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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:
This is a short and developing list of 36 principal works in the history of science, a list of integral and indispensable thinking. Its just the beginning of the list, really, and for the most part I've selected only one or two examples for each letter--the process has been pretty quick and without too much need for deliberation, what with selecting the obvious and all. Nearly all are selected from the collection of the University of Adelaide, which has more full text works across the fields of intellectual history.
(384–322 BC) Physics (or Physica); On the
Heavens (or De Caelo); On Generation and Corruption (or De
Generatione et Corruptione); Meteorology (or Meteorologica);
On the Soul (or De Anima); Parva Naturalia (or Little
Physical Treatises):; On sense and the sensible (or De Sensu
et Sensibilibus); On memory and reminiscence (or De Memoria
et Reminiscentia); On sleep and sleeplessness (or De Somno
et Vigilia); etc.
ca.287–212 BCE On the Sphere and Cylinder;
Measurement of a Circle; On Conoids and Spheroids;
On Spirals; On the Equilibrium of Planes; The
Sand-Reckoner; The Quadrature of the Parabola; On
Floating Bodies; Book of Lemmas; The Method
Treating of Mechanical Problems
[All images via the lovely and easy to maneuver Google Patents here]
Fortune telling and divination is mostly the subject of the pretty patents (below), a quick penny-ante for the fulfillment of the instant treatment of possibility. reckoning via mechanical means,easing folks out of the necessity to think about What May Come, and also, possibly, relieving some of them of the possibilities of worry should the fortunes agree with their hopes. And desires. Opposite, for the opposite.
This thinking goes back a long way into dark and dusty time, though it becomes interesting (to me, anyway) when it gets wrapped up in Renaissance magic and science.
I'm not sure what it reveals except for what people might have wanted to believe in during different periods of time.
Anyway, the patent drawings are pretty.
The ways of telling fortunes are broad and numerous and may have been dictated by the stuff that was readily available at hand; a veritable alphabet can be quickly summoned to deal with the most common of the sort:
Alectromancy (telling the future by relatively brainless modern dinosaur roosters pecking at the ground for stuff);
(thinking that the motions of stars that are light years away from the
observer in a vast sea of space and their annotation on an
infinitesimally small speck of universe dust called "Earth" can somehow
interact with living organisms that are 1030000 the amount of space that can be affected by the light from the stars that are 1/1,000,000,000 of the age of those stars);
"It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words … what justification is
there for a word which is simply the opposite of some other word? A
word contains its opposite in itself. Take “good”, for instance. If you
have a word like “good”, what need is there for a word like “bad”?
“Ungood” will do just as well — better, because it’s an exact opposite,
which the other is not.’"--George Orwell, 1984
"Orwell and Nabokov wrote nothing like one another and did that to perfection."--Not H.L. Mencken
[David Octavius Hill (1802-1870) and Robert Adamson (1821-1848), St. Andrews [East Gable End of the Cathedral with Tower of St. Regulus], [1843-1847]. Calotype. Source: Princeton University Library.]
There is nothing that limits action than the control of the stuff that describes it: words. Any dictatorship or totalitarian regime can appreciate this thought--many would try to eliminate even the thinking of this thought, let alone limiting the spoken parameters of discussing it. Removing the capacity to respond to what is happening in the world with other human beings by rephrasing the experience through the introduction of new words and the elimination of old ones is an excruciating form of absolute power that can be blatant as well as subtle, though I suspect that accomplishing this word control sotto voce would be the most effective/insidious method.
[A page of Orwell's corrected Manuscript of 1984; source: GeorgeOrwellsNovels.com here]
George Orwell describes a terrifying society of just this sort in his book 1984 (with the complete text available here), which was an adventure into a Mystopia of the near-future (of about the year 2050). He writes about a society, Oceania, that attempts to makes it members into one conforming biological unit for the sake of control it. One of the methods used to accomplish this is the destruction of words and the creation of other state-controlled words to replace them, a sort of single-channel television for the mind, a device using its own vocabulary which audially impregnates the listener with versions of correct thinking, redefining reality by controlling the ways of interpreting it.
This is a list of some of the words that Orwell's society creates--some of course do not stand well on there own, their deviousness appreciated in the context of the story, like the first example, "artsem", which through constancy has come to numbingly replace the idea of what the word represents. Others, like 'good", are old words with a new meaning, making them new words with a bad (or not-good) meaning. Or "free" of the old (or Oldspeak") meaning, where even the word "free" is used only to describe an absence, as in "this sentence describing the use of the word "free" is "free from the old meaning of free", like you'd want a baby to be free from germs.
See here for an autobiographical note on Orwell; "A Short History of My Life", by Orwell in 1945, here.
Airstrip One: the new word for "England", which has been reduced to nothing but a terminal for the society of 1984, Oceania, is composed of the Americas, part of southern Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
insemination, which is the enforced and nearly the only method of reproduction allowed in the society, another brick in a structure that controls the expression of intimacy between people. Big Brother needs new people for the society to continue, but he doesn't want there to be any emotional connection between them outside of the prescribed feelings that people are supposed to emulate. Artsem further indoctrinates a no-contact policy between people. There was the possibility of sexual intercourse but only for the production of children when artsem was not applicable--this was called "goodsex", which was the opposite of "badsex", which was sexual relations for the joy of it. The orgasm was a hunted thing, to be tracked down and eradicated.
Brother. The major domo of Oceania, a hitler/g-d, an extreme presence of control. "The story really began in the middle sixties, the period of the
great purges in which the original leaders of the Revolution were wiped
out once and for all. By 1970 none of them was left, except Big Brother
himself. All the rest had by that time been exposed as traitors and
Bellyfeel: an unfeeling and enthusiastic acceptance of an idea, following without knowing or knowledge.
Blackwhite: "… this word has two mutually contradictory meanings. Applied to an
opponent, it means the habit of impudently claiming that black is white,
in contradiction of the plain facts. Applied to a Party member, it
means a loyal willingness to say that black is white when Party
discipline demands this. But it means also the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white,
and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary. This demands a
continuous alteration of the past, made possible by the system of
thought which really embraces all the rest, and which is known in
Newspeak as doublethink."
An Alphabet of the Artificial as Seen in Patent Drawings
I...can wet my Cheekes with artificial Teares."--3 Henry VI, iii, ii, 184.
Using "artificial" as the word preceding a concept makes for some pretty interesting thought, especially if you remove it a bit from what the expected outcome is supposed to be. So: creation. Intelligence. Harmomics. Society. Language. Consciousness. Person. With the word "artificial" in front of these, they become captivating ideas both inside and outside of the realms of possibility. ("Artificial creation" can have a definite hard sci-fi edge to it beyond genetic algorithms and trying to cook primordial chemical elements into the stuff of life in controlled environments; the "artificial person" more than just the person ficta of the law, although "artificial personality" wrapped around that gets to be very interesting as well. The "Artificial society"has some Superman aspects to it from my 25-cent comics day, though the von Neumann/Ulam/Conway simplified paper grid cell creations are fr more interesting; artificial consciousness has a nice film-feel to it beyond machine/synthesis and cognitive robotics, where consciousness has somehow been identified and was controllable to a walking-around state. And so on.)
What I've pulled together below is a small sampling of patented items using the word "artificial" in its title, and presented them in a (near-complete) alphabet of artificial creations.
There is no patent on "artificial ideas" itself, though the idea of taking real issues like "artificial harmonics" and turning into something wholly unrelated to its intended use might be considered so. In any event, it would be an interesting thing to try to patent.