A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, Science, History, Math, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7000 images, 3.5 million hits| Press & appearances in The Times, The Paris Review, Le Figaro, The Economist, The Guardian, Discovery News, Slate, Le Monde, Sci American Blogs, Le Point, and many other places... 3,000+ total posts
This is one of the most important hole punchers in the history of holes, and also in the history of counting and figuring out what to do with counted things. Do you know who filed this drawing as part of their patent report, and what famous contribution this thing made?
JF Ptak Science Books Post 1671 (with thanks for the help from Orion Pozo on Japan's Alice Cities)
Colossal Nuclear-Bobm Proof Unbuildable Mega Cities vs. Japan's Alice Cities
This is a return and redux to an earlier post here that looked at a stupendously bad idea--building an enormous underground-Manhattan under Manhattan, a deep, terrifically bad bit of anti-atomic-bomb planning that leaves the observer semi-speechless.
There are some ideas that are incredible and bold that take one step across the line into the bizarre; then there are those that approach that line but stay well enough away from it that gives them a definite aroma of potential and the possible. Here's one case of the former with its corollary in the later.
It seems as though this report (below) might have made sense if the author had announced the discovery of the "missing" Brooklyn Mountain, misplaced somehow under a thousand feet of Manhattan bedrock. Found it; excavated it; and then returned, piling the reconstituted mountain into Jamaica Bay, and then piling the thing 500' high. Actually, the Jamaica Bay mountain part of this might've come true in part of the report.
There was no mountain, of course, but the other result was almost as unbelievable. The author of this plan speculated on building this spherical city in Manhattan bedrock--a structure which so far as I can determine would have a volume of 1.2 cubic miles (5 km3) with its top beginning some 1,200' under Times Square. Its an impressive hole "just"to dig--it would be a goodly chunk of the volume of Lake Mead. And it would make the world's largest man-made hole--the Bingham Copper Mine in Utah--seem like the very beginning efforts to digging this beast out to begin with. The Bingham Pit is 2 miles wide and about .75 miles deep, which means that the hole needed to be excavated to reach a 1.2 mile diameter of this sphere some 3,500 feet under the surface would be, um, "big"--like needing to divert the Hudson and the East rivers, and extending the digging into Jersey, which would be a, well, "task".
Even if the entire comparative oeuvre of architecture and city planning was crankily limited to only the work of Claes Oldenburg, this effort by Oscar Newman would still rise to the bottom. A terrifically bad idea, the Atomic City would be the chunky bit floating in the smooth, evenly-distributed soup of Oldenburg’s Truly Bad Ideas.
On the other hand, Oldenburg’s work never seems to transcend its pointed badness—his nostril entrance as part of a large nose facade for a tunnel continues to remain simply goofy—and Newman’s work does. It goes all the way ‘round the badness issue and comes up nicely in the so-bad-its-good category, while Oldenburg’s star is firmly fixed in the “so bad it isn’t even bad/not even wrong (Wolfgang Paul for the latter) firmament.
Newman published this in 1969 (?!) after somehow latching onto the idea of clearing out massive underground caverns with nuclear explosions--in this case, the space would be hollowed out under Manhattan. The underground sphere would be a miniature version of whatever was above it--along the medial there would be a "topside" of a regular city with streets and high rise buildings, underneath which would exist an underground city for the underground city. In this honeycomb would exist the means of production and energy, segmented in multi-block-sized enclosures of no charm.
Why does this remind me of the Titanic?
(I should note here that this this is Manhattan, and that the Oldenburgian 1000-foot tall Q-Tips (registered trademark!) are air-gathers/filters for the city below.)
There's really just so much wrong with this idea there is only one place to begin.
There are "no views" underground.
In his description of the idea, Newman writes:
"Manhattan could have a half-dozen such atomic cities strung under the city proper...the real problem in an underground city would be the lack of views and fresh air, but its easy access to the surface and the fact that, even as things are, our air should be filtered and what most of us see from our window's is somebody else's wall."1
Aside from being very badly written, it is surprising (?!) that Mr. Newman writes about the no-view problem before that of air supply. Or anything else.
In this Oddnity2 of oddness one of the oddest things to me is that Mr. Newman would actually use only half of his sphere, preserving the top of the hemisphere for nothing at all. Except for "Cinerama"--the architect evidently intended to use the blank vault for image projection, which is not a half-bad idea. But why one would bother to build something like this even in the imagination and leave half of it to nothing is a mystery. (This is a slippery slope, picking out one bad thing and then another; there's really nothing but bad here.)
In leaving this pretty mess I'd just like to point out that Mr. Newman saw fit to include an enormous (projected?) advertisement for Coca Cola, hovering somewhere around underground mid-town.
And all of that dirt? Where would all of that dirt go, the dirt not necessary to fill around the sphere? A cubic mile of extra dirt? That's the "missing Mount Brooklyn", and as Orion Pozo has suggested (even though he thinks the idea would be a tragedy), perhaps it could've been used to fill in Jamaica Bay. Fill it up and then some, for perhaps another 500' above the old water line.
Tomorrow we'll look at Case #2: Japanese Alice Cities.
[This post could fit into so many different categories for this blog, though I think it best nestled in a combination of "Bad Ideas" and "The History of Holes" resulting in the "Bad Ideas in the History of Holes" subcategory.]
1. Alison Sky and Michelle Stone. Unbuilt America. McGraw Hill, 1976, page 192. No home should be without this book.
2. "Oddnity". Just made up. A litany of oddnesses; a collection of oddities so large that the collection itself becomes one large oddity--an oddnity.".
What did the voice of John Wilkes Booth sound like? There are certainly a number of testimonies to what his voice was like, but since he died a dozen years before it was possible, really, to have his voice recorded, nothing exists for us to listen to of him. One could though stretch credulity a bit and say that he perhaps sounded similar to his brother Edwin--another actor--and there are recordings of him speaking. So, by long extension, this may be what John Wilkes sounded like.
Somewhat related is this, a 1956 appearance on the television program "I've Got a Secret" by Mr. Samuel J. Seymour, who's secret was that he was a witness to John Wilkes Booth assassination of Abraham Lincoln. He was five years old at the time and his abiding memory was being concerned for the man who fell onto the stage from the balcony. Seymour evidently died two months later from complications of a fall he took while traveling to appear on the show.
In another vaguely related historical bit, the last person to see Abraham Lincoln did so in 1902. There had been a number of attempts to steal the body of the president--one of which came very close to completion--and so in the final move of Lincoln's body to a burglar-proof resting place on 20 September 1902 his coffin was opened. John Bowlus was there, and he related what he remembered as a nine-year-old boy viewing Lincoln 37 years after his death.
"I can see his face as if it were yesterday," Bowlus recalled. "Even in death he was an awe-inspiring figure." A boy of 14 at the time, Bowlus said he had stood on tiptoe and gazed, awestruck, on the majestic features of Lincoln, almost too afraid to peer into the glass-topped casket. "The body was almost perfectly preserved," Bowlus remembered. "The face was darker... he lay with his head and shoulders and tips of his hands visible where they were crossed on his chest." It was awe-inspiring, almost frightening," he said. "The beard appeared to have grown longer, but the dignity of the great man could almost be felt through the air-tight casket which had preserved his body," Bowlus said. --"The Last Man to See Lincoln", by Lance J. Herdegen, [source].
I looked for a recording of Robert Todd Lincoln (who died in 1926) but could not find none.
And just for the sake of it, a list of early recordings of U.S. Presidents:
Miner waiting for ride home. Each miner pays twenty-five cents a week to owner of car. Capels, West Virginia.
I doubt that it was this truck that was going to make the commuter run, but it might well be. There's a tool chest in the truck bed, along with what looks like an upholstered truck bench next to it--it certainly wasn't abandoned because the truck still has its wheels.
In the detail of the picture it seems as though someone made repairs to the truck bed's wooden racks with wire or rope rather than with nails (jsut to the left of the miner's right shoulder). Picture source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs, ca. 1938.)
Perhaps "everything" wasn't missing, but almost everything was. Certainly the ancients and even the more-moderns, even the scientists of the 16th and into the 17th centuries (until von Guericke in 1672), could not abide the idea of the existence of nothing. The vacuum, a space in which there was nothing at all, was seen to be an anathema to the creations of the great creator, that the vacuum was antithetical to what was understood to be the nature of nature. (I wrote a post here earlier on when nothing was almost something.)
But what we see here, above, is the third day of creation as presented in one of the most significant books printed in the 15th century, and it is somewhat problematic, because it depicts almost-northing. That, or almost-everything.
The book was written in Latin by Hartmann Schedel (1444-1514, with the German translation by Georg Alt) , with the illustrations under the control of Michael Wohlgemut (1434-1519) and his stepson Wilhelm Pleydenwurff (c. 1450-1494), .and was published in Nuremberg in 1493 by Anton Koberger as Liber Chronicarum--known best to English-pseaking readers as the Nuremberg Chronicles (and to Germans as Die Schedelsche Weltchronik). It is perhaps one of the greatest illustrated works in the first half-century of movable type printing, using more than 1800 woodcuts to tell the story of the world--according to the Bible, mostly. (The book deals with the history of world in its seven ages--the first five of which deal with cumuulative history to the birth of Jesus Christ, while the sixth ages handles the history from Christ to the present day, and teh seventh carries along the future history of the world to the Last Judgment. Not much then is devoted to the 1500 years preceding the publication of Koberger's book. The author, Schedel, was a very religious man, and considered the work of teh Bible to come from the hand of god and therefore was infallible; on the other hand (so to speak), everything written outside of the Bible was that of humans, and so fallible, and therefore open to interpretation.)
Here is a colored version of the third day in the creation cycle mythology, which opens itself to much more visual congruence. ("On the third day God gathered together unto one place the waters under the firmament; and the dry land appeared. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters he called Seas; and God saw that it was good, and said, Let the earth bring forth the green grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit trees yielding fruit after their kind.[Genesis 1:9-13.]")
And the uncolored version, third day:
This sort of "nothingness" is not unique, as we can see in this example from the Mantegna Tarocchi, showing the creator as Primum Mobile, the First Mover, holding what may well be our universe in its hands (and standing on another sphere of nothing, god knows what that might be):
Perhaps I'm missing the larger picture, and that the circles/spheres are the things created, and that they are contained in the square surrounding them; and that the boundaries marked by the circular lines are not necessarily empty, and that it is the suggested of the circles that is the stuff created, placeholders, contained within the square of the creator's domain. Or maybe not. Perhaps the circles are signifiers for the elements--earth at the center, surrounded by water/air/fire. Perhaps the woodcut was just waiting for some color.
The English translation of the Nuremberg chronicle used here is from Beloit College (here) which also has a very lovely scholarly treatment of their copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle (here).
Here's the rest of the cycle, in color:
"For he spoke and they were made: He commanded and they were created" (Psalm 33)., so says the legend (IPSE DIXIT ET FACTA SUNT; IPSE MANDAVIT ET CREATA SUNT Psalm 32) which floats above god enthroned--but it is difficult to see the progress in the un-colored version of day three.
Books are a favorite symbol, a venerable icon, a useful tool for developing ideas in Renaissance paintings. They do sometimes make unusual appearances, this time--and not too unexpectedly--in the work of Hieronymus Bosch. The painting, Cutting the Stone, (also called The Extraction of the Stone of Madness or better yet The Cure of Folly) was completed by Bosch in 1494 and lives today in the Prado.
Bosch was at the very least a very curious character, hardly a man of his time--he seems difficult for us to place in the 15th century given the extraordinary range of his deep imagination. He seems to be more a man of the modern times rather than one of the Renaissance. I mention that the painting is in the Prado, finding its way there from the collections of Spanish sovereigns, who collected Bosch as a deeply Christian painter who depicted the travesty of sin and moral neglect rather than his own deep fantasy.
The scene is described by the inscription above and below it:
Meester snyt die keye ras Myne name Is lubbert Das
(in English: "Master, cut away the stone my name is Lubbert das").
The man in the chair, the man undergoing some sort of cranial/brain surgery is an everyman of sorts, a Dutch Everyman Fool named Lubbert (translated to "castrated dachsund").. A charlatan medico stands and removes symbols of lunacy and foolishness from his brain, images of flowers standing for the fool's stone of long folklore. The medicine man wears an inverted funnel for a hat, a symbol for emptiness, nothingness. Likewise his purse is stuffed with straw, another iconic display of greed compounded and gaining nothing at all.
But what I am attracted to right now in this painting is the woman on the right balancing a book on her head. It seems to me to be a very rare case of a Renaissance image of a book displayed in this manner--usually books are simply held and are symbols of learning or wisdom or piety. In this case, the woman is just part of the general folly which is the concern of the quack surgeon, a closed book (impossibly?) balanced in tribute to the craziness before her, perhaps hoping for the words to seep through the pages and into her own head.
There are a number of other images of this operation, which was in its way a standard procedure for the relief of insanity, or depression, or lunacy, or basically of any mental complaint or "error", which can be found (along with description) on the bioephemera blog, here.
For example, there is this scene of mass extraction of the stones of madness by Peter Brueghel (painted ca. 1550)
Its a pretty miserable scene.
Again, I'm really just after the book in the Bosch.
Part of this blog's History of Holes series. (See, for example: An Episode in the History of Holes: Electricity, Punched Cards and the Computer, 1878, here; History of Holes--Filing Holes Up, here. And fifteen others.
I was thinking about holes and hole-making in the history of the art form of compiling statistics, and in the process of accumulating a few images of the machines that actually made the holes in tabulating cards, I found an interesting/unfortunate/depressing illustration. It belonged to the Deutsche Hollerith Maschinen Gesellschaft ("Dehomag"), which was the German arm of IBM. (Herman Hollerith created his Tabulating Machine Company in 1896; it was consolidated with the International Recording Company and Computing Scale Company of America into Computing Tabulating Recording Corporation (CTR) in 1911, and then, in 1924, changed once again into something with the name that we all recognize , International Business Machine (IBM).)
Edwin Black's one-trick pony, IBM and the Holocaust, I'm sure was a consolidation of grand assertions that helped to sell a book. As a history I find it manipulative, like a person on a mission to say something and uses only what is positive to that end. On his website, Black states: "IBM and its German subsidiary custom-designed complex solutions, one by one, anticipating the Reich's needs. They did not merely sell the machines and walk away. Instead, IBM leased these machines for high fees and became the sole source of the billions of punch cards Hitler needed." If you read between the lines this sounds like standard operating procedure that IBM would've followed with anyone; but on the face of it Black creates the case for IBM automating the Holocaust.
The poster has a very provocative cache, and taken somewhat out of context it might be viewed as dustjacket artwork for Black's book. The all-seeing eye absorbing the information of teh punched card, with the unfortunate, looming, belching smokestack there in the foregoround, reminiscent of the chimneys in the concentration and extermination camps. But this poster was executed around 1925, well ahead of any of those events--the design by serendipity happens to visually support the author Black's assertions. Its just a nasty-looking object.
"Let each man proclaim: there is a great negative work of destruction to be accomplished"--Tristan Tzara
I guess that "up" would be a redundancy in this post's title, since we can't really fill a hole going down, filling from the top of the cavity to its base, the reverse of digging a hole. Or perhaps not if the task was given to M. Duchamp.
But in this longish, developing thread on the history of holes it occurred to me that I hadn't included anything on filling/stopping holes,the realization coming to me while browsing the lovely and very inclusive paper ephemera site of SHeaff-Ephemera.com
[The original site for the above three images: sheaff-ephemera.com; other images in Notes, below.]
There have been a number of posts here about existing holes, but none thus far about making them (except for a few posts on aerial bombing) or filling them up--so far, the series has been in a hole-stasis. There really should be a section on making high-speed hole-making (with bullets, like our friend Hank Quinlan, with Uncle Orson in the role in the magnificent Touch of Evil), and another on long, longitudinal and laboriously slow hole-making (with say foundation/caisson work in constructing the Brooklyn Bridge).
But for right now I'd like to address the crafty M. Duchamp as a hole-filler, a man who created a two-sided literal and figurative hole-making and hole-filling event, and what may be the first of its kind in the history of art. Figuratively, Duchamp's approach to art in the nineteen-'teens was seen by many as a process to "destroy" art itself: finding things like a bicycle wheel and implanting it on a stool and calling it art was seen by his friends as an event and not as art per se, but as a perversion. Even Duchamp's own group at the epochal 1916 international art show rejected his first "Readymade"2 (not yet then called so) as not art, leading Duchamp to abandon even them. (This had also happened three years earlier with his "Nude Descending".)
I don't think that Marcel Duchamp was trying to "destroy" art, though I do believe that he was trying to force a conversation in which he had no interest in participating--a written conversation in which there was no real end or beginning, and so no middle, on top of which the punctuation would be removed and re-applied by chance.
Even the idea of a "hole" could be viewed differently in such circumstances--like the one that appears in his "The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even" in the top part of the bottom ("Bachelor" panel, the detail of which appears at the head of this post, and the full version below). Perhaps we should be talking about constructing something around a space, the remaining bit once encircled becomes a "hole": a reverse hole? That would be similar to both constructing and filing the hole, almost at the same time; Duchamp included this hole in this artwork, and then covered it on both sides with glass, the self-described "lazy" Duchamp finishing it after many years of labor, a work he said to be "unanalyzable by logic". 3
It seems a little like making empty space inside a vacuum.
["The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass)" by Marcel Duchamp, is installed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.]
2. "The Bicycle Wheel is my first Readymade, so much so that at first it wasn't even called a Readymade. It still had little to do with the idea of the Readymade. Rather it had more to do with the idea of chance. In a way, it was simply letting things go by themselves and having a sort of created atmosphere in a studio, an apartment where you live. Probably, to help your ideas come out of your head. To set the wheel turning was very soothing, very comforting, a sort of opening of avenues on other things than material life of every day. I liked the idea of having a bicycle wheel in my studio. I enjoyed looking at it, just as I enjoyed looking at the flames dancing in a fireplace. It was like having a fireplace in my studio, the movement of the wheel reminded me of the movement of flames"
"Please note that I didn't want to make a work of art out of [Bicycle Wheel]. The word 'Readymade' did not appear until 1915, when I went to the United States. It was an interesting word, but when I put a bicycle wheel on a stool, the fork down, there was no idea of a 'readymade,' or anything else. It was just a distraction. I didn't have any special reason to do it, or any intention of showing it, or describing anything. No nothing like that..."
Filippo Brunelleschi is most often credited--from Vasari to Kemp--as the modern discoverer of linear perspective (or re-discoverer in the eyes of Samuel Edgerton Renaissance Rediscovery of Perspective, 1975 or John White, The Birth and Rebirth of Pictorial Space, 1987). The Greeks most certainly had mastered some aspects of perspective as is in evidence in their surviving architecture (though not artwork remains exhibiting this), but Brunelleschi for all intents and purposes1 discovered it for the rest of humanity.
Edgerton remarked that the discovery "marked an event which ultimately was to change the modes, if not the course of Western history", with one reason for this magnitude being that technological and architectural ideas could be far more easily intellectually-transmitted as societal property rendered in perspective than had they not been issued so. (I wonder, for example, if this might have been the reason why there was no Chinese technological renaissance during the Renaissance--because the idea of linear perspective was not adopted until relatively late, meaning that transmitting complex technical ideas was far more difficult.)
Brunelleschi employed a brilliant method to capture the depth of his scene--in this famous case, the Baptistery in
Florence. Employing this method helped the architect to understand the mathematical principles of perspective and to become its earliest master.
Perspective is the romance of balance and the mathematics of proportion, at the center of which is the vanishing point, an interestingly-named point of departure and similarity, where parallel lines not parallel to the image plane appear to come together, in an early singularity. So it is this great and famous hole helping to establish a great and famous dot (which I guess could make an appearance of its own in this blog's series on The History of Dots).
Another famous hole that comes a little later (a hundred years or so later) belongs to Albrecht Durer (The Painter's Manual, 1525)
where Durer illustrates the artist at work using a perspective device along with a vielo.
There are other holes in the history of art to be sure, but these are perhaps the most significant ones that appear in the Renaissance--there are others in architecture, for example, but my thinking is that the Brunelleschi hole takes precedence. Other interesting and significant holes begin to appear a little later on, for the development of peep machines, and the camera obscura, and then of course photography, but they will come in a later post.
1. Earlier though not complete efforts were made in Alhazen's Perspectiva, c. 1000 A.D., Roger Bacon's Opus Majus, c. 1260 A.D., John Pecham's Perspectiva communis, c. 1270 A.D.., and Alberti's Della pittura (1435).
I was struck by the mosaic possibilities of the image (below) found in Thomas Baldwin's Airopaidia (printed in 1786) and so made it into one. But what the engraving is,m really, is a view from a balloon, looking straight down.
We're looking straight down, through the clouds, seeing two towns (at bottom-left and top-center)--why the rivers are red, I don't know.
There are other posts on this blog on looking straight down, which is an attractive subject--to me, at least. First-hand images of looking straight down fro a balloon are rare things, even through the early 19th century, and offer a prospective seldom seen in human history.
Another view from this work attempts to show some depth:
Here's another view of that same image from the Baldwin experience, reprinted around 1810, and left in black-and-white:"
Halton Tuner makes these observations on Baldwin's flight in his iconic Astra Castra: Experiments and adventures in the atmosphere 1(published in 1864 in London):
In the last year or so of his life, Mr. Darwin (who died 19 April 1882, aged 73) published a work that was somewhat outside his main thrust in publishing for the preceding 25 years or so--a work that proved to be quite popular, evidently selling at a better clip than the Origin of Species of 1859.
This was a book on mould, and earthworms.
The formation of vegetable mould, through the action of worms, published in London (in October) by John Murray in 1881, actually went through a number of printings, with more than 7,000 copies sold by the end of 1882. It is a delightful book, and I can well picture the Old Man at Downs, studying the Worm Stone, thinking deeply about these little dirt-eating bits of nature, thinking about their actions on the landscape and what it meant over Very Long Periods of Time. The book of course is a tour de force, a lovely piece of thinking. It was also the target of this popular, anti-intellectual stab at the man's work, a cartoon appearing in the satirical Punch magazine for 1881, decrying The Descent of Man for bringing the lofty human down to less lofty heights, and then stating that Darwin's newest reached even lower and into the very muck. Well that certainly wasn't the reach of this work, which was a pretty straightforward affair hailing back to Darwin's early interests in geology, returning to a subject of moulds which he had published on in 1839 and 1840. Punch did take a stab at Darwin, trying to open up a hole into which the man might follow his worms, but of course that dog just wouldn't hunt.
Formation... is just a very smart book, with fantastic observations and ideas. And it hasn't much to do with getting Man muddy. Or dirty, for that matter.
Pound-for-pound, hole-for-whole, this well may be the most beautiful book ever written on holes--it is at the very least one of the most beautiful botanical works ever published, which is saying a lot. The point about the holes though is that they are mostly simply there; the author (and no one yet on the face of the planet at that time) didn't and couldn't understand their function as "cells".
Stephen Hales (1677-1761)1, a long-lived medically-trained, amateur scientist and clergyman from Kent, was a pioneering plant physiologist whose widespread interests and experimentation established fundamental areas of that science, and whose overall impact on that field was not to be surpassed by any other individual for hundreds of years. Among his momentous discoveries was his realization that the flower was the sexual organ of plants, which lead to a reorganization of thinking on the life of plants and propagation.
These images come from his Anatomy of Plants, which was published in 1682--the first of which (below) shows a terrifically-sectioned piece of a vine stem, presented laterally-horizontally-laterally. (Grew's monumental work was more or less begun in 1672 with the publication of his The Anatomy of Vegetables Begun, a smallish 200+ page book illustrated with three images, and then incorporated his An Idea of a Phytological History Propounded (1673), and The Comparative Anatomy of Trunks (1675) and ten years more of work and careful observation into the Anatomy, which is a folio-size volume of 83 spectacular engravings and which runs 350 or so pages.) In the work it is obvious that Hales was familiar with the micro-appearance of cells--as was Anton van Leeuwenhoek and of course Robert Hooke, who basically found and named the things in his Micrographia of 1665--but they what they were seeing were the thickened walls of dead cells, and could not have any understanding of what we think of as "cells" today.
Minor point, really, given the overall importance of the work, which was perhaps among the most important publications (including the works by Fuchs, Caesalpino, Malpighi, Ray and the 1483 Theophrastus) in the history of botany from Gutenberg's invention and deep into the 18th century.
I've made a number of posts on this blog regarding the anniversaries of the Trinity atomic test explosion on 16 July 1945, out there in the desert--actually in the Jornada del Muerto, the Journey of the Dead Man/Dead Man's Walk, near Socorro, New Mexico. Its a bad piece of land if you wanted to cross it, especially if you went north-to-south, a hundred mile bit of an unrelenting waterless world.
But that's not the Trinity I want to talk about now--today's Trinity is about as far removed from the flat piece of dry New Mexican earth as you can get, being the beautifully maintained Renaissance grasses of Trinity College at Cambridge. The call to this Trinity, today, is in observation of the 351st anniversary of the arrival of Issac Newton (1642-1727) at that college. 1660 is not an auspicious year in Newton's history, necessarily, but it is the beginning--Newton's enormous years would come in just a little bit, getting well underway during the Plague Years in 1665/1666, when he left the school to ride out the nasties in his native Woolsthorpe1.
Myk favorite image of Trinity is the one above, printed not too long after Newton's return2, and after he had set up his own alchemy lab in a lean-to shack against the wall of the school (slightly visible here in the lower right corner.). Newton's decades-long run in the alchemy turnstile is well known, but what I'd like to know is why he gave it up.
My feeling is that Newton believed he was missing a big something in his way of looking at and understnanding, expressing, the world. I think that he recognized the failing of physics and math to explain the vitalism (in the alchemical sense) of the world, and that alchemy might provide it. Thinking that this vital agent was in a way divine, in a way a product of divine interaction and participation, Newton may have used alchemy in the hopes that this area of study .would get him closer to that cause of all spontaneous processes that would explain all of the varieties and vagaries of living stuff. He might have viewed this creative process in the Old Testament sense of god using light at the beginning of the world, activity life in nothingness; Newton may have actually thought of this process as alchemical in nature.
There has been much written on Newton and alchemy, and I know almost nothing about it. Knowing the anniversary was upon us, and seeing the print of Trinity, and seeing again that little shack where Newton spent so much concentrated effort, all conspired to make me think about what led Newton to give it all up. He stopped just as he was leaving the school for London to become director of the Mint, undertaking a big change in his life. His superhuman insight was about done by this point, even though his Optics would come a little later on, in 1704--most of that work was already completed, with Newton waiting, perhaps, for any troubles that he felt he was going to have upon the book's publication to fade away. And in this case, the problematic part did fade away, into dust, with the death of his long-worn enemy, Robert Hooke, in 1703. And its not that Newton faded away over the next few decades, he was still an exceptional powerhouse of an intellect to the very last, molding the new Scientific Revolution from his position as president of the Royal Society. And hen there was the oversight of the Mint.
But he pretty much gave up alchemy around 1697, and that, as they say, was that. I wonder what it was that he found or didn't find; whatever it was, it wasn't among the million or so very chosen/careful/hidden/coded words in his (very) private (and not-intended-to-be-published) writings on the subject. What was in that final dot at the end of the last recorded sentence on alchemy, I wonder?
The other part of this print of Trinity that I so love is in the foreground, where the artist--or engraver--decided for whatever reason to include a tiny scene of two fighting/playing dogs. Dogs and the shack, and the rest of the grandeur.
1. Newton graduated in 1665 without any particularly noted academic achievement. Of the plague years, Newton wrote: "All this was in the two plague years of 1665 and 1666, for in those days I was in my prime of age for invention, and minded mathematics and philosophy more than at any time since."
Newton returned to the school in 1667 and was made a (minor) fellow; he took his masters in 1668, and in 1669, by the appearance and promise of his great genius, Newton was named Lucasian professor, filling the seat of Isaac Barrow. Newton was 27 years old.
"The more Newton's theological and alchemical, chronological and mythological work is examined as a whole corpus, set by the side of his science, the more apparent it becomes that in his moments of grandeur he saw himself as the last of the interpreters of God's will in actions, living on the fulfillment of times."--F.E. Manuel, The Religion of Isaac Newton (1974).
Holes and Dots (and anti-Dots) and Circles all have some longish threads running through this blog, though we they are actually running to is unknown at this point--perhaps when they get "there" they'll recognize it and stop. Today's installment scopes out the writing property for filling-holes-up, perhaps on the road to a Picture Alphabet of Hole-Filling: filling holes with seeds, explosives, death, trains, square pegs, cities, music, everything in existence, soldiers, blood, superconducting super colliders, fallout shelters, radioactive waste, books, a shadow, a sunbeam, light in general, and so on.
Somehow though it seems a larger and more explosive time in describing how holes are made in the first place, but that'll be for another time.
The first image comes from Ediblegeography and shows the new innards of a bomb crater caused by Nazi attackers in England during the Battle of Britain ca. 1940/1.
And ditto1 here:
A very unusual instance of filling holes up is when they are filled with cities. Underground holes for some reason sang out their siren tunes of underground cities, landing the listening Oscar Newman on the rocks with his singular design. The 1969 underground city (which I wrote about here and which can be found in Alison Sky and Michelle Stone's Unbuilt America, (McGraw Hill, 1976, page 192--no home should be without this book) shows his fascination and unguarded belief in such an idea, though the whole things reminds me of a dog-buried ball.
During WWI the indomitable sappers would dig long, tenuous tunnels under the field of battle to the eneny's position, and then fill up the end of their hole with a lot of explosive, and then blow their enemy to kingdom come. This would be the Hole Filled With Death.
Holes filled with men--if holes can be considered so that are half-a-hole, as in a "trench", then the period from 1914-1918 saw a 25,000-mile half-hole filled with 50 million men, half of whom would not come out alive, as they had been riddled with holes that got filled up with their blood.
recording telegraphs made holes in paper tape so that the messages could be played back int heir entirety later on
I suppose too that a case could be made for the Leviathan, the empty holes of the political impressario filled to capacity with its subjects, the popular puppets filling the empty monarch because there is nothing there save for its need to be filled up, filled in the way that Gargantua and Pantagruel were filled.
Another very famous hole was filled with dark, a shadow cast by a stick, a lovely experiment carried out thousands of years ago by Aristarchus of Samos to prove his theory that the Earth was round.
Not quite on the other hand is the sunbeam allowed to fall on the floor of the cathedral of S. Petronio in Bologna through a speculuum in the ceiling, creating a solar clock (this being only one of many such examples).
And I guess too that light entering one end of the telescope or microscope could also be considered a variant of filling-up-a-hole, if we can establish that a tube is a hole.
These holes below were filled with music--rather, they made it possible for music to be made through them, that they could actually produce a piano to play whatever music had been "transcribed" in them.
In any event, this was meant to be a short thinking-out-load pieces on a Pictorial Alphabet of Hole-Filling, and it seems like a nice start.
1. Again from Ediblegeography: "IMAGE: Bomb crater victory garden (sadly long gone) near Westminster Cathedral, image from Pathé Films footage via City Farmer News."
This indelible image was made by an anonymous photographer for the Central News Service of New York City in 1918. The Central News Service was a photographic supply house that would send requested photos to newspapers throughout the United States for publication as illustrations for a story. They would've been sent rolled in a tube with a description of the image and with the stern warning to "Watch Your Credit Line", making sure that once the newspaper had paid for the use of the photo that it also told its readers the source of the (agency) photographic.
The image is insatiable--it demands that you look at it and look at it long and hard, as it tries to give some sort of idea of the tremendous number of shells that were shot from canons by the just British against the Germans during the First World War.. There were something like one million tons of these fired against Germany; this picture represents about .001% ( of that total). We see approximately 800 shells at two hundred pounds apiece, surrounded by a group of about 150 soldiers.
I looked very closely at this photograph. Of this single line of soldiers along the perimeter of the bomb cache, of the 150 of them, there are, it looks like, only five of them who have placed their hands on one of the bombs, and four of them are touching the fuse with just their middle finger. It is an odd picture of restraint, these soldiers paying the weapons of mass destruction the respect of room.
I think that this is an extraordinary photograph of the testament of understatement and small, small percentages--even with this photo being so enormously graphic it still gives you absolutely no idea of how much explosive material was hurled back and forth, even knowing in your mind's eye that this image represents something like FOUR ORDERS OF MAGNITUDE less than the total tonnage of bombs used. By the British.
This difference in orders of magnitude is roughly equivalent to the difference in size between an ant and a human being, or between an amoeba and an ant, or between a human and one of the pyramids, or between the earth and the sun. Basically, the shells in this photo meant nothing whatsoever to the total of shells used during the war.