country as the first of its type beginning in the late 17th century (and with some familiarity several printings can be remember for famously having the "printed by B. Franklin" imprint in the 1760's). It would be easier to name the child's instructional that did not have this leaning (at least before 1880) though I am presently hard-pressed to think of an example off-hand).
And lest we forget, the Grimm brothers wrote stuff for kid the vast majority of which we wouldn't think of reading to our kids today--I didn't.
1. Good national statistics for the U.S. before 1870 begin to get sketchy in this area, though from 1900 onward the numbers look pretty good. Suffice to say that historians of medicine and Medieivalists and so on make pretty good educated estimates for these rates, and they're not so good. For example, in 1900 in America the average life span was 47 and the infant mortality at 16% (compared to about 80 or so and .7% today), though I cannot offhand find the stats for childhood survivability by age 10. Looking back in time the numbers get really big, with some people saying that childbirth mortality in the Medieval and Renaissance times were in the 30-50% range, and the survivability rate passed 10 was about the same. I don't have these rates for American colonial times, but I assume that they are closer to the Renaissance than they are to 1900 numbers. And of course this does not apply to slaves, whose rates of survivability were smaller still.
In the occasionally speedy and occasionally not world of chess, it may sometimes be necessary to take speedy-or-not notes. Chess notation--like algebraic notation (in different iterations), English notation, ICCF notation, and so on--=can reach back hundreds of years. Even the shorthand approach tried out here in mathematician Salzer's short work dips back into the 19th century (‘Shorthand Notation" by M. Barnard, a short entry in Chess Player’s Annual and Club Directory, 1893-94 by Mr and Mrs T.B. Rowland (London, 1893)). But the Salzer work is really pretty interesting, and so I thought to at least surface the work.
It may or may no be the case, but this large, flaking book that is balanced on top of a petulant pile of paper, Registered Beverage Trade Marks Covering the Period from 1881 to 1939 Compiled from the records in the United States Patent Office (Distilled Alcoholic Liquors) may be the keys to the kingdom of names of booze(s) trademarked in this country. 15" tall, and inch thick, and 296 sheets big, this work (copyrighted y the Trade Mark records Bureau (in the National Press Club Building in DC, the one with the problematic parking garage) lists some 7,500 names of whiskey, cordials, gin, rye, bourbon and who knows what else. I cannot find the book in any online database, big or small, and I'm not sure where this info might be housed and housed in one spot. I have no doubt that people somewhere need this data, unwieldy and unusable as it might be--you see, it is organized only according to a six/seven digit number which I guess is the trademark filing number, or something; there is nothing else useful about the thing, the data floating around without regard to year or place or liquor type.
So I sat down with the book for an hour pulling out interesting, odd, out-of-place, from-another time and bizarre names, inlcuding all manner of expected animal names like bull and elk, and then unicorn; and lots of sunny this-and-that, sloping/sunny/grassy hills, mountains, clubs; and of course the Old _____ category seem fairly filled up. [If you'd like to own this just visit the blog's bookstore, here, and have a look.]
If I spent a little more time on this entire alphabets could be produced relating to nothing but names from the animal kingdom, flora, the sciences, professions, religion, states of mind, altered states, literature, and the labels that suggest a possible medical benefit. One of my favorite categories is the "conversational liquor label", the label that speaks to you, invites you, tells you what to do with the bottle of booze: Hava Cocktail and Uneeda Whiskey are good examples of that, as are You're Lookin Good, Uvanta and Yugeta whiskeys. Another is the liquor name ending in "o", like the beautiful Famo, from St. Jo, MO, which unfortunately wasn't trademarked in '00. The label of suggested promise and outcome is another good one: Kentucky Courage, Pleasant Dreams, Invincible Rye, Solace Whiskey and Ready Moneyare all good examples of the implied end-of-bottle pillow-fluffer...maybe, espcially, The Old Solution whiskey.
And then of course, there are those where the (creative) spirit has just flown away, like the lumpily-named Standard Spirits Whiskey, its hometown of New Orleans embarrassed by the lack of effort--especially in the light of some many hundreds of imaginative creations, like the fabulous Bone Factor Whiskey (1903), which like som many other great names (Yellow Hammer Whiskey) comes from Louisville, Kentucky.
Over the course of six years (and over 2500 posts) on this blog I've created or re-imagined some images and data into bit-sized forms via arranging them into alphabets. Sometimes the application is obvious and maybe-necessary; sometimes not. Sometimes the alphabetized information is factual, and sometimes the factual material gets a fictionalized interpretation (as with the anatomical alphabet of emotions and feelings). In any event, enjoy.
The alphabets include: Australian Convict Mugshots; Flower Symbolism; Action and a Touch of Evil; A Bloated Alphabet of Fat Cures: Strychnine Pills, Vibrators and Hope; Alphabet of Retro-Vision Women, ca, 1940's/1950's; Alphabet of Women of the Future Trading Cards, 1902; An Alphabet of Anatomical Emotions and Feelings--Installment 1; Elements for a Whisky Alphabet Drawn from a Bible of Booze Names; An Alphabet of Unintentionally Semi-Absurd Motivational Images, Business Publications, 1930's; Found Dadaist Alphabets; Occupational Alphabet, Part II--1844; An Unkindness of Ravens, a Murder of Crows--an Alphabet of the Names of Groupings of Animals; Half-a-Hell Alphabet: U.S. Gazetteer and American "Hell" Lust, "B" to "U"; Nursey Education Report--2 The Royal Rhythmical Alphabet; The Dance of Work: Satires and Grotesques of the Professions, 1700; An Alphabet of Sculpted Paper Nothingness; Note on an Alphabet of Computer Names in Fiction; An Alphabet of Fire--Night-time Telegraphy, 1800 vs. the 1991 Pen Ashtray; An Alphabet of Giants; An Alpha-Vile Alphabet of Lost Emotions; And ABC of Bombing.
An Alphabet of Australian Convict Mugshots, 1900-1920, here.
These are some fine and early printed examples of uploading information, though it had nothing ot do of course with electromagnetic anything back in 1523. The "Cloud" in question was the mind/brain, and the images helped to serve as placemarkers in how large amounts of memory were kept in the head, the methods available to just about anyone with a keen enough facility for organization and understanding, and the ability to develop learning mechanisms that would help to store and sort memory and info.
In another way, though, the process of memory was associated with the Cloud--this second attribution of the early Cloud, though--at least according to St Augustine--was God. Plato (Meno) thought along the lines of the soul learning nothing new, and that what learning was all about was recalling of the data that came to us before we were born. Augustine--mostly in Book X of the Confessions--had a different idea (and much more complex and elaborated than I could do justice here in a few sentences) about unconscious knowledge and memory, which was where, I think, he thought knowing God might be. This memory (the "divine quality" in Cicero's thought) was the storehouse of expressions in the belief that the knowledge of true things was unconscious, and that in understanding memory this knowledge becomes evident, and that at the base of it all is the knowledge of God. It is as I said much more complicated (and elegant) than this, but I think that the root of it is correct, at least so far as memory is concerned.
In any event, here are some of the visual clues for creating alpabetic memory palaces as found in the short (30 leaves) 1523 work by Gulielmus Leporeus, Ars Memorativa (and available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliotek, here)
Having just made a post of words using the prefix "un-" in Joyces Ulysses, I thought it would be interesting to see the unusual/unexpected un- prefixed words in Noah Webster's classic 1828 An American Dictionary of the English Language. It turns out that the created and unusual un-words in Joyce bear a similarity-in-strangeness and the unexpected in the Webster book. Basically, "un-" is a negative prefix, creating (mostly in adjectives) reversal, release, removal. It is distinct from the "non-'" stem, and in some instances understood a little better (in some examples) than the "in-" stem.
There are some fantastic examples of words that become quite something else in the modern eye: beautiful words like "unepitaphed" seem to want to mean that an epitaph would be removed, altered in some way, which is an interesting thought (!), but all it meant in Webster's hand was to be a grave without an epitaph. "Unbearded" too--all it means is to be without a beard,, and not to have a beard removed in some way. "Unextinct"! A wonderful word that brings visions of resurrection, but it means just to be not-extinct, which is still a little odd.
And so I have chosen a few examples of words that might as well have been chosen for their color, or musicality, or potential interpretations than anything else, though basically I like the idea of what the words could become.
An Alphabet of Un-, 1828
A. Unaccomplishment, unalmsed, unamazed, unappalled, unanswerableness, unartificial
B. Unbar, unbearded, unbeget (as a verb! found in Drden, "to deprive of existence"), unbit, unbenighted ("never being visited by dark"), unbestarred, unblameableness.
C. Incentrical, unchristianize, uncompact, uncounterfeit, uincommencement.
D. Undeaf, undefaced, undeceiver, undevout, undisappointed, undreaded.
E. Uneclipsed, unepitaphed, unexistent, unextinct.
James Joyce painted with words like perhaps no other--words created and words already created, thousands of them. What struck me particularly though while looking through Miles Hanley's Word Index to James Joyce Ulysses, winding my way somehow to the "U" section was the master's rich un-use use of "un-" words, words prefixed with "un". It seems surprising to me that there were so many, but that was just a flash reaction, not compared to Shakespeare or Dickens or anyone else.
There are about 400 entries for words beginning with "un". The following are some examples:
The great Jost Amman (1533-1591, Swiss book illustrator and one of the last major production artists working with woodcuts) didn't set out to create a simple alphabet of trades, but did record them, and did so with great clarity, basically creating a 16th-century pre-photographic "snapshot" of the ways in which people conducted their business and livelihood. The illustrations come from his work with Hans Sachs, Eygentliche Beschreibung Aller Staende Auff Erden, published in Frankfurt am Main in 1568 (the full text here from Bibliothek des Seminars für Wirtschafts- und
Sozialgeschichte, and another useful full-text here that indexes the images and another here for an English indexing of the trades). The images are precise and sparse, and endlessly interesting, an uncommon peep into the common past that was n
Also useful: Dictionary of Medieval and Renaissance occupation, here.
The energy of Dr. Johnson must have been heroic--had to have been. In addition to all of his other work, he sat down and wrote a dictionary--the first of its kind for the English language: A Dictionary of the English Language, which was printed in 1755.
I've collected what he had to say about the letters of the alphabet, which is in itself a small and remarkable thing of sweep and brevity. He sites the "labial" P, the "canine "R", the unhappy hissing of S, the "note of aspiration" in H, and so on, in a forceful march to recording the language. His book is a work of high beauty.
All of the material below comes from the JohnsonDictionaryOnline site, here.
~ A ~
A, The first letter of the European alphabets, has, in the English language, three different sounds, which may be termed the broad, open, and slender.
The broad sound resembling that of the German a is found, in many of our monosyllables, as all, wall, malt, falt; in which a is pronounced as au in cause, or aw in law. Many of these words were anciently written with au, as sault, waulk; which happens to be still retained in fault. This was probably the ancient sound of the Saxons, since it is almost uniformly preserved in the rustic pronunciation, and the Northern dialects, as maun for man, haund for hand.
Washing machines no doubt have been called many things, and they have been named after many great concepts and desires--but I think in the history of naming household appliances, the popular washer produced by Thomas Bradford & Co Laundry Engineers (High Holbron, London and Cathedral Steps, Manchester) in the last part of the 19th century may have had the oddest of them all. It was the Vowel A--the "Vowel" being the washer and the "A" being the model. But, still--that was the name of the machine, and it has a definite flavor of the Absurdist to it.
Which is a detail in:
[Source: Una Roberston, The Illustrated History of the Housewife, 1650-1950, St. Martin's Press, 1999, pp 86-87.]
There was also the Vowel Large E and the Vowel Y--the "A" seems the best of the lot though, for simplicity and symmetry.
These washers were evidently great aids in the kitchen delights department, and provided for no disappointment.
These bits just caught my eye, found in the 1891 volume of Punch magazine, a smart and sharp-as-broken-glass humorous/satirical/social commentary popular English mag. It takes Henrik Ibsen to a rough task: evidently, if Ibsen were a color-by-number portrait to be painted, Punch would give him the numbers "1" and "2", and then color everything in one color. Somestimes something can be revolutionary and essential and unlikable, even when it has become the modern world's most-often-performed play.
I'm partial to created alphabets:
And the review of A Doll's House that accompanies the satirical image above:
Andre Breton (1896-1966) may be the patron and founding saint of the movement we know as "Surrealism". "I believe", he said, "in the future resolution of the states of dream and reality, in appearance so contradictory, in a sort of absolute reality, or surrealite, if I may so call it". So he wrote in his Manifeste du Surrealisme (pp 23-24), published in Paris in 1924, just days after the first meetings of the group of writers and artists to which he belonged called the Centrale Surréaliste or the Bureau of Surrealist Research, (also known as the Bureau of Surrealist Enquiries). Breton's Manifesto was a defining element of the movement (in spite of its own probably intentional contradictions), and , well, entirely too much to summarize here in this minor post. I am more interested presently in some of the names he discussed here and in a later work.
[Source: Maurice Nadeau, Histoire du Surrealisme, Editiosn du Soeuil, 1964.]
Breton made several interesting lists of artists and writers who he identified as Surrelaists or precursors of Surrealism, the names appearing in the Manifestes... and then in the Anthologie de l'Humor Noir. The suggestions are factual and fanciful, meant to be taken seriously and not--ir at least his reasons and identifiers of those names were to be taken loosely if not the names themselves. In any event it is an itneresting amalgamted list, which is presented below, cobbled together from the two sources and then alphabetizied. These are names Breton mentions explicitly in his lists, and do not include all of those folks whos eart he discusses in those works. I mean to return to this with portraits and links, but for a start today I'd at least to start with the backbone of the names.
[Source: the Paris surrealists, 1933: Tristan Tzara, Paul Éluard, André Breton, Hans Arp, Salvador Dalí, Yves Tanguy, Max Ernst, René Crevel and Man Ray. Photo by Anna Riwkin-Brick. Image found here: Art and Studio Tumblr, here.]
Manifestes du Surrealisme (1924) is available in French here and in English here.
[Artists in Exile, 1942: Front row left to right: Matta Echaurren, Ossip Zadkine, Yves Tanguy, Max Ernst, Marc Chagall, Fernand Léger Second row: André Breton, Piet Mondrian, André Masson, Amédée Ozenfant, Jacques Lipchitz, Pavel Tchelitchew, Kurt Seligmann and Eugene Berman. (Photo: George Platt Lynes]
Breton's definitions of surrealism:
SURREALISME, n, m. Automatisme psychiquepur
par lequel on se propose d’exprimer, soit verbalement, soit par écrit,
soit de toute autre manière, le fonctionnement réel de la pensée, en
l’absence de tout contrôle exercé par la raison, en dehors de toute
préoccupation esthétique ou morale. [Surrealisme. Noun, masculine. Pure psycic automatism, by which one intends to express verballym in writing or by any other method, the treal functioning of the mind. Dictation by thought, in the absence of any control exercise by reason, and beyond any aesthetic or moral preoccupation]
ENCYCL; Philso. Le
surréalisme repose sur la croyance à la réalité supérieure de certaines
formes d’associations négligées jusqu’à lui, à la toute puissance du
rêve, au jeu désintéressé de la pensée. Il tend à ruiner définitivement
tous les autres mécanismes psychiques et à se substituer à eux dans la
résolution des principaux problèmes de la vie. [Encycl. Philos. Surrealisme is base on the belief in the superior
reality of certain formes of association heretofore neglected, in the
omnipotence of dreams, in the undirected play of thought...]
In preparing an alphabetic sampler atlas of imaginary places (a thing which looks much finer capitalized, so An Alphabetic Sampler Atlas of Imaginary Places), I wondered about the non-existent relationships between these nonexistent places, and thought that this too might make an interesting alphabetization project. So an Alphabetic Sampler of Non-Existent Relationships Between Non-Existent Places came to be, and since it has such an oddly appealing ring to it, with a certain amount of surrealist qualities (really more affectations) it might be appropriate to start with Alfred Jarry, and here with his wonderful creation, Laceland1. and its relationship to Edwin Abbott's Flatland2.. Their's could be a war in the relationship of their light--or more exactly, their relationship of shadows.
I can see across the vast and extremely limited sea that separates these two places a commonality in at least one dimension--and maybe only one, though being light, it is a rather large one. Light plays a big part in Flatland. The slender book Flatland is perhaps one of the best books ever written on perception and dimensions, a beautifully insightful book that was quick and sharp, and in spite of all that was also a best-seller. Written in 1884 when Abbott was 46 (Abbott would live another 46 years and enjoy the book’s popular reception), it introduces the reader to a two dimensional world with a social structure in which the more sides of your object equals power and esteem. Thus a lower class would be a triangle (three sides) while the highest (priestly) class would be mega-polygons, whose shape would then become a circle. On the lowest but complex strata is woman, who is represented as a line, but which is also the most contentious and unpredictable of all of the Flatland shapes. That is, until they all encounter a sphere, and the introduction of the third dimension, where Abbott’s magistry comes in explaining to the three-dimensional reader what it was like to be in a two-dimensional world.
Jarry's Laceland--along with Amorphous Island, Fragrant Island, Bran Isle and what is almost the pluralization of my surname, Ptyx--was an island kingdom that was surrounded by shadow and semi dark, but upon approaching it there would appear absolutely brilliant and blinding light the power outmatching that of the sun, glorious and fantastic, the light greater than that of the light of creation. The light is beautifully described by Alberto Manguel and Gianni Guadalupi in their excellent The Dictionary of Imaginary Places (1980):
"The King of Lace spins this bright light, weaving pictures of madonnas, jewels, peacocks and human figures which intertwine like the dances of the Rhine-maidens. Clear patterns apper against the pitch-black darkness of the surrounding air, like shapes painted on windows by the first, and then disappear again into the shadows" (Page 204)
Now in Flatland, light is a different sort of thing, coming as it does in only two dimensions, which means that two-dimensional light in a two dimensional world makes for a different sort of shadow, one that is rather flat and uninspired, especially compared to those of Laceland, which must be magnificent. Perhaps the shadow relationship between Laceland and Flatland is one of opposites. Polar opposites. Impossibles.
This all seems to come together a little when considering that the Dr. Faustroll of the Laceland adventures, is the inventor of "pataphysics", which is "the science of imaginary solutions".
I was reading the ending of Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita and found it a highly unusual occurrence that the novel ended on its single-word title. It doesn't seem to happen very often at all (though it also occurs in Toni Morrison's Beloved). And so I set to check out the last words of some significant works of fiction that are on the shelves here at home and see what these books ended on, and to give this project an hour of search. Nothing comes very close to Nabokov, though Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun ends with "gun", and Italo Calvino's If on a Winter's Night ends with the entire title, along with the author's name: "Just a moment, I’ve almost finished If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino.” (Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49" ends with the title of the book, as well). But on my hour's journey into ending, that was about it. It all seems a little useless, except that there were a few nice bits that broke away from this time-hole.
First, when you read the words and their books, they sorta/maybe suggest the essence of what came before--I think if you squint your eyes a little and connect the last word to the title, the word occasionally feels like a micro-summation. Second, I found that when taken together and in order, the last word of each of the short stories in the beautiful Jorge Luis Borges' Ficciones (edited by Kerrigan for Grove Press in 1962 with a number of different translators) presents themselves as not-bad found poetry/musical word arrangement. Third, it might be a fun idea to set up a chess set of pieces composed on the one side by Last Words in Great Fiction and on the other the Last Words in Famous Scientific Papers.
Another interesting bit is a challenge to write a paragraph using the following last word from the accompanying list of novels (you can have your choice of punctuation and prepositions and whatever else is necessary). Dr. Seuss managed to create a great classic with a 236-word allowance from his publisher and somehow managed to write The Cat in the Hat, so there is a precedence for such things. Taken as a random group, the words aren't necessarily a collection of momento mori, but could make a nice beginning for something.
Found Poetry in the Last Word of the Short Stories in Borges' Ficciones: