A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, Science, History, Math, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7000 images, 3.6 million hits| Press & appearances in The Times, The Paris Review, Le Figaro, MENSA, The Economist, The Guardian, Discovery News, Slate, Le Monde, Sci American Blogs, Le Point, and many other places... 3,000+ total posts
Sometimes there's nothing better in finding the absurdity in quiet mundane than actually finding it, rather than creating it. This is the case with the following images, all of which have a certain flat, blatant, absurd quality to them--for their conversation (or lack of it), poses, stares, direction of vision, and so on. All of them come from "Maintaining Good Relationships" a chapter in the provocatively-named Tested Selling Methods (1939). None of the following conversations say very much, and on the face of them (presented without their captions) most are about nothing, or seem to be.
Women of course are approached differently from the men, almost like children, though mostly salesmen were warned to place women in the position of making decisions for the household.
The Montgolfier Brothers had taken to the air more than 100 years before this image, for the first real experience of humans flying, though through the centuries there have been stories and reflections on all manner of human flight, from Daedalus' waxed wings to de Bergerac's bird-power ship balloons. And of course the intonations of flight have been around for nearly just as long, though much of that was accomplish via acting and not so much by theatrical machinery.
A superior, and smallish, and elegant theatrical accomplishment in this area was tripped over by me in a browse through an 1889 volume of Scientific American Supplement while looking for an article about Tesla. And there, in the issue of March 16, 1889 (on page 11008 (!)) was the Amphitrite. Or at least the apparatus seems to be called by that name, I think, even though in Greek mythology it is the name of the sea-goddess and wife of Poseidon. In any even it was an ingenious idea--the actor would be placed on a vertical rotating platform and by use of lighting and mirrors their form would be seen on a horizontal screen/background; so if the background was stationary and the actor was twirled on the platform, the effect would be a flying actor against whatever background was chosen. And so on. That's pretty good.
There appeared on this blog last week a post regarding a library cataloguer who was not threatened or defeated by a work with an enormous and meandering title. The good librarian got right to it, recorded the deed, and moved on. Today's installment of card catalog magic presents a Library of Congress librarian who decided that enough-was-enough, and that there was simply too-much-title to record, and so simply left the rest of it to dots and to the imagination.
Now for the pamphlet itself and the rest of the title:
The author of this 1938 pamphlet simply started to write on the cover and continued through the rest of the work, and ended on the back cover. There was no title page, no chapter headings, just a collection of ideas with lots of lists and seemingly nowhere to go. For a short work (36 pages) the author could've dedicated another quire to some blank space, which really doesn't exist in the pamphlet but which is surprisingly helpful even if the message you are trying to deliver is somewhat, well, outre. There is a lot of very compressed talk about multi-dimensional spirit and conscience and bank deposits and replacing the dollar and tax collection with "circulation of values", and so on, deep into itself and a closed system of interpretation of the existence of the universe, harmony of spirit, and economic interpretations of "radio bulbs" and the (often misspelled) fourtth [sic] dimension. The writing is exhausting and enumerated, and even though by its colossal subject matter and the complex brevity it should be a reliably porous document, it is fairly rigid and brittle. It is a visionary work that somehow worked its way into print, and I'm happy for that, and even it is impossible to keep up with its runaway logic it is still a good ride.
The author's representation of a semi-vitruvian spiritual anatomy of humans, called Spirisoulman:
A detail of the fabulously-decorated heart region:
And of course part of the plan for universal economics which somehow wraps up the theory of in I.R., or the Inductive Rightousness of Inductive Truths:
Early on in the history of printed books there was a practice of extended title pages, where there would be the title, and then "support literature" further explaining the title to sometimes some great detail, occasionally winging its way into a title 200 words long. But that was pretty much before the 18th century and mostly before the 17th and mostly a not-common practice. The gigantic title in the 20th century seems to be mostly relegated to the less-traveled-road variety of public thinking.
And the card catalog for the undefeated librarian mentioned above:
"Bartleby the Scrivener, a Tale of Wall Street", is a well-known, much-loved and magical/dark short story written by Herman Melville in 1853 (in two installments in Putnam's Magazine). For a major figure in the history of American literature, Mr. Bartleby has generated a lot of scholarship, in spite of the briefness of the piece, and the very scant information we have from Bartleby himself. He never lets us into his mind, himself, and we have just the barest glimpse into what drives him through his spoken words--we find out what we know of him through his self-appointed-friend and employer, who writes:
“I now recalled all the
quiet mysteries which I had noted in the man. I remembered that he
never spoke but to answer; that though at intervals he had
considerable time to himself, yet I had never seen him reading—no,
not even a newspaper; that for long periods he would stand looking
out, at his pale window behind the screen, upon the dead brick wall;
I was quite sure he never visited any refectory or eating house;
while his pale face clearly indicated that he never drank beer like
Turkey, or tea and coffee even, like other men; that he never went
any where in particular that I could learn; never went out for a
walk, unless indeed that was the case at present; that he had
declined telling who he was, or whence he came, or whether he had any
relatives in the world; that though so thin and pale, he never
complained of ill health. And more than all, I remembered a certain
unconscious air of pallid—how shall I call it?—of pallid
haughtiness, say, or rather an austere reserve about him, which had
positively awed me into my tame compliance with his eccentricities,
when I had feared to ask him to do the slightest incidental thing for
me, even though I might know, from his long-continued motionlessness,
that behind his screen he must be standing in one of those dead-wall
reveries of his.”
For all of his influence, Bartleby spoke only 32 times, and used 246 words, only 55 of them are unique carriers--the the rest are repetitions, especially in the first half of the story, and then particularly with the use of the word 'prefer" in the famous "I would prefer not" and "I prefer not" phrases. (I looked at this earlier in this blog in the post "A Census of "Prefer" in Bartleby.)
IT would be an interesting exercise to write in the spirit of Bartleby and use only those words that he spoke in the story. To paraphrase Mark Twain, "if I had more time I would have written a shorter letter"--it would take a bit of an effort to turn out a good story using just these words; after all, Dr. Seuss used 236 to produce A Cat in the Hat (and brilliantly so).
The Part Builder, Organization Bulletin No.1 published inn 1938 by the Social-Democratic Federation's "national office", is an odd, semi-Outsider kind of publication, a skinny ingenuous cluster of littleness and naivete and homemade hope. "Socialism" is a beacon of something (light or radio/television waves?) at the top of the Empire State Builind-like structure of the formation of the movement, as we can see in the quick-crude drawing on the left side of the pamphlet's cover.
Maybe it an odd thing to use the new Empire State Building as a symbol for the movement, maybe not--the SDF was a splinter group that cleaved itself away from the Socialist Party in 1936 because it seems that the SP was too revolutionary/pro-Communist for the old line folks who formed the SDP. So maybe the building stood for something that the Communists and parties didn't--I don't know, and I've never been very good in following the histories of smallish political parties down their rabbit holes of formulations and re-constitutions and inter-tribal micro-warfare, so I really have no great insight into the symbolism. And perhaps given the rudimentary nature of the publication, maybe the symbolism went only so far as it was a thing that the artist/illustrator could actually sort-of draw.
The main object of interest in this sad little pamphlet though was the U.S. map that appears on page two--it is striking in its way, a silent stab at making claim to potential SDF members in a very quietly outlined American map. The regional labels are so small and tentative, and the vast inner ocean of undefined America is so, well, vast, that the map seems more one of timidity than anything else, a whispered revolution.
I've noticed a number of different varieties of unusual forests, though mostly they're repurposed, and stand above or on the ground, rather than the one seen in the image below, where the trees are inverted like roots. There's the massive forest that we see every day in the United States, the backbone of our digital culture is strung along the carcasses of dead trees, wires and cables hanging from tree corpses, an enormous chunk of our social interaction and economy dangling above us, moved by the wind and rain. Then of course there's neat and orderly forest, forests that have been cut down, stripped, and the elements stacked in sequences so that people could live inside of them. There are stockade fences, and picket fences. There are old roads from Colonial times and into the 19th century there were made sections of felled trees, and then others that were made from milled lumber (as in Plank Roads). There are forests that have been cut, and then milled all to one size, and laid next to one another in parallels and connected with heavy steel ribbons that stretched for hundreds of thousands of miles, their enterprises given ironic and commodious names with words like "Atlantic" and "Pacific" in them (like the "Union Pacific Railroad"). Dead Wood is everywhere, some of which was simply cut down, stacked, and then slowly burned.
Before being replaced by steel, foundations like this were made of lumber and/or stone, and was hardly uncommon--what is uncommon, to me at least, was to see a picture of finished footings, and then to be given such a creative name like "inverted forest". But this is what they were, as we can see here in the New York World's Fair Bulletin in 1937: 11 miles of forests pounded into the soil to support the weight of the iconic Trylon.
The Trylon is the spire in the middle of the image, next to the sphere--they were both enormous. The spire rose some 600', while the sphere was 180' in diameter--both were gone by 1941, razed at the end of the Fair (1939-1940), their materials used for the war effort. Both stood on the inverted forest.
[From a private collection, via the Library of Congress, from the White House in 1938.]
In the Alphabet of Inverted Things, forests may be the most unusual: inverted chords, melodies, voices, pyramids, river deltas, microscopes, personality. Forests seem so awful in their way. Inverted.
It seems to me that in the history of astrology--or at least for what seems to be most of it, at least through the late antiquarian publishing aspect of it--that comets and meteors were basically not utilized. Perhaps it was because in that world these entites didn't really effect anything--perhaps they were simply mysterious, spurious, and incongruent, and not a subject for installation in the astrological night sky. Comets (from the Greek, kometes, "long-haired") and meteors (Greek again, from meteoran, a "thing in the air") and bolides (exploding meteors, from the Greek bolis, or "missile"), holosiderites, siderolites, aerolites uranolites, and so on, have a long and complex story in the history of astronomy, at least in some ways; perhaps the most influential thinker on comets held thinking at bay and did so for two milennia: Aristotle's Meteorology made the case that comets were not a planet or associated with planets or even necessarily part of the heavens--rather they were a phenomena of the atmosphere. So perhaps their use as astronomical/astrological objects was limited by their very Aristotlean obviousness of being near-Earth objects.
The Comet of 1066 (later named Halleys' Comet), as depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry (completed in the 1080's)
The fear aspect of comets--the Comet of 1528--was depicted in Ambrose Pares Livres de Chirurgie (1597), and shows what part of the concern was (the coming demise of nations, the death of rules) with the appearance of decapitated heads and a large sword and raining daggers:
[Nicolas Le Rouge, Le Grand Kalendrier et Compost des Bergieres, published in 1496 in Troyes.
The night sky is a mnemonic device, a place to store memory and a holder of the alphabet of myths and beliefs of all, a culture written large across the sky. Meteors and comets were not predictable, and could add nothing insofar as a consistent bit of storytelling was concerned, though they certainly created their own stories in each observed appearance; they could also add punctuation and exclamation to whatever constellation they appeared in. For example if one appeared in a juncture with Jupiter, a major event for royalty would possibly be foretold. But as a permanent element to the visualization of the night sky, they had little power even though they seemed to be displays of fantastic energy and power in themselves.
[For some reason the celestial court, divided by sunlight and flanked by two other sources of light, have ofund it expedient to issue comets from the mouths of Heaven Canon. I'm not sure what's going on in the forground with the fellow working his spade next to the triangular blankness. the man to his right seems to have been overtaken in fear (as have the group of people visible to the left over the shoveler's shoulder).]
[Halley's comet appears again on the title page of this work by the Hungarian George Henischius, a professor of rhetoric, mathematics and medicine at Augsberg.]
The history of hoaxes is a long one--especially the history of the intentional host. There have been creations like the farcical report on the Nacirem Tribe of North America (in 1956, by H. Miner, who simply spelled "America" backwards and loaded his tribe up with all sorts of geegaws), the Piltdown Man, the chess-playing "The Turk" automaton (by Wolfgang v. Kempelen in 1770), the fabulous Moon Hoax of 1836, the Cardiff Giant, Piltdown Man, and so on. Some were done for fun and amusement (like the Moon Hoax), some were perpetuated to prove a point (like Alan Sokol's quantum gravity nonsense paper published as a rub against Jacques-Derridon't and triblings), and some were scientifically vicious (like Piltdown). There are others that are larger than themselves, started perhaps as a hoax but then turned mysitcally into a belief system like, say Scientology (though its possible to make a case for this with most any other such thought-organization system). Some of course weren't intended to be hoaxes when they began but remain intact even after their great shortcomings and displayed ill-logic have survived in the face of scientific refutation and common sense--like astrology.
Then there are complications, like Constantine Samuel Rafinesque (1783-1840) and the Lenape Indian creation myth.
It is uncertain whether this autodidact genius intended to fabricate his description of the creation myth, or whether he pieced bits and pieces together in a busy schedule that semed as though they were correct, or whether he was just getting stuff wrong. It seems that, at the least, the drawings he conveyed as part of the story were all entirely his, and they may or may not have been derived from something that was ancient and real-enough. In any event, all of what Rafinesque wrote was his fiction that may have been pulled together from other pieces of mythology (or not) rather than a scientific treatise.
It is interesting to think of perpetuating a hoax whose result is a fabrication of an entire people's belief system--basically constructing a religion from the ground-up.
Mark Hofmann, a convicted multiple cold-blooded killer psychopath serving a life sentence in Utah for bombing people to bits while trying to camouflage his deteriorating forgery empire, very nearly went the last mile to write the missing section of the Book of Mormon. His great specialty was Mormon history, and he had been successful for several years in convincing the leaders of the Church of Latter Day Saints that his forged documents were the real thing, many of which put the church in an unpleasant light, and so he managed to create a ready market for his uncomfortable creations. In the meantime for the documents that did surface in public he actually managed to change the debate in the church community about its basis in belief--which is an extraordinary and foul commission.
It is not possible to say what was in Rafinesque's head when he committed his own story of creation to paper.
I'm including it below as an interesting story, because, well, it reads well.
The Walam Olum (or "Red Score", also spelled Walum Olum, Wallum Olam, and several other ways.) of the Lenape.
("This Creation and Deluge story of the Lenape or Delaware Indians is taken from Dr. Daniel G. Brinton's The Lenape and Their Legends (The Library of Aboriginal American Literature, Vol. V, 1885). Since "walam" means "painted," particularly "painted red," and "olum" signifies the scores or marks or notches or figures used on tally-sticks or record-boards, the sense of Walam Olum is variously rendered by "Red Score" (Dr. Brinton's choice), "Painted-engraved Tradition" (the translation left by Constantine Rafinesque, original copyist of these Algonkin pictographs), or "Painted Bark-Record." The pictographs or glyphs or signs were "notches" designed to keep the long chant in memory."
The very beautiful translation is Dr. Brinton's"--quote and text from the Sacred Texts of the World site, here.)
1. At first, in that place, at all times, above the earth,
2. On the earth, [was] an extended fog, and there the great Manito was.
'There is seldom in shadow a mystery less hidden"--Ombra Nichts Schatten, The Non-Mystery of the Shadow, London, 1842
Shadows have long played havoc in the imagination, for good and for evil, for elucidation and of mystery--they have hidden nothing and everything, and displayed as little as possible and as much as can be imagined. A simple shadow in a hole had proved the circumference of the Earth twenty centuries ago, and before that the Earth's shadow on the face of the Moon showed us to be a sphere; the shadow allowed us to measure the heights of mountains on the Moon before we could do so (accurately) on Earth; we measure shadows in X-rays, and follow the trails of subatomic particles, and on and on. Shadows are particularly interesting in story telling, whether they be suggested aurally or in text, or of course in illustration:
A superior example of shadow-art is seen in Indonesian shadow puppet theatre, "Wayang Kulit", where the shadows of Javanese-Indonesian characters are projected onto a cloth screen by a strong light from behind.
Audiences were bathed in direct and brilliant light while being swamped in shadow in the early 19th century as part of an early form of non-cinema cinema, as we see here in the frontispiece from Robertson’s Mémoires récréatifs, which depicts a phantasmagoria of lantern projections:
And more forthright illusions as seen in this engraving showing the spectre “Dr. Pepper’s Ghost,” from Theodor Eckardt, Die Physik in Bildern Eßlingen, 1881:
The shadow may have been invented in cinema by the German Expressionists, with Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau's Nosferatu (1919) as a shining example:
And of course the shadow is used with great effect in the very black-and-white and no-gray-tones Film Noir world, particularly in the hands of a master like Mr. Welles in films like The Third Man:
And in Fritz Lang's diabolically-bad M, earlier, in 1931 (featuring an impossible shadow in the movie still below):
Shadow has been used to given questionable dimensionality in addition to giving perspective to dimensions that we are familiar with:
And the artificial shadow made for the geographical clock dial to tell the story of passing time:
Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726, amended 1735), or Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of several Ships, is a great work that spills over into many different categories, being a forerunner to the modern novel, a sort-of children’s book that was for adults, as prototype of science fiction story, and of course a brilliant satire.The satiric nature of the book is pervasive and extremely visible, but yet the whole thing works splendidly, exposing and investigating the nature of corruption (of mind/soul), perception, value, the naming of things, the nature of judgment, and, of course, the soul of political intrigue.
Everyone remembers the voyage of Gulliver to Lilliput, but there were other voyages as well, the book including: "A Voyage to Lilliput (May 4, 1699 — April 13, 1702)"; "A Voyage to Brobdingnag (June 20, 1702 — June 3, 1706)"; "A Voyage to Laputa, Balnibarbi, Glubbdubdrib, Luggnagg and Japan(August 5, 1706 — April 16, 1710)" and "A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms (September 7, 1710 – December 5, 1715)". But what I’d like to concentrate on here is the emptiness of the space around the empty non-existent (sorry) islands of Lilliput and Blefusco, which I think fits as a subcategory in this blog’s continuing series of posts on empty and blank spaces.The islands are well away from just about everything, being unfindable only if you’re a youngish sea captain blown off course, far to the south of remote and removed Sumatra.
[Map of Atlantis, from Athanaseus Kircher's Mundus Subterraneus, 1669, with north situated at the bottom of the map, as indicated by the arrow. It is doubtful that anyone believed Atlantis could have been the size of half of the Atlantic Ocean, as we see above; but if we look at teh relation in size of Spain to Atlantis the possibility for that size grows brighter.]
Even maps of Atlantis seem to make that place less removed than Lilliput, and there's more detail to the interior of that island than Swift's almost-entirely blank pair. But Lilliput, as an imaginary place, looks particularly blank in a sea of blank, punctuated by two lonely little boats. There's just an awful lot of blank, white space in this map...
Sometimes as the saying goes a bad answer isn't right; and sometimes it isn't right so much that it isn't even wrong. Here we have a collection of not-even-wrongs, tidily collected in one pamphlet. It is a booklet of "predictions" that are so deeply off the mark that I suspect the author would not even be able to make post facto predictions.
Had author R.J. Rasmussen (The Amazing Future, 1938) real powers of diving the future he should've been able to see that choosing to be so dreadfully wrong about the events of 1939 was a truly bad thing to do--of course, if there was some sort of unknown and spectacular power in his brain to see what was coming, the least he could've been was right. But he wasn't, and he wasn't right very widely, and very widely not right almost all of the time. To give the devil his due, Rasmussen did get some broad images correct--like in 1939 a world leader will get sick and die. (Actually, the world leaders dying in 1939 weren't current leaders, but that is a particular that escapes detail when thinking about stuff that will come to pass.) And then there's the bold "a high ranking officer in the U.S. army will pass away". But those broad brushes are about as close as it gets to "prediction". He was right that there would be a year 1939.
The rest is "anti-prediction": "I want to advise all pilots and their aides in the United States...to use utmost good judgment in flying your planes". And "again I say that no war will be declared on or with Germany", cancer will be cured on or before August 26, 1939, and there will be an increase in textile production in the U.S. The Japanese war against China "will be over by August 21, 1941", though the cost will be monumental to the Japanese, somehow; Germany "will continue to forge ahead" (?), the map of Africa "will be completely and totally changed" by 1942, and "during this period there will be increased interest shown in higher lines of thought". And so on, on and on--by the hundreds.
Finally, among everything else that the author didn't see was the following: "the persecution of the Jewish people in Germany will gradually grow less and less that they have ever know in the past thirty years, and before the year 1939 has passed it will have practically ceased in Germany". I must say that of all the minor pamphlets like this that I have seen Mr. Rasmussen made the most detailed and incorrect predictions of anyone that I have ever seen--the only further step backward he might've been able to make was to have written this book in 1941 and gotten all of the history wrong.
JF Ptak Science Books Post 281 (from 2009) Extended [Part of the History of Nothing series.]
War propaganda is distributed across all levels of society during a time of conflict. I've made a number of posts concerning Nazi and Japanese propaganda but no so much on the Allies' side. These pamphlets come from a small stash of mine relating to Red Cross activities and prisoners of war (POWs), and they fall chiefly I think in The History of Nothing series, mainly because of the chances that all of these packages wouldn't stop and be used by German troops rather than going all the way through to POWs. The expectations of the Home Front concerning the disposition of their loved ones as prisoners of the Nazis were clearly illusory, what with steamed and pressed trousers and clean sharp shirts.
I came upon this pamphlet out in the warehouse, and I was reminded again of the greatness and courage of some of the anti-NSDAP/Hitler artists in Germany in the early period of Nazism, 1933-1936. There were many who were overtly anti-Nazi--like George Grosz and John Heartfield--in the political messages that were their artwork; then there were those (like Felixmueller, Wollein, Otto Dix, Max Pechstein) who became enemies of the Nazi state because they chose to depcit the horrors of war or poverty or other social ills
["Brains Behind Barbed Wire", with a woodcut by Frans Masereel.]
John Heartfield, Blood and Iron, 1934
And then, as the Nazis consolidated power they erected an enormous edifice of propaganda and thought control, codified in law and absorbed into societal practice, where artists and writers and their artwork and books and ideas were banned, being "deliberate sabotage of national defense". The books were burned, the art removed or sold or destroyed or hidden, the writers and artists threatened with extinction as well: deported, thrown away, controlled, imprisoned, sent to concentration camps, murdered.
[War and Corpses, by John Hearfield, 1932.]
One way of another, they were mostly gotten rid of--the paintings and other works of those who were abroad or dead or otherwise not-reachable; and the art as well as the artists who were still in Germany, and whose presence could be controlled.
["Max Klinger", Volk in Ketten. Deutschalnds Weg ins Chaos, 1934]
Some of the artists who were not able to escape, or who were Jewish and who did no tget sent to concentration camps, were murdered via the infamous Aktion 4 or T4 program--the mass murder of the physically disabled, the sick, the weak, the "moral degenerate", and those too incapacitated to take care of themselves. The name comes from the address of the organization responsible for it, at Tiergartenstrasse 4 in Berlin--the Gemeinnützige Stiftung für Heil- und Anstaltspflege, [or Charitable Foundation for Curative and Institutional Care] which was run from (at least ) 1939 to 1945 under the direction of Recihsleiter Philipp Bouhler (who unfortunately escaped life by suicide after being captured by the Americans in May 1945).
To make things easier on the German mind, the NSDAP selected artists and entire art movements that were to be banned as "degenerate", and displayed them in an infamous 1937 show called Entartete Kunst ("Degenerate Art").
The people who committed their beliefs about the great Evil Thing that was National Socialism, those who committed their thoughts in art or literature, and did so in the 1933-1937 period, were brave people. Hitler and Goebbels and the rest of the Nazi machine deeply appreciated the influence of visual images, being great practioners in the idea themselves, only though with vastly different content.
The great social commentator/satirist/cartoonist for Harper's Weekly magazine, Thomas Nast, also knew the great influence of the single visual image, and magisterially used his insight and art to great effect in helping to effect social change. One of the evils he brought down--Boss Tweed of Tammany Hall--said that he didn't fear anything that was written about him in the newspaper because his constituency "couldn't read". But what he didn't get, and what he never did understand, that the thing that brought him down were cartoons, and those were the things that people didn't need to be able to read words in because they could already "read" the images. And it got him in the end.
The manufacturers of the NSDAP recognized this factor and saw how much it could play against them, and so sought to remove "it". They went after the art, the artists, and the ideas, and came away from it all with safe and sanitized and partially meaningless culture.
The artists condemned in the 1937 Degenerate Art exhibition necessarily reads like a who's-who of modern and 20th century art: the show included Ernst Barlach, Willi Baumeister, Max Beckmann, Max Ernst, Wassily Kandinsky, Emil Nolde, Max Pechstein, Paul Klee, Ernst Krircherm Lyonel Feiniger, Oskar Schlemmer, Franz Marc, El Lissitzky, Oscar Kokoschka, George Grosz, Marc Chagall, and Kurt Schwittersto name a few. (A full list can be seen below.) Entire artistic movements were also to be eliminated in order to save the morality and conscience of the German people, including Bauhaus, Surrealism, Impressionism, Fauvism, Expressionism, Cubism and Dada. Basically, it was almost all of modern art.
These artist were abandoned/exiled/killed in favor of a more morally-robust and Aryan flavor, a genetic correctness, like the work here by Ernst Liebermann, moribund in its deadly color, greasy, tumescent hyper-non-sexuality:
which is picture postcard bad, like Franklin Mint artists gone to Nazism and shining/lustrous nudes.
The "degenerate" label didn't last very long in Germany, at least not in years--measured in lives, however, it is a completely different story.
I have a notion that when we enter the infinite library of Jorge Borges that what we find somewhere in there, in the middle (where every place is the middle) we find that the books being read are just like the volumes from this illustration. It may only make sense that in a place where everything that could be written had been written, and that in the place where there was a finite amount of the infinite and vice versa, that the whole mechanism would go spinning fractally out of control once the Primum Mobile got the chance to introduce the notion of the Blank Book. Reproducing nothing infinitely may be a lot more cumbersome than reproducing everything than can be written. At least the written aspect has some sense of order to its infinity, and that--like when approaching the speed of light--that when you get near "the end" that everything gets a little, well, funny. When confronted with infinitely reproducible nothingness, there's nothing that quite reproduces to the end of pi like the blank book. It's nothing all the way down. And all the way up, too, for that matter.
[Image source: Statuta ordinis cartussiensis a domno Guigone priore cartusie edita, printed in Basel by J. Amerbach, 1510. Illustrated with woodcuts by Urs Graf. This is a beautiful and important work, a great effort by an early and important press, and this image happens to show study timne in a Monastic setting. Their books of course weren't blank.]
JF Ptak Science Books Post 1644 [Part of the Series on the History of Blank, Empty and Missing Things.]
"Other maps are such shapes, with their islands and capes! But we've got our brave Captain to thank" (So the crew would protest) "that he's bought us the best- A perfect and absolute blank!"--Lewis Carroll, The Hunting of the Snark.
[This post fits perfectly in our History of Blank, Empty and Missing Things. Ditto for the series on The History of Lines--making this a great confluence for a History of Blank and Missing Lines (in the History of Nothing series).]
For all of the brilliance of all of the cartographers and map makers who have drawn a line in the sand or strung a strand of quipi or drawn a celestial rendering on a cave wall or imagined the Americas in 1504 or ventured out and away from the Medieval T-maps or drew maps of other worlds or fashioned spiraling maps of Hell, I think the maps I most like are maps of imagined places. Of course I enjoy the extremely rigorous and steadfast maps (like those of the German Stieler Company of Gotha who for a hundred years routinely drew the most detailed maps in a particular scale than any other mapmakers in creation—you know, the big maps of the U.S. that would locate minute places like Truman Capote’s “out there” town of Holcomb, Kansas) and of course maps of the solar system and galaxy and universe (as knowledge expanded and collapsed and expanded again). And of course there are the representational maps showing the comparative heights
of mountains and lengths of rivers, or the grouping of all the world’s lakes, or the divorce rate map of the United States at Centennial, or the heights at which different sorts of trees are found, or geological speculations on the thrust of the Appalachian chain, or the wanderings of the course of the Mississippi River (below), and other hosts of things.
As much as detail is attractive to me—complex, staggering information correctly displayed—there is also the opposite: the quick, thoughtful, spare map. The Tabula Peutingeriana is sort of like that—this is a 17th century reproduction of an ancient Roman map that was, basically, a road map of the world (or the Roman World) that was linear and included all manner of detail of the roads themselves, with little else. It is a spectacular thing—one version I had once was 14 inches high and 16 feet long, just a skinny map of how to get around in the world from 2000 years ago. There was of course nothing “quick” about how the map was made, coming at the expense of countless hours of careful observation, keen observation, and lots of general human tragedy.
Folrani's world map of (ca.) 1575 (which appeared in Antoine Lafrery’s (1512–1577) Geografia tavole moderne di geographia) is a glorious thing and a fantastic accomplishment for its time (and also being the first map to use the name "Canada"). It has a sumptuous artistry to it in addition to including (and excluding) certain of the newly known discoveries. In this version of the map he chose to not use the newly-incorporated Straits of Ainan
[I'm sorry to say that I've misplaced the original source for this map--I will try and supply. My apologies.]
In another edition of the m-which appeared a few years later--North America is still attached to Asia, but now there is added another bit, a gigantic land mass to the south, Terra Incognita. This was basically put together by some sightings in the southern seas that located different land masses, and Forlani took it upon himself to connect all of those pieces of information and draw them into one continuous land mass, greatly expanding his own version of Antarctica from a few years earlier. It is a wonderful example of leaving something(big) out and making something else (even bigger) up.
But the map that I think I love the most illustrates Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark, an Agony in Eight Fits, and occurs in the Bellman’s tale, starting the second fit. It begins:
The Bellman himself they all praised to the skies- Such a carriage, such ease and such grace! Such solemnity too! One could see he was wise, The moment one look in his face!
He had bought a large map representing the sea, Without the least vestige of land: And the crew were much pleased when the found it to be A map they could all understand.
"What's the good of Mercator's North Poles and Equators, Tropics, Zones, and Meridian Lines?" So the Bellman would cry: and the crew would reply, "They are merely conventional signs!
"Other maps are such shapes, with their islands and capes! But we've got our brave Captain to thank" (So the crew would protest) "that he's bought us the best- A perfect and absolute blank!"
Sometimes there is nothing so fine as something that beautifully illustrates the nothing that isn’t there, and this lovely map, unencumbered of all of the elements and details that define the mapness of something, perfectly explains the origin of its need.
For a lovely work on the complexities and simplicities and just sheer beauty of what things like maps are check out former Ashevillean Peter Turchi's Maps of the Imagination, the Writer as Cartographer.