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
CV Boys (1855-1944), the great experimentalist and all-around physicist/mechanic, wrote a classic book on bubbles in 1889 that found success and went through several editions—the bubble book not surprisingly was called Soap Bubbles and it was a fascinating journey through the world of bubbles and was they were indeed so fascinating and better called “bubbles” to the popular mind rather than “rotating films”. Late in life (and 53 years after the publication of the book) in the October 17, 1942 edition of the journal Nature Boys writes a funny little note called “A Flight of Pure Imagination” which is illustrated by a photograph Boys' made in 1912 showing an aeronaut in a gondola of a big bubble balloon. It is a wonderful picture and accompanied by a nice verse about Boys, who for some reason, 30 years later, decided to republish his “permissible diversion”.
When I saw this letter to the editor of Nature (in the May-October 1881, volume 23, page 284) I thought immediately of Jackson Pollock--but of course he wasn't even close top being born yet. The boy from Cody, Wyoming was born in 1912, and he went from a Western no-longer-frontier-town to his greatest period of production in about 37 years. Those three years, from 1948-1950, were like lightning, but slow...like seeing the progression of a lightning strike from the ground up, then replayed again backwards, and then faster. And with many more than just a single strike. That isn't what W.M. Flinders Petrie of Bromley, Kent, was talking about of course--still 25 years and a world removed from non-representational painting--but that is what his title excited in me, here in his future. In any event, the article is an interesting read, Pollockless and all. (Another piece of long and interesting reading is found here, with Richard Taylor's theory on Fractal Expressionism and the fractal dimension of Pollock's painting.)
"Having just seen the statement of Prof. Tait (Nature,
vol. xxii. p. 341) quoted, as a final authority, against the possi-
bility of distinguishing the source from the termination of a
lightning flash, I wish to record a storm that I saw.
"Sveriges folk vet inte mycket om alt detta"/Swedish people do not know much about this..."
This is an unusual graphic--or at least a graphic display of information found in an unusual location, a publication in Swedish quoting sources from the Free Press from Stockholm (19 June 1943) on the effectiveness of Luftwaffe vs R.A.F. bombing.
It is supposed to be a graphic proof for the ferociousness of the Allies, published in a pamphlet called Konst i spillror (roughly, Art and Rubble, or Art in Rubble, something like this) which I believe was a German attempt to win Swedish hearts and minds by displaying the destructive force of teh other side of the war. The subtitle of the pamphlet is on the destruction of European cultural treasures in Antwerp, Nuremberg, Koln, Lubeck, Karlsruhe, Munich...plus bombed cemeteries, schools, hospitals, and so on. The locations are in Germany, mostly, or German-held areas, and decry the barbarity of the war in the hands of the British, Canadians, and Americans.
I do not have proof of this as propaganda, but it certainly feels like it. Sweden was a neutral country during WWII, managing to maintain its neutrality for the entire conflict. There were evidently soem concessions made to both sides--for Germany the major bit seems to have been allowing the German 163rd rail transport across Sweden in the attack on the Soviet Union (which I imagine was an enemy of my enemy move). On the other hand the Swedes accepted Jewish refugees from Norway and accepted all of the Danish Jews who were supposed to be sent to concentration camps. I can understand the Nazis wanting to try to make inroads into the national psyche, but I have a hard time imagining that this campaign succeeded on any level.
My copy is a photographic negative of the original, made during the war, and was once part of the Library of Congress Pamphlet Collection. As I said, I could be wrong in this interpretation, but I feel fairly confident that it is so.
Crusing through some issues of Nature down in the studio--this is the current long-lived Nature, though mine are from 1869-1949, so not-so modern--I was working my way through a few issues before all hell breaks loose with the Roentgen publications in late 1895, and found this very interesting article by Francis Galton. Now Galton was a very interesting man with very advanced interests in many different fields, though he does have some unfortunate bits to his personality and eugenic-based beliefs, so he is an extremely accomplished if not a problematic man. Actually one of my earliest posts on this blog (more than 2,500 posts ago--yes there are only 2147 numbered posts but there are also something like 500 unnumbered "quick posts" as well) was relating another occasion of thumbing my way through another Nature volume, and finding Sir Francis again, though in this one he wrote what may be among the earliest papers on synesthesia ("Visualized Numerals", 1880, appearing here, with full text).
The present Galton (in 15 November 1894) is his review of work done by Alfred Binet, "Psychology of Mental Arithmeticians and Blindfold Chess-Players", who looked at the extraordinary abilities of "two groups of remarkable men", one of which possessed fantastic mental calculating abilities, and the other with the capacity of playing multiple games of chess while blindfolded. A closer look at the first group revealed two men who relied on quite different benefits: one having a great ability to calculate according to "imagined sounds" and another who "relied on...imagined sounds", both endowed with considerable numerical abilities as well as memories.
Galton reviews a number of calculators and then remarks on experiments he performed on himself, trying to "visualize" a calculating process via olfactory means. The rest of the story of this fascinating article can be found here. (Also see--from Galton.org--a bibliography of his journal articles works in psychology.)
This is somewhat off the mark, but it may be interesting--given Galton's olfactory/math experiment--to have a quick look at an earlier post on this blog regarding the first photograph of a smell, here.
I should say that Galton wrote more for Nature than any other journal, some 115 contributions from 1870-1910.
See also this take on the Galton from J.M. Stoddart's The New Science Review, 1894/5:
When modern art was becoming modern, and artists were reveiling more of nature and life by using less of its components and using more of suggestion and motion and color--leaving out the "detail"--where indeed did that detail, well, go?
It is interesting to imagine a composite world to our's, a place where that missing and removed detail goes. For example, when JMW Turner painted a train passing over a river on a bridge, he was more suggestive of the scene than he was in reality-based descriptors. [Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway, 1844.] The intricacies of realism and reproductional relativity is not there, the action and train and river implied, artistic impressions and whatever else was in the artist's toolbox or mind's eye.
Perhaps the seeping detail from one world to the next is more like the sphere entering the two-dimensional world of Flatland, or better yet the reverse of Charles Bragdon's 1drawings of the footprints of 3-D objects passing through a 2-D plane...the detail of the Turner seeping through the canvas and into the opposing DetailWorld, falling like rain. Maybe it is a world of non-representational images and impressions awaiting the attention and arrival of detail to give it all a solid, easily distinguishable representation of the imagined world around the easel in that Other Place.
Another beautiful image by Bragdon is from “Personalities: Tracings of the Individual (Cube) in a Plane” from Man, the Square2 shows the “shadows” of the three-dimensional figures as they lived in their two-dimensional world. It comes close to the impact of the cubes above, but really only depicts what two-dimensional creatures would see of the three-dimensional beings inhabiting their Bragdonesque world. All of this was put into my mind by seeing this image (The Goldfinch, 16540 by Carel Fabricius. Clearly we can see a bird on a perch, chained to the upper rung, with another rung below, but as much as we can see the detail we don't. So much of this image is suggested and implied, hundreds of yers before Impressionism: the face of the bird is barely there, the second rung dissolves into the wall, the shadows are muted and half-existent, and so on. The details of the painting are as much missing as they are there.
And of course the world of detail would disappear more and more, until by 1911, it existed hardly at all, the representational world drifting off the canvas completely, for those who wanted that to be the case.
Again, as much as say Kasimir Malevich made all of the detail go away in his Suprematist paintings like a white square on a white square (White on White, 1917/18, which I can say is not served well at all with images online or in books, as the artwork is really pretty textured and detailed),
at about the same time ither artists like Marcel Duchamp were both taking away details of one sort while adding new details of another never-yet-done sort, as in his Nude Descending (1912), where we begin to see the representation of the fourth dimension in art:
Perhaps the rain of details into DetailWorld work in reverse for the unexpected details of stuff we can't see in our world?
Well. We know that there is no DetailWorld, but I think it is certainly interesting enough to think of these revolutionary changes in art and trying to imagine the enormous amount of painterly stuff that the innovations/discoveries replaced, if they were to all go to one place. In a way it is analogous to the changes in the mountain that I can see now from my living room window--mostly it is invisible when the patch of woods between our house and the mountain is all leafed out (seeing the forest for the trees), but with autumn and winter here at about the same time, it is easier to appreciate both the trees that I can see when I can't, and the mountain that I can't see sometimes when I can.
1.(Bragdon) A PRIMER OF HIGHER SPACE. (The Fourth Dimension). Rochester: Manas Press, 1913. 8vo, (12), 79pp, including 30 plates.
2. (Bragdon) MAN THE SQUARE. A Higher Space Parable. Rochester: Manas Press, 1912. 12mo, 34pp, 9 illustrations.
This quick note comes as the result of a short chase on the detection of the pulse and the ability to determine death--as far back and even before Pliny life was determined by the audible heartbeat, which is where the trouble began, because one can still be very alive with a faint heartbeat. This was a major concern when dealing with folks who were thought to have expired, because in the mid-19th century and before the instruments necessary to make a careful and accurate appraisal of whether the heart was still working were yet finely developed. Laennec's stethoscope appeared around 1816, but as much of an improvement as it was this instrument awaited considerable refinements before a truly solid identification of a non-working heart could be established. The gaps in the determination of the arrival of death led to mortuaries where the supposed-dead were left to themselves at room temperature for three days, awaiting the ultimate determination of death which was putrefaction (as in the Munich and Frankfurt Leichenhaus and the Vienna Zentralfriedhof). Earlier in the history of the determination of death methods were quicker and more brutal (if the patient was still alive) involving bellows-driven tobacco-smoke enema, as well as tongue pulling and nipple twisting. (See an earlier post here on the Worst Jobs of the Nineteenth Century for more on this.)
This led to Etienne Marey (1830-1904), a versatile experimenter and premier instrumentalist who was a scientist, physiologist, and motion-picture/chronographer pioneer, who in the 1880's created what was essentially the world's first moving-photographic "slow motion" device. One iteration of Marey's apparatus was basically a long series of ganged cameras recording a motion for a simple task at a given time frame and presented on a continuous strip of photographic paper, sort of like a motion picture with the camera speed set at three frames per second. The resulting images were phenomenal and showed people for the first time the exactness of all manners of simple motions--motions that no longer looked so "simple" once all of its aspects could be studied from captured photographic evidence. Even the act of hopping over a small stool or bending to pick up a bucket of water were enormously revealing in a way like Robert Hooke's Micrographia displayed the great detail and complexity of the seemingly simple fly.
Aside fron being one of the founders of cinematography, the other aspect of Marey's interest in capturing and manipulating time was in medicine, where by the time this article of interest in this post was published in 1876 he had already established himself as one of the greatest cardiovascular physiologists. What we find in this review in Nature (Thursday, January 6, 1876) of Marey's Physiologie Experimentale (Paris, 1876) was the editor's keen interest in the mechanical heart Marey had constructed to show the actions and functions of the heart--the first time, the article notes, that all aspects of the action of the heart were exhibited correctly in one model.
Of particular interest was the recording device for the pulse of the heart, which was one in a series of devices such as that improved upon, something Marey himself had done with the first-introduced sphygmograph ("pulse wrtier") of Karl von Vierdodt in 1854. The 1875/6 Marey instrument made major advancements in continuous graphical registration in instruments of continuous noninvasive arterial responses.
I'm not sure if I've ever seen a 16th century human perspective drawing showing the body in plan and elevation and cross-section. Jehan cousin the younger (1522-1595, in France), the son of Jean Cousin the Elder (1490-1560), a painter and sculptor, produced such an image in his Livre de Perspective, which was published in 1560. Well, the image definitely was published in 1560, though the artist may have been father and it may have been son--they worked closely together, and the Younger was taught at great length by the Elder, so much so that their work became indistinguishable. Nevertheless, the images I think are quite extraordinary, as we see below:
And so by Andreas Mantegna, a classic example:
The following images come from the 1608 edition of the Cousin Perspective. a number of which are fairly unusual (all from the Library of Congress site, here):
[Detail from engraving in the seventh image, below]
I'm not sure if I've ever seen a 16th century human perspective drawing showing the body in plan and elevation and cross-section. Jehan Cousin the Younger (1522-1595, in France), the son of Jean Cousin the Elder 91490-1560), a painter and sculptor, produced such an image in his Livre de Perspective, which was published in 1560. Well, the image definitely was published in 1560, though the artist may have been father and it may have been son--they worked closely together, and the Younger was taught at great length by the Elder, so much so that their work became indistinguishable. Nevertheless, the images I think are quite extraordinary, as we see below:
And so by Andreas Mantegna, a classic example:
The following images come from the 1608 edition of the Cousin Perspective. a number of which are fairly unusual (all from the Library of Congress site, here):
These are particularly fine and relatively early printed images depicting a specific kind of line of sight--this one, a positioning, rather than a line of sight in fire control, or radial velocity, EM radiation or acoustics wave propagation, or targeting...this instrument was used to establish an imaginary line in perceived objects.
This is a detail from Andrew Wakley's The mariner's compass rectified : containing tables, shewing the true hour of the day, the sun being upon any point of the compass ; with the true time of the rising and setting of the sun and stars, and the points of the compass upon which they rise and set ... With the description and use of those instruments most in use in the art of navigation. Also a table of the latitudes and longitudes of places, published in 1763 and reprinted many times after that. (Full text is available from Google books and also from the Haithi Trust which offers a text version of the book as well.)
The full page from which the detail is drawn:
There is a certain continuum in developing sight lines that comes to mind, as with this famous image drawn by Leonardo in 1508, perhaps the first modern interpretation of how the eye functions, kept privately in manuscript, the result of theory and experimentation:
Which leads us to the sigh lines of Albrecht Durer, illustrating (some 17 years later) the use of a perspective tool, the vielo, in his work The Drawing Manual published in 1525:
Long is the line in the history of art--far less so the dot.
The line has been part of a long and deep inheritance of rendering a truth, factual, perspectival presence--in general, at least. Certain symbolic and metaphoric elements will sometimes confuse and collapse bits of the image, but the effort for centuries has been to present a balanced nature as close as practicable to its perfection. That was the strength of the line.
The strength of the dot was in doing something not quite the opposite but approaching it.
It is interesting to think of the importance of dots in the first revolutionary changes in 500 years in the history of art. Honestly, there wasn’t anything epochal that happened between the re-discovery of perspective (ca. 1330-1400) and the arrival of Impressionism (and just afterwards of non-representational art) in the 1872/3/4-1915 period.
Dots aren’t brought to bear formally in the revolutionary movement until the early 1880’s. Impressionism for all intents and purposes is formed with the Societe Anonyme in 1872 (whose members included Monet, Pissaro, Degas, Sisley, Morisot and eleven others), and perhaps more realistically in 1874 when the Societe exhibited its first salon. (The first show held at the Nadar Studio in Paris in April 1874; a tiny, one month long affair, compared to mammoth exhibitions like the Universal Exposition in Paris in 1867.)
It was Georges Seurat who brought the whole world to the dot experience with his artistic method of Pointilism, in particular with his magnificent Un dimanche après-midi à l'Île de la Grande Jatte, an enormous work given its composition—dots. The dots replaced the brushstroke, and their placement in relation to their color was an absolutely brilliant innovation, establishing a perfect result for the viewer when examining the work as a whole. (It may well be that the French chemist an designer Michel Chevreul made this discovery a few decades earlier, noticing the effect and changes in color depending on placement and—in his case, with fabric—color in the dyes for his material.)
Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), the discoverer of nothingness in art and the introduction of the first non-representational paintings in art history (1913) used his fair share of dots in his exploration of the previously invisible. One good example is his 9 Points in Ascendance (1918), which is nothing but black dots, an impossible composition just two decades prior to its creation.
In the middle of this appeared the half-tone illustration, the great liberator of photographic illustration in popular publication. Invented in the late 1870’s by Stephen Henry Horgan and used in the Illustrated London News for the first time in 1881, it made the publication of accurate images much feasible and economical. No longer were readers dependent on the accuracies of artists interpreting photographs or photographed scenes—the photographs themselves were now publishable at little cost and in high quality, vastly increasing the veracity of published reports dependent upon images. This was revolutionary in its own way, democratizing the sharing of images and icons.
That said about dots, the line was surely used to transport a bit of reality in art, even before the 18th century--among the earliest appearances being with Hans Holbein in his The Ambassadors of 1533, and a beautiful and very famous use was made by Andrea Pozzo in his illusionistic works at S. Ignazio in Rome in 1685 (and which I mention in an earlier post). Certainly Carel Fabritius attempted and succeeded in this throughout his career, playing with the substance of perspective, as we can see here in his View in Delft, in 1652:
Also the lines of the anamorphic image severely distorted the presentation of reality--if you had the mirror to distort it and if you had the mirror to reconstitute it:
This example is much more recognizable in widely-circulated images of the modern work of people like Kurt Wenner, who have continued in the tradition of Leonardo's researches in the difficulties of wide angle distortion:
Seeing this collection of dots in the construction of human faces I was reminded very strongly of the portraits made on the typewriter by Julius Nelson in his work, Artyping, published and sold for a dollar by the Artyping Bureau of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in 1939 (and pictured first, above). Nelson was an instructor in "secretarial science" in Windber High School in Pennsylvania and no doubt put together this pamphlet as something expressive of his artform and as an advertisement for his profession. This was hardly the first time that anyone used the typewriter artistically, as I can recall some measure of artistic expression in type in Punch magazine as far back as 1869, though portraiture by typewriter does not appear to be a very wide section in the art world between those times. In any event, a portrait that he made here is rather close to those presented on the Modern Metropolis site--the "Dot Portraits" Nathan Manire.
Modern Art would have the final dispositional comment on the typewriter as an instrument of art, when Claes Oldenburg made his Soft Typewriter in 1963:
And then, of course, the magnificent resurrection of the typewriter artform, replacing the spplication of black or red with something a little more complex:
Edwin Abbott’s slender Flatland, a Romance of Many Dimensions 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 the lowest class would be a
triangle (three sides) while the highest (priestly) class would be
mega-polygons whose shape would approach a circle. Abbott’s magistry
comes in explaining to the three-dimensional reader what it was like to
be in a two-dimensional world.
I cannot think of another illustration by a scientist or philosopher who attempts to explain their own--literal, interior, physical--view of the world and then offer what this looks like to the reader from inside his own head, looking out through his own eye. That's exactly what the (unnamed?) artist did for Ernst Mach, who is doing precisely that right here on page 15 of his influential book Die Analyse der Empfindungen, (That's the fourth German edition, also known in translation as The Analysis of Sensations and the Relation of the Physical to the Psychical, published in Jena in 1903.) It is a very unusual
point of perspective. In a sort-of-similar vein, there is another point of view that is extremely uncommon, another you-are-there perspective, though not interior to the person making the observation, but nearly so. Here's an example, just found, and an early one, this imagined from the far side of one of Saturn's rings, looking back on the planet, and experiencing the distorition in perspective due to the closesness of the observer.
Another image, this one showing the view directly from "the first or second satellite" of Saturn, looking back and across the planet's rings:
[Source: Thomas Dick, Celestial Scenery, 1838, available in full at the Internet Archive, here.]
[Detail from one of the earliest images of holes made by insects? From Reaumur, citation following.]
There are many different ways of looking at antique (or any other) scientific images. Sometimes you see exactly what they're supposed to be showing, and other times the viewer sees something more. Sometimes this "something more" is useful, and sometimes it is simply a side bit, not adding to the understanding of the image content, but curious nonetheless, useful in other ways.
And so is the case with this miniature/micro observation of this engraving which appears in the great work on the lives of insects by René-Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur: Memoires pour servir a l'histoire des insectes, which was printed in six impressive volumes (some 26cm tall) in Paris from 1734 through at least 1742, illustrated throughout with 269 engraved plates, many depicting more than one subject. This was the masterwork of its time on insects, a great effort made and achieved on insect architecture, biology, and behavior--it was a careful and exacting work, magisterial. Reaumur (1683-1757) was an exceptional talent and observer, writing for the Academie des Sciences on a really wide variety of subjects for over fifty years--and even with this large output, most of his work was delivered posthumously to the Academy.
My attention was drawn to him from an illustration in Barbara Maria Stafford's Good Looking, Essays on the Virtue of Images (MIT, 1996, palte 93), which depicted the holes made by moths in cloth in volume 3 of the Memoires. The first image, above, is a detail from the Reaumur engraving, with the full plate, following:
[Reaumur, Memoires pour servir a l'histoire des insectes... volume III, from the Internet Archive, here.]
The series on this blog concentrating on the history of holes may or may not make any contribution to anything at all, save for perhaps serving as an outpost on looking at images from a different perspective.
And just for good measure, here's an image of the ghost of the image of the mothy hole, an image imprinted on the page opposite the page on which the original image was printed, the ghosted mirror image of the hole captured in an ink/iron impression on paper.
Here are the links for the six volumes of Reamur's Memoires:
Mémoires pour servir à l'histoire des insectes (1734-1742)
Tome I : Sur les Chenilles et les Papillons, Imprimerie royale, Paris, 1734, 654 p., 50 pl. ;
Tome II : Suite de l'Histoire des Chenilles et des Papillons et l'Histoire des Insectes ennemis des Chenilles, Imprimerie royale, Paris, 1736, 514 p., 38 pl. ;
Tome III : Histoire des Vers mineurs des feuilles, des Teignes, des fausses Teignes, des Pucerons, des ennemis des Pucerons, des faux Pucerons et l'Histoire des Galles des Plantes et de leurs Insectes, Imprimerie royale, Paris, 1737, 532 p., 478 pl. ;
Tome IV : Histoire des Gallinsectes, des Progallinsectes et des Mouches à deux ailes, Imprimerie royale, Paris, 1738, 636 p., 44 pl. ;
Tome V : Suite de l'Histoire des Mouches à deux ailes et Histoire de plusieurs Mouches à quatre ailes, savoir des Mouches à Scies, des Cigales et des Abeilles, Imprimerie royale, Paris, 1740, 728 p., 44 pl. ;
Tome VI : Suite de l'Histoire des Mouches à quatre ailes avec un supplément des Mouches à deux ailes, Imprimerie royale, Paris, 1742, 608 p., 48 pl. ;
Tome VII : Histoire des fourmis, Paul Lechevalier éditeur, Paris, 1928, 116 p. & Histoire des scarabées, Paul Le Chevalier éditeur, Paris, 1955, 340 p., 21 pl.
I was making my way through LIFE magazine for 1943 and was struck by the ratio of the number of advertisements using the war as a backdrop (and American soldiers as convenient props) for sales against the actual space dedicated to war reporting. Concentrating on just two randomly selected weekly issues (November 1 and November 15 1943) I was surprised to find 28 ads (most of which were full-page); there was no war reporting in November 1 and just half a story (on the history of the Prussian General staff) in November 15. Most of the ads were directly war-related, the companies mostly relegated to vast production of war goods, like General Motors, Cadillac and Boeing. The others were less clear, like the ad pictured here for Green Giant peas and corn. This company was informing the home front that if there were shortages of their product it was because they were selling it to the Army or Navy--others were more adventurous for their spirited attempt at patriotism. I'm not sure that Wembly Ties really needed to include a GI in their ad, nor did I like the use of American soldiers to sell Interwoven socks.
"Sometimes a book is just entirely bad, and sometimes it is entirely nothing. It is impossible for a book to be both very bad and very nothing. Impossible. Except for this book, whose badness is exceeded only by its nothingness, and vice versa". --Oscar Wilde
And so into this black hole of imaged Wildeian description we go, into a very real-ish book.
I found a novel tonight, bought long ago and long ago mostly lost. It was written by a doctor who worked in the District Hospital in Lima, Ohio, and written in 1934. The Lima Hospital was the largest poured concrete structure in the world when it was built in 1915, and stayed so until the Pentagon was completed. The hospital was established for the criminally insane, had 14"-thick walls, and reinforced steel bars laid into the walls that went "right down to bedrock".
It was somewhere in there that this doctor wrote something that was really so toweringly bad that it escapes comprehension. I own the carbon copy of the unpublished work, which is typed on 14x8.5" sheets of paper, front and back, running 94 pages. It is a very crowded affair, with 90 lines of single-space typed lines, making the work about 115,000 words long.
There wasn't enough space evidently for paragraphs, which gives the work a kind of insistent, casket-cramped cruelty. To read it takes your breath away for its dullness--the book moves so weirdly and at the same time so very slowly that it doesn't move at all even while moving.
A few months ago I found the seven-foot-long scroll of the book's plan--a work of crowded magnificence of nothing and confusion, being very orderly at the same time. It went to a friend of mine who created artwork around it, and as it happens made a very noticeable appearance in a very significant yearly show in NYC last week. I was stunned to find that there was actually a text to go with the scroll-outline--it emerged from the warehouse this week, so perhaps this too will find a very celebrated life as art as well. Certainly the book would go nowhere on its own as a book, though it stood a chance at surviving on the grounds of its considerble design weirdness, which is of a complexified beauty.
In the meantime, before all of the letters slide themselves off the page from sheer boredom and before the thing is resurrected as a magnificent artistic effort, I'll share some ianges of the extra-ordinary book of reversed brilliant badness. I've also culled a few imaginary descriptions of the book from writers known and not:
"He couldn't speak. He could barely see. Blinded by the flames ignited inside his eyeballs from the novel in his lap. The words were like molten lead, sucked off the page by his eyes, forming a vacuum in his brain. It was a bad book".
The first-time published novelist's approach:
"He couldn't speak the words of the thoughts in his head, because they and all of his breath were stolen by the magic of the complete badness of the book in his lap".
"The book was bad and bad, and bad was the book. Even the badness of the bad was bad, a whole new insight into being bad. It was the bad book by which bad books are called bad".
"He didn't read the book so much as he looked through it. It was easy--there was nothing there. As bad as it was, it could get no worse. So he shot it, and poured a drink".