A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7000 images, 3 million hits| History of Science, Math & Tech | Press & appearances in The Times, Le Figaro, The Economist, The Guardian, Discovery News, Slate, Le Monde, Sci American Blogs, Le Point, and many other places...
This simple theoretical map is an invented scheme of John Strachey (1671-1743), an early geologist who with this thinking introduced the very big geological idea of strata. The original appeared in the Philosophical Transactions in 1725 (full text here, and another, with a more-realized version of representing strata, is here), and was reprinted I believe in Popular Science Monthly in 1869 with the above illustration (somewhat changed from the original). My interest in the image is tinged with design, as it reminds me of an enromous subterranean tornado of coal, even though what Strachey is doing here is establishing the idea of strata.
These lines then are the strata of these geological elements as they fan themselves out like pages from a book from the center of the Earth outward. Its all very vague at this point, but the kernel of a great idea is present.
The phrase "underground tornado" appears very few times in the intertubes with the world "shelter" accompanying it. It is nonsensical, mostly, to think of underground weather and particularly extreme weather, but it has certainy playud itself out many times in literature in the pre-science-fiction fiction days. In some stories there are multiple suns, amd waterfalls, and vast canyons many times the size of the Grand Canyon, and so on--there just doesn't seem to be much bad weather, down there.
[Note: Strachey, a country squire and gentleman of science, published his theories and findings in two papers in 1719 and 1725, and then in a small pamphlet in 1727.]
I hear Jeremy Brett--as the ultimate Sherlock Holmes--reading this in my head.
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.
There are times when the future turns up in unexpected places--and sometimes that imagery is quite unintentional, and belongs only to the viewer in that future, looking back. It seems to me that many of these examples belong in the history of scientific illustration
Thomas Dick's Celestial Scenery, or, The wonders of the planetary system displayed
was published by Harper & Brothers in New York in 1838 is a good example for a home of some of these flashes of future brilliance. What we're seeing in the pages of this chunky book--which was an influential object in the early reading of a number of people who were to become influential astronomers, one including E.E.. Barnard--are lovely, simple, and include some relatively simple images of size comparisons. The result seems to my eye to suggest Suprematist art, geometrical art that would come into being another 75 years hence or so. (This movement was founded by the great Kazimir Malevich in the 19-teens, who said of it: "Under Suprematism I understand the primacy of pure feeling in creative art. To the Suprematist, the visual phenomena of the objective world are, in themselves, meaningless; the significant thing is feeling, as such, quite apart from the environment in which it is called forth.") Of course the Dick images were simple comparatives and not-yet-art--but they certainly do suggests themselves as something more than what they are. The full text of the book is located at the Internet Archive, here. (Thanks to Trevor Owens and his interesting Pinterest collection here who brought my attention to the Dick book via images of the Martian canals.)
A plan of the rings of Saturn relating their size and some of their imagined composition:
Kazimir Malevich, Black Circle, 1915:
Comparative of the Earth to Saturn's rings; image bottom, depicts the Sun and Jupiter
With the endless images of the Land of Oz in our minds from the book and movie it is easy for the other lands generated by their creator L. Frank Baum to escape our attention Oz isn't the only place that Dorothy traveled to--far from it. She went very far and wide in the mind of Baum, who was extraordinarily prolific both inside and outside of the Oz series.
From 1900-1919, Baum (1856-1919) wrote 17 Oz books, as well as another 18 books in the non-Oz realm, plus 17 books in a juvenile series for girls under the pseudonym of Edith Van Dyne, plus six more books under the name of Floyd Akers, plus another seven other books under five other names, plus a pretty wide assortment (200+) of short stories, plus plays. Plus all of the stuff he wrote before 1900. That's a LOT of writing in 19 years.
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".
People have been thinking along the lines of "electrons" for a long time, though the word is of relatively recent origin (1874), coined by the wonderfully-named Johnstone Stoney (1826-1911) after deducing that ther must be some type of electrical bit that vibrates within the atom that would generate light. J.J. Thomson (1856-1940) stated later in 1897 in his paper "Cathode Rays" that evidence points to the fact that there must exist particles that are less massive than the hydrogen atom--he called these objects "corpuscles" but he was referring to what we now know as "electrons". The gorgeous "oil drop" experiment of 1910 by R.A.Millikan (1868-1953) determined the charge of the electron, and in the next year--1911--Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937, and one of the 20th century's greatest Kiwis) proposed the structure of the nuclear atom. Then the major development of Louis de Broglie's (1892-1960) particle/wave duality, and so on into our near-present. But in between the beautiful work of Millikan and Rutherford came this little beast, a very unsatisfyingly-assumed image of an atom and its swirling electrons. The image appeared in the December 1920 issue of Illustrated World and just seems so unfair to the cause of beauty that I thought to share it.
I wonder if Bartleby is more a "structure of words" than was famously said of Molly Bloom?
The question just came up from Patti about what Bartleby's classic rejoinder was in Herman Melville's (1819–1891) classic noirish "Bartleby, the Scrivener..." (1853)--was it "I would prefer not to" or "I prefer not to"?
Instantly I thought the former, but then, well, I wasn't sure if it wasn't the later.
This is one of those instances that shows how magnificent the internet is: I was able to conduct a quick census of Bartleby's own spoken variations on this phrase in like ten minutes. And the results are conclusive but a little complicated.
As pure stand-alone phrases, "I would prefer not to" and "I prefer not" are used three times each. However, there are variations on this theme, each used only one time by Bartleby:"I would prefer not", "I prefer not to", "I would prefer not to go", "I would prefer not to make any change", "I would prefer not to be a little unreasonable", "I would prefer to be left alone", "I would prefer not to take a clerkship", "I would prefer to be doing something else", "I would prefer not to make any change at all", and then "I prefer to give no answer" and the fatal "I prefer not to dine".
So. When comparing the use of "would" in the "not" and "not to" and all of the other extensions on the theme, "would" does come out on top, in general, 12 times to 6.
It is interesting to think about the newness of old things, particularly English words that we have in use every day. In this case I'm referring to words in the sciences--and not necessarily the words coming in the 20th century following the explosion of modernity beginning in 1895. It is surprising sometimes to realize the relative newness of some terms, like, for example, "scientist". The word "science" is very old and very old in English, but the word "scientist" is coined only in 1833. It is surprising to think of the modernity of some of the words when by their constant use they seem as though they must be ancient, but of course are not so.
Here's a quick lising of some interesting candidates, everyday words with a not-very-old lineage, their dates taken from first-usages identified by the Oxford English Dictionary:
This lovely if not very convincing argument was produced and directed by "a German engineer, Herr" (Enrst) Horgiger, of Munich. He attempted to wed belief and mythology and astronomy, providing a worlds-in-collision explanation for the Flood. From the caption to the drawing I do not know if it is The Flood of Noah, as it occurs in the book of Genesis in the Bible, or the flood of Apollodorus, or Hygenius, or of the Eridu Genesis (some 2000 years or so before Genesis) or the flood of Atrachasis (of about 1650 bce) or the flood of Gilgamesh (of about 1100 bce), or if it is the flood of Emhil, or Zeus, or Allah, or Yahweh, or the other 150+ great floods of mythology categorized by James Frazer in his astounding but unreadable books. But it is a flood, and his reason is that a wandering body in space came into temporary orbit around the Earth with a resulting gravitational soup that caused the waters to rise up after which the flood occurred and the orbiting sphere to break apart.
As I said, it is a pretty picture, with a nice deep blue background that my scanner won't capture.
Source: The Illustrated London News, 21 January 1925, "A New Theory of the Flood: How it Might Repeat Itself".
"None of us has time to live the true dramas of the life that we are
destined for. This is what ages us – this and nothing else. The wrinkles
and creases on our faces are the registration of the great passions,
vices, insights that called on us; but we, the masters, were not at
home".--Walter Benjamin on experiencing M. Proust
In sliding my way through found pieces of Proust this morning I bumped quite a bit into aging in general and mothers and the "very painful sense of things" ["une impression fort pénible1"] . And then in Marcel Proust on Art and Literature 1896-1919 I found Proust quoting Hugo, "I fancy that old age invades us trough the eyes, and that they age too soon who dwell among grey heads"2. This can go on for quite a while, and it is a little too much before the first coffee. I did want to post this picture of Jeanne Proust with her two boys because of her hands: not only because their attitude is very very uncommon for late-19th/early-2oth century portraits, but because they see strong and assured, which is I think just what his mother was, not creaking off to the grave covered in moss and age.
A detail from:
[Source: the Morgan Library http://www.themorgan.org/exhibitions/exhibition.asp?id=71]
1. Mme Proust in a letter to her son Marcel, from Michael Wood, "Proust and his Mother", in the London Review of Books, http://www.lrb.co.uk/v34/n06/michael-wood/proust-and-his-mother 22 March 2012
2. Sylvia Townsend Warner (translator), Marcel Proust on Art and Literature, 1896-1919, Carroll & Graff, 1954, page 105.
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:
[Image source: Science Museum Group http://collectionsonline.nmsi.ac.uk/detail.php?type=related&kv=8015861&t=objects]
I was looking at this trade card for the optical instrumentalist John Yarwell ("Traded at Ye Archimedes & Spectacles in St. Paul's Church Yard
(1671-92), North Side of St. Paul's (1672), St. Paul's Churchyard
(1676-96) & Archimedes in Ludgate St.(1697) & Archimedes &
Crown (1698-1712), all London, England") and was struck by something a little bit "odd". For as many times that I have seen early images of compound microscopes I don't think I've ever looked at how the instrument was attached to its stand. Now that I am seeing it, it is remarkable how efficient and careful the early users were. Basically, the microscope was attached bya hair to its stand--well, not really, but just about.
Yarwell features spectacles, looking glasses, microscopes and a variety of telescopes. Here's a detail of a compound microscope from the Yarwell image (left), and it is remarkable how potentially unstable the attachment makes the instrument. Just a slight bit of turmoil, or a bump near a table leg could upset the image.
Take for another example this very famous compound microscope made by Christopher Cock for the great Robert Hooke (1635-1703):
[Image of the Hooke microscope via the Billings Collection at the National Museum of Health and Medicine, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology]
This famous instrument was evidently the one with which Hooke first observed living cells (25 March 1663, nearly 350 years ago) and which he used for the first investigation and of cork and the naming of the "cell" (13 April 1663), and which was the basis for the images gathered for his masterpiece of investigation and exploration, the Micrographia (1665).
It seems even less stable than the Yarwell instrument. The astonishing thing about this fish-skin-covered instrument, this gateway to a completely undiscovered miniature world, is that so much of it depended upon such a little bit of engineering...it just seems as though taking the next little step could have been taken for a more basic base, a heavier mount, a more stout connection from stand-to-microscope, just to make the instrument more stable. But it didn't happen just then for Hooke, and it evidently didn't matter.
Some images are sleepily iconic, instantly recognizable, symbols of something bigger than themselves. This is the case with the photographs below--this image of athletic posture makes me think of the development of human-robot (and then robot-human) interaction.
This series of images--which seem to be a celebration of straightness, of flatness in the human body, breathing at right angles--were actually (simply but not-so-simply) displays of physical tests given athletes in France to determine whether they had a higher physical capacity for their sport, identifying (they hoped) those with indelible gifdts that could be squeezed out via medical/physical instrumentation.
Having just read a notice from Brainpickings on the 181st anniversary of Lewis Carroll's/Charles Dodgson's (1832-1898) birth, I thought a little about the Alice who excited his interest in telling the story that became the 1865 book, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Alice (1852-1934) was born Alice Pleasance Liddell, but the epitaph for her ashes in the graveyard of the church of St. Michael & All Angels, Lyndhurst doesn't bear her name, per se, leaving her last mortal footprint as Mrs. Reginald Hargreaves. I know that this is a production of the times and a long-practiced practice, but for a person who may be one of the most famously-known people by their given names in the West should have had it in their name on their marker, instead of the Cheshire-like one that she wound up with:
A better epitaph at least in the imagination could be something like the acrostic from Through the Looking Glass:
A boat beneath a sunny sky, Lingering onward dreamily In an evening of July--
Children three that nestle near, Eager eye and willing ear, Pleased a simple tale to hear--
Long has paled that sunny sky: Echoes fade and memories die. Autumn frosts have slain July.
Still she haunts me, phantomwise, Alice moving under skies Never seen by waking eyes.
Children yet, the tale to hear, Eager eye and willing ear, Lovingly shall nestle near.
In a Wonderland they lie, Dreaming as the days go by, Dreaming as the summers die:
Ever drifting down the stream-- Lingering in the golden gleam-- Life, what is it but a dream?
There are, in my experience, very few antiquarian images
depicting the end of the world in which we see the entire globe exploding or in
pieces or in flames. This sort of image gets more play in the 20th
century, especially after 8 August 1945, but prior to that it is really very
scarce.I own a few images that appear
in the 17th and 19th centuries, and another from 1929 (Das Weltbild which show a “giant ice
ball” colliding into and completely destroying the earth). .Then there is this new find, S.L. Lacy’s The End of the World, (necessarily) self-published
in West Point, Virginia, in 1941.It is a short and stocky, and bound in orange
wrappers—its spine title (The End of the
World) begs the casual reader to pull it from the shelf. It’s a simple
book—studying the Bible prophecies and revelations on the end of all things—and
it annoys and is insulting but doesn’t disappoint.
I started to breeze through the book (back-to-front as always) and opened the
book to Chapter XIII, finding this delicious chapter heading:“The Chronological Order of Final Things”,
this being a full page pre-PowerPoint summation of the time-shrinking fireball
that is rolling inexorably towards us all.To say that one is able to put a period at the end of the world's flow
of time, that someone is able to identify the point in the future where the
future is no more, is "presumptive"--this in the most understated
fashion as to offend even the highest of high-Victorians' sense of restrained
propriety.Wrapped in a comfortable
Christian chrysalis of pre- and post-apocalyptic religious certitude, Mr. Lacy
delivers his interpretation of biblical prophecy for the coming of the end,
hustling it to the front of the religious line of things to come.
It seems that in 1941 the end was beginning, and Lacy saw
all of the images implied by prophecy that were necessary to announce the
glorious final days of broad retribution. This includes the list if the ten
things indicating "the sign of The Times", one of which (Number 5)
was "The Automobile" and another (Number 7) was "Increased
Knowledge and Travel" (announced by Nathum 2: 3,4 and old dependable
Daniel. 12:4, respectively.There's
nothing that doesn't fit into Daniel's visions or revelations, though Mr. Cash
has certainly made a lovely song of them.)When everything fits perfectly into a predictive model with no possibility
of falsification (or of proof or disproof), then the model has no validity
outside of a belief system in itself. Very tidy.
It is an annoying, cloying minor treatise, promising little
more than The Lake of Fire awaiting almost all of us, even the sleeping dead,
who would be scraped from their graves to be spit into this burning
Lacy does a lot of inspired interpretation and
philosophizing, much of which he doesn’t seem to bother separating from
biblical quotations—I don’t think it is intentional, just bad writing.A random
find in Lacy’s thinking dislodges the following nugget:
“Satan is in the atmosphere above the earth, with access to
heaven and earth with a circumscribed power over the atmospheric elements and
the earth including the inhabitants”.
But enough of this nonsense. What brought me to this work is
the folding schematic map at the front of the book.It is a slightly complex jumble of
semi-circles and circular reasoning, and I have no interest in straightening
out this jumbled linguine. What has my interest is the dissolving Earth part of
the diagram, a part of the dead earth that comes between Calvary
and Heaven-on-Earth.What makes this
image different from the others though is that the Earth reappears—different from
its former self having been vanquished and cleansed by all consuming fire, but
the Earth nevertheless.Or something
like it.Or nothing like it.